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's "philosophy".
Congratulations. You did what I always thought you could do. You won. Cobra Kai is back where it belongs. Back on top. Everyone closed the book on us - they thought we were done - but now they see that the real story's only just begun.
~ John Kreese congratulating Johnny Lawrence for winning the All Valley Karate Tournament at the end of Season 1 of Cobra Kai.
I founded Cobra Kai. It belongs to me. It always has and it always will. I will never let my students lose. Even if they have to learn the hard way. One day you will thank me for this Johnny.
~ John Kreese to Johnny Lawrence after taking his Cobra Kai dojo from him at the end of Season 2 of Cobra Kai.
Cobra Kai never dies.
~ John Kreese after his return in Cobra Kai.

John Kreese is the main antagonist of the Karate Kid franchise, serving as the main antagonist of the original The Karate Kid, a minor antagonist in The Karate Kid, Part II, and one of the two main antagonists (alongside Terry Silver) of The Karate Kid, Part III. He reappears in the Cobra Kai TV series on YouTube Red/Netflix as the overarching antagonist of season 1 and the main antagonist of season 2.

He was portrayed by Martin Kove, who also played Ericson in Rambo: First Blood Part II.


Military Service

Kreese was a Captain in the U.S. Army, where he was part of the Special Forces during the Vietnam War. One of his war buddies was Terry Silver, whom Kreese had allegedly saved the life of on multiple occasions. Kreese initially met Silver when he was a First Lieutenant. Kreese had already distinguished himself with heroic service in combat during the previous years of the war. Kreese was a specialist in long-range surveillance patrols and an expert in jungle warfare and was invaluable to the young Silver as a mentor and father figure. Silver credited Kreese with saving his life several times during harrowing night-time patrols in Vietnam’s Central Highlands region, where the two came under enemy fire on countless occasions. Silver himself was awarded three Purple Heart medals over the course of his combat service from 1969 to 1972, and Kreese earned a Silver Star and was promoted to the rank of Captain.

In 1970, Kreese became the U.S. Army’s Karate champion, at which point Silver requested that Kreese train him. Though he had no prior experience in Karate, Silver’s exceptional athleticism and his physical stamina made him a natural for martial arts, 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. Following Kreese's retirement from the Army, he opened the Cobra Kai Dojo, with Silver's backing.

The Karate Kid (1984)

Kreese is first seen at the Cobra Kai dojo. He instructs his students that mercy is for the weak, and an enemy deserves no mercy. He also orders his students to use illegal strikes to their opponents at the All Valley Tournament. 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. However, Johnny loses to Daniel. 

The Karate Kid Part II

Kreese appears at the beginning of the film and is angry at Johnny for both winning second place (which Johnny seemed to be OK with), and for calling him a sick and sadistic loser (as Johnny now saw him for what he really was). He violently chokes Johnny with his arms and ordered his students to stay back while even hitting one of them. However, he was stopped by Miyagi and all his students depart from his dojo. As a result, Kreese lost his Dojo.

The Karate Kid Part III

Kreese has fallen on hard times, with the Cobra Kai Dojo bankrupt and empty. He plots revenge against both Daniel and Miyagi, with the help of his old Vietnam War buddy Terry Silver, after listening to his story.

So, Silver hires Mike Barnes to harass and defeat Daniel at the All Valley Tournament. However, Daniel defeats Mike Barnes, while Kreese is disappointed and throws something at the audience for cheering for Daniel. The audience throws back their free T-shirts in disgust at Kreese and Silver, and Cobra Kai is closed down for good.

Other Appearances

He does not appear in the Next Karate Kid; however, a character named Master Li mirrors John Kreese in a 2010 remake.

Cobra Kai

Season 1

John Kreese's return in Cobra Kai.

Congratulations, you did what I always thought you could do, you won. Cobra Kai is back where it belongs. Back on top. Everyone closed the book on us. They thought we were done. But now they see, that the real story has only just begun.
~ John to his former pupil, Johnny.

Kreese appears in a few flashbacks. He is mentioned several times, revealing that his, Silver's and Barnes repeated rule-breaking (in Karate Kid 3) got Cobra Kai permanently disqualified from the All-Valley Karate Tournament. He was long thought to be dead at least according to Johnny, but in the last scene of the season 1 finale he is revealed to be alive when enters the Cobra Kai dojo, congratulates Johnny for winning at any costs during the annual All Valley Karate Tournament, and reveals that this is the beginning for Cobra Kai and that Johnny still has a lot more to learn — something which Johnny is terrified to hear about. 

Season 2

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 also wants revenge against Daniel LaRusso for putting his dojo out of business and humilating him. 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 butt-kisser. This makes him attempt to re-open the Cobra Kai once again 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 the 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, Johnny trails Kreese to find that he has actually been living in homeless shelters over the past 30 or so years. 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 Cobra Kai again, 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 trained the members of the Special Forces, presumably during his original 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, all of Johnny's students 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 that if he wants Cobra Kai, it's his and Johnny storms out of the dojo in anger. 


Karate Kid

He was a vicious and ruthless teacher who taught his students to be ruthless and merciless against their opponents. During the All-Valley Tournament, he showed how low he was willing to stoop in order to win by instructing Bobby to put Daniel out of commission during the semifinals and Johnny to sweep his leg in the finals.

