Friday, December 16, 2022

A 1750s SCOTTISH Karate Kid?

I just watched the original Karate Kid film for Myopia Movies and coincidentally found this Tumblr post that Canadian author Bruno Lombardi, whom I know from the alternate history forum, posted on Facebook.

I thought that would actually be pretty fun to watch and joined in the brainstorming. For the Scottish scenario, I suggested the equivalent to the Japanese Internment would be German bombing of Scottish cities and evacuation of Scots to Canada, with "Mr. MacMiyagi" as the sole survivor of a U-Boat attack on the ship evacuating his clan. Bruno's friend, fellow writer Jonathan Edelstein, suggested instead it could actually take place in the early modern period, with "Mr. MacMiyagi's" personal tragedy being the Highland Clearances.

So here's the scenario we hashed out:

*Daniel is from the yeoman class, while Ali is gentry. There's a clear class difference, but they're both landowners. Mr. and Mrs. Mills aren't going to be exactly impressed, but the class difference isn't such a problem for them that they're going to have Daniel kidnapped and shipped to the Colonies as an indentured servant or quietly murdered. Perhaps Daniel's father was killed in one of Britain's wars during this period rather than dying of cancer and so the Mills, however skeptical they are of this poor(er) man, at least have that respect for Daniel. If he's an officer rather than "the scum of the earth" who formed the enlisted ranks in this period, even better. Edelstein suggested the LaRussos might own enough land to be able to vote, albeit at the lowest possible level (a "forty shilling freehold").

*Our elderly friend "Mr. MacMiyagi" is a Scot who fought for the British government against the 1745 Jacobite insurrection, but was driven off his land during the clearances. During the disaster his wife died in childbirth and his son died with her and with his home gone, he drifted southward and became a groundskeeper or gardener on the Mills' family estate. Traumatized by his various mishaps, he keeps to himself and engages in stereotypically Scottish hobbies like shinty (the Scottish equivalent of Irish hurling) or (if he's literate), writing Scottish poetry?

*The equivalent of Johnny and his Cobra Kai gang are "young gents" who dislike someone they view as little better than a peasant wooing a girl of their class, with Johnny in particular being a spurned suitor of Ali. Given how much more power parents' had over their children's, particularly daughters', romantic choices in this period, perhaps Mr. Mills is somewhat less oblivious than his movie equivalent and recognizes Johnny for the incipient wife-beater he is, or perhaps he also looks down on Johnny on class grounds. After all, Cobra Kai gets more into Johnny's backstory and "the money" he comes from his from his stepfather who barely tolerates him, not his birth family. Perhaps his mother is an actress or from a similarly low-class background who "married up" and the illegitimate Johnny was part of the package? Not only is Johnny a hormonal and jealous a-hole, but he's also classist and nasty toward Daniel because he's overcompensating for his own impoverished background.

*Bobby, one of the Cobra Kais in the original film who tries to restrain Johnny from his grotesque behavior toward Daniel, is an early Wesleyan. In the Cobra Kai series, we later see that he's become a preacher, so he sticks with it.

*"MacKreese" is another veteran of Culloden, only he fought for the Jacobites. He has a beef with "MacMiyagi" for that reason, plus the fact his side lost. He runs his quarterstaff club (I doubt they'd have martial-arts dojos in England at this time) like a particularly abusive military unit, spinning it to his charges' parents that he's teaching them discipline so they don't end up dissolute libertines. Thing is, instead they're a bunch of angry young men abusing peasants (think Chozen from the second film cheating people at the grocery store) or peers they dislike (i.e. Daniel).

So we have something roughly similar to the canonical film in which Johnny and his gang bully Daniel for courting Ali, but an attempt to jump him and murder him is interrupted by "Mr. MacMiyagi" totally wrecking them the way Mr. Miyagi wiped out five Cobra Kai students in seconds in the canonical film. Given the legal hell to pay a poor Scot is going to get for beating up some English gentlemen even in defense of an English yeoman (especially if their parents are important local nobles), perhaps "MacKreese" and "Mr. MacMiyagi" agree to allow Daniel to fight some kind of duel with Johnny rather than getting the law involved? "MacKreese" could spin this as some kind of test for his students (or put on a show of not wanting "Sassenach" laws judging another Scot), but it's really part of some kind of elaborate revenge on "Mr. MacMiyagi" for the Battle of Culloden?

Things start to get a little tricky when we tried to come up with a Scottish equivalent of Mr. Miyagi's traditional Okinawan/Japanese wisdom (be it authentic or something underinformed Americans would *think* was traditional Okinawan/Japanese wisdom). Edelstein said setting it in the 1750s would be too early for Robert Burns, but "MacMiyagi" could tell embellished stories of the founding of various Scottish clans or the great William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. And instead of Daniel's crane kick, there's a finishing move called "the Kelpie."

I personally am rather disinclined to join with woketarians in attacking The Karate Kid (see Ralph Macchio's defense of the original film when it's criticized for being "too white"), but I also recognize the concept of "turnabout is fair play." So if someone actually wanted to make a parody of TKK that riffs on the Magical Asian Mentor and Mighty Whitey tropes, I'd be all for it.


  1. I think to be more true to the original film, set it in the late 1780s or early 1790s. “MacMayagi” should be the Jacobite and either yeoman or lower nobility, and “MacKreese” is a veteran of the “distasteful little skirmish with the colonies,” particularly serving in the southern theater where guerrilla warfare was more common. Perhaps he’s one of Tarrelton’s Raiders.

    “MacKreese” should be the headmaster at a military academy for the second and third sons (or adopted, in Johnny’s case) of noble families, running it with a ruthless iron fist. He’s teaching and encouraging the boys to be as sadistic and ruthless as he is.

    1. That's a better parallel with the film given the school angle. And the overzealous school officials match up with THE NEXT KARATE KID.

      And the British boarding schools were full of all sorts of bad behavior.