Masutatsu Oyama

An early start

Masutatsu (Mas) Oyama was born Yong I-Choi on the
27th of July, 1923, in a village not far from Gunsan in Southern Korea. At a
relatively young age he was sent to Manchuria, in Southern China, to live on his
sister’s farm. At the age of nine, he started studying the Southern Chinese form
of Kempo called Eighteen hands from a Mr. Yi who was at the time working
on the farm. When Oyama returned to Korea at the the age of 12, he continued his
training in Korean Kempo.

In 1938, at the age of 15, he travelled to Japan to
train as an aviator, to be like his hero of the time, Korea’s first fighter
pilot. Survival on his own at that age proved to be more difficult than he
thought, especially as a Korean in Japan, and the aviator training fell by the

Gichin Funakoshi

He did however continue martial arts training, by
participating in judo and boxing, and one day he noticed some students training
in Okinawan Karate. This interested him very much and he went to train at the
dojo of Gichin Funakoshi at Takushoku University, where he learned what is today
known as CyberDojo home pages.

His training progress was such that by the age of
seventeen he was already a 2nd dan, and by the time he entered the
Japanese Imperial Army at 20, he was a fourth dan. At this point he also
took a serious interest in judo, and his progress there was no less amazing. By
the time he had quit training in Judo.

So Nei Chu



The defeat of Japan and the subsequent indignity of
Occupation almost proved to be too much for Mas Oyama, who nearly despaired.
Fortunately for all of us, So Nei Chu came into his life at that time. Master
So, another Korean (from Oyama’s own province) living in Japan, was one of the
highest authorities on Goju Ryu in Japan at the time. He was renowned for both
his physical and spiritual strength. It was he who encouraged Mas Oyama to
dedicate his life to the Martial Way. It was he too who suggested that Oyama
should retreat away from the rest of the world for 3 years while training his
mind and body.

Mountain Training

When he was 23 years old, Mas Oyama met Eiji
Yoshikawa, the author of the novel Musashi, which was based on the life
and exploits of Japan’s most famous Samurai. Both the novel and the author
helped to teach Mas Oyama about the Samurai Bushido code and what it
meant. That same year, Oyama went to Mt. Minobu in the Chiba Prefecture, where
Musashi had developed his Nito-Ryu style of swordfighting. Oyama thought that
this would be an appropriate place to commence the rigours of training he had
planned for himself. Among the things he took with him was a copy of Yoshikawa’s
book. A student named Yashiro also came with him.

The relative solitude was strongly felt, and after 6
months, Yashiro secretly fled during the night. It became even harder for Oyama,
who wanted more than ever to return to civilisation. So Nei Chu wrote to him
that he should shave off an eyebrow in order to get rid of the urge. Surely he
wouldn’t want anyone to see him that way! This and other more moving words
convinced Oyama to continue, and he resolved to become the most powerful
karate-ka in Japan.

Soon however, his sponsor informed him that he was no
longer able to support him and so, after fourteen months, he had to end his


A few months later, in 1947, Mas Oyama won the karate
section of the first Japanese National Martial Arts Championships after WWII.
However, he still felt empty for not having completed the three years of
solitude. He then decided to dedicate his life completely to karate-do. So he
started again, this time on Mt. Kiyozumi, also in Chiba Prefecture. This site he
chose for its spiritually uplifting environment.

This time his training was fanatical — 12 hours a day
every day with no rest days, standing under (cold) buffeting waterfalls,
breaking river stones with his hands, using trees as makiwara, jumping
over rapidly growing flax plants hundreds of times each day. Each day also
included a period of study of the ancients classics on the Martial arts, Zen,
and philosophy.

After eighteen months he came down fully confident of
himself, and able to take control of his life. Never again would he be so
heavily influenced by his society around him. (Though it is probably safe to say
that his circumstances were also probably never again as traumatic!)

