- "I know I said you have to let go of your anger and show forgiveness, but... when the fight comes to you, you have to be ready to fight back."
- ―Daniel LaRusso to Robby Keene[src]
Daniel "Daniel-san" LaRusso is one of the main protagonists of The Karate Kid series. He is the central character of the original film The Karate Kid (1984), and parts Part II and Part III. Although he didn't make an appearance in The Next Karate Kid (1994), he was briefly mentioned by Mr. Miyagi. Alongside Johnny Lawrence, Daniel is also one of the main protagonists of the 2018 web drama series Cobra Kai, where he has two children and owns the LaRusso Auto Group, a chain of auto-dealerships, with his wife Amanda.
The Karate Kid (1984)
- "What point? That I can take a beating? I mean, every time I see those guys, they're gonna know they got the best of me. I'll never have balance that way. Not with them, not with Ali. Not with me."
- ―Daniel LaRusso to Mr. Miyagi[src]
Daniel was born in New Jersey in 1966. He spent much of his life in Newark, New Jersey. Little was known of his life in the Garden State, although he said he went to a summer camp, which he first did not want to do, but then made three friends, one of whom was a girl named Judy whom he dated for some time. He also was a member of the YMCA at Newark, where he first was introduced to karate.
However, when Daniel was 8 years old, Mr. Larusso died of an unnamed terminal illness. Little is known of Daniel's relationship with his father, but he later expressed his strongest memory of his childhood saying goodbye to the elder LaRusso when he was on his deathbed, and being proud of all else being there for his father at the last minutes of his life. Thus it seems likely that Daniel had a very good relationship with both of his parents.
As years passed and Daniel matured into a teenager, Mrs. LaRusso worked hard as a widow, both to put food on the table and be there for her only child. Daniel seemed to enjoy his early life in New Jersey. When he moved away from Newark and took a last look at the neighborhood he grew up in, multiple friends from the neighborhood and their parents were there to wish Daniel and his mother best of luck in their new home.
Lucille LaRusso was transferred from her current job to a branch office in California. She leased an apartment in the "South Seas" complex in Reseda, California, and took Daniel along from a cross-country venture across the United States that started in Newark and ended in Reseda.
Upon arriving, Daniel befriends one of his neighbors, Freddy Fernandez, after karate kicking a gate door into Freddy's face, but Freddy doesn't take offense, and invites him to a beach party. Before the beach party, Daniel meets his future mentor, Mr. Miyagi, when Daniel goes to ask him to fix their new apartment's leaky faucet.
Daniel then goes to the beach party. It is at this beach party that Daniel first encounters Ali Mills (Elisabeth Shue), and is instantly infatuated with her. He attempts to teach her how to bounce a soccer ball in the air. As he does this, Ali's ex-boyfriend, Johnny Lawrence is riding dirt bikes with his friends. They stop to talk, and it is pointed out to him that they can see Ali flirting with Daniel. This leads to Johnny going down to the beach to confront Ali. She is less than receptive, and in his frustration, he breaks her radio. Johnny, the star pupil of the Cobra Kai Dojo, and the winner of the last All-Valley Karate Tournament, beats up Daniel when he tries to insert himself into Ali's private business and attacks Johnny. This leads to Daniel sucker-punching Johnny before being humiliated, and Freddy reluctantly abandons Daniel on the beach after being asked by his friends why he brought a loser like him to the party.
In the following weeks, Daniel occasionally falls under the ire of Johnny and the rest of the Cobra Kai gang, who harass him. Daniel believes his karate lessons from the Newark YMCA are insufficient to defend himself from the likes of Johnny, and checks out the Cobra Kai dojo. In doing so, he sees the star pupil is none other than Johnny, who is Kreese's assistant instructor. While going to the head of the class to teach the white belts, Johnny smirks at Daniel. Daniel departs Cobra Kai and goes to a restaurant across the street to meet his mother, who is glad Daniel disapproved of the dojo as she remarks she would have probably been unable to afford its tuition. Lucille also tells Daniel some good news, she got promoted in her job, but her managerial training program will likely mean nights away from home.
