Cobra Kai: The Real Life Inspirations Behind Mr. Miyagi

There are only a few characters who become as well-known and revered in pop culture as Mr. Miyagi. He first appeared in 1984’s ‘The Karate Kid,’ which became a landmark movie in itself and spawned several sequels, spin-offs, and a Netflix series, among other things. The importance of the name in the ‘Karate Kid’ universe is such that even when he never appears in Netflix’s ‘Cobra Kai,’ he remains an unshakeable presence throughout the story. His name is uttered in every episode, and with Daniel LaRusso teaching the future generation Miyagi’s style of karate, people who haven’t even met him revere him more than anyone else. Seeing the impact that Mr. Miyagi has had on the ‘Karate Kid’ franchise and the iconic figure he has developed into, it is only natural to wonder if there is a real-life inspiration behind him.

Mr. Miyagi is an Amalgamations of Real Life Karate Experts

‘The Karate Kid’ is a fictional story with fictional characters, but it has roots in reality, with its writer Robert Mark Kamen citing autobiographical elements in the story. Like Daniel LaRusso, Kamen had been hounded by bullies when he was in school. It was to fight them that he decided to take up karate lessons, but he didn’t get one-on-one lessons like Daniel. At first, Kamen joined a dojo whose sensei had an aggressive form that didn’t fit with Kamen (who later used it as an inspiration for Cobra Kai and their sensei, John Kreese). The writer later found a different dojo, which helped him a lot and eventually served as a model for the karate that Daniel learned from Mr. Miyagi.

This dojo was led by a sensei named Chojun Miyagi, whose name Kamen borrowed while writing the iconic Mr. Miyagi in ‘The Karate Kid’ movies. Chojun Miyagi is a revered figure in karate and is known for being the founder of Goju-Ryu, an Okinawan karate style, which is also, unofficially, what Mr. Miyagi teaches Daniel in the movies. However, he was not the only one from the dojo who had an impact on Kamen. He was also taken by Sensei Meitoku Yagi, who was the disciple of Chojun Miyagi and eventually served as his successor. It was him that Kamen looked towards when sketching out Mr. Miyagi’s character for the movies. He also borrowed some elements from his life to add to Daniel LaRusso’s mentor, especially the parts like Mr. Miyagi’s time in the internment camps following the Pearl Harbor attack and his service in the American military.

Mr. Miyagi’s Stunt Double Also Influenced the Iconic Character

Actor Pat Morita has been immortalized with his portrayal of Mr. Miyagi in ‘The Karate Kid’ movies. He even received an Academy Award nomination for his role in the original film. However, for playing the character of a karate master, Morita wasn’t really a martial arts expert in real life. All of his stunts were performed by a double, and Fumio Demura was the one who played that role in most of the films. Interestingly, Demura was also considered for the role of Mr. Miyagi, but because he wasn’t well-versed in English, he believed it would be difficult for him to get to the core of the character. So, Morita took the spotlight while Demura doubled for him in the action scenes.

Demura is an icon in his own right and has worked with several big names in Hollywood, the most notable of whom is Bruce Lee. He was also one of the people who had a significant influence on Morita’s portrayal of Mr. Miyagi. Reportedly, Morita, who developed a life-long friendship with him, met Demura during one of his tournaments and based a lot of Mr. Miyagi’s characteristics on ihm, most notable of which is the character’s accent. In real life, Morita, having been brought up in America, didn’t have an accent. However, given Mr. Miyagi’s history, the filmmakers believed that he must have a different way of speaking. Reportedly, Morita based his accent on Demura.

Demura, who died in 2023 at the age of 84, was instrumental in shaping Mr. Miyagi’s character, especially his fighting style, which Demura informed with his own knowledge of the Okinawan Kobudō style. Despite remaining behind the scenes for the most part, he had forged a reputation for himself. In 2015, a documentary called ‘The Real Miyagi’ was released, focusing on Demura’s story, his fighting style, and his part in the making of ‘The Karate Kid.’

Read More: Where Is Mr. Miyagi’s House From Cobra Kai Filmed?