- "We do not train to be merciful here. Mercy is for the weak! Here, in the streets, in competition. A man confronts you, he is the enemy. An enemy deserves no mercy."
- ―John Kreese to his students [src]
Sensei John Kreese is the main antagonist of the original trilogy of The Karate Kid (specifically the main antagonist of The Karate Kid and the secondary antagonist of The Karate Kid Part III) and the second season of the web TV series Cobra Kai. Kreese is a Vietnam War veteran, former U.S. Army captain and the co-founder (with Terry Silver) of the karate dojo Cobra Kai. He is now the owner and Sensei of the Cobra Kai Dojo.
Born in 1941, John Kreese joined the U.S. Army at some point in the past, becoming a commissioned officer. He volunteered for and passed U.S. Army Special Forces selection training, and proceeded to serve in a Green Beret unit during the Vietnam War. He attained the rank of captain, and was the Army's karate champion from 1970 to 1972, as shown on a framed picture of Kreese in uniform, which hung on the wall of his dojo in the first film. During his time in the Army, Kreese befriended a fellow Green Beret, Terry Silver, and saved his life several times in Vietnam. Despite this, Kreese would years later maintain that Silver doesn't owe him anything, though he admits he "lost count" of how many times he saved Silver's life.
In 1970, Kreese became the U.S. Army’s Karate champion, at which point Silver requested that Kreese train him and Silver began undertaking extensive Karate lessons from Kreese in between combat missions. Kreese, who had studied under Kim Sun-Yung of South Korea, instilled in Silver the creed of “Strike First, Strike Hard, No Mercy.” The two continued their rigorous workouts and sparring matches throughout the remainder of the war, along with others in their infantry company so that more soldiers could learn the valuable hand-to-hand combat skills. It was this small but elite group of soldiers who became the very first “Cobra Kai” class, and all of them received a distinctive tattoo of a fist clutching a cobra, which was to become the symbol of their brotherhood. After leaving the Army, Kreese opened a karate dojo with the help of Terry Silver, Cobra Kai, training young men in "the way of the fist". According to Martin Kove, Kreese had won at everything his entire life, and in Vietnam, the war was not allowed to be won. After the war, Kreese returned home and vowed that he and his dojo would not lose ever again. Because of this, Kreese created a simple motto for Cobra Kai, summing up his view on fighting and life itself: "Strike First, Strike Hard, No Mercy".
The Karate Kid (1984)
In the first film, Kreese is a violent, cruel, brutal man who instructs his students to be merciless towards their enemies and by ordering his students to use illegal strikes at the tournament to disable their opponents. Prior to the start of the semifinals in the all valley tournament he instructs his student Bobby Brown to put his opponent Daniel LaRusso even though Bobby knew he could beat him. In the finals he instructed his best student Johnny Lawrence to sweep Daniel's foot which shocked Johnny.
The Karate Kid Part II (1986)
It becomes clear in The Karate Kid Part II that Kreese is racist toward Asians (judging by when he calls Mr. Miyagi a slope in the movie) In the second film, after his best student, Johnny Lawrence lost to Daniel LaRusso in the "All Valley Karate Tournament", Kreese violently proves himself as a sadistic sore loser by breaking Johnny’s trophy and attempting to strangle him with his arms (which is later stopped by Mr. Miyagi in a humorous way), and all the students depart from the Cobra Kai dojo.
The Karate Kid Part III (1989)
During the events of the third film, Kreese plots revenge against Daniel and Miyagi for the loss of his dojo and students. With nowhere to go, Kreese visits his Vietnam War buddy Terry Silver, who had given him the money to start the Cobra Kai dojo. After listening to Kreese's story, Silver decides to help him out by harassing Daniel and Miyagi and even hiring Mike Barnes to defeat Daniel in the All Valley Tournament.
Cobra Kai (2018-)
Kreese is shown in several flashbacks. When Daniel asks Johnny why he is bringing Cobra Kai back after what Kreese did to him, Johnny replies that he isn't Kreese, and that the lessons he'd learned from him still worked. When trying to get the ban lifted on Cobra Kai for the tournament, it is revealed that Cobra Kai got permanently disqualified from the All Valley tournament due to Kreese's, Silvers, and Barnes's repeated rule breaking in the all valley tournament during 1985, and Johnny claims that Kreese is dead. However, in the last scene of the first season of Cobra Kai, Kreese appears in the Cobra Kai dojo much to Johnny's shock, where he congratulates Johnny for bringing Cobra Kai back and reclaiming their champion title. Now, he has a chance to finally get his revenge against Daniel LaRusso for putting the Cobra Kai out of business, this time without Mr. Miyagi to stand in his way.
It is revealed that after Cobra Kai shut down, Kreese said that he went back to his old profession as a marine and military instructor in the US army to make a living, and that He participated in Operation: Desert Storm and trained Navy Seals in Afghan. He continued his story to say that after retiring from the military, he becomes disillusioned with the current generation as he sees them as a bunch of feeble show-off and ass kisser. This makes him attempt to join Johnny's Cobra Kai dojo by persuading Johnny to join his cause, only for Johnny to furiously push him away. However, after revealing he fixed Johnny's second place trophy from the All Valley tournament in 1984, Kreese manages to convince Johnny to let him teach at his Cobra Kai dojo again and is introduced by him to his students. Later, after Miguel tells Johnny that some parts of Kreese's story doesn't make sense as Kreese cannot distinguish of the fact Mogadishu is part of Somalia and Rwanda is a country not a city, Johnny trails Kreese to find that he's actually been living in homeless shelters over the past 10 or so years and had worked various multiple jobs. Kreese revealed that while he did attempt to re-enlist, they didn't accept him as the military needed fresh bloods. One of his old Vietnam buddies (it is unknown whether is Terry Silver or not) offered him a job, but he felt that it was just a hand-out.