This conflict finally comes to a head at their high school Halloween party, where Daniel soaks Johnny with water in one of the bathroom stalls. Johnny and his friends chase Daniel from the high school to the fence of his apartment complex, when they are finally able to catch up with him, and begin beating Daniel. Viewing the attack, Mr. Miyagi intervenes. He jumps down from the fence, and beats all of Daniel's assailants single-handedly. When Mr. Miyagi dressed Daniel's wounds, he tried to get to the bottom of why he was assaulted. Mr. Miyagi surmised that their problem was a bad attitude, and it stemmed from their sensei, as Miyagi believed there is no such thing as a bad student, only a bad teacher. When Daniel suggested talking over the problem with their sensei, Mr. Miyagi was reluctant to get involved, but did so after he realized Daniel was trying to solve a problem with his head instead of his fists.
Daniel and Mr. Miyagi go to the Cobra Kai Dojo the next day to attempt to make peace, and ask the sensei, John Kreese to order his students to stop. Kreese teases Daniel that he should fight his own battles, to which Miyagi says maybe so for one bully, but five bullies ganging up on Daniel like last night was too much to ask of anyone. Kreese agrees to even out the odds 1-1 and arranges a fight on the spot, but Miyagi says there is enough fighting. Miyagi finally agrees to settle the issue mano-a-mano through the forthcoming All-Valley Karate Tournament, to which Kreese agrees, as well as order all the Cobras not to harass Daniel until then so he can train.
Mr. Miyagi begins to teach Daniel the ways of karate through a series of labor tasks, including paint the fence, paint the house, wax the car, and sand the floor. Another non-karate way Miyagi teaches Daniel is the art of bonsai arrangement, which was more of a hobby for Miyagi, but also uses it as a way to get Daniel to concentrate. This is noticed by Mrs. LaRusso, who is glad Daniel is starting to adjust, and Miyagi gives her a gift of the bonsai he had been working on.
When the tournament comes around, Daniel enters and despite knowing the rules when he starts, he does well, even defeating Cobra Kai students Jerry, Jimmy, Tommy, and Dutch. He makes it to the semifinals, against the Cobra Kai member Bobby Brown. Bobby is told by Kreese to put Daniel out of commission, and despite Bobby's protests about being disqualified and believing he could beat Daniel, he still follows Kreese's orders. Bobby savagely hurts Daniel with an illegal kick to the knee. The tournament is suspended where Daniel will be allowed fifteen minutes to be examined by a doctor, and if Daniel cannot fight, Johnny will win by forfeit. In the infirmary, the doctor thinks Daniel should sit it out, but disappointedly says how well Daniel did out there. Ali is saddened that the Cobras will win and get to jeer Daniel, and Miyagi thinks Daniel should follow the doctor's recommendation, as there is nothing to prove and he did his best up until now. Daniel recalls Miyagi did a pain suppression massage when he had been sore in training, which healed Daniel's arm. Mr. Miyagi agrees to try the massage. Meanwhile, the ring announcer is about to award the championship to Johnny, only to be told by Ali that Daniel will fight. As Daniel hobbles to the ring, the ring announcer surprisingly speaks into his microphone "Daniel LaRusso is going to fight?" as the crowd bursts into applause. The ring announcer then happily says he is glad the finals are on, as that is what the audience came to see.
Johnny and Daniel then exchange points, with the fight coming down to the final point for both of them. This is when Johnny grabs one of Daniel's kicks from his injured leg, and elbows it, causing Daniel an insane amount of pain. Daniel is no longer able to stand on that leg, so he assumes the crane technique position as his final stance, and when the ref signals the next bout, Johnny moves forward, only for Daniel to kick Johnny in the face, winning the tournament. Daniel is then rushed by his friends and family, and Johnny grabs the trophy from the organizer of the tournament, and presents it to Daniel, saying, "You're all right Larusso! Good match!" The movie then closes with Daniel looking towards Mr. Miyagi,who was sitting on the bleachers, and sees him smiling proudly.
The Karate Kid Part II (1986)
- "Live or die man!?"
- ―Daniel, as he prepares to finish Chozen.
Immediately after the tournament, Daniel is showering and changing into street clothes. He is remarking what his athletic future holds, to which Mr. Miyagi dryly remarks "Early retirement". As Daniel and Mr. Miyagi are leaving the All-Valley Tournament, they overhear John Kreese berating Johnny for losing. Kreese then starts to mercilessly strangle Johnny, despite the pleas of the rest of the Cobra Kai. Mr. Miyagi intervenes, and after tricking Kreese into punching two car windows and making both of his hands bleed, Miyagi pulls him down and appears to be preparing a killing blow. However, he only honks Kreese's nose, causing Kreese to faint in embarasment. Daniel, astonished by all this, remarks how Miyagi could have killed Kreese, but Miyagi philosophically responds that for a man like Kreese, who has no concept of forgiveness, "living is a worse punishment than death". As Johnny and the Cobras dispose of their Cobra Kai gis and leave in disgust, Mr. Miyagi tells Daniel there has been enough fighting for one night and that they should go meet Mrs. LaRusso and Ali at a restaurant for a celebration dinner.
