Raymond Reborn: Debriefing StingRaymond

*20-30 min. read

For new readers, this is my friend AJ’s blog, aka Apple Juice. He reviews movies in concise debriefs complete with stock watch, gifs, and a Juice rating. I’ve wanted to enter Juice’s world with musings of my own for quite some time. It came down to what would change me from a first ballot Hall of Fame couch potato, to someone who put words together on a page at 2 AM. I’m proud to be a part of whatever numbers Cobra Kai is doing on Netflix to dominate the top ten. After binging both seasons, there was a lot I could have written about, but only one character that inspired me. I opened my laptop to chronicle and debrief Paul Walter Hauser’s takeover of all things karate. He steals scene after scene delivering like the sun during this past week’s heatwave. I wanted to write about StingRaymond because he brought light into a world that is often so riddled with darkness. What Paul Walter Hauser (PWH) did in season two of Cobra Kai made me want to shout it from on top of a mountain, but I didn’t have a mountain, I had a friend with a blog.

The first thing that made me want to write was The Last Airbender. After binging Avatar on Netflix, I needed more. The movie was not what I, or anyone else needed. I showed no mercy, unleashing my inner Cobra Kai, as I wrote about the barrage of inconsistencies between the worlds created by Nickelodeon and M. Night Shyamalan. There would have been a hint of Miyagi-Do in that piece because Shyamalan struck first. Aside from Dev Patel’s Zuko, the movie was dead to me the entire time. Mr. Night Shyamalan didn’t watch a single episode of a TV show and made a movie about the first season. It was a bold directorial stance to pronounce everything wrong. To cleanse my palate, I rewatched the series finale and started The Legend of Korra before going to bed. I deleted that piece because it was filled with anger and disgust; there’s too much of that in the real world. That, and I couldn’t get myself to watch that solid 4.0/10 (IMDb) of a movie a second time. (For the record, I like the Village and a handful of his films I’ve seen, but 4.0/10 is too high a score.) That was many Yue’s ago in early quarantine. I stayed dormant, consumed content, and waited for the right moment…to strike! This is written with admiration and respect, about a character who deserves it.

The beauty of Raymond doesn’t start and stop with his timing and delivery. His mannerisms brought us deeper into who the character is, and what he feels. His lines have a Jason Mendoza (Good Place) level of brilliance, where so many are the perfect assortment of words that could cascade out of his mouth at that moment. When he was on screen, my eyes were glued. While off-screen, I watched the story unfold and wondered how he would be used next. Please appreciate the range needed for PWH to star in a Clint Eastwood film the same year he showed no mercy as comic relief on a beloved YouTube original. We don’t have time to get into the fact that he’s in Spike Lee’s last two movies, let alone his acting in them. There are a number of PWH performances that deserve to be debriefed and I may go through them one by one in a shorter version more suited for this blog. Today, we pay our respects to StingRaymond and an original artist made in Grand Rapids, Paul Walter Hauser.

We were introduced to Raymond as the hardware store worker who helped Sensei Lawrence get a mirror. As fate (and the writers) would have it, Raymond was there to lighten up the show after Sensei Kreese’s return. (Did they write in the need for a mirror and begin his journey as a hardware store worker as an homage to Tonya Harding?) We knew almost immediately that he loves the 80s and says “noice”. I wonder if that was scripted, or if PWH went for it. Either way, noice. Raymond has a little Alan Garner (The Hangover) in him considering he said to anyone, in any conversation, at any time, “Remember Caddyshack? Yeah, you remember the gopher who used to dance?” In his own Caesar’s Palace moment, he asked Johnny if it was, “…a real gopher that they got to do that…” Raymond is a vibrant, people person as well as an absolute wildcard. We were gifted with more of that when Daniel LaRusso and Robby showed up. The audience was sent into an old west standoff between dojos. Before anyone knew what hit them, Raymond karate chopped prices and cut the tension. Seeing the karate kids at his place of work began Raymond’s rebirth. The audience got his backstory as someone who always wanted to do karate, but never had the privilege to try. After making his presence felt in the season opener, they gave him episode two off to calm the waters. They tried to make us forget about the flicker of magic we saw and the magic that was to come.

