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At its best, the Karate Kid franchise has always been able to convey a lot of emotional and thematic weight through movement and physical expression. For many people, that's the whole idea behind martial arts: Mastering your own body so you can express yourself physically, sometimes even better than you can with words.
It's why things like leg sweeps and crane kicks loom large in the imaginations of fans, and it's why one particular key moment in the Season 4 finale of Cobra Kai came together the way it did.
**Spoiler warning for Season 4 of Cobra Kai**
One of the key arcs of Season 4 followed Robby Keene (Tanner Buchanan), Johnny's (William Zabka) estranged son, who ended up on the run and eventually defected to the newly reformed Cobra Kai dojo under John Kreese (Martin Kove) and Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith) after crippling Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) in Season 3. Robby's apparent turn to the dark side of Southern California karate came to a head, as things always seem to do, at the All-Valley championship in the Season 4 finale. In the final All-Boys round, he faced off against Miyagi-do student Eli "Hawk" Moskowitz (Jacob Bertrand) and, in the opening clashes, ripped his black Cobra Kai gi.
Rather than trying to simply tie the gi back up and keep fighting, Robby let all of his frustrations and torment hang out by ripping the entire gi off. Eli followed, flexing his hawk back tattoo in the process, creating a shirtless showdown for the ages.
"Going into that sudden death moment, it was the idea of, How can you make a fight not [just] about three points," Cobra Kai co-creator Josh Heald explained to Entertainment Weekly. "How can you make it different? How can you make it more aggressive?"
Two shirtless teenage boys grimacing and flexing at each other in the middle of a karate tournament is certainly aggressive, but the moment was about more than letting Robby and Eli show off their muscles and their tenacity as warriors. It was also a way to signal Robby's shift from Cobra Kai student to something else. After a whole season of running, he finally seemed ready to let go of the anger that led him to the rival dojo.
"The idea of a gi getting ripped — it's [Robby] almost saying, 'I don't care about the gi anymore,'" Heald said. "It's kind of his first moment of shrugging off Cobra Kai in a way, before he even maybe fully realizes it."
Cobra Kai Seasons 1-4 are streaming now on Netflix.