Old School Americana & Nostalgia


Pat E. Johnson, ‘Karate Kid’ Referee and Trainer, Dead at 84

Pat E. Johnson, ‘Karate Kid’ Referee and Trainer, Dead at 84

Pat E. Johnson, an accomplished martial artist who trained actors Pat Morita and Ralph Macchio for The Karate Kid has died. Johnson, who was a ninth-degree black belt, also choreographed the fight scenes and played the referee in the final tournament in the classic 1984 film.

As confirmed by his niece in a Facebook post, Johnson passed away on Sunday from natural causes at his home in Los Angeles. He was 84.

Prolific as a stuntman and fight coordinator, Pat E. Johnson touched many hallmark martial arts films from the 70s through the 90s. He performed stunts and fought John Saxon in 1973’s Enter the Dragon alongside Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris. He also worked on films like 1974’s Black Belt Jones and Norris’ Good Guys Wear Black in 1978. In the 90s, Johnson also worked as a stuntperson, stunt coordinator, trainer, and fight coordinator on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Mortal Kombat, and Batman and Robin.

However, Pat E. Johnson’s most iconic work is likely in The Karate Kid films. He trained all of the actors and also created the most memorable kick of the franchise. He taught Macchio the “crane kick” that Daniel LaRusso uses to end his match with Johnny Lawrence in the first film’s climax. However, he noted that the move was not realistic or legitimate. Johnson appeared in the sequels of 1986 and 1989, as well as the 1994 reboot The Next Karate Kid, starring Hilary Swank.

Pat E. Johnson Began His Karate Journey While in the Military

Born in 1939 in Niagara Falls, New York, Johnson’s journey into the world of martial arts began during his service as a chaplain with the U.S. Army in Korea in 1963. There he found Tang Soo Do, a Korean karate style. Remarkably, within just 13 months, he achieved the esteemed black belt rank.

After his military service, he actively competed in karate tournaments across the United States. During an event in Detroit, he had a memorable encounter with the legendary Chuck Norris. They quickly formed a bond, leading Johnson to become the head instructor at Norris’ Sherman Oaks Academy. He also captained Norris’ black belt competition team and won an individual national karate title in 1971. His celebrity students throughout the years included Steve McQueen and Bob Barker.

Johnson held the position of president at the National Tang Soo Do Congress, an organization established by Norris in 1973, until its dissolution in 1979. Following that, he co-led the United Fighting Arts Federation. In recognition of his achievements, he was honored with induction into the North American Sport Karate Association Hall of Fame in 1993.