Recently, William Zabka stopped by The Karate Kid Homepage. He dropped me a line and supplied me with a huge thrill. Billy is a class act, and one of the nicest people I've ever had a chance to talk to. I would like to thank him for all the trouble he went through for me. Thanks Billy. You can now email Billy at PRImage@aol.com
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I was not a martial artist when I filmed the Karate Kid. I was a wrestler. Pat Johnson trained me for one month prior to filming and all through the two month shoot. Pat Johnson has choreographed the most lucrative and successful martial arts film. He did all the Karate Kid's...all the Ninja Turtles...and Mortal Kombat I and II (soon to be released). He was Chuck Norris's 9th degree black belt in Chuck's system Tang Soo Do. An undefeated captain of the US karate team in the 70's. He is known as the 'tree trunk.' A stocky guy...solid as a rock...with a heart of gold. He was the referee conducting the final fight in Karate Kid I.
Being that I didn't know any Martial Arts going into this part, he had his work cut out for him. We trained four hours a day, five days a week....sometimes seven days. Ralph and I were both trained together and separately. Ralph's style in the movie was a defensive Okanowan style....a soft style. My training was more traditional, straight forward karate...Korean. Pat would stretch us together and work with us together for all our fights throughout the film. The final fight was rehearsed from the first week on...then every day forward..until the final sequence was put on film.
Being that I was new to the Martial Arts, and Johnny was supposed to be a champion, the Producers were a little nervous that I could pull it off. So, one day in Rehearsal Hall 15 at Columbia Pictures, all the Columbia "brass" (Producers, Executives) came to the hall to watch me rehearse. The room was lined with real champions; blonde, blue eyed alternate "Johnny's," just waiting for me to mess up. Who knows....perhaps they would've taken my role if I messed up. I don't know why they were there...and perhaps I'll never know. They all sat there, Executives, Producers and black belts, and watched as I did my first public flying side kick. Pat had Ralph stand up against a wall. The kick was the same one that broke the sign in the 'skeleton fence fight sequence.' The heat was on. Pat looked at me with confidence. We had done this kick many times. I always got the height right, (right next to Ralph's head). And it almost looked good at times. Pat held a practice bag next to Ralph's head. Ralph joked, "Don't miss...I got a movie to do." So...I was stretched, flexible and fired up with nerves. Even though I was already cast, this felt like my final audition. The Producers were sitting in chairs in the back of the studio. The karate maniacs on the floor, stretching...all wearing their black belts and champion patches. I was wearing my white belt. I stood back from Ralph about eight feet, got in a charge position and ran towards him. I leaped in the air...tucked my left leg under and almost got my right leg up. But, it just wouldn't get up there. I missed the bag...and landed very sloppily. The room was quiet. Only Pat still had confidence. Ralph did too. But, he was more worried about his face. At this point I suppose the confidence and determination Pat had instilled in me kicked in. Slowly but surely, Billy Zabka was disappearing and Johnny Lawrence was being born. I said, "Wait...one more time." I backed up again...and with the same intensity and determination you saw in that scene in the movie....I charged Ralph again. I leaped up...tucked my left leg under...and with the Grace of God my right leg pointed at the bag like an arrow. My foot penetrated the bag...my heel literally pushed beyond the bag and into the wall. The force of my body weight..and angle of my leg and a forgiving wall caused me to experience my first almost perfect kick. I knew I did good when from behind the bag next to Ralph's head, a stream of broken dry wall fell to the ground like baby powder. When Pat removed the bag there was a hole in the wall the size of my heel.
That was all the Producers and Executives needed to see. They quietly rose from their chairs and walked out. Never to see most of them again. The martial artists' applauded. It's a supportive art. Teaches you to be selfless. And they were.
A few weeks later they had the hole filled in with plaster or something. I went back and carved my initials in it before it was completely dry. To this day..if you ever visit Rehearsal Hall 15, at what is now Warner Brothers, you can see my name carved in the wall.
The filming of Karate Kid had many magical moments. I'll send you some more stories as my time permits. I am in the process of Producing, Directing and Starring in a film I wrote entitled the "Peyote Brothers." So, I will be busy the next few months. I enjoy reliving some of the experiences from The Karate Kid. That film changed my life.