We learned Raymond was a festival veteran (not Coachella, Juicers) at Valleyfest, a fictional fair that I hope Angelenos adapt in the new world. Raymond looked majestic as can be wearing an American flag polo with bald eagles on it (he reminded me of Rex Kwon Do from Napoleon Dynamite a little, but there’s a reference to that movie later, so I didn’t say it). I valued Raymond’s ability to speak his truth. The passive introvert in me sat taller when he asked for his funnel cake to go back in the deep fryer. (Sure, I was laying down when I watched, but you understand.)

For Raymond, Valleyfest was initially about the food, but he went home thinking about the art of karate. After Raymond saw the Cobra Kai demonstration, he decided to finally learn karate. Before those teens chanted their dojo’s name and subsequently beat the shit out of each other, Raymond was vibing. During the Miyagi-Do presentation, he explained to those around him what LaRusso was wielding. “That’s called a bo. It’s what, uh, Donatello used to use when he…He was my favorite Ninja Turtle…” It gave insight to his karate inspiration as a child (same) and we got to watch him wield a corn dog to give a demonstration of his own. PWH gave off nodes of Brad Pitt in Ocean’s Eleven, delivering in back to back food scenes. Little did I know we would end up with Fight Club Brad Pitt. (I will not be going into an exploration of the split personalities of Tyler Durden and StingRaymond, but if you happen to read this and you’re M. Night Shyamalan seeking redemption, or you smoke enough weed, you won’t. I will say StingRay would’ve been a fine addition to Project Mayhem. If you’re thinking of Paul Walter Hauser as Robert Paulson, that’s ok. PWH could crush it as Bob, but that’s Meat Loaf. I’m talking about StingRay, an additional character who entered the fight club at any point from the moment season two of Cobra Kai ended until he eventually becomes Senior CitiSting-Ray. And, scene.) During the Cobra Kai presentation, we got our second “noice”, solidifying Raymond as someone who has no need for pedestrian pronunciations. He was near the front of the demo, so I hope that our pal walked away from Valleyfest with free merch. Whether or not he got merch, Raymond was inspired, and his rebirth began.

After being galvanized by the demonstration, Raymond realized he could make his karate dreams come true whenever he wanted because he’s an adult with disposable income. He took a leap and went to Cobra Kai. He was mistaken for a parent in a class for teenagers by his would-be sensei. Raymond wasn’t going to let teenagers get in the way of his karate aspirations, “well, I…I can take them. I’m not afraid of kids, sir. And my mom, she doesn’t charge me rent, so I just…I got a lot of cash to burn.” (As a fellow prince still living in the palace, not an inaccurate depiction.) He came ready to kick some ass, but wasn’t able to show it. In the time it took Raymond to take a deep breath and raise his hand to take on the champ, Tory stepped up. He wasn’t confident, but Raymond may have been someone who didn’t fully put himself out there before. His posture was poor when Tory took on Miguel. I wonder if he wished he spoke up sooner, or if watching them fight made him afraid of kids for the first time. Regardless of whether he fought the Valley champ that day, he crossed a threshold in his hero’s journey by showing up to class. Then, they gave him another episode off. The writer’s room (or PWH’s schedule) made the audience wait, but Raymond took a major step towards living his truth.

After Miyagi-Do was trashed (and Hawk lost any semblance of honor he had left), Sensei Lawrence wanted to know who the culprit was. Raymond made sure everyone knew it wasn’t him. “It’s not me. I would never disrespect another man’s dojo.” Unfortunately, for people with souls, Sensei Lawrence responded, “shut your cake hole, Chubbs.” I’m not here for anyone being called Chubbs outside of Happy Gilmore and Nick of the Cleveland Browns. Raymond felt the same way. It may not have been the first time Raymond was called Chubbs, but it may have been the last that wasn’t met with no mercy the foot fist way. When the students were pushed to the limit as punishment, Raymond asked Aisha if she thought it was ok for him to throw up in the dojo. Of course, it wasn’t, but I respect that he asked. I don’t think I have the mamba mentality in me to work hard enough to throw up, but he does. He tried to create the necessary contingency plan in case the situation became like NAVY seals training, where people puke all the time. After their penance was paid and the torture concluded, Raymond was offended Sensei Kreese accused him of wreaking havoc upon Miyagi-Do with the rest of Cobra Kai. Filled to the brim with honor, this humble hardware store employee would never facilitate an attack like Shawn Eckhardt.

