- "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, a Vietnam War veteran, and the Co-Founder of the karate dojo Cobra Kai.
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)Edit
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.
The Karate Kid Part II (1986)Edit
It becomes clear in The Karate Kid Part II that Kreese is racist toward Asians (judging by when he calls 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)Edit
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-)Edit
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 unknown if Kreese is alive, or just a drunken hallucination.