Next Story

From Karate Kid to Cobra Kai

There is more to Daniel LaRusso than meets the eye, and Ralph Macchio proves that in an autobiography

By Omair Alavi |
facebook whatsup linkded
PUBLISHED April 28, 2024

There are two kinds of people in this world — those who love The Karate Kid and those who don’t. And if you belong to the former category then you know exactly who Ralph Macchio is and how important he was to the classic 80s franchise. You might not know that while The Karate Kid made a star out of the young actor, it ruined his chances for more success. To explain that Catch-22 situation, Macchio decided to become an author, and managed to do a great job.

Waxing On: The Karate Kid and Me is a book about a young actor who went on to play the protagonist in The Karate Kid but had no clue that the character of Daniel LaRusso would stick to him so well that despite acting in Academy-Award-winning flicks, he would always remain The Karate Kid for his fans. In this book Macchio explains his inability to shrug off the LaRusso tag, the problems he faced because of his youthful looks, and how Cobra Kai saved his career and made him relevant to his kids’ generation.

And if you don’t know who Ralph Macchio is, then there is no better way to know about the career of an actor who played an iconic character at the very beginning of his career. Not only does he discuss the pros and cons of becoming famous at a very young age but also the impact it had on those who watched it when it was released, he explains how it affected his career.

The book takes the readers back to the 1980s when there was no Internet, no mobile phones, no advanced CGI, and above all, no social media. Telephone was the primary mode of communication, print was the preferred form of journalism and to get a shot right for a film, you had to practice instead of relying on special effects. That’s what you learn from Macchio’s words, which come out as a conversation with a friend, not a celebrity.

If you didn’t know that Ralph Macchio was in his 20s (22s to be exact) when The Karate Kid was released, that he was part of the cast of The Outsiders (1983) and My Cousin Vinny (1992), or that he was also considered for the role of Marty McFly before Michael J. Fox made it his own, then you are in for a lot of surprises in these pages.

He explains how he was selected for the role of Daniel LaRusso but wasn’t confirmed for a long time, how he auditioned with other actors including William Zabka to determine their fate in the franchise, and how wrong his assessment was regarding Pat Morita who became Mr. Miyagi, a father figure for both him and his character. In his defense, he explains that Morita was known for his comedic character in Happy Days and since Miyagi was supposed to be a no-nonsense character, he couldn’t picture the actor in it.

However, he admits his mistake as soon as he shares the screen with the future Miyagi, and credits the writer Robert Mark Kamen and director John G. Avildsen of The Karate Kid for not listening to those who weren’t in favour of Morita. His hilarious take on sharing the same director with another underdog flick Rocky is also something worth reading, since Avildsen expected nothing less than perfection because of his previous experience.

Divided into 12 chapters, the first one talks about Macchio’s audition and probable selection as The Karate Kid, the second and third ones about the magic that made the film successful, followed by a whole chapter talking about Zabka, his rival on screen and friend off-screen, and how his smirk still manages to irk him. In this chapter, Macchio explains how inferior he felt in front of his co-star who was not only athletic but also a fast learner, and it was a shame that he had to end up on the losing side!

The Crane Flight that became a craze after the release of The Karate Kid takes another chapter and rightly so since it is now considered an iconic Hollywood moment. How it was conceived, and what difficulties the makers and the actor faced in its execution are what will interest those who have been dying to find out how they managed to pull it off. The next few chapters talk about the unnecessary sequels and why the franchise couldn’t sustain the success of the original flick; had the makers listened to their LaRusso, they could have saved themselves from embarrassment.

The latter part of the book is mostly about Macchio trying to fit in as someone other than LaRusso, which led to the birth of Cobra Kai, first on YouTube and later on Netflix. It might seem surprising but the author discloses that due to his laidback attitude, he refused to attend the Academy Awards where Morita was nominated, and that he had rejected an offer from the producers of How I Met Your Mother to appear as LaRusso. It was only after the intervention of his children that he decided to appear in the famous sitcom where he reunited with Zabka’s Johnny Lawrence.

Macchio also points out some of the factors that disturbed him during the making of the first three films in the franchise. He made it clear that he wasn’t happy when Elisabeth Shue was not recalled for the first sequel, he was shocked at the announcement of The Next Karate Kid featuring just Morita and clarified his stance on the controversy surrounding Jaden Smith’s The Karate Kid where his words were misreported in the media. However, what tops it all is the revelation behind the famous “catching a fly with a chopstick” story, and trust me, the scene gained iconic status because instead of going for CGI technology, the makers went old-school. The result was a scene that remains etched into the audience’s memory.

What’s the reason behind Macchio’s youthful appearance (he is 62 but looks in his 40s!), how does he react when people from different walks of life approach him with their own The Karate Kid stories, and how much he misses the team behind the original franchise is something that will make you smile, touched and emotional, in that order.

One look at the pictures and you will be transported back into the 1970s and then travel back in time till the advent of Cobra Kai, which will be airing its sixth season in coming days. Ralph credits the writers for the revival series’ success and explains how he felt at reuniting with Shue’s Ali during one of its seasons. He also talks in detail about his final meetings with Morita and Avildsen who he believes were integral to the success of both the film and Ralph’s career as an actor.

You might also come across a few fun facts while going through this book, such as Daniel LaRusso wasn’t the character’s original name in the original draft; it was changed once Ralph was confirmed for the character. He also disclosed the names of Charlie Sheen, Robert Downey Jr., and Chuck Norris' son Kyle as potential Daniels while explaining that had he not been under contract, he might not have done more Karate Kid flicks.

Yes, The Karate Kid had the same impact on his career that Happy Days had on Henry Winkler’s, but it would have been great had Macchio also given the same importance to his other work because writing an autobiography is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Not only does he have Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders to his credit but he was also in Crossroads, My Cousin Vinny, Teachers, and Up The Academy proving that he was more than just Daniel LaRusso.

He also didn't mention anything about his life before The Karate Kid, which was something his fans would have loved to read. A few pages about where he was born, where he studied and how his friends and family reacted to his stardom would surely have been classified as value-added information.

Finally, something about the book’s title ‘Waxing On’, which takes the fans of The Karate Kid to the “Wax on, wax off” training sequence between Mr. Miyagi and Daniel LaRusso, who was Daniel San for his master. How the two became close friends while filming the iconic scene and later the training montage is something not to be missed and once you read about that, you will realise the importance and the appropriateness of the title.


Omair Alavi is a freelance contributor who writes about film, television, and popular culture

All facts and information are the sole responsibility of the author