How Karate Training Helped Cobra Kai’s William Zabka Get Back in Fighting Shape at 53

Bringing his character back to life has brought “extra pressure,” Zabka acknowledged during an exclusive interview with Men’s Health. “If it was a new character, it really wouldnt matter. But all of a sudden, I’m Johnny Lawrence again, and imagining what he would be doing today.

The seasons first episode received a whopping 55 million views and was the sixth most searched show on Google for all of 2018.

Zabka trained in the martial arts for years after the film, but had fallen off the wagon. Coming back to Cobra Kai had me jump back in real hard, so I could be camera ready,” he said. “Karate is like riding a bike-you jump back into it, although your joints can be a little bit different as your muscles can get sore.

Practicing karate, taekwondo, strength conditioning and cardio during the 12-14 hour work day paid off for Zabka, who was eating a lean protein and vegetables diet while Cobra Kai was in production.

By the end of the first season, I was as low as 176 pounds, eating around 1700 calories each day,” he said. “But that was a little too light for me, so I balanced it back out at my current weight at 185, which is around where I belong. My calories are a lot higher now, and I do strength and conditioning three times a week. Clearly, being healthy and at the right weight makes you feel good with lots of energy.Karate Kid Memories

Since Season Two premieres on YouTube Premium on April 24th, we thought wed sweep the leg down memory lane, with six facts you probably never knew about The Karate Kid straight from Zabka.

– On Master Pat Johnson choreographing the original movie:

Now he trains children

He trained all of us, and actually plays the referee at the end of the film, during the competition,” Zabka said. “He’s a legend in martial arts. He built me up from nothing. I didnt know anything about it when I first started. I was a wrestler in high school and very limber and athletic. The discipline that he gave physically, mentally and technically was incredible; so much so, that I trained with him after the film was over. Its amazing how his teaching has stayed with me all these years.

– On how he proved himself:

When Zabka was cast in the film, there was still a bit of hesitation in whether or not he looked like a champion martial artist. Several Columbia Studios executives, along with Macchio, were brought to the soundstage to observe his karate during one of the big fight scenes.

This was when my character was supposed to do the flying side kick into the fence and Mr. Miyagi comes in to save the day. In the room, there was also several black belt guys who looked a lot like me. I wondered if they might be there to replace me if I didnt look I could do it.

The first time I tried it, it was really sloppy-you could feel the air go out of the room. Still, Johnson said you can do this. I focused and did it again, but this time, my heel went through the pad and into the drywall, and actually punctured a hole in it. There was dust everywhere.

I felt like that was my final audition; such an exciting moment. I surprised myself-I couldnt believe that I could actually do it. They filled it up with plaster, and I carved my initials on the wall at Stage 15, which is now Warner Bros. I wonder if its still there.

– On how they prepped for the final tournament scenes

For the entire three months of shooting, Zabka and Macchio worked on the choreography for the final fight scene, wearing feet and hand pads.

Neither one of us knew karate, so we would start three feet away, and do our punches and kicks,” Zabka said. “As we got closer to the big event, we got closer and closer until we were facing each other.

Fortunately, there were no real accidents on set, but one time came close. We were filming very late at night and I was going to do a kick on Ralph,” he explained. “The camera moved to a different angle, and I was supposed to move my left foot but accidentally kicked him in his jaw, and he dropped to the floor. That was a terrifying moment-no one knew he was injured but us. That was the only time we physically connected to each other.

-On his audition

“I remember it very well. I came from the commercial world. Usually, its all the same actors and everyone comes in and [is] friendly to each other. But for this movie, the guys were in character. So, when I walked in, there was a room full of [Zabka’s Karate Kid character]Johnny Lawrences-each one seemed more focused and intense than the next. I didnt want to be in that room and get psyched out by any actor, so I went out and sat in my car, which was my fathers 1970 Volvo station wagon. I cranked out some ’80s rock and roll, and was there until my audition.”

-On how karate healed his back injury

Zabka was a wrestler in high school and suffered a back injury during his senior year while competing. When I got into Karate Kid, I knew I had a weak back-I was afraid it was going to bother me during filming. But what was amazing is that all the martial arts training, stretching, core conditioning and balance, actually healed my back, and it got stronger than ever. So karate in a way, really healed my injury and thats one of the reasons why I stayed with it even after the film.

– On his relationship with Mr. Miyagi, Pat Morita Turns out, Morita and Zabka became great friends while Karate Kid was filming. I would call him Uncle Pat, and he called me BZ. He was my confidant, and when we did the press tour, we would call each other often. The whole experience was so new to me. As the years went by, we stayed in touch and talked during the holidays.

Several years ago, I produced and wrote a short film that was nominated for an Academy Award, and he was also nominated for an Oscar at the same time. He called me and said, Oh BZ, you sound so grown up-where is my little guy? The last time I saw him, he had another idea for a Karate Kid sequel. I dont think he was finished with Miyagi either. I so wish he were here to experience this… I’m forever grateful to him and miss him dearly. I love how the writers have mentioned him in the show.

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