In celebration of Cobra Kai’s recent release, I thought it would be very topical to talk about bullies. Love them, hate them, maybe you are one, bullies are a fundamental part of life. They’re a rite of passage which most of us (including yours truly) have suffered, and endured over the years.
I recall the first time I watched The Karate Kid (the original, not that pile of shit remake starring Will Smith’s son — which was also kung fu! Not karate. I mean seriously, how much did they pay Jackie Chan to just ignore that?), sat there in the living room, deeply engrossed in the high school antics of LaRusso as he tried and struggled to fit in. Touching stuff…but what about that awesome Halloween scene: Daniel-san briefly getting one over on Johnny in the toilets before getting his arse handed to him by Lawrence’s skeletal mob. Talk about indelible. I mean, if you’re going to take a spanking, you at least want a cool, sexy story to jazz it up. And getting thrashed on Halloween night by karate skeletons takes the bonsai tree.
Movies, TV, and books are full of great and timeless bullies of all stripes. But he of course, bullies aren’t fun or good in real life. My own experiences sucked, and were frequent to the point that I started to wonder if there was something about the way I walked which attracted unfavourable attention.
But despite my own miseries, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m fascinated by bullies in fiction. You could say I’m drawn to them, because I want to see the plucky underdog take their kicks and eventually rise to the occasion, be it Crane kick, right cross, or running their thugs down in a possessed ‘58 Plymouth Fury. Bullies and internal conflicts they induce in their targets make for great drama. Sometimes the victim becomes a paragon of hardened and humble nobility, but sometimes, the meek embrace the rage and the hate and become as big a menace as their transgressors: Eli “Hawk” Moskowitz, Cobra Kai’s MVP in my humble opinion, being a perfect example of a quiet, unassuming kid who goes on the warpath to shatter his former image, and keep himself from becoming bully-bait (in case you haven’t binged season 4 yet, I’ll spare any spoilers, except to say Hawk doesn’t disappoint), only to continually find his new aggressive persona at odds with his former geeky self.
- Another example of the expected good guy going full evil martial artist is (nope, not LaRusso in TKK3) Justin Epstein in Never Back Down 2: The Beat Down, which finds targeted comic book shop worker Epstein (played by real-life MMA fighter Scott Epstein) transform from mild-mannered punching bag to full-blown MMA sociopath. His character is not as nuanced as Hawk, but it’s a fun shift in personality. Add in some decent fights, and the living legend that is Michael Jai White, and it’s a decent movie.
But no matter what path the bullied walk, it’ll always remain an engaging theme for me, and the Cobra Kai series has well and truly kept alive the excitement of pitting the downtrodden against the brutish.
On a parting note, if you or anybody you know enjoy your coming-of-age bully survival tales with a dark fantasy twist, some gnarly violence, choice language, and a hallucinogenic killer frog-man, my novel Fable can be found here https://thegrumpyintrovert.com/novels/ or directly on Amazon.
“James offers a fun, psychedelic thriller that’s steeped in classic rock and teen melodrama and styled after Stephen King’s Christine and Carrie. A wonderfully odd thriller that should delight anyone who has ever been bullied.” — Kirkus Reviews
Daniel James is an author of speculative fiction from Liverpool, England. His paranormal action/adventure novel Hourglass was nominated as one of Kirkus Reviews Best 100 Indie novels of 2021.