Some people say their body is a temple; I would compare Raymond’s body to a dojo. He showed up late to Coyote Creek, but he showed up READY TO GO. This wasn’t Raymond. This wasn’t Chubbs. This was someone new. The dojo that is Raymond debuted a rebranding, complete with new name and noticeable upgrades. “Hey guys, sorry I’m late. Traffic on the 118 was a real bitch.” While both senseis questioned what he’d done to himself, “Yeah, you know what, I just decided to flip the script, Hawk-style. Respect. Heretofore, you can refer to me as StingRay.” He caressed his refurbished beard down to a braid dangling from his chin, putting an exclamation point on his re-introduction. Sensei Lawrence didn’t respect his metamorphosis immediately like Hawk’s. Johnny called him Chubbs one final time and sent him to Kreese’s team. He didn’t want him. He didn’t consider him a threat. He shouldn’t have underestimated the gall of a man who joined a karate dojo at StingRay’s age. In fairness to Sensei Lawrence, the only other men I’ve seen learn karate on screen at that age are Kip Dynamite and Dwight K. Shrute. With that said, WWDD, what would Dwight do at Coyote Creek?

Stingray is a patient hunter like his namesake. Once Miguel and the black team presumed victory, he uncovered himself from his leafy fortress. In a cinematic display that combined the Rambo II mud death with Esplen earning her crown at the end of Role Models, we saw him come out of his physical and metaphoric cocoon. Raymond transformed into StingRay before the eyes of his senseis and peers. “You know, the thing about stingrays is, they lie in wait…for the perfect opportunity…to strike!” He cemented himself as a legend by winning the 2019 Black versus Red Challenge at Coyote Creek. Huge deal in the karate world. Everything he did from there just added to StingRay folklore. I appreciated the razzle dazzle when he delivered Miguel’s headband to Sensei Kreese in his mouth. It was a nice touch to show that his inner animal was very much front and center. Coyote Creek was meant to separate the men from the boys. No man stood taller than the one in his thirties who lived with his mom. (I’m still in my twenties, I can make that joke.)

The next time we saw StingRay, we were gifted with him in his karategi. The white belt around his waist made his red headband pop all the more. They made sure (if you somehow didn’t binge the show) you remembered you’re looking at the Coyote Creek champ and his name is StingRay. Our protagonist limbered up before class and tried to find balance in a standing leg raise. He struggled, but the effort was there. He didn’t get a chance to stretch the other side before class started. The yoga teacher in me felt for him until I realized StingRay possessed the clout to warm up directly behind his red team captain. When Kreese didn’t arrive at the dojo, StingRay delivered one of my favorite lines of the season. “Shouldn’t we wait for the sensei emeritus before we get going…Or Not?” Unexpected and perfect, he brought another smile in a tense moment. It looked like Stingray took the loss of Sensei Kreese to heart. After watching Hawk massacre someone in headbutt practice, Stingray said, “Oh! That was awesome! Do me next” and took one. Maybe he wanted to forget the pain he was in at the loss of Sensei Emeritus, maybe he just wanted to learn how to headbutt.

We were graced by his presence next at Moon’s birthday party. He made a grand entrance with a brown bag and a date, Fawn. “The life of the party has arrived. Whoo!” Oddly enough, she expected something else when he told her they’re going to his friend’s house. “Yeah, these are my friends. Their parents are out of town.” The older Maisie Williams look-alike (K.D. O’Hair) was weirded out, but stayed. It’s quite a move to bring an adult date to underage drink with high school friends, but StingRay is one of a kind. 

