Did Daniel Really Use an Illegal Kick?

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The Karate Kid is one of the best martial art movies ever — decades after, folks are still talking about it. Of course, it ends with a brutal crane kick to Johnny. But did Daniel really use an illegal kick?

Here’s what I can tell you:

Daniel did use an illegal kick against Johnny in the finale of The Karate Kid. In Karate tournaments that are points driven, while the judges’ discretion varies, a kick to the head would typically lead to disqualification. 

However, the crane kick would be allowed in full-contact Karate matches. But that is not the type of tournament shown in the movie.

So, Daniel’s kick was illegal.

But we’re only getting started. In this article, we’ll check out whether the crane kick is even a real kick and whether he cheated in the tournament.

But we’ll also explore if the kick is legal in real life and whether it’s easy. And we’ll wrap up by looking at kicks that are illegal in Karate.

Let the fun begin.

Is the Crane Kick a real kick?

The Crane Kick is a real kick, but in Karate, it’s not called Crane Kick, and it’s not exactly executed the way Daniel used it in The Karate Kid. It’s a fictionalized variation of Mae Tobi Geri — a flying kick. 

In the movie, Daniel’s been wounded. We could see that he was limping. And yet, he leveraged the kick to become a champion.

As you know, in a movie, faithfulness to Karate techniques is incidental to telling a dramatic and captivating story. The stance he employed before delivering the kick is pure fiction. You won’t see it in any real-life Karate contest.

But it’s really cool. And while the Crane Kick is real, but it’s not unique to Karate; it’s also employed in some other martial arts.

Lyoto Machida used it to knock out Randy Couture in UFC 129.

How’s it executed? You’re balanced on one leg, with your other knee thrust forward. You move forward a bit, leap into the air as you move closer to your opponent, and you deliver the kick while in mid-air.

So, at a point, both feet are off the ground!

Naturally, there are variations in the theme. A variation could involve not feinting, where the opponent assumes you’re going to hit them with your left leg, and it’s your right that lands on their face!

Because he was wounded, Daniel was stationary while he executed it.

In real life, you may want to move (depending on the distance between you and the opponent) forward, as the momentum gives your kick more power.

Torn between Karate vs. Kickboxing, and which has better kicks?

Check out a recent article of mine where I showed whether kickboxing is good for self-defense, whether Karate is good in a street fight, how dangerous kickboxing is, and whether a kickboxer can beat a karateka.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Did Daniel cheat in the tournament?

Daniel cheated in the tournament in The Karate Kid. He lied about his age. And he wasn’t a black belt. He was given a black belt that was stolen, which he had not earned.

In fact, he just started learning Karate, and he’s the only student of a non-existent dojo.

He also just turned 18, so he’s not really qualified to compete in an under 18 championship!  A few days before the tournament, he’s just turned 18, so how can he compete in a tournament meant for those under 18?

And the Crane Kick was illegal. It was aimed at Johnny’s face, and it was full contact. The referee had told both of them there should be no kicks to the face.

His Sensei, Mister Miyagi, also lied in the entry form. He doesn’t own a dojo, Daniel is his only student, and he’s training him for free.

Karate or Kung Fu. Are you torn about picking one? Can you tell them apart? A lot of folks find both a tad confusing.

But, you’re in luck because a recent article of mine is devoted to exploring 9 key differences between both highly popular martial arts.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

And just for fun, here’s a picture of me with Mr. Miyagi, the late, great Pat Morita!

Is the Crane Kick illegal in real life?

Generally, crane kicks are illegal in most point-driven Karate tournaments but acceptable in full-contact Karate matches. But, in some tournaments and some styles of Karate, it could be considered illegal, while it could be legal in others.

It’s essentially a kick to the face. Kicks to the face are not illegal in Karate.

Considering that it is just a variation of a flying kick, one could argue that it is not illegal. So, it depends on the rules of the tournaments you’re in. The referees actually decide what’s legal or illegal.

In some karate styles, such as Kyokushin, kicks to the head, such as the Crane Kick, are perfectly legal. While in others, where the focus is supposed to be on the display of skills, it could be regarded as illegal.

