Catching Up with Karate’s ‘Bad Boy’
February 22, 2005
For many, the mere mention of his name conjures up terror and bed-wetting. His reputation as a no-nonsense bully with a penchant for dirt bikes, smoking dope at school dances, and beating the pulp out of defenseless weaklings is the stuff of legend. Two consecutive victories at the prestigious All Valley Karate Tournament solidified his legacy as a martial arts master and proud champion of bullies everywhere. He is Johnny Lawrence.
It’s been over two decades since Lawrence held the All Valley crown. Following his much-publicized loss to relative newcomer Daniel LaRusso, Lawrence disappeared from the karate world. While some attribute his inactivity to the embarrassing loss to a 98 lb. weakling, others claim Lawrence was simply unable to afford the increased membership dues at the Cobra Kai dojo.
Where has Johnny Lawrence been for the last 20 years? That was the first question I had for the two-time karate champion during our brief interview. Now a P.E. teacher at a Reseda, California high school, the 37-year-old Lawrence took time from his lunch break to provide candid and honest answers to my questions.
Q: I’m going to ask the question that has been on everybody’s mind: Where has Johnny Lawrence been?
A: I’ve been busy! Working with these kids takes up a lot of my time. When I’m not coaching the boy’s dodge ball team, I’m either taking attendance in study hall or monitoring the cafeteria at lunch. Every day is different.
Q: When did you get into teaching?
A: About ten years ago. It’s a funny story, actually. After high school ended, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I took a few odd jobs here and there, but nothing really stuck. A buddy of mine, Dutch, was teaching social studies in Reseda and mentioned that the county was hiring P.E. teachers. I interviewed and the rest is history.
Q: So you got the job?
A: Actually, no. They said I wasn’t qualified. So I went to the Y and got a job answering phones. A year later, I reapplied for the P.E. position.
Q: And then you were hired?
A: Not quite. They told me that I needed to take a physical — which unfortunately, I failed.
Q: So how did you finally get the job?
A: Oh, the old P.E. teacher got fired for watching the students undress in the locker room. The school was in a jam and hired me as a sub. Five years of subbing later, I was hired.
Q: That’s quite a story. With your busy teaching schedule, do you ever make time for karate?
Mr. Lawrence looked away and sighed. The cheerful demeanor and easy-go-lucky spirit that had surrounded him to this point had gone. A look of disdain-filled sadness had replaced the smile.
A: Nah. I don’t want karate anymore. I don’t need it.
Q: Karate was such a big part of your life. Do you miss it?
A: The membership dues of the Kai and weekly board meetings, the battles with Athlete’s Foot, those goofy skeleton costumes we all wore for Halloween…do I miss it? You’ve got to be kidding.
Q: Do you stay in touch with your former instructor, Sensei Kreese?
A: I haven’t talked to him in over 15 years. Last I heard, he was fired from his job selling cars in Provo. Something about him punching the car windows when customers didn’t buy.
Q: Looking back on your Cobra Kai days, you committed some fairly heinous acts. Do you have any remorse?
A: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cried myself to sleep, wishing that those memories would just go away. For years, I’d close my eyes at night and see Sensei’s eyes burning a hole through me. His voice — telling me to ‘Sweep the leg’ — ringing through my ears.
Mr. Lawrence put his face in his hands and sobbed quietly. Out of respect, I gave him a moment before continuing the interview.
Q: Moving on, many of our readers will be happy to know that you’re happily married.
Mr. Lawrence quickly raised his head, drying his eyes on the sleeve of his Member’s Only jacket. A smile returned to his face.
A: That’s right. Seventeen years and counting.
Q: Who’s the lucky lady?
A: Lucille LaRusso Lawrence.
Q: You married Daniel LaRusso’s mother?!?
A: My people have a saying: ‘some things in life are meant to be.’
Q: Your people? Catholics?
A: P.E. teachers.
Q: Tell me about your marriage to Lucille. How did this come about?
A: A few weeks after the All Valley, I went over to Daniel’s place to apologize for all those times I beat the crap out of him. Anyway, this gorgeous creature answered the door, said she’s Daniel’s mom and that he was off in Okinawa. I told her who I was and what I was doing there. She was really moved by my gesture and offered me to come inside. Next thing I know we’re talking and laughing. Then kissing. We spent that entire summer together. We kept our relationship a secret from Daniel for a while — Luce thought that was best. Anyway, we got married in Vegas the following summer.
Q: Isn’t it strange that you’re, technically, Daniel LaRusso’s father?
A: Not at all. Sadly, we haven’t seen or heard from Daniel since we told him about our love. He freaked out and sped away on his bike. Luce and I pray every day that he’ll come back home.
Q: If Daniel were to come back home, do you honestly think he could ever forgive you for the pain you’ve caused him over the years?
A: I sure hope so; high school was a long time ago. I’ve changed a lot since then. I think he should overlook that stuff and accept the fact that I love his mom…and that he’s about to be an older brother.
Q: Are you saying what I think you’re saying?
A: That’s right! Luce is pregnant; doctor says it’s a boy. We’ve already picked out the name — Johnny Jr.!
Q: Congratulations, that’s wonderful news. Hopefully this revelation will be the driving force that brings Daniel back to his family.
A: That’s all we want. Daniel, if you’re reading this — please come home. Your mom and I miss your ‘baby browns.’
Q: Changing topics, what does the future hold for Johnny Lawrence?
A: A lot of dirty diapers! (Laughing) I’ll be quitting my job to stay at home with Johnny Jr., of course. I’ve got so many things I want to teach him — and not just stuff about dodge ball, either. I want him to grow up and do the things I never could.
Q: Like becoming a 3-time All Valley champion?
Mr. Lawrence darted his head, staring at me intently. In a split second, a startling transformation had occurred. Gone was the mild mannered P.E. teacher. In its place was a cruel man, who clearly believed in striking first and striking hard, without mercy. I was taken aback and frightened by his wild eyes and clenched teeth. Leaning towards me, I knew he was envisioning the most brutal way to terminate the interview. I took a deep breath, unsure of what was going to happen next. The tension now at a fervor pitch, Mr. Lawrence stood up, hovering over me.
A: I’ve gotta get back to the lunch room.
With that, Mr. Lawrence walked away — calm and collected, once again. Yet for a brief moment, I was reminded of the Johnny Lawrence of old — the ruthless bully who would stop at nothing to destroy a helpless opponent. The legendary rage of Mr. Lawrence is evidently alive and well, and I was lucky to escape the interview without experiencing it. And even though he claims his karate days are behind him, one can only speculate how long Mr. Lawrence will succeed in keeping his inner Mr. Hyde docile.