A clear fan of drinking games and gassing his friends up, StingRay got the people going. They initially didn’t show that lady Ray was still with us, but once Sam finished her beer in the great barstool drink off, Fawn was fired up. StingRay, a Cobra Kai sensation and respected Black vs. Red champ, quickly shut that shit down. “Oh, hey, we don’t cheer for them. We hate the Miyagi-Dos…Come on.” In case anyone thought he was the type of person who would have a lowkey evening with his babe and the squad, that’s not him. He’s the type of person who would bring a brown bag with the necessary items for a solo Edward Fortyhands.

When tensions flared up between the rival dojos, Stingray smelled a rumble brewing. He wasn’t someone who could participate in a high school rumble (considering the whole assaulting minors thing), but a man of his karate prowess could sense something like that. Directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg tried to play us with a mid-close up shot to make us forget about the forties he had taped to his hands. (Another reason he couldn’t participate in the rumble.) Before any punches were thrown, cops came, and everyone scrambled. In the commotion we got confirmation that Edward never drank his fortyhands. “Oh, I can’t go to jail. My mom would kill me!” StingRay was trapped inside, and we got to watch a grown man finesse his way out of potential imprisonment using his fortyhands, arms, mouth and face (while he poured a substantial amount of malt liquor on the floor of Moon’s house). Sensei Lawrence was first to learn not to underestimate StingRay, Miguel was second, and that door was third. He can’t be contained, and a criminal record would have put a damper on his future employment.

I didn’t expect that employment to be at West Valley High, but his timing applying to work security could not have been better. You have to admire the confidence needed to go into an interview with the name, “…StingRay. Just one word. Sting-Ray.” He’s a genuine wildcard with no experience and a spotty resume. “I don’t have any actual experience per se, but I just recently won the Black versus Red Challenge at Coyote Creek. No big deal. Except for the karate community, it’s a very big deal. My sensei has been very pleased with my progress. And I think, in time, you will see a yellow belt strapped around my midsection.” The words are comical, however so much of the interview is about his movements. When he talked about his Coyote Creek victory, he took his headband out from his inner suit pocket and gave it a twirl. As he said those last few words about his midsection, he gave the world his best Aaron Rodgers discount double check TD celebration. He carried a smile on his face that told us he’s proud and passionate. StingRay closed the interview with small potatoes to the storyline, but an important question. He leaned in and asked Principal Lopez what the teacher’s lounge situation looked like. We never found out about the lounge because the clock struck threat level midnight.

When the rumble StingRay previously smelled came to fruition, it was time to pad his resume and his legacy. Principal Lopez saw what was happening and radioed to get security right away. “It’s OK, sir. I got this.” After a couple swagger steps to get the juices flowing (with TeenMZ paparazzi trailing behind), StingRay blocked a punch, judo chopped his attacker’s arm three times, and landed a mercy kill of an elbow to the ribs that slammed the student into lockers. He then went across the hall, raised his leg to press his foot high against the lockers, [proving all the stretching (and DDPY for our king) was worth it] and generated force to rip one kid off another. In the least professional move he could have made in front of his hopeful employer, StingRay high fived Hawk while the red-haired demon locked someone in a sleeper hold. The artist formerly known as Raymond went down on one knee to punch out a teenager’s ACL. (Something he likely learned from Sensei Kreese). As that kid went down in agony, StingRay got up, grabbed the side of his head, and sent him straight to concussion protocol by delivering a hip check the likes of which these eyes had never seen.

TeenMZ’s fight footage following StingRay would have been all over Youtube in the Karate Kid Universe. It should be all over Youtube in our universe. If Paul Walter Hauser is free and willing, I would pay to watch a film where StingRay goes viral and ends up entering the octagon a la Kimbo Slice. I would be honored to help create it and have a few thoughts at the bottom. I want them to release the alternate angles people recorded on phones. If I have to write a movie during a pandemic to see it, so be it.

West Valley High needed StingRay, Miguel and Robby most of all. I wish we lived in a world where StingRay made his way through hordes of teenagers and stopped them before it went too far. The only thing harder to watch than the fall was when Miguel (guy in a relationship with Tory) told Robby “she doesn’t love you; she loves me.” Tough line about your ex mid brawl. In terms of Miguel’s fall, Juice reminded me we hadn’t seen a fall like that since Hans Gruber. (I’m not saying that’s good, or bad, but at some point there, Xolo Maridueña was compared to Alan Rickman.) StingRay’s scenes balanced out the finale into the 9.5/10 that’s listed on IMDb.

