Downtown Crowd

Star of Karate Kid talks with Ballinger Publishing

At the Oct. 18 Northwest Florida Martial Arts Championships, practitioners from various schools came to Crestview to share their passion for the various forms of martial arts and compete for the chance to be crowned the year’s grand champions. The tournament, sponsored and organized by Gordon Martial Arts, had over 30 championship titles up for grabs (divided by age and belt level) in the forms (martial arts patterns), sparring, musical forms, weapons forms, and self-defense drills. The overall winners, decided by points accumulated over the year, were recognized by Master Thomas Gordon and someone special.

While the sweeping of legs is regulated to the self-defense demonstration division, the man who popularized the phrase “Sweep the leg” with ruthless vigor was on-hand to meet fans and present championship trophies to the victors.

Actor Martin Kove, mainly recognized as John Kreese, the vicious leader of Cobra Kai from the Karate Kid films, was this year’s special guest at the Northwest Florida Martial Arts Championships, and here is some of what he had to say about the event, his own martial arts experience, and his acting career.

First and foremost, how did you become the special guest at the Martial Arts Championship? How did you start the connection?

“Well, we were doing the 30th anniversary in New York of The Karate Kid, and I was on the East Coast, and I met Shihan (master instructor) Thomas Gordon back last, I think it was the Academy of Martial Arts in Atlantic City, driven by a mutual friend named Alan Goldstein. And we met, then we talked, and he called me and asked me if I’d like to be a guest and I said, you know, I’ll be there. I’m on the East Coast anyway. I enjoy Florida. He sounded like he had a lot of integrity because I just don’t just do, drop by tournaments. You know, it’s not what I do. So, I came and he’s just fantastic.”

Yeah, I know. The first time I met him and went to his school it was just, I loved the atmosphere and everything and how everyone was connected. So I’m really glad you got to experience that. So, what division are you looking forward to most at the tournament?

“I really like the early division, the early age of children who experiment with karate because my son, he was sort of riddled with ADHD and never could stay in class, and I miss that. My daughter (I have twins), when my daughter runs around the house, always did, doing her own kata and making up her own styles, and she looked like she was extremely formidable, like if she was a black belt at the age of 10, but it was all her imagination, and they’re both actors. But I love, just like in soccer, I love watching females play soccer. I love watching girls up to about 12 is my favorite stage doing the tai chi katas or doing something a little more formidable and active. There’s something marvelous about that machismo quality when watching a young girl. They get really into it and it’s very exciting because too many people think that karate is not feminine enough, and it is. It’s fantastic. They get into it because unlike John Kreese who found in the Karate Kid movies, he found, he professed karate to be an offensive sport and it’s really a defensive art, which is what Miyagi stated in the movie.”

And you talk a bit about your martial arts experience. You obviously trained I know in the Okinawan style. Just talk a little bit about your training and your experience.

“Well, I work with a man named Gordon Doversola, who is the shihan in Okinawa-te. I was doing a film called Steele Justice, and there was a stunt coordinator there, it was after Karate Kid, and we had a lot of work, a lot of fights with wakizashis and bos and katanas. It’s (the wakizashi) a shorter katana, it’s not as long, and I had two of them. We needed to really coordinate; I had not experienced it, working with a wakizashi. And he had, you know, some amazing technique and, I think he passed away, his shihan was Gordon Doversola, pretty much an outlaw in karate, and it was his style Okinawa-te, but he was a very strange character but a wonderful man, and I learned so much from Michael the stunt trainer and I was given the black belt in Okinawate and then tiger kenpo I was an honorary black belt. So, in the movie, he learned so much. I have a background in a lot of Taekwondo, kendo with my shihan…”

We all know about how you’re John Kreese in the Karate Kid movies. That’s one of my favorite movie villains, personally. Talk a little bit, if you would, about your beginning acting experience. What got you into acting? What got you interested? How did you start out?

“Well, I was always interested in acting,” Kove said, who noted that he was specifically interested in classical theatre and developed an acting foundation by acting in plays. “One day I left to go out to California and played a lot of heavies.”

Kove later acquired more substantial and enjoyable film and television roles while acting for Code R, Cagney & Lacey, Rambo First Blood Part II and, of course, the Karate Kid movies.

What kind of projects will you be working on next?

“I have two Westerns coming out next year. One called Three Tickets to Paradise, which was shot in Tombstone, and another show called Six Gun Savior with Eric Roberts, which is a very surreal kind of Western with demons. Well, it’s not quite horror, but it’s really supernatural. And you know, I’m a big advocate of the West and try and rejuvenate the genre and get more Westerns greenlit, but selling a western in Hollywood is really rough. But it’s my favorite genre. I loved working Wyatt Earp with Costner and Gambler V: Playing for Keeps with Kenny Rogers. It’s my favorite genre to date.”