Six months later, Daniel angrily comes to Mr. Miyagi's house with his car, steamily stating that Ali did something to the car. He also tells him that Ali has fallen in love with a football player as well. To make matters worse, he is supposed to go away on a long trip with his mom. But Mr. Miyagi calls his mom, and convinces her to let Daniel stay with him. Miyagi then gets a letter from Tomi Village saying that his father is dying, so he makes emergency plans to travel to Okinawa. On the day of his flight, Daniel is nowhere to be found, so Mr. Miyagi simply gets in a taxi without saying goodbye. At the airport, he is met by Daniel, who figured he must have come there to say goodbye. However, he sees Daniel with a ticket on the same flight as him. He wonders where Daniel got the money, to which Daniel says he emptied his savings account intended for college. Mr. Miyagi does not think it is a good idea for Daniel to tag along, but as the flight is about to depart he approves of taking Daniel with him to Japan.
When they get off the plane, they are told that a car is waiting for them, so they get in the car. But the driver was Chozen Toguchi, who was Sato Toguchi's nephew. He takes them to a warehouse, where Sato is waiting. Sato used to be Miyagi's best friend, until a girl came between them. Miyagi also fled before the two could fight, and this insulted Sato's honor, which he could not get over. Then, they go to Miyagi's house, and see Miyagi's father. While they are in Okinawa, Miyagi tries to teach Daniel the Miyagi family technique, but Daniel is unable to grasp it. Chozen makes life difficult for them when he goes to their house and starts screaming in the night for Miyagi to come out, and destroying the thin walls with a spear. Miyagi's father dies, and Sato gives Miyagi three days to grieve before they must fight. Miyagi goes to Sato's mansion, and talks to Sato while he is trying to break a thick beam of wood, which Miyagi and him had found on the beach when they were still best friends. This is when the famous quote happens. Miyagi says, "Same piece of wood we found on beach that day", and Sato says, "Same!".
Meanwhile, Daniel is hanging out with Kumiko, and it is clear they are developing a relationship, but Chozen is making Daniel's life miserable. Daniel then catches Chozen cheating the villagers on produce with fake weights. And, when Daniel and Kumiko stumble into a building where people are placing bets on how many ice blocks people can break, Daniel is telling Kumiko how the people are doing it wrong. Chozen then challenges him to do better, and while Daniel is trying to leave, Miyagi comes in, and places 600 dollars on Daniel breaking all of the ice blocks. Chozen says he cannot cover that, and that is when Sato comes in and says that Chozen is covered. Daniel succeeds, and this further angers Chozen, who later goes up and robs Daniel to get his money back.
Things come to a head, when a huge storm comes, destroying much of Okinawa. Sato is trapped in a destroyed building, trapped beneath a large piece of wood. Miyagi hears his screams, and runs out from shelter to save his old friend. he breaks the wood, and helps Sato get to shelter. Sato then decides to forgive Miyagi, and disowns his nephew who had done nothing to help people. Chozen then runs into the storm.
There is a huge celebration that the storm has passed, and Kumiko is dancing in the island in the middle of the castle. Chozen ziplines in screaming, and holds a knife to Kumiko's neck. He then orders Daniel to come into the circle, and then drop the bridge. He wants to fight to the death and Daniel accepts in order to save Kumiko. They begin to fight and Daniel holds his own, striking Chozen as often as he is hit himself. However, Chozen begins to get the upper hand, despite Daniel attempting the crane technique, for which Chozen knows the counter and he turns it against him. When it looks as if Daniel is going to lose, Miyagi starts twirling a hand drum. Soon, all of the onlookers are also twirling their hand drums. Miyagi is telling Daniel to use the drum technique, and Daniel finally understands the Miyagi family technique.
Daniel starts to repeatedly punch Chozen in the face, while twisting his upper body with every hit, so it resembles a swinging drum. He knocks Chozen to the ground, and tells him, "Live or die man!" Chozen responds, "Die." Daniel says, "Wrong!" and honks his nose. The camera then focuses on Miyagi, who is once again smiling proudly at his student, and the movie closes.