Despite being a soldier like Mr. Miyagi, but unlike him, Kresse sees his students are more like soldiers than martial artists, which caused him to be unforgiving towards his 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.

Karate Kid 2

He verbally berates Johnny for losing, breaks his trophy and chokes him and even harms his students Bobby and Tommy, thus showing everyone that he is a sore loser. He then attacks Miyagi after the latter stops from seriously injurying Johnny before getting beaten with little effort.

Karate Kid 3

He is still bitter over losing his students' thanks to Miyagi and Daniel, very bent on getting revenge on Daniel and Miyagi, and he enjoys making Daniel suffer.

Cobra Kai

Season 1

At the end of the first season, he is still shown bent on getting revenge on Daniel for putting Cobra Kai out of business years ago. He also tells Johnny that he is proud of him which turns out to be an attempt at using him as a pawn.

Season 2

Initially Kreese seems to be seeking redemption, which results in Johnny giving him a second chance. However, overtime it is revealed Kreese truly hasn't changed. He uses his anger, bitterness, and past teachings and experiences to manipulate several of Johnny's students into becoming more vicious and aggressive people under Johnny's nose. He once threatens Daniel with war between the two dojos and aslo Kreese wants his revenge against Daniel for ruining him. If anything, his methods are even more ruthless this time around given that he is praying on the Dojo Member's resentment towards being bullied.

After Johnny finds out what Kreese has been doing he angrily kicks him out of the dojo. However, in the end of the season Kreese reveals to Johnny that he betrayed him while he was away earlier in the summer by secretly striking a deal with the landlord to acquire the dojo. Kreese now owns Cobra Kai again, several of Johnny's students which include Hawk and Tory are training with Kreese and under Kreese's spell, and Johnny has officially lost the dojo. This along with everything else he lost, results in John briefly breaking Johnny's spirit.


Are you familiar with brumation? In winter some animals bury themselves in a hole and sleep there for months. The snake buries himself in a hole...the only difference is the snake doesn't sleep. He stays awake all winter...waiting for the right moment to emerge...and that moment is now.
~ Kreese after his return in Season 2 of Cobra Kai.
Our society has gotten weak. Kids today are coddled. They get trophies for just showing up. Something's gotta be done. Someone's gotta step in and stop the ass-kissing, and start the ass-kicking. That's why we're here. The world needs Cobra Kai.
~ John Kreese in his conversation with Johnny Lawrence at a diner.
The fight is only over when you say it is.
~ John Kreese to Hawk.
When one of you makes a move, you all make a move. You live and you die by the consequences and the spoils, because you are all Cobra Kai.
~ John Kreese to Johnny's students while teaching them.


  • Despite playing a small role in the original Karate Kid, he is the main antagonist of the film as he instructs and influences his students to behave mercilessly and unethically. 
  • According to Martin Kove in the DVD Documentary, he had gotten a call from director John G. Avildsen stating that they wanted him to audition for Kreese but was then told to wait. Kove wanted the role so much that he turned down other prospects in order to get this part. But when the "waiting" dragged out for a few weeks, Kove became annoyed as he kept turning down parts. Finally, when Avildsen called Kove in to audition, Kove was so annoyed at Avildsen that he berated the director and channeled his anger into an intense audition. Ultimately, that intensity got him the role.
  • Martin Kove was rumored to have replaced Chuck Norris, who allegedly turned down the role of Kreese because he didn't want karate trainers to be shown in an unsympathetic light. Norris has since said he was never offered the role but that if he had been, he would've declined for similar reasons.
  • According to Martin Kove, the blood on his hands when he broke the windows was real and was an accident on-set. The footage was left in the final cut.
  • Martin Kove has claimed that fans of the original film always tell him, "I love to hate you."
  • Kreese and Daniel never once speak directly to each other throughout the entire trilogy. They have a brief interaction in the third film, but Kreese is just yelling gibberish at Daniel and therefore not technically speaking to him.
  • Despite not having the most screen-time in Cobra Kai season 2, he is the main antagonist of the season as he corrupts and manipulates the Cobra Kai students into behaving viciously and mercilessly. He was also using Johnny, so he could take back his dojo.
  • His counterpart in the 2010 remake is Master Li.


           KarateKidTitle.png Villains

The Karate Kid (1984): John Kreese | Johnny Lawrence | Dutch | Bobby Brown | Tommy | Jimmy
The Karate Kid Part II: Chozen Toguchi | Sato Toguchi | Toshio | Taro | John Kreese | Johnny Lawrence
The Karate Kid Part III: Terry Silver | John Kreese | Mike Barnes | Snake | Dennis | Margaret Spencer | Milos Dadok
The Next Karate Kid: Colonel Dugan | Ned Randall | Charlie | Gabe | Morgan
The Karate Kid (2010): Master Li | Cheng | Liang | Zhuang | Song

Cobra Kai: Johnny Lawrence | John Kreese | Eli "Hawk" Moskowitz | Kyler | Brucks | Trey & Cruz | Louie LaRusso Jr. | Tory

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