In 1984, I was a 13 year old Martial Arts nut. So when The Karate Kid opened in theaters, naturally I attended. In my hometown, there were local karate dojos putting on demonstrations - attempting to garner new students after they watch the spectacular crane kick ending.
The movie premise was simple - kid moves to new city, meets girl, evokes the ire of the local bullies, meets a wise old sage and karate master and defeats the bullies and wins the girl. For years, this was the beloved story. But in recent years, fan theories have popped up claiming that it was in fact Daniel LaRusso who was the bully.
With the new YouTube series, Cobra Kai, we see a down on his luck Johnny Lawrence become a sympathetic character who reopens the Cobra Kai dojo and begins training a new crop of Cobras. As he and Daniel meet again, we hear how things weren't always so rosey for Johnny and how he saw Daniel as butting in on his attempts to win back his girl and sucker punching him in the process. You see, Johnny was only defending himself.
The character of Johnny Lawrence refuses to see his actions as evil. It's all about Johnny's point of view vs Daniel's. But we see that Johnny was in fact an abusive, controlling boyfriend who couldn't handle a breakup. His violent reaction to Alli [played by Elizabeth Shue in the original film] was something Daniel felt was wrong and he stepped in. Johnny became angry and pushed Daniel to the ground and a fight ensued.
The new series presents Johnny's actions as only wrong from a certain point of view. However, at the time when Sensei Kreese told Johnny in the now iconic line to "sweep the leg", Johnny's reaction is evidence that he knew his actions were wrong and now, he is attempting to make peace with his past by denying the truth of his actions.
Cobra Kai itself is a fun series full of nostalgia for Karate Kid fans young and old alike. But the mixed moral tones fail to show that Johnny's own choices led to his demise and the state of his life. The only way to keep from blaming himself was to create demons that had wronged him. How often do we do the same thing? Did we blame snapping at our spouse on stress? Do we blame other drivers on the road when we give them a one-fingered salute?
Ultimately, what this shows us is that no matter how we attempt to justify our actions, we know innately that there is an objective moral standard that we are all subject to. And if we deviate from that standard, we have committed evil.
God's word is clear that His moral laws are known even by unbelievers:
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. Romans 2:14-16
This is what is bugging Johnny throughout the new series. He knows the wrong he's done, he knows the good he needs to do, but he still seeks to justify himself. Bu what Johnny needs is salvation through Christ. This may seem like a Sunday school answer, but the truth is apart from Christ, Johnny can do nothing. He cannot find peace and forgiveness. He cannot start anew. And this reminds us as Christians we need live a life of repentance and not justify our crimes against a Holy God, but measure ourselves by his perfect moral character and be willing to admit when we don't measure up.