The Karate Kid Part III (1989)
In The Karate Kid Part III, Daniel and Miyagi return to Los Angeles from Okinawa, Japan only to discover that the South Seas apartment complex is being converted into condominiums, leaving Miyagi unemployed and Daniel homeless. They also learn that Daniel's mother, Lucille, is in New Jersey taking care of Daniel's ill uncle. Miyagi invites Daniel to stay at his house, and Daniel uses his college funds / ice-breaking winnings to realize Miyagi's dream of opening a Bonsai tree shop. As thanks, Miyagi makes him a partner at the business. When Daniel visits a pottery store across the street, he meets Jessica Andrews; though Daniel has a brief crush on her, she tells him that she has a boyfriend back home in Columbus, Ohio, but they remain friends.
Cobra Kai sensei John Kreese is now broke and destitute after losing all of his students. He visits his Vietnam War comrade, Terry Silver, a wealthy businessman who founded the Cobra Kai Dojo with profits from his billion dollar toxic-waste disposal business. Silver vows to personally help him get revenge on Daniel and Mr. Miyagi and re-establish the Cobra Kai, sending Kreese on vacation to Tahiti to rest and recuperate. Silver hires "Dynamite" Mike Barnes, a vicious karate prospect nicknamed "Karate's Bad Boy", to challenge Daniel at the upcoming All Valley Karate Tournament. Silver also hires two goons to help Barnes, called "Snake" and Dennis. Silver sneaks into Miyagi's house to gather information and overhears Daniel telling Miyagi that he will not defend his title at the tournament. Barnes and some cohorts attempt to coerce Daniel to enter the tournament, but Daniel refuses, and Barnes departs in a rage. The next morning, as Daniel and Miyagi are practicing kata, Silver interrupts and lies about John Kreese suffering a fatal heart attack after losing his students, and begs forgiveness for Kreese's behavior.
Barnes and his friends return to make Daniel sign up for the tournament; when Daniel again refuses, a skirmish ensues until Miyagi arrives and fends off the three men. After driving Jessica home, Daniel and Miyagi return to find their stock of bonsai trees missing and a tournament application hanging in place. To replace the missing trees, Daniel and Jessica decide to dig up and sell a valuable bonsai tree that Miyagi brought from Okinawa, and planted halfway down a cliff. As they retrieve it, Barnes and his henchmen appear and retract their climbing ropes, leaving Daniel no choice but to sign up for the tournament. After pulling them back up, Barnes breaks the tree. Daniel returns to the shop with Miyagi's damaged bonsai, which Miyagi attempts to mend. Miyagi tells Daniel that he sold his truck to buy a new stock of trees, and cannot train him for the tournament.
Silver offers to "train" Daniel for the tournament at the Cobra Kai dojo with a series of brutal, violent, offensive techniques. He derides Miyagi's kata forms and pressures Daniel to destroy a wooden practice dummy, causing him several injuries in the process. Throughout his training, Daniel's frustration alienates him from Miyagi. While Daniel and Jessica are at a nightclub, Silver bribes a random man into provoking a fight with Daniel, who responds by punching the man and breaking his nose. Shocked by his aggressive behavior, Daniel apologizes and makes amends with Jessica and Miyagi. Daniel visits Silver to inform him that he will not compete at the tournament, but Silver reveals his true agenda to Daniel as Barnes and Kreese enter the dojo. After Barnes viciously assaults Daniel, Miyagi intervenes and finally agrees to train him. They replant the healed bonsai and begin training.
At the tournament, Barnes reaches the final round to challenge Daniel. Silver and Kreese instruct Barnes to inflict serious damage on Daniel, keep the score a tie, and finally beat him in the sudden death round. Barnes gets the upper hand during the fight while taunting Daniel relentlessly. When the initial round concludes, Daniel wants to concede, but Miyagi urges him on. In the sudden death round, Daniel performs the kata; as a confused Barnes lunges toward him, Daniel flips him to the ground and strikes him to win the tournament a second year in a row. Silver walks away in disgrace while the crowd throws their Cobra Kai shirts back at him.
- "Ah. Only root karate come from Miyagi. Just like bonsai choose own way grow because root strong you choose own way do karate same reason... One day you do own way."
- ―Mr Miyagi to Daniel, about where Daniel's karate comes from.