Since our introduction to Raymond, he changed a lot. He displayed a spectrum of emotions throughout season two, and was reborn as StingRay. We didn’t see anger from PWH until he helped his fellow treasonous Cobra Kais block Sensei Lawrence from getting near Sensei Emeritus. Committing to a life of no mercy wasn’t a jump like what D&D did with Khaleesi. (It also plays into his MMA persona. PWH and Cobra Kai, I’m ready.) Sensei Kreese accepted him at Coyote Creek and that likely meant a lot to StingRay. The season began with Raymond, a lighthearted hardware store employee who dreamed of doing karate as a child. He took action in his life and made the changes needed to become the person he wanted to be. In the process, the world was gifted StingRaymond. I do not know what is in store for next season, but the more StingRay, the better.

I wonder who first introduced Paul Walter Hauser to the Karate Kid franchise. The Karate Kid is such a nostalgic film, it’s plausible he asked to be involved after watching season one. He played the role so perfectly it would make sense if they wrote the character with PWH in mind. If they didn’t, Alexis Frank Koczara and Christine Smith Shevchenko deserve crisp high fives (post pandemic) and raises the next time a production is cast. So much of StingRaymond’s genius comes from the mannerisms, expressions, and gesticulations of Paul Walter Hauser. His voice and body speak a language so fluidly that I don’t have the words to describe his mastery of acting. All that I can say is his movements pair perfectly with the brilliance that flows from his mouth. Whether he’s in the foreground, or background, the audience saw whatever emotion and posture was necessary to get across what we’re supposed to feel. I tip my proverbial cap to Paul Walter Hauser and the entire cast and crew. The world already had Paul Thomas Anderson. Many grew up with NPH, or JTT. Presenting PWH.

  • After getting this involved with StingRay’s character, a couple of pitches were inevitable.

StingRaymond YouTube movie pitch: We’ve seen two MMA movies about teachers turning or returning to the octagon because times were tough (Here Comes the Boom and Warrior). I believe there is a market for a film about StingRay finding his true calling after becoming a viral sensation from the TeenMZ YouTube videos recorded in season two’s finale. It can start in his childhood where he learned to find happiness despite an overprotective mother who didn’t let him learn karate. It can use important scenes from season two to show the transformation from Raymond to StingRay. It could be about how he goes from hardware store employee to Cobra Kai student, to viral sensation, to MMA rookie and inevitable champion. It can also start at the end of season two and go from there. If he was a hardware store employee because of Tonya Harding, it would be fitting that his character becomes a professional fighter. It would also have Miguel helping coach him to provide Lance Harbor/ Jason Street feels. If a film about StingRay is “too much”, he can easily be woven into the storyline as competition and comic relief for the next Kevin James/ Joel Edgerton MMA project while expanding the Karate Kid Universe (unless PWH doesn’t want to, of course).

Season X Episode X: Episode about what would have happened if a gaggle of high school students hadn’t crashed the Miyagi-Do demo. What if Cobra Kai signed up for Valleyfest and waited their turn? What if Raymond preferred the iconic throwback of Daniel LaRusso breaking the ice more than Sensei Lawrence destroying fiery concrete bricks? What if Raymond joined Sam and Robby to give Daniel an early trio of students? If he went down this other path, would he become Stingray, or would he have been respected and content as Raymond? Would he have been at a high school party rooting Sam on to underage drink, or would Miyagi-Do not condone that? Would he still be dating Fawn? It would be centered around the “Fire and Ice” episode and hit on how certain moments from season two would have played out if Raymond was on the other team.

 My last two movie ideas are Senior CitiSting-Ray and CitiSting-Ray

  • Senior CitiSting-Ray could have a Princess Bride bedtime story feel as an older StingRay chronicles his legacy of X to his grandkid(s) as we watch it happen. It could also be closer to Bad/ Dirty Grandpa, but we’ve seen those.
  • CitiSting-Ray, a Citizen Kane parody, where at some point in his life, he ditches karate, makes a ton of money doing X, and…rosebud.
  • StingRay music video to Jay Z’s Public Service Announcement for the show, movie, or for the people (after I wrote about StingRay’s re-introduction, most of the song wrote itself):

“This is a public service announcement, sponsored by no mercy and the good folks at Cobra Kai.

