MASUTATSU (MAS.

) OYAMA:
By Bernard Sinai

THE

LEGEND

OF

KYOKUSHIN

Kyokushin is a style of karate that emphasizes realistic training and hard body conditioning. The style was developed by Masutatsu Oyama, affectionately referred to as Mas, during his life time and incorporates techniques and styles from different martial arts. Oyama was born Choi Yong-i on the 27th of July1923 in IlLong, Korea during the Japanese occupation. As a child Oyama was sent to Manchuria, Southern China to live on his sister’s farm. At the age of nine (9) he started learning a form of Chinese Kempo called “Eighteen Hands” from a farm hand known as Mr. Yi. Oyama trained with Mr. Yi for two (2) years and achieved the level of shodan (1st black belt or dan). Oyama would return to Korea at the age of twelve but continued to study Korean Kenpō

In 1938, at the age of fifteen, Oyama travelled to Japan in pursuit of his dream to become a pilot and enrolled at the Yamanashi Youth Aviation Institute. However, life as a Zainichi Korean1 in Japan proved quite difficult at that age and his aviation training fell sideways. Fortunately, his martial art training continued by participating in boxing and Judo. One day Oyama noticed student practicing Okinwan Karate and interested which lead him to Funakoshi (1868 – 1957) at the Takushoki University where he studying karate. Funakoshi is founder of Shōkōtan2 karate and often attributed as the ‘father of modern karate’.
Figure 2: Kyokushin kanji

Figure 1: Mas Oyama, the founder of Kyokushin Karate

became Gichin started the

Oyama’s progress amazed his Sensei and around him. By the age of seventeen (17) already acquired the rank of nidan (2° Black by the time he turned twenty (20) he was fourth dan. It was also around this time joined the Japanese Imperial Army. After the defeat of Japan, Oyama fell into Fortunately, a master by the name of So Chu Nei would come into his life. Master So was another Korean from Oyama’s home province and one of the highest
1 Permanent ethnic Korean residents of Japan. 2 This is a style of karate developed by Funakoshi and named after his first dojo.

those he had Belt), and already a that he despair.
Figure 3: Oyama training on makiwara

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MASUTATSU (MAS.) OYAMA:

THE

LEGEND

OF

KYOKUSHIN

authorities in Gōjū-ryū3 Karate at the time. He encouraged Oyama to dedicate his life to the Budo (Martial Way) and suggested Oyama retreat from society and to train his mind and body. At the age of 23 Oyama went to Mount Minobu, Chiba Prefecture to train in solitude like Japan’s most famous Samurai Musashi. After six months Oyama’s only companion, Yoshiro, fled during the night leaving Oyama all alone and the yearning for civilization became stronger than ever. Master So wrote a letter encouraging Oyama and to shave off one eyebrow. The shame of such an appearance would deter Oyama from falling to his desire to return to society. However, after fourteen months, his sponsors could not continue their support and thus Oyama’s training in solitude came to an end. After his return, Oyama won the karate section of the first Japanese National Martial Arts Championships held after World War Two (WW2). However, he still felt empty because he had not completed his training in solitude; he decided to dedicate his life to karate. Again he went into solitude to train. This time he chose Mt Kizoyumi, also in the Chiba Prefecture because of its spiritually uplifting environment. His training was fanatical, twelve hours a day and seven days a week against. He would stand under chilling waterfalls, break water stones with his hands, strike the makiwara4 and jump over rapidly growing flax plant hundreds of time every day. At night, he would study ancient Budo texts, Zen and philosophy. After eighteen months, Oyama finally confident and content with himself, returned to civilization. In 1950 Oyama began testing his skill and strength by fighting bulls with his bare hands. He fought 52 bulls in all, with 3 being killed instantly and 49 had their horns broken with a knife hand strike. But it was not as easy as it sounds, in 1953, at the age of 34 he was nearly killed in Mexico when a bull gored him. Fortunately, Oyama was able to break the bull’s horns before any fatal damage could be done. He spent six month in recovery and bedridden. In 1952, he travelled to the United State (USA) for a year and gave thirty two live and televised demonstrations of karate. In years following, he received challengers and defeated all of them. In total, he had fights with 270 different people. The majority of his fights ended with one punch! The fights never lasted more than three minutes. His prowess earned
3 One of the main styles of traditional Okinawan karate and features hard (gō), closed hand
Figure 4: Oyama after his training in solitude.

techniques and linear attacks, and soft (jū) open hand techniques and circular movements. arms and to practice hand techniques.

4 Traditional Japanese striking board made from straw that is mainly used for condition the hands and

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MASUTATSU (MAS.) OYAMA:

THE

LEGEND

OF

KYOKUSHIN

him the nickname “Godhand”, a manifestation of Japanese Warriors’ maxim Ichi Geki, Hissatsu, translated as ‘one punch, certain death’ or ‘one punch, one kill’. Oyama believed this was the true aim of karate techniques, fancy movements and intricate techniques were secondary. When Oyama returned to Japan in 1953, he established his first Dojo and the beginnings of Kyokushin Karate. He resigned from Gōjū-ryū and named his Dojo “Oyama Dojo”. He continued his travels and gave demonstrations which included bare handed challenges. In 1956 he moved the dojo to a ballet studio attached to the Rikkyo University. Oyama’s curriculum developed a reputation for being tough and practical, and attracted karatekas from all over Japan and the world. He named the style Kyokushin, meaning ‘ultimate truth’ in Japanese, in a ceremony in 1957. In June 1964 he moved the dojo into a refurbished building at 3-39 Nishi-Ikebukuro, in the Toshima area of Tokyo and formerly established the International Karate Organization Kyokushinkaikan (IKO or IKOK). This building remains the headquarters (Honbu) for IKO1, a faction of Kyokushin. In 1994, Oyama succumbed to cancer at the age of 70 and IKO splintered into several groups. This was due to conflict over Oyama’s successor as chairman. The matter still remains unsolved. Many Kyokushinkai Karateka draw inspiration from Oyama’s life, and even in his death, he still influences the lives of many martial artists. Never, in our lifetime, has the karate community seen anyone like him nor will there be anyone else like him. Osu!
Figure 5: Shokei Matsui, IKO1 leader

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MASUTATSU (MAS.) OYAMA:

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REFERENCES
• • • • •
Sosai Masutatsu Oyama, http://www.masutatsuoyama.com/masoyama.htm [Accessed 13th July 2009] Masutatsu Oyama, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masutatsu_%C5%8Cyama [Accessed 13th July 2009] Masutatsu (Mas) Oyama, http://www.willingtonkarateclub.org/style/masoyamahistory1.html [Accessed 13th July 2009] Kyokushin History, http://nepalkyokushinkarate.tripod.com/id35.html [Accessed 17th July 2009] Masutatsu Oyama, http://www.australiankyokushin.com/oyama.shtml [Accessed 17th July 2009]

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