In the three decades between Karate Kid and Cobra Kai, Daniel met and married a woman named Amanda LaRusso and had two children, Samantha and Anthony. When Sam was 8, Daniel trained her in karate, though she eventually stopped training with him. Also at some point, the bonsai tree store, opened in 1989 with Mr. Miyagi ultimately failed and Daniel went into the car dealership business, first for a used car dealer. In 2002, he and Amanda established the LaRusso Auto Group while she was pregnant with their daughter Samantha. Sadly, Mr. Miyagi died in 2011, which dealt a heavy blow to Daniel.
Cobra Kai (2018)
34 years after the events of the first movie, Daniel Larusso is now a successful car dealer, owning the LaRusso Auto Group, a chain of car dealerships in the San Fernando Valley with his wife Amanda. While working at one his dealerships one day, he encounters Johnny Lawrence, who was at the dealership to reclaim his car, after (unknown to Daniel) Daniel's daughter Sam had been riding in a Range Rover with a friend of hers, who was not paying attention to the road and collided with Johnny's Firebird. Despite Johnny's reluctance, Daniel has Johnny's car fixed for free.
Some time later, he discovers that the Cobra Kai dojo has reopened in Reseda, which revives his rivalry with Johnny Lawrence. Fearing that Johnny will create a new generation of bullies, Daniel becomes focused on trying to close Cobra Kai. This only seeks to inflame tensions, as Johnny has some awareness Daniel wants his dojo closed down, but does not know all the reasons. One night Johnny, whose judgment is clouded by heavy drinking, engages in a sophomoric prank; vandalizing one of the billboards for LaRusso Auto Group by spray-painting a penis next to Daniel's head. This becomes the talk of the town, which makes Daniel the butt of the jokes in online forums and gives rival auto dealer Tom Cole an opportunity to mock the LaRusso Auto Group. This also spills into Samantha's social life; for when she dumps her boyfriend, he retaliates by associating her with the vandalized billboard, causing her to be ostracized from virtually everyone in her class.
Soon after, Daniel manipulates Johnny's landlord into doubling the rent on his tenants, attempting to force Johnny to close. However, this fails due to Johnny's student, Miguel, defeating a group of bullies in the school cafeteria, which is then posted to the internet and causes Cobra Kai to become rapidly popular and take in many more students, as well as Daniel's plan falling through when the landlord accuses him of embroiling him in a conspiracy and dissolves their deal. Another factor that saves Johnny from bankuptcy court is Amanda's disgust over Daniel's plan, saying it will also ruin businesses adjacent to Cobra Kai and that this conniving attitude is not like the man she married.
After Amanda calls Daniel out on his recent actions, Daniel goes to Mr. Miyagi's grave, admitting that ever since his mentor's death, he has lost his way, letting his anger take control of him. Just before he leaves, he remembers the lesson Mr. Miyagi taught him about balance 34 years prior. Thus, Daniel cleans out and rebuilds his old training room, once again resuming his training.
After Daniel tries unsuccessfully to persuade Samantha to go back to karate, he takes in and trains Robby Keene, who, unknown to Daniel, is actually the son of Johnny and had started working at Daniel's company as an act of revenge against his father, after seeing him with Miguel and believing Johnny had replaced him. Daniel begins training Robby with the same methods that Mr. Miyagi had taught him decades earlier, such as "wax on, wax off."
Later, Daniel attends the meeting of the athletic committee for the City Karate Tournament of which he is a member, where Johnny is trying to convince the committee to lift the lifetime ban on Cobra Kai for the events that had taken place in Karate Kid III. Johnny tells the committee that his teachings are different from those of John Kreese and Terry Silver, stating that Kreese himself is dead. When the committee says their sole 1985 entrant was also an instigator who got the ban imposed, Johnny truthfully says he has no allegiance to Mike Barnes. He says that he has learned from his past mistakes and that his dojo is now a place where people who get bullied are taught self confidence and how to stand up for themselves. Despite Daniel's furious objections, the committee is convinced by what seems to be Johnny's genuine sincerity. They vote 3-2 in Johnny's favor to lift the ban and declare his dojo eligible for the forthcoming tournament, which infuriates Daniel.
While at a family reunion, Daniel rants about how dangerous and cruel Cobra Kai is, which affects his daughter Sam, who, unknown to Daniel, was dating a student of Johnny's.
Some time later, Johnny confronts Daniel at his home, as, unknown to Daniel, Daniel's cousin Louie and several bikers Louie had hired destroyed Johnny's car and set it on fire. However, before they come to blows, Amanda quickly defuses the looming fight with an invitation to peacefully discuss the matter over breakfast. When they realize Johnny's side of the story is accurate as Louie was earlier boasting in front of them about his plans for vengeance, Amanda proposes they terminate Louie, as well as give Johnny one of their cheaper cars for free to make amends.
