‘It’s aggressive. It’s interesting’: East Trent gym mural pays homage to classic 1984

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Muralist Daniel Lopez had been looking for years for the perfect wall to paint a cinematic scene that had stuck in his mind.

When longtime friend Danny Thomas, a boxing instructor at Warrior Camp off East Trent Avenue, called and said he had “a perfect wall,” Lopez’s mind was instantly drawn to the Halloween night fight scene from the coming-of-age film, “The Karate Kid.”

“It’s aggressive. It’s interesting,” said Lopez, who over a five-day period in March transformed the gym’s east-facing wall into a spray-painted reflection of the iconic scene from the 1984 movie. “I love those skeleton Halloween outfits. I know that it’s appealing to people. It’s kind of dangerous.”

The scene, where Daniel LaRusso is chased and beaten by members of the Cobra Kai dojo after a high school prank war, also matches the purpose of the gym, said Rose Alfonso.

“How brilliant is that? It’s the essence of what we do,” said Alfonso, co-owner of the gym that has produced accomplished UFC fighters while also training families in fitness and self-defense. “It’s that moment when you don’t know how to defend yourself.”

Pablo Alfonso, a former MMA fighter, head coach of the gym and Rose’s husband, said the mural is a reminder of his childhood.

“When I was young, I was bullied. I didn’t have a background in martial arts,” Pablo Alfonso said. “I had to figure out how to defend myself against bullies.”

Thomas, who’s known Lopez for a few years while training boxers around town, said he called Lopez after clearing the idea with the Alfonsos, who run the center at 5027 E. Trent Ave.

“I said, ‘I’ve got a wall you’re going to love,’ ” Thomas said.

The idea came together in an afternoon, and instantly gained Thomas’ approval. The boxing instructor has been a fan of the movie for decades.

“When I was 5 years old, that’s how I became the most popular kid on the block. I had a copy of ‘The Karate Kid’ on VHS.”

Lopez’s image shows the moment Daniel LaRusso is grabbed by the shirt collar by Johnny Lawrence after a chase following the high school Halloween dance. Lawrence, ex-boyfriend of LaRusso’s love interest, is about to line up a devastating kick on a dazed Daniel-san when the hero is rescued by the spry sensei Mr. Miyagi.

It’s the moment that sparks a martial arts interest in Daniel, played by Ralph Macchio. The movie, directed by “Rocky” helmer John G. Avildsen and written by Robert Mark Kamen, spawned a media franchise that continues today and also inspired a generation of martial artists, Alfonso said.

The generation gap in fans of the franchise has reared its head since the mural was completed in March.

Rose Alfonso said students and children will pose for pictures with the painting, identifying not Macchio’s LaRusso, but William Zabka as Lawrence. Zabka is the main character of the series “Cobra Kai,” which picks up on the events of the original film trilogy from Lawrence’s point of view in present day. A fourth season is scheduled to air later this year.

“They do recognize it,” she said.

Thomas is also a huge fan of “Cobra Kai.”

“It’s like my soap opera,” he said, grinning.

Lopez, whose work has increasingly appeared on buildings, bridge supports and more in town, said he measures the success of his work by the response from the community. He’s had fighters from the Warrior Camp gym tell him the mural has inspired them, what he considers a true compliment for the piece.

“It becomes more important to me, the more that it affects the public,” he said. “The more that people seem to connect, that’s like a big success to me.”

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