Fellow Americans, it is with the utmost pride and sincerity that I present this recording, as a living testament and recollection of history in the making during our generation.

Allow me to re-introduce myself, I’m StingRay, R to the A-Y. I used to move hardware in the daytime…I guess even back then people knew me, CEO of Ray-M-O-N-D. RAY! Fresh out the hardware store and into the dojo, I be the, no mercy beatdown number one supplier. Flyer than the braided chin beard here on my face, I’ve got Fawn, she’s straight fire, and she’s wearing my chain.

That’s right, RAY! Not Mi-ya-gi, Trained in a similar fashion, I’m the no mercy assassin. I hip-check domes, rearrange spines, run home. My homie Miggy told me dude finish your nemesis.

So that’s what I’m do I’ma roundhouse the dude, with the deathwish fast-forward steal his belt and his necklace. Let me tell you dude what I’d do to protect this. Beat up some scum like a dirty detective. This is a movie dog (Oh, Sting).

Now before I finish let me just say I came here to show out. I came here to make a mess of you. Because to tell you the truth when you fight me, you’re gone. And I don’t care what you think about me, but just remember when we fight brother, whether it’s next year, ten years, twenty years from now, you’ll never be the same after what I do to you, Jack.

Kreese ain’t lie. I practiced no mercy and now I fly. I’m like, Kimbo Slice in the concept, I’m complex. I never claimed to have wings on, friend, I get my, by any means on, whenever you’re in doubt, bet on StingRay on the mat, cuz, I’ll make it storm.

You can hate Sting, but Ray ain’t invent the game. We roll the same dice, tryin’ to get paid. And I’d beat you twice ‘cause my seinseis made me the best here, if that’s unclear.

And you could blame your environment, but ain’t no reason why you need to learn this foot fist way. Hope you don’t think pain is real because that time is near. Prepare your CBD. If you fight, then you may end up, getting messed up, don’t take this test, son.

Don’t mistake this for hubris, period. Check out my swag yo, and watch yourself ese. Check out my swag yo, mi nombre es StingRay. Just one palabra that the crowd chants all day.

And you can try to fight but you’re just gonna lose, babe. Man, you was who you was ‘fore you got beat. Only mom can judge me, so get gone. Either fight me, or leave me alone.”

Similar to adding StingRay to a movie to expand the universe, what about putting Bret Ernst’s Louie LaRusso, Jr. in the next mafia film?

A little love for Cobra Kai: It showed and referenced recognizable places in the Valley throughout its first two seasons. Opening with footage from the 1984 film hooked me from the start and I only went deeper into the Karate Kid Universe as I saw glimpses of my world depicted in it. Whenever I saw or heard something I knew, I felt like Leo in gif form pointing it out. I went to high school in Reseda (where Cobra Kai is) and my school was 60-70% Latino. The show stayed true to the Valley writing Miguel and in doing so gave us his abuelita, Rosa Diaz (NINE-NINE). Rosa and Daniel LaRusso’s fuckboy of a son are other tertiary characters I could have debriefed.

I was told that I am in for a treat whenever I watch Kingdom. If you appreciated PWH’s roles and haven’t seen it, you may want to join me on that journey.

  • After I finished the rough draft, I came across the Karate Kid Wiki and I disagree with the personality description: “Raymond presents himself as (what he believes) a happy, jovial, likeable fellow. Unfortunately this doesn’t work as he is a man deep in his 30’s trying to still be a youthful, energetic person.” I don’t know how someone can watch PWH’s performance and make that assessment. He also hasn’t turned 34 yet, so check yourself before you wreck yourself and I have to rewrite another song, friend. I’m sure the person who wrote that description is really fun.
  • Shoutout Cobra Kai Kompanion (weird move to use a K there) for the Everybody Loves Raymond image, to @ReisArt and @robisraelart on twitter for their masterpieces, and to cuttie1427 on YouTube for entering StingRay.

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