While on a test drive, the two bond together over beers, where they end up visiting Daniel's old apartment and reveal their stories before they met, Daniel learning that Johnny's childhood hadn't been as perfect as he previously thought. When Johnny returns Daniel to his home seemingly friends and having finally put their grudge behind them, and possibly about to do a fight for fun (like the ending or Rocky III between Rocky and Apollo), Daniel introduces Robby to Johnny. When Johnny finds out Daniel is training Robby, his own son, Johnny becomes infuriated. Daniel is shocked and infuriated when he learns that Robby is Johnny's son, once again igniting the fires of hatred between the two men. Feeling betrayed, Daniel tells Robby to get out of the house, as Daniel suspects Robby is involved in some con against him.
The morning of the annual All Valley Under-18 Karate tournament, Daniel is depressed about the events with Robby, and initially refuses to attend the tournament, until he is forced to go by Amanda. They sit in the front row, and Daniel is visibly dismayed when Cobra Kai makes their grand entrance. Then, much to Daniel's surprise, he learns that Robby is participating as a fighter unaffiliated with any dojo. Later, as a deliberate slight and insult to Daniel, Johnny has Miguel use Daniel's signature move, the Crane Kick, to defeat an opponent, which infuriates Sam.
Although initially hesitant, Daniel becomes more and more excited as he watches Robby fight, and approaches Robby after he is injured by being attacked from behind during the semifinal match, and advises him to find balance in his life by letting go of his anger toward his father, forgiving him for not telling him the truth about him and Johnny. Daniel assists Robby back into the ring and agrees to him fighting as a member of Miyagi-do Karate with Daniel as his coach.
Unfortunately, Robby ultimately loses the tournament final to Miguel, after Miguel quickly realizes that Robby's shoulder is injured and targets it to get the win, even pulling Robby's arm when Robby tried to help Miguel up. Afterwards, Johnny approaches Robby and Daniel and tries to apologize, though without success. Daniel coldly congratulates Johnny for getting the win.
After the match, Daniel reassures Robby that he's proud of him and he fought with honor, unlike Miguel. Robby comments that Cobra Kai is going to take over karate in the Valley, something that Daniel says will happen "over his dead body." He then takes Robby to Mr Miyagi's old home, and reveals that he plans to use it as a dojo to continue Robby's training and teach others Miyagi-Do Karate, in order to defeat Cobra Kai in the subsequent tournament and bring them down once again. Unbeknownst to Daniel, however, another old enemy from the past has returned: John Kreese, ready and eager to get his revenge against Daniel once and for all.
Daniel starts training Robby and within no time Sam joins the training. After finding out from Sam that Robby's mom is away and Robby is all alone Daniel has Robby come stay with him. After persuasion from Amanda, as well as some personal reflection, Daniel realizes Cobra Kai is not going to vanish into thin air and his attempts to derail it were ultimately hurtful to Johnny. He goes to the studio with the intent to inform Johnny of Robby's situation, only to see Johnny with Kreese. Jumping to conclusions, Daniel renews his vengeful plans to stop Cobra Kai from taking root in the Valley.
While teaching Sam and Robby, Daniel is concerned that he won't be the teacher Miyagi was but Amanda tells him he does not need to be like Miyagi. In order to get more students, Daniel does commercial where he promotes his Dojo and trashes Cobra Kai. However he has trouble getting more students when some potential students think Miyagi-Do is a facade to get people to do free work. He continues to struggle when Johnny, angry at Daniel commercial then gets his revenge by having Cobra Kai overshadow Miyagi-Do at a Valley Fest presentation. However, things start to look up for Daniel when Demetri, a bullied student, joins Miyagi-Do.
One one night a few Cobra Kai student's under Kreese's order trash Daniel's Dojo and steal Miyagi's Medal of Honor. When Daniel, Robby and Sam see the dojo trashed and Miyagi's badge of honor missing, an angry Daniel goes to Cobra Kai where he confronts Johnny who does not know what Daniel is talking about as he is unaware that Kreese instructed his students to do so.
Despite another setback things look up for Daniel once again when a few Cobra Kai students, unhappy with Kreese's ruthless teachings, leave the dojo and join Miyagi Do.
