Masutatsu (Mas) Oyama
1923 – 1994
Founder of Kyokushin Karate
The Man The Legend.
This is the History of one of the Greatest Martial Artist whoever lived and a legend in his own time.
Kyokushinkai karate’s founder (Sosai), Masutatsu Oyama, was born by the name of Yong-I-Choi in Qa-Ryong-Ri Yong-chi-Myo’n Chul Na Do, a village not far away from Gunsan in South Korea on juli 27 ,1923. He was the fourth son of Sun Hyung in a family of 6 boys and 1 girl.At a young age Yong-I-Choi moved to live with his sister who lived on a farm in Manchuria, a place in Southern China. Yong-I-Choi had a very protective youth and had to walk about 6 miles on a small road through the hills every day to attend school as one of the 400 students at the Yongree Primary School.
His lack of interest in studieing made him dislike school He preferred to play hookie, swimming or fishing. When he was about 9 years old he had his first encounter with martial arts and the martial way. He started to learn the Southern Chinese form of Kenpo also known as the Eighteen Hands. His teacher was Mr. Yi who at that time worked on the farm of his sister. Mas Oyama trained with Mr. Yi for about 2 years and reached the level of shodan. When he was twelve he decided to return to Korea but kept his interest in martial arts. He started his training in the Korean martial arts of Taiken or Chabi. This sport was a mixtures of different arts like Kempo , KungFu and Ju Jitsu
In 1938, when he was 15 years old Mas Oyama went to Japan to receive instruction and training as a pilot as Bismarck, his idol at the time. He went to the Yamanashi Youth Aviation Institute but survival in Japan for a young Korean of only 15 years old resulted very difficult for the young Oyama and soon he had to stop his pilot training. But allthough life was hard, Oyama kept training in the martial arts with Judo and boxing.
While living in Japan he was forced to choose a Japanese name so he decided to take on the name of Oyama , meaning Great Mountain. One day he noticed a student training Okinawa karate and he became very interested. To the point that he went to the dojo of Funakoshi to become a member. When Oyama met the pioneer and founder of modern Karate now very well known as Shotokan he was very impressed. Oyama became a very devoted disciple and trained many hours during a long period of time in the dojo of Funakoshi at the Takushoku University.
His remarkable skill and progress were soon noticed and rewarded with a promotion at only 17 years old to Nidan (2e dan), When Mas Oyama as a 20 year old signed up with the Japanese army he was already Yondan (4e Dan) in Shotokan karate. From that moment on he also starts to train intensively in Judo reaching the level of Yondan in only 4 years time
The first period after the defeat of Japan in the second world war was a very difficult period for him and many japanese, especially mentally. During this period he met So Nei Chu. This Korean, living in Japan was an authority on martial arts and reknowned for his mental and physical strength. He also met Eji Yoshikawa, writer of the book about Miyamoto Musashi, Japan’s most famous samurai warrior. Thanks to this book and the writer, Oyama starts to understand the profound meanings of the Samurai Bushido Code.
Influenced by So Nei Chu, Mas Oyama decided to withdraw from social life and live in solitude for a period of 3 years and dedicate his time completely to the intense training of body and mind He leaves for the mountain Minobu, the same place where Musasdhi made up the Nito Ryu swordmanship. Mas Oyama was only 23 years old at the time. In his opinion this would be the perfect place to start his severe training of body and mind that he had planned for himself. Accompanied by one of his students, called Yashiro, and assistend by a friend who provided them with the monthly food supplies they went to the wilderess to train. After 6 months however Yashiro decided to return to civilazation, overwhelmed by loneliness he leaves Oyama alone. After 14 months of training, his sponsor and friend sends a message to Oyama that he can no longer help him with his monthly food supplies. So Oyama has to stop his training and return to civilazation.
A few month’s later, in 1947, Mas Oyama participates in the Karate division of the “1st Japanese National Martial Arts Championships” after the second world war and wins. Despite his victory, Oyama feels empty inside due to the fact he had to leave his solitary training and decides to dedicate the rest of his life to karate and again returns to the wilderness for training. This time he goes to the Kiyozumi mountain, also in the prefecture of Chiba. This election was inspired for the spiritual nature of the place. His training was very intense and rigorous. He trained for about 12 hours a day . He trained standing below icecold waterfalls, breaking riverstones, using tree’s as his makiwara, jumping hundreds of times over fast growing branches
During this time animals, rivers stones and trees were his oponents and he won off all of them. He also spent hours studying the many ancient martial arts zen and philosophy. He meditated during long hours in the icy waterfalls. His goal was to create a martial art going back to the origins of the true samurai way of fighing. Duriing these 18 months of rough and intense training Mas Oyama combined the most effective techniques of different systems and made up his own unique style. After this time he returned back to society as a completely different man . Mentally, Physically and spiritual much stronger.
