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Martin Kove & Cigars

J. Bennett Alexander Alexander's picture

J. Bennett Alexander

“No mercy! Sweep the leg,” Martin Kove, as Cobra Kai sensei John Kreese, instructed in The Karate Kid. With those words the actor found a place in cinematic lore. At a time when most actors are winding down their careers, Kove, 75, was rewarded 35 years later for being the bad guy with an extension of that role in Cobra Kai, the surprisingly successful spinoff Netflix show. That’ll keep him able to smoke great cigars for some time to come.

Martin Kove’s Favorite Cigars

Kove loves the Cuban Bolivar Belicoso Fino. It brings back memories of a favorite cigar moment in January of 2020, in Havana, Cuba. Kove was with his son on the rooftop of a hotel. They were there to enjoy cigars.

“I was smoking a Romeo y Julieta Wide Churchill with my son,” Kove recounted, “taking in this view of Havana. The manager of the hotel served us coffee personally. It was the most eventful day of cigar smoking in my life.”

Kove usually likes his smokes a bit stronger.

“The Romeo y Julieta is usually a little mild for me. I like cigars with more body, and yet this was perfect. It was the best day of smoking cigars ever.”

Kove keeps a couple of boxes on hand to share with friends. The Arturo Fuente Short Story is in the humidor.

“Joe Mantegna introduced me to those,” Kove said of his fellow actor.

The Camacho Torpedo is another favorite cigar. When he first started smoking, he would light up flavored cigars. Another actor, Joe Pantoliano, noticed.

“What are you smoking those for?” Pantoliano asked Kove, then introduced him to Cuban cigars. They remain Kove’s favorites.

“Cubans are richer, smoother,” Kove opined. “Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of great Dominican cigars. I was in Ybor City in Tampa and I made the rounds and bought lots of hand-rolled cigars. There’s something special when you’re smoking a cigar that was hand-rolled yesterday. There are several Dominican and Nicaraguan cigars that I like when I run out of Cubans.”

Cigar Sensei

Kove has long been known as a lover of cigars. He even introduced his co-star in The Karate Kid, Ralph Macchio, to the pursuit. Macchio and Kove renew their combative relationship in the new series.

“Martin is synonymous with cigars,” Macchio told Cigar Aficionado. “You’ll find him outside the restaurant, on a bench, smoking his cigar. He loves cigars and loves talking about them. I ask him questions about cigars—it’s like learning about tasting wine or Scotch.” Kove is like Macchio’s cigar sensei.

Kove’s longtime friend and fellow actor, Bruce Boxleitner, explained, “Marty’s a very avid cigar aficionado. Cigars are definitely part of it when we get together. He’s got cigars from all over. I just mooch. He’ll smoke anything.”

In Character

Kove has taken cigars to a new level on the Netflix series. His character was re-introduced in the final episode of the first season.

The writers had me coming out of the shadows in that first scene, smoking a cigar,” Kove says. “It became part of the character.”

Kove found the inclusion of the cigar to be a problem at times. When they did re-takes, cigars had to be cut to fit the place in the scene so the shots would match.

“I hate to cut up a good cigar,” Kove said. “Then the prop guys got these cheap cigars that gave me a headache. I thought, ‘Hey, this is my entrance,’ I have to use one of my own. So, I brought in cigars, a cutter, a lighter. Eventually we ended up getting some CAO’s and La Gloria Cubanas.”

Tough Guy

Kove has a face you’d immediately recognize. He’s been in countless TV shows and movies. He is recognized for his tough guy roles. Fellow cigar lover Sylvester Stallone remembered Kove from Rambo: First Blood Part II. Kove played a traitorous helicopter pilot.

“His physical presence is intimidating,” Stallone said. “And his facial bone structure is that of a warrior, a fighter, a take-charge guy. He’s a man’s man.”

Kove worried about being typecast and somewhat faded from the scene in the 1980s. That’s why he embraced reprising the John Kreese role, which he saw as one dimensional in the Karate Kid movies.

“The movies were black-and-white, good guys and bad guys,” Kove says. “But no man is a villain to himself. I think of Kreese as misunderstood. And I like stories where the characters are gray.”

The movies had alluded to Kreese as a Vietnam vet, but the series reveals more of the character, including his onetime homelessness.

Staying Fit

In real life, Kove is a black belt in Okinawan martial arts. He said that training three times a week helps him stay fit for the stunts he often does himself in the series. It’s important to him to keep working at it.

“You realize you can disappear as fast as I did in the ’80s,” Kove said. “So, this new interest is humbling. I don’t take it for granted. With ‘Cobra Kai,’ the writing is so good—all I’ve got to do is get the words out. Karate Kid is the gift that has kept on giving all these years.”

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