Cuts make fight choreography easier. When there’s one cut for every strike, retakes aren’t as difficult. If there are two strikes before a cut, it’s twice as hard. More strikes increase the challenge exponentially. In the original film, The Karate Kid, there was a one-er, but it wasn’t a fight scene. When Daniel first enters the All-Valley Karate Tournament from the locker room, it’s a continuous long take that clocks in just shy of a minute and a half. The blocking is complicated but it’s not as complex as a fight scene would be, and according to Macchio, the scene took 35 takes to get right.
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In filmmaking, one-ers are always held in high regard for their technical achievement. Hitchcock’s Rope was a pioneering example with the entire film consisting of only 11 one-ers. The critically acclaimed World War I film 1917 was nearly a single one-er. When it comes to fight choreography, this is why classic Kung Fu films from the 70s and 80s are so highly respected by martial art movie connoisseurs. While they weren’t one-ers, those fights, like what was coming out of Shaw Brothers Studio, went dozens of moves before a cut. Some recent films like Atomic Blonde and the John Wick trilogy have showcased one-er fights. What’s more, they are shot in such a way that we can see that Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron are doing a lot of their own stunts. In contrast, in Netflix’s latest assassin thriller Ava, all of Jessica Chastain’s fights are one strike, one shot, and her stuntperson takes over for all the heavy lifting.
There are some trade tricks to one-ers. The first is a stitch where the camera pans to a featureless surface. This can disguise a covert cut, making the scene appear seamless. But in actuality, there was a break. The other is what is known in the stunt industry as a “Texas switch.” This is where an actor is swapped out with a stunt person by somehow leaving the shot, like being tossed out of frame or ducking behind an obscuring set piece.
Television fight choreography has leveled up in the last few years. Daredevil was a game-changer for TV one-ers. The show kept upping its game every season. Season 1 episode 2 “Cut Man” ended with a one-er hallway fight that caught every martial arts fan’s attention. It had a lot of stitches and Texas switches. During that one-er, the camera repeatedly moves across featureless hallway walls hiding cuts and Daredevil is masked, allowing for multiple stuntmen to take over. Nevertheless, it’s still a thrilling fight and top-notch choreography. Season 2 episode 3 “New York’s Finest” featured another brutal one-er in a staircase fight. Again, Daredevil is masked so swapping stuntmen was easy. On top of that, Daredevil knocks out the lights, so a lot of the fight is in the dark, obscuring more stitches and switches. In Season 3 episode 4 ‘Blindsided’ Daredevil pulled off their most spectacular one-er of all and one of the best that has ever made it to the small screen so far, the prison fight. In that scene, Daredevil is not masked so Charlie Cox can be seen doing a lot of his own stunts. It clocks in at over 10 minutes. The fight choreographers on Daredevil, Chris Brewster, Philip Silvera, and Roberto Gutierrez raised the bar on TV fight choreography.
The one-ers in Cobra Kai aren’t nearly as long, but they do showcase the actors doing many of their own stunts. And like Macchio, few of the cast have had previous training. Jacob Bertrand (Hawk) has a purple belt in Karate and Taylor Buchanan dabbled in Taekwondo, but that’s about the extent of the young cast’s experience. Beyond learning their lines and finding their characters, the actors had to take a crash course in martial arts.
“I only started learning in season 2,” says Peyton List (Tory), “and that was just in episode 4 of season 2, when I first came in. And I just take everything I can get, and I love learning it. So I’m trying to do everything I can even from home, but that one-er was one of the most fun. Jahnel, my stunt double, she was like, ‘You’re doing this all on your own.’ And that was a big moment for me, and I’m excited for everyone to see that.”