When Cobra Kai begins, Sam LaRusso is not in the middle of karate rivalries. Instead, she’s a teenager trying to figure herself out in high school. When the karate conflict makes its way to her cafeteria, however, she dresses up and resumes training with her father, dropping some great quotes for the audience along the way.
Johnny Lawrence is best known on the show for having hilarious one-liners, and while Sam has a few, she actually has more words of wisdom than anyone. Despite many mistakes, Sam is wise beyond his years, giving his father a run for his money in the motivational speaking department and seeing through other people’s excuses.
Sam denounces bad behavior:
“Everyone has a sobbing story. That doesn’t give you the right to be a bully.”
If there is one thing that is consistent in Cobra Kai, is someone venting their anger on someone else. This is very true for characters like Tory whose difficult life makes her angry at the world and tired of losing everything she wants.
When Miguel tries to explain to Sam where Tory’s attitude is coming from, however, she doesn’t want to hear it. She sees Tory as her own personal villain, nothing more than a bully, and doesn’t think his behavior is excusable. The audience learns there’s more to Tory’s story, but Sam can’t let his animosity overwhelm him.
Sam points out an obvious truth:
“It’s us who are hurt. It’s us who are fighting. Our voices should count the most.”
In the third season of the series, the committee in charge of the All-Valley Karate Tournament decides to almost cancel the whole thing, believing that the competition breeds violence among teenagers. Although there are plenty of adults speaking at the public hearing, their voices are drowned out by those who blame karate for the big fight at the local high school.
It’s not until both Sam and Miguel decide to talk about the need for a safe space for kids to compete and practice their skills that the audience (and the committee) start to really listen. It’s Sam who makes the most obvious point of all: the opinion that should matter most is that of those most affected. As someone traumatized by brawling in high school but who loves karate, Sam is unwilling to give up her only safe space to compete.
Sam tries to get Amanda to pay attention:
“If you really think karate is the problem, then you haven’t paid attention to it.”
Sam slowly begins to get into trouble in the third season. Skipping school, fighting, fighting back – these are all things she wasn’t used to doing. At first, Amanda LaRusso blames Sam for going back to karate for the change in his behavior, but Sam quickly points out that Amanda doesn’t really know what she’s talking about.
Amanda isn’t shy about blaming karate in the first two seasons because she doesn’t see the whole picture. She doesn’t understand the sparked rivalries, doesn’t see the bullying that happens, and doesn’t understand why a group of teenagers can’t just let things go. Although Sam makes this point before Season 4, it’s only then that Amanda truly understands what’s going on in her daughter’s life – and even Tory’s.
Sam first sees the world in black and white:
“I thought we were the good guys.”
When Sam starts training with her father again, she doesn’t see Cobra Kai as the enemy. It was after witnessing their aggressive techniques that his vision of karate became very black and white. Sam thinks defense is good and offense is bad, but the series is more nuanced than that, and Sam discovers the shades of gray as the series progresses.
The beginning of this occurs in a conversation with her father about how karate students are viewed when she asks him, “I thought we were the good guys?” She references her Miyagi-do style, and Daniel agrees that they are, but Miyagi-do students find themselves at fault almost as often as Cobra Kai students for causing arguments.
Sam defies Daniel’s expectations:
“Maybe that’s not how you act, but I can make my own decisions.”
Daniel LaRusso strongly believes that what Mr. Miyagi taught him about karate is the only way to teach it. He so wants Sam to have the exact same philosophy as him – and not allow aggression in his fights.
Sam, however, is tired of always being on the defensive when it comes to Tory and the other Cobra Kai members tormenting her and her friends. The longer Sam trains, the more willing she is to think for herself when it comes to karate. She uses her father’s style, but also adopts the teachings of Johnny Lawrence, giving herself a more holistic approach to karate and also helping him find a backbone in his daily life.
Sam doesn’t let Johnny shame him:
“I’m a teenager who makes mistakes. You’re a man in his fifties who lives alone […] And obviously didn’t understand his own life.”
When Johnny and Daniel team up to teach their students to fortify them against Kreese’s Cobra Kai, they disagree and Sam finds himself in the middle. Her father constantly reminds her not to do any of Johnny’s more dangerous chores, and Johnny sees her as a carbon copy of his father.
When Johnny calls her out for her past transgressions during her training, Sam points out that unlike Johnny, she still gets life experience to learn from her mistakes. Of the two, she should spend more time making mistakes, learning and growing. After having their argument, however, Sam begins to see that Johnny’s style might be full of mistakes, but he might not be entirely wrong, allowing his character some much-needed growth.
Sam lets Tory get under his skin:
“Looks like you’re still behind me in line. First Miguel, now Robby…I’ve got a half-eaten cupcake if you want some.”
Sam is not known for her returns or her jabs. She’s usually too restless to create a witty understudy for Tory. When Tory and Robby come to the dance specifically with the intention of shaking off their main All-Valley competitors, Sam finds a way.
It’s clear that Tory’s presence rattles her, especially as Tory grows closer to another of Sam’s exes. , she may want what Sam has. Sam isn’t far behind as Tory has the least stable home life of almost any character on the show.
Sam is really resisting Tory:
“I don’t know what game you’re playing, but I’m not afraid of you. You’re not in control here, it’s me.”
When Sam finds out that Tory is going back to school, she asks her friend Aisha for advice on how to deal with it and takes Aisha’s idea of setting boundaries to heart.
Instead of drawing a line and agreeing to ignore Tory, however, Sam rejects Tory’s peace offer. Although it’s a great moment for Sam to stand up to the girl who caused him so much fear and anger, it only fuels the division between them.
Sam admits his trauma:
“Sometimes the scars you can’t see hurt the most.”
Sam’s speech to the hearing to determine if the All-Valley Tournament will continue contains a lot of gems. It’s the first time she’s acknowledged outside of her family that the fight in the school hallway didn’t just scar her physically.
While those at the hearing may not know what she’s referring to, for Miguel and the audience, it’s finally an acknowledgment that Sam isn’t okay, but she’s trying to be.
Sam understands the reality of a team:
“If we can’t overcome the past, the fighting will never end.”
Some fans might say that this particular line from Sam is a bit hypocritical. After all, she can’t let go of her past with Tory. She’s not talking about Tory here, though, but rather about the rivalry between new Eagle members Fang Karate and Miyagi-do.
Sam is the driving force in encouraging the two groups to merge so they can defeat Cobra Kai together. Her and Miguel reuniting their friends forms the basis of Johnny and Daniel working together in Season 4, ushering in a new era.
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