During the 50′ Mas Oyama started to demonstrate his ability and strength fighting bull’s. He fought 52 bull’s in total of which he killed 3 on the spots and chopped of the horns of 49 with one only shuto (chop with the side of the hand) This doesn’t mean it was a piece of cake. Oyama didn’t hide the fact that his first intent only resulted in a mad bull and in 1957 it almost resuled in his dead. In 1957 when he was 34 years old a bull fight almost resulted fatally when a bull caught him in his back and torn it open almost completely. This fight costed him 6 mont’s to recuperate from this almost letal wound. In April 1952 Mas Oyama travelled to the United States where he stayed for one year demonstrating his karate live on national television. He fought against professional boxers, wrestlers and everybody who wanted to challenge him.
In total he fought against 270 opponents and beated them all , most of them with a single attack. No fight lasted longer than 3 minutes and most were finished after a few seconds. Oyama based his fights on the samurai fighting principle of one blow, certain dead (Ichi geki, hissatsu). If he came close to you, than the fight was over, if he hit you, something broke, if you tried to block his attach, the result would be a broken or dislocated arm and if you didn’t block your ribs would be broken. Due to his power and skill he bacame known as God’s Hand. For him, this was the true goal and purpose of karate. The estetical aspects and complex techniques came only second place but nonetheless he was also known for his powerfull head kicks.
During this time the 100-men kumite started. To test his own capability’s and skills, Mas Oyama decided to have a 300 men kumite in 3 days. He choose the strongest students from his dojo to fight him one after one. After everyone had his turn they started all over again untill the 300 fights finished. Every student had to fight the master about 4 times during those 3 days . Some of them didn’t even stand through the first day , because of the poweerfull blows of Oyama. The legend goes that Oyama wanted to fight a 4th day but none of his students wanted to participate another day.
In 1954 Mas Oyama started his first dojo on a small pice of grasland in Tokyo but June 1956 should be considered as the official start of the Oyama karate school, opening his dojo behind the Rikkyo University at about 500m of the actual honbu dojo. In 1957 there are about 700 members training at his dojo , dispite of the great dropout rate due to the hard training. Practitioners of other martial arts also came to train at his dojo especially for the jis-sen kumite (full contact fighting). Mas Oyama observed these styles and adopted their best and most usefull techniques into his karate. Doing so, his Karate evolved soon into one of the most impresive styles in the world of martial arts. Soon his style was known as “The Strongest Karate”, not only thanks to the skill and enduance of Oyama but also because of the strong and strict discipline and the requirements for training and tournaments.
Oyama Dojo members took their kumite very serious very much aware that they were practising a fighting sport so they had to expect to be hit and to be able to hit. With few rules and restrictions they fought their kumites. attacks to the head with the handpalm or fists wrapped in towels, throws, grappling and kicks, even to the groin were normal practice. The Kumite continued utill one of the competitors surrendered and gave up shouting. People got hurt every day and the giveup percentage was incredibly high (over 90%). They had no official Dojo-gi and wore whatever they had.
In June 1964 the actual Honbu (world headquarters) was officially opened and IKO (international Karate Organization) adopted the name of “Kyokushin”, or “ultimate thruth” as the name for Oyama’s karate. From that moment Kyokushin Karate started to spread out all over the world attaining over 15 million practitioners in over 120 country’s, making it in one of the biggest martial arts organizations in the world. In 1974 Mas Oyama got honored for his work by receiving the 9th dan and shortly after that he received the 10th dan, the highest possible grad in the world by the international committee of counry representatives.
In April 1994 as Oyama died at an age of 70 being ill of lung cancer. His sudden death left the international organization in a very confused state. Before his death he appointed in his testament that Yukio Nishida would be he succesor to lead zijn IKO but on his death bed he changed his mind and appointed A kiyoshi Matsui, Yondan (4de Dan). Allthough Matsui was very competent at karate and management, many of the higher ranked Yudansha were offended by this what resulted in the falling apart of IKO in 4 groups: IKO 1 under shihan Akiyoshi Matsui, IKO 2 of shihan Kenji Midori, IKO 3 of shihan Yoshikazu Matsushima and IKO 4 of shihan Toru Tezuka. Every Japanese group says to be the true succesor of Mas oyama and since than the Kyokushin all over the world finds itself in a heavy struggle for the ultimate leadership
Outside Japan there are a 5th and 6th groups. One of them being in the IKF lead by Hanshi Steve Arneil from the United Kingdom and the other is the IBK of Kancho Jon Bluming in Holland. Both of these non-japanese organizations still teach the traditional Kyokushin Karate as it was taught and intended by Mas Oyama.
Mas Oyama did not only create an extremely effective martial art but he also gave us the Kyokushin way of life philosophy. It can be argued that he was one of the best karate master of all times and he made many great instructors who helped to spread his organization all over the world. He left us a legacy to be proud of.
This is his Kyokushin ideal :
Keep your head low (modesty), eyes high (ambition), mouth shut (serenity),
base yourself on filial piety and benefit others.
With respect for our only true leader,