Most people know of Jimmy Tsai in one of his roles as accountant, fantasy basketball commissioner, or purveyor of athletic sportswear. But what people do NOT know is that under the pseudonym Tequila Rush, Jimmy authored the “mockumography” Go! Opium Pandamonium! Go!: From the Opium Pipe to Saturday Morning Children’s Cartoons. It currently ranks #5,339,475 on the Amazon.com sales ranking list. Amongst Jimmy’s latest ventures is a website devoted to Asians and Asian-Ams in sports entitled beyondbadminton.com.
The crane kick.
Everyone knows it. Who doesn’t get chills up their spine when Daniel Larusso (played by Ralph Macchio) sets up for the kick, Kreese yelling to Johnny from the sidelines, “FINISH HIM!,” dramatic horns blaring as part of the film’s score? It has been firmly embedded in the public consciousness ever since Daniel used it to snap back Johnny Lawrence’s head and win the All Valley Karate Tournament in The Karate Kid.
And since that time, the crane kick has become synonymous with martial arts—at least in America. How many times have we seen someone idiotically assume the crane kick stance when trying to show that they’re ready to unleash some martial arts on yo’ ass? All this despite the fact that the move itself was just a figment of screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen’s imagination, with no ostensible basis in reality.
As both an avid fan of cinema and an out-of-practice martial artist, I’ve always wondered: is it a real move? Or is there at least a real kick that’s reasonably similar? Can it be accomplished in real life? Would it even work?
I will now try to unlock the answers to these questions:
Before we get into then nitty gritty details, let me lay down some background information so you know where I’m coming from:
A. I’ve seen The Karate Kid 150 times. At least. It’s my older brother’s favorite movie, and thus I was subjected to viewing after repeat viewing after repeat viewing during my childhood, to the point that I liberally quote from the movie during regular conversation, regardless of whether the other person picks up on it or not.
B. I happened to catch the commentary track featuring the writer when The Karate Kid played on ESPN Classic. Though I can’t recall it word-for-word, this is my source as far as information on the original intent and final filmed movements are concerned.
C. I’ve taken over a combined ten years (with a couple of years of overlap) of two particular martial arts: tae kwon do and wushu. I’m not saying I’m a great martial artist by any means, but I have serviceable flexibility and kicking skills. Just to let you know, I’m not talking out of my ass, and I’m familiar with and experienced in certain martial arts techniques.
Now, on to the pressing questions at hand.
1. What is the crane kick supposed to be and how is it supposed to be executed?
First, consider the context. In the final few minutes of the movie, Johnny is instructed by Kreese to go after Daniel’s leg again (after Daniel was initially taken “out of commission” by Johnny’s Cobra Kai teammate Bobby). At this point in the movie, Daniel is severely limping and basically should be without the use of his left leg (he could only limp on it thanks to some Oriental mysticism courtesy of Mr. Miyagi’s magic hands).
The original intent was to create a move that would basically allow Daniel to execute an offensive kick without any use of his left leg whatsoever. That would make sense, right? He can’t kick on it; he can’t land on it. Nothing.
In the movie, however—because it was impossible for Ralph Macchio to execute the move—they cheated, and he lands on his left leg after he performs the kick. Though the landing is brief before he switches back to standing on his right foot, by all accounts, he should have fallen down in pain as a result of the land. There’s movie magic for you. Can Macchio be blamed, though? Absolutely not. Why? Because it’s a very difficult move to execute, which leads me to our next piece of information about the crane kick:
2. Is there an actual crane kick—or at least a reasonable facsimile—that exists in the martial arts world?
The answer is, astoundingly, “YES.” Now, granted, the set-up of the kick is nothing like the set-up of the crane kick from the movie (hands in the air, perching on one leg, etc.), but there is a kick that utilizes the same premise of the crane kick as far as jumping off one leg, kicking in the air, and landing down on the same leg.
In the world of wushu, it’s called a (same leg) jumping front snap kick. Sometimes it’s referred to as a jump front kick or something similar. In any case, it’s one of the basic jump kicks in the wushu kick repertoire. Here’s an example:
Obviously, you can see that it looks nothing like the crane kick from the movie. But again, this is a dissection of how the real-life version of the crane kick was supposed to be executed: jump off one leg, kick with the same leg, land with the same leg.
It is important to note that there are a few key differences with how the jumping front snap kick is actually done compared to the crane kick. With the jumping front snap kick, the martial artist usually gets a running start and then gets to use the momentum from swinging the non-kicking foot into the air in order to gain more lift and subsequently more air time in order to execute the jump, kick and land. But other than that, take a good look and see how the artist jumps, snap kicks in the air and lands. All utilizing the same foot. Same as the crane kick.
3. Could someone actually accomplish the movie version of the crane kick as it was originally conceived?
By originally conceived, I mean move into the stationary crane stance and then jump off the right foot, kick Johnny Lawrence in the face, and then land again with the same foot. I would venture to say that it is do-able, but not as easy as it seems.
Back in the day, when I used to train, I would guess that there were probably two guys in our class who could attempt this type of thing with a reasonable amount of practice. They are both smaller guys (smaller than me, at least) and fleet of foot. And both had many years of martial arts experience. I am sure that guys (and girls) from the Beijing Wushu Team could probably attempt and successfully execute the “real” crane kick as well. But martial artists like the Beijing Wushu Team members usually start training around the same time they start learning how to walk.
So, in terms of realism, Daniel Larusso most likely couldn’t have learned to execute the real-life version of the kick given the fact that he’d only been receiving tutelage under Miyagi for a few months at most. Could someone like Miyagi have been able to do it, though? Considering that his fisherman/karate master father taught him from an early age, I’d have to venture a guess on the positive side for that question.
4. Would the move possibly work in real life?
My guess is that, if the circumstances were similar to those in the movie (i.e. no one has a clue as to what the crane kick is in America), then sure, why not? You’d kind of look at the person askance since it’s not really an ideal fighting stance, but then you’d probably walk right into it. Just like Johnny did. But in the real world, given the fact that everyone knows what the crane kick looks like, you’d have to be a pop culture idiot to fall for it.
*Disclaimer: Do not attempt this move at home. May cause serious injury (to your body or your reputation). Word.