In the latter, even when kicks to the face are employed, they’re meant to be considerate and not full contact. They shouldn’t hurt the opponent.

So, the rules of the particular tournament vary, and the referees are the final arbiters. 

But, if you’re engaged in a brawl in a context that’s not rules-based, and there’s no umpire, all is fair game. I’d conclude by saying that the Crane Kick is not illegal in real life. What counts is how it’s employed.

What about in the context of the movie? 

Ralph Macchio, who played Daniel LaRusso, agreed it was an illegal move. In an interview by thewrap.com, Macchio said:

“No hits to the face was clearly something when the referee made the list of things what not to do.”

But, he added with a laugh, “If that didn’t happen, I don’t know if we’d be talking about that movie 34 years later.”

Now, Karate is cool and effective, but can you learn it at home?

That’s what I explored in a recent article of mine where I explained whether it takes longer to learn it at home, whether you could learn it on YouTube, and whether you could earn a black belt if you learned at home.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Is the Crane Kick easy?

The Crane Kick is not easy to execute in real life. This is because it requires extreme balance, and then both feet leave the ground to execute the kick. Movies tend to make things seem a lot easier than they are in real life.

They’re make-believe, after all. In real life, it takes a lot of skill to be able to execute a Crane Kick, even when it’s not as dramatic as Daniel’s.

First off, the intent of the Mae Tabi Geri, the move that the Crane Kick is based on, is not really to kick opponents in the face.

The torso is often the aim.

It’s not easy to kick any skilled karateka in the face. But, the act of balancing on one leg and then leaping into the air and hitting an opponent in the face with the same leg is incredibly challenging. It’s not easy to pull it off.

The Crane Kick is a variation of Mae Tabi Geri. At a point, both your feet are off the ground, and one hits the opponent. Then both return to the ground. It’s a beauty to behold, but it’s not easy to execute.

When you pay attention to how Lyoto Machida used it, it’s also clear that it’s not an easy move. He feinted with the left leg. And then he lept off his right foot to deliver an upward right kick to the mouth of Randy Couture (a legendary UFC champion).

In real life, you don’t want to stand on one foot.

That makes you highly vulnerable because it’s easy to lose your balance. And, for a brief moment, you become a stationary target.

And you don’t want to spread your arms wide, the way Daniel did. At no point in a contest do you want to expose yourself that way.

What kicks are illegal in Karate?

Illegal Karate kicks include:

  • Kicking the opponent with the knee
  • Kicking the opponent in the portion of the leg below the hip or above the lower part of the knee
  • Kicking a grounded opponent
  • Any kick that leads to injuring the other 
  • Kicking the opponent’s groin

But because there are different styles of Karate, it’s vital to also find out what’s allowed in each style and the specific rules of competition.

In some competitions, kicks to the face are not allowed, even though they’re legal in others.

Consider Shotokan vs. Kyokushin: The latter is more full-body contact, while the former is more nuanced. Strikes and kicks are only allowed to certain body parts, and they’re weak.

Even in employing kicks that are legal, you can lose points if you fail to exercise control.

Was the Crane Kick Illegal? - Part II (Featuring William Zabka and Martin Kove)


In the article, we checked out whether the Crane Kick is a real kick and whether Daniel cheated in the tournament.

But we also explored if the kick is legal in real life and whether it’s easy to execute. And, we wrapped things up by looking at kicks that are illegal in Karate.

The Karate Kid (and now Cobra Kai) remains one of the most popular TV shows that is about martial arts.

But TV shows aren’t the only medium for martial artists these days. Master Ken is one of the most loved martial arts YouTubers out there!

But is he legit? Does he really know martial arts? Luckily, I find out for us in a recent article. I even explore whether he really has an actual black belt and whether his Ameri-Do-Te is a real martial art.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

Photo which requires attribution:

Photo_Ops-Karate_Kid_Group_20181201_0001 by Super Festivals is licensed under CC2.0 and was cropped, edited, and had a text overlay added.

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