Daniel's fixation with his dojo and students prevent him for going to work, causing Amanda to pick up all of Daniel's slack and an employee Anush to quit out of frustration for Daniel's absence. Amanda then calls Daniel out for being unable to balance both jobs. Feeling guilty, Daniel makes things right by showing up to work and picking up the clack. He even spends more time with Amanda, causing her to forgive him.
On one morning Kreese shows up at Daniel's house where he threatens Daniel with war between the two dojos and mocks Miyagi's death which angers Daniel. Fortunately, both Daniel and Sam find Miyagi's Medal of Honor on the ground, though both are unaware that Miguel gave it to Robby the previous night and Robby planted it there.
On one night Daniel and Amanda go out for dinner but end up going to the same restaurant where Johnny and his date Carmen are eating, and ended up sitting with them which angers both Daniel and Johnny. However the two bond and resolve their differences when Johnny reveals he kicked Kreese out of Cobra Kai. The along with Amanda and Carmen spend time joking and dancing. Daniel even reveals to Johnny that both he and Amanda have re enrolled Robby in school, which Johnny appreciates. They end the night on good terms.
The next morning Daniel notices Sam did not return from Moon's party the previous night. Both he and Amanda go onto Sam's computer where they see Sam's former friend Aisha messaging her if she is ok after being drunk last night which shocks Daniel and Amanda. Daniel then tracks Sam through his iPhone and finds out she is at Johnny's house. He goes to Johnny's house and knocks on the door. When Johnny opens the door Daniel asks if Sam is there to which Johnny says she is and he tells Daniel to not overreact which angers Daniel. Daniel demands Johnny open the door, but Johnny shuts the door, stating he will bring Samantha to him when he has calmed down. An angry Daniel then kicks the door open, then both he and Johnny have a brief fight which is broken up by Sam and Robby. Daniel angrily tells Robby that it's up to him if he wants to end up like Johnny and takes Sam home.
He drives Sam to school. After a school brawl which results in Sam being severely injured by Cobra Kai student Tory she is sent to the hospital. When Daniel and Amanda visit Sam in the hospital both are shocked to find out Robby kicked Miguel off a railing resulting in the latter being severely injured. Johnny, who is also at the hospital to see Miguel, gets into an elevator with Daniel. Neither man says or does anything, but both glance at each other in shock akin to "What have we done?". Daniel leaves the hospital but when he comes back Amanda notifies him that Sam is getting x-rays and may have broken ribs, and then bluntly tells him to stop Miyagi-Do because of all the pain it has caused. Daniel agrees to do so.
Daniel goes back home where he takes down a picture of Miyagi, saying he did his best to do the right thing and apologizes. Elsewhere, unbeknownst to him, Kreese has taken the dojo away from Johnny.
- "Daniel was the best fighter that day."
"He was the best around."
"Nothing's ever gonna keep him down."
- ―Chris Cotter, Steve Levy and Randy Scott
Through Miyagi's training Daniel’s inherited style is strong in defense and solid in offense, with a notable emphasis on effective countering his opponent‘s attacks. These skills assist him during his fights with Johnny and Chozen, the first of which emphasizes his ability to sneak in behind his opponent’s guard to strike, whereas in the latter Daniel‘s karate has become more rounded, due to his experience.
During his teen years, Daniel struggled against opponents that were physically stronger, more skilled and aggressive, and dirty fighters. During his fights with Johnny, Chozen and Mike, Daniel struggled when all three fought more aggressively, and when the former and latter fought underhandedly. Despite struggling when his opponents fight more aggressively or underhandedly, Daniel often has one last tactic in the end which allows him to emerge victorious such as the Krane kick, and the Kata which Miyagi taught him.
Even after Miyagi's death in 2011 Daniel still remembers Miyagi's lessons and practices what Miyagi taught him. He later uses his teachings to instruct Johnny's son Robby and reopen Miyagi-Do Karate. He also uses Miyagi's techniques to defeat Robby’s attackers with astonishing ease and efficiency, which clearly demonstrates just how far Daniel has come from his teenage years when he struggled to take on multiple opponents.
- "You know me, I've always been a bit of a hothead, so..."
- ―Daniel LaRusso to Miyagi's tombstone[src]
Throughout the saga, Daniel is consistently friendly, fairly relaxed and open-minded. When first arriving in California he easily makes friends before the confrontation with Johnny and in later life he is shown to be a friendly and easy-going boss.