Bulls, Challengers, and the Godhand

In 1950, Sosai (the founder) Mas Oyama started
testing (and demonstrating) his power by fighting bulls. In all, he fought 52
bulls, three of which were killed instantly, and 49 had their horns taken off
with knife hand blows. That it is not to say that it was all that easy for him.
Oyama was fond of remembering that his first attempt just resulted in an angry
bull. In 1957, at the age of 34, he was nearly killed in Mexico when a bull got
some of his own back and gored him. Oyama somehow managed to pull the bull off
and break off his horn. He was bedridden for 6 months while he recoverd from the
usually fatal wound. Today of course, the animal rights groups would have
something to say about these demonstrations, despite the fact that the animals
were already all destined for slaughter.

In 1952, he travelled the United States for a year,
demonstrating his karate live and on national televison. During subsequent
years, he took on all challengers, resulting in fights with 270 different
people. The vast majority of these were defeated with one punch! A fight
never lasted more than three minutes, and most rarely lasted more than a few
seconds. His fighting principle was simple — if he got through to you, that was


If he hit you, you broke. If you blocked a rib punch,
you arm was broken or dislocated. If you didn’t block, your rib was broken. He
became known as the Godhand, a living manifestation of the
Japanese warriors’ maxim Ichi geki, Hissatsu or “One strike, certain
death”. To him, this was the true aim of technique in karate. The fancy footwork
and intricate techniques were secondary (though he was also known for the power
of his head kicks).

It was during one of his visits to the United States
that Mas Oyama met Jacques Sandulescu, a big (190 cm and 190 kg of muscle)
Romanian who had been taken prisoner by the Red Army at the age of 16, and sent
to the coal mines as a slave labourer for two years. They quickly became friends
and remained so for the rest of Oyama’s life, and Jacques still trains and acts
as advisor to the IKO(1) to this day. You can read a short biography of his on
this site or read his autobiography at http://donbas.com.

Oyama Dojo

In 1953, Mas Oyama opened his first “Dojo”, a grass
lot in Mejiro in Tokyo. In 1956, the first real Dojo was opened in a former
ballet studio behind Rikkyo University, 500 meters from the location of the
current Japanese honbu dojo (headquarters). By 1957 there were 700 members,
despite the high drop-out rate due to the harshness of training.

Practitioners of other styles came to train here too,
for the jis-sen kumite (full contact fighting). One of the original
instructors, Kenji Kato, has said that they would observe those from other
styles, and adopt any techniques that “would be good in a real fight”. This was
how Mas Oyama’s karate evolved. He took techniques from all martial arts, and
did not restrict himself to karate alone.

The Oyama Dojo members took their kumite seriously,
seeing it primarily as a fighting art, so they expected to hit and to be hit.
With few restrictions, attacking the head was common, usually with the palm heel
or towel-wrapped knuckles. Grabs, throws, and groin attacks were also common.
Kumite rounds would continue till one person loudly conceded defeat. Injuries
occurred on a daily basis and the drop out rate was high (over 90%). They had no
official do-gi and wore whatever they had.

Bobby Lowe

In 1952, Mas Oyama gave a demonstration in Hawaii. A
young Bobby Lowe saw him and was stunned by the power Oyama demonstrated. It was
not as though Bobby Lowe was inexperienced in martial arts. Though still quite
young, his achievements to date were not much less than those of Mas Oyama
himself. His father had been a Kung Fu instructor, and he had participated in
any fighting art he could find. By the age of 23, he was yondan in judo,
nidan in kempo, shodan in aikido, and a highly regarded
welterweight boxer.

It was not long before Bobby Lowe became the first
Kyokushin uchi deshi or “live-in student” of Mas Oyama’s. He trained
daily with Mas Oyama for one and a half years. Eventually, an uchi
‘s time became “1000 days for the beginning”. These uchi deshi
became known as Wakajishi, or the “Young Lions” of Mas Oyama and only a
few of the hundreds of applicants were chosen each year for the privilege of
training full time under the Master.

In 1957, Bobby Lowe returned to Hawaii to open the
first School of Oyama outside Japan.