Now a sensei at Johnny's Cobra Kai, Kreese uses his position to begin teaching Johnny's students to be more aggressive and to show no restraint in fights. When Johnny leaves the dojo to go spend time with his old high school friends, Kreese secretly makes arrangements with the landlord of the mini-mall Cobra Kai is in to obtain ownership of the dojo, as well as conditioning Johnny's students to be more aggressive in fights in a brutal tracking and hunting game much like how he originally trained the members of Special Forces during his service in Vietnam. After Johnny returns and finds out what Kreese has been teaching his students, he kicks Kreese out of the dojo and gives his students a speech on when to show mercy.
However, after Miguel is severely injured by Robby Keene after showing mercy to him in a fight, a handful of Johnny's students which include Hawk, Tory, Raymond and Mitch leave him and go to Kreese, who has now become the owner of the dojo. When Johnny goes to confront Kreese, his students block him, loyal only to Kreese now. Upon seeing what his dojo has turned into and realizing his grave mistake for trusting Kreese in the first place, Johnny tells Kreese he can have Cobra Kai and storms out.
According to the interview with Martin Kove, in season 3, it will explore more about Kreese's past during his time in Vietnam and how it shaped his point of view as a ruthless sensei. It is also revealed that like Johnny and Daniel, Kresse also a victim of bullying during his childhood.
The Karate Kid
Kreese was a vicious and ruthless teacher that taught his students to be merciless to their opponents. Prior to the start of the semifinals of the All Valley Tournament he showed how low he was willing to stoop when he instructed Bobby Brown to put Daniel out of commission. During the finals he further showed how low he was willing to stoop when he told Johnny Lawrence to sweep Daniel's foot. His actions in the semifinals and final show that he is an evil as unethical teacher that was willing to win at all costs.
Kresse: This time, I won't let them lose.
Daniel: Lose what? This isn't war.
Kreese: Sure it is. War never ends. Peace is just the lull between battles.
John Kreese expresses his obsession of breeding soldiers much to Daniel's disgust
Despite being a soldier like Mr Miyagi, but unlike him, Kresse sees his students are more like soldiers than martial artists, which is the root cause of his unforgiving and ruthless teaching. For him, life is a battlefield and one must fight for its with any means necessary much like a soldier willing to do everything to survive in the battlefield. One can interpret that Kreese cannot let go his view as a soldier when it comes to civilian life.
The Karate Kid Part II
Following Johnny's loss to Daniel in the All Valley Tournament, he berates Johnny and breaks his trophy, showing how much of a sore loser he really is. He then chokes Johnny and hits students Bobby and Tommy when they try to stop him, thus further proving to everyone how cruel and vicious he really is.
The Karate Kid Part III
Kreese is bent on getting revenge on Daniel and Miygai for ruining his business. He enjoys making Daniel suffer.
Kreese is still bitter at Daniel and Miyagi for ruining his business and is still bent on getting his revenge.
Kreese shows to be bitter with the current society as he views as weak, feeble and full of show-off rather than real warriors.
At first appears remorseful for the way he treated Johnny. Feeling like Kreese has changed Johnny gives him a second chance. After Kreese reveals to Johnny how much he has gone through since he lost the Dojo Johnny puts more trust in him, while Johnny thinks he can monitor and control the situation with Kreese.
However, halfway into the season it is revealed that Kreese has not changed and is still an evil and corrupt man. He uses his ruthless and no mercy personality, as well as his past war tactics to corrupt several of Johnny's students minds and turn them into ruthless and cold blooded human beings. Under orders Hawk whom he manages to corrupt the most and some other students to trash Daniel's dojo. While Johnny is away hanging out with his Cobra Kai friends Kreese takes this opportunity to corrupt and manipulate Johnny's students even more and betray Johnny by secretly meeting with the landlord and striking a deal with the latter to have him own the Dojo.
He shows up at Daniel's Dojo at once where he threatens him with war between the two dojos. He also continues to emotionally manipulate and flatter Johnny regarding "how he'll make Cobra Kai bigger than ever before" and how Johnny feels about letting Daniel teach his son karate instead of himself. After discovering Kreese's evil scheme, an angry Johnny banishes Kreese from the dojo.
However, by the end of the season he reveals to Johnny that he now owns the dojo. Hawk, Tory, Raymond, Mitch and several other of Johnny's students are now training with Kreese and completely under his evil spell. By this point Kreese has corrupted several of Johnny's students enough to betray Johnny and follow him.
Despite taking over Cobra Kai and corrupting many students, he has not completely corrupted Cobra Kai as Miguel, who is still loyal to Johnny, and other students such as Aisha, were not present when Kreese took over, possibly indicating that others students have opposed Kreese's method.
- Kreese can be compared to Star Wars villain Sheev Palpatine/Darth Sidious as both are vicious and corrupt, and able to rise to power through deception and manipulation. They also have a corrupt student/apprentice that helps them with all the chaos.
- Kreese's ability to mainipulate and deceive his way into becoming the Sensei and owner of Cobra Kai is similar to Palpatine manipulating and deceiving his way into becoming the Supreme Chancellor and later Emperor.
- The moment Kreese takes back Cobra Kai from Johnny mirrors Palaptine executing Order 66 & turning the Galactic Republic into the Galactic Empire.
- In addition Palpatine is able to turn a good person to the dark side while Kreese is able to make a corrupt student even more corrupt.
- Kreese's counterpart in the 2010 remake/reboot which is based on the original Karate Kid is Master Li.
- Kreese, like Daniel and Johnny was bullied as a child, which can explain his ruthlessness.