Daniel is also frequently heroic. He tries to stand up for Ali at the beach, rescues several people during a fierce storm and (perhaps zealously) takes it upon himself to protect people from the negative influences of the Cobra Kai Dojo. Matching this heroism is bravery. When necessary, Daniel demonstrates an ability to overcome fear or difficult odds to do what is right or stand up for himself. Equally, he is prone to panicking in the face of threats. Before learning Karate he freaks out when forced to participate in the tournament, and he is mentally assaulted and worn down in the face of Barnes and Terry Silver. However, he eventually finds the resolve to overcome this fear and panic. In addition, he faces his duel with Chozen, knowing it is to the death, without flinching.
Linked to his tendency to panic is his reaction when faced with a resurgent Cobra Kai. He manipulates the rent of innocent shop owners and conducts a crusade against Johnny’s dojo. However, he realizes his mistakes in these reactions and re-dedicates himself to his mentor‘s teaching of balance. Daniel later proves to be a fantastic influence on Robby.
After starting Miyagi-Do Karate he becomes so focused on being Mr. Miyagi and training his students to defeat Cobra Kai that he ignores his wife Amanda and job which angers her, though Daniel manages to make it up to her.
After learning that Kreese is back at Cobra Kai Daniel is shocked and angry, showing he still holds a grudge against Kreese and hasn't forgotten the latter's past actions against him.
By the end of season 2 Daniel is forced to shut down Miyagi-Do after a school brawl resulted in Sam possibly having a broken rib and Miguel being rendered unconscious by Robby. Daniel goes home where he apologies to Miyagi.
- In 2018, Daniel was inducted into the Fictitious Athlete Hall of Fame.
- One strength and weakness of Daniel's is his loyalty to his family, a trait that was later revealed to have been due to Daniel's mother. However, this loyalty causes Danny to become extremely defensive anytime anyone in his family is criticized or insulted, especially by his rivals, such as Johnny Lawrence, even if the statement about said family member is true.
- In 2015, YouTube user J. Matthew Turner posted a video that proposed a serious conspiracy theory: that Daniel LaRusso is the real bully in "The Karate Kid", and Johnny Lawrence is just an innocent peacemaker, citing examples such as Daniel being the one who started the fight on the beach, as well as dousing Johnny at the dance. This version of events was validated in the 2018 Youtube Red series Cobra Kai, when Johnny recounts his version of events to Miguel, which matches Turner's theory practically verbatim (although Johnny does gloss over some details in his version, such as knocking Daniel down the hill or the way he acted with Ali at the beach, breaking her radio, and the later ballroom dance).
- Originally, the character was named "Daniel Webber", but after Ralph Macchio won the part, the character's name was changed to LaRusso to reflect Italian-American heritage. At the time of the making of the first film, Italian-American teenagers had often been portrayed in media as bullies akin to the Cobras, as well as Italian men being depicted as mobsters, lowlives, or soldiers who were allied with the Nazis (Italy being part of the Axis in World War II). Mark Kamen was presented with a letter of commendation by the group Italians Against Discrimination for his film, as were Randee Heller and Ralph Macchio, for showing the LaRussos as a decent, positive portrayal of an Italian-American family.
- Daniel's future education was a subplot of the second and third films. He spent the money intended for college on a plane ticket to Japan, and when he won Sato's money in the bet by breaking the ice slabs, Mr. Miyagi says he has an excellent plan for the winnings: putting it back into the savings account intended for college. In the third film, Lucille expresses pride that Daniel will be starting college; when Daniel again misdirects the money, this time on a lease so Miyagi can start his bonsai tree shop, Mr. Miyagi expresses disapproval that Daniel has forgone higher education. It has not yet been revealed whether or not Daniel attended the university in the interim between the films and the Cobra Kai series timeline.
- Daniel's father died in 1974, when he was 8 years old. Daniel briefly discusses this with Mr. Miyagi in Part II and again in Cobra Kai. In season 2 of Cobra Kai, Daniel discusses him again with his mother, fondly recalling a day they all went to Coney Island together. Daniel then states that he got sick not long after. As there have been flashback scenes showing a young Johnny with his then-living mother in the Cobra Kai series, it is possible that there will be a flashback scene showing Daniel's father.
- Daniel is compared to:
- John Kreese - both of them confront their rivals about fighting incidents (Miyagi and Johnny).
- Mr. Miyagi- Both instruct and mentor their student (Daniel in Miyagi's case, and Robby in Daniel's case).
- In the 2010 remake, Dre Parker is the equivalent of Daniel LaRusso.