The beginning of Kyokushin

The current World Headquarters were officially opened
in June 1964, where the name Kyokushin, meaning “Ultimate truth”
was adopted. In the same year the International Karate Organization (IKO) was
established. From then, Kyokushin continued to spread to more than 120
countries, and registered members exceed 10 million making it one of the largest
martial arts organisations in the world. Among the the better known Kyokushin
yudansha (black belts) are Sean Connery (Honorary shodan), Dolph
Lundgren (sandan, former Australian heavyweight champion), and President
Nelson Mandela of South Africa (Honorary hachidan), and most recently
(June 1988), the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard (Honorary godan)
who was awarded the grade at the official opening of the Sydney Kyokushin dojo.

The End?

Sadly, Sosai Mas Oyama died, of Akiyoshi Matsui in
charge of the organisation. This has had many political and economic
ramifications throughout the Kyokushin world, which are still being resolved. In
the end, the result may well be a splintering of Kyokushin, much like Shotokan
now appears to have done, with each group claiming to be the one-and-only true
heir of Mas Oyama’s Kyokushin, either spiritually or even financially. It has
even been suggested, not entirely in jest, by one Kyokushin writer in Australia
(Harry Rogers) that maybe Oyama created the turmoil on purpose, because he
didn’t want Kyokushin to survive without him! It is however reasonably certain
that all Kyokushin groups, regardless of their ultimate allegiance, will still
maintain the standards set by Mas Oyama.

Maybe a Kyokushin diaspora will be a good thing,
since in all good families, some of the children eventually do leave home and
start their own families. Some of the splinter groups may remain faithful to the
Kyokushin principles, such as Hanshi Steve Arneil in Great Britain did in
1991. Many others, such as Shigeru Oyama in the U.S., have taken it further by
developing their own style based on Kyokushin.

Today, the IKO, headed by Kancho Shokei Matsui, is the
largest karate organization in the world with over twelve million members in 135

Mas Oyama’s Brief

July 27th,
1923, born in Southern Korea.

Learns Chinese Fist of
Chakuriki in the land of Manchuria. He was 9 years old.

1938, becomes student under Master Gichin Funakoshi of
Shotokan Karate.

1946, enters the mountain for

1947, becomes the champion of All Japan
Karate-do Tournament.

He studies Goju-ryu Karate
extensively under Master Gogen Yamaguchi, and becomes Vice Chairman in the
organization, holding 9th Dan degree.

1948, enters
the mountain alone for 18 months of training.

starts training against the live bulls, living beside the cattle butchery. Out
of 47 bulls, 4 killed in instant.

1952, visits
America for Karate instructions and demonstrations in 32 locations. Has 7 times
of real matches.

1953, visits America, he fights
against a bull in Chicago, where he breaks its horn by Shuto strike (knife

1955, goes all around South America and
Europe with Bepford Davy, President of Chrysler Corp. He fights numerous mix

1956, starts small Oyama Dojo at an old
ballet studio.

1957, fights against a bull in Mexico

1958 January, publishes “What is Karate” which
becomes a best seller of 500,000 copies.
September, invited by FBI in
Washington D.C. for Karate instructions and demonstrations.
October, invited
by West Point Military Academy for Karate instructions and demonstrations.

1964, Thai Boxing challenges Karate-do, where Oyama Dojo
alone accepts. 3 matches 2 wins.

1971, though a
popular comic book series “Karate Baka Ichidai,” and the movie “World’s
Strongest Karate” in 1975, his name and of Kyokushin become known all over

1975, helds Kyokushin Kai’s First World
Karate-do Open Tournament.

April 26, 1994. Dies of
lung cancer at the age of 70.

    In addition to
described above, he visits elsewhere researching and fighing real matches
against other Martial Arts of the world. Kyokushin as the largest Karate
organization, he has students numbered 12,000,000 in 140 nations worldwide. He
is also noted for starting the Full-Contact, Bare-Knuckle tournament system.