LOS ANGELES -- The dojo may be closed, but Ralph Macchio is flashing the same type of footwork on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" that left the Cobra Kai with a crane kick to the face. Like Daniel LaRusso at the All Valley Karate Tournament, Macchio stands atop the "DWTS" standings, partly because of his past.
"They [viewers] grew up with some of those characters," says the 49-year-old karate dad. "We always connect to something from our childhood, especially if it inspired us in some way."
Macchio says his dance sensei Karina Smirnoff is just as good as teaching the jive, as Mr. Miyagi was jump kicks.
"Fear does not exist in this dance studio -- that's what Karina keeps telling me," Macchio said. "[But] if you're the Mr. Miyagi to me, then how come you can't run your hands together and make my knees feel better?"
1984's "Karate Kid" thrust Macchio into the spotlight faster than a Stephen Strasburg four-seamer, but its enduring effect on pop culture is what amazes the Long Island-native. Consider it crane kitsch. Even Cincinnati Reds outfielder Jonny Gomes was recently singing the '80's anthem "You're the Best", which Macchio says was actually intended for "Rocky".
"'Sweep the leg', 'Put him in a body bag', catching flies with chopsticks, the film is loaded with images and catch phrases," Macchio said. "'Wax on, wax off' could almost be in the dictionary now and that's pretty cool. But how do you know that's gonna happen? You can't make that happen."
Macchio is enjoying his return to center stage, but this time around, don't expect any karate birds.
"'Dancing with the Stars' asked me like 20 times to do the crane kick," he said. "If you give me the mirror ball trophy, then we'll talk about it."