Masutatsu (‘Mas’) Oyama was the founder of the Kyokushinkai style of Karate. After studying several martial arts styles in Korea, China and Japan, Mas Oyama found that none offered what he felt was the ‘true’ way. He began practicing alone, and developed his own training, fighting methods and philosophy.
Masutatsu (Mas) Oyama was born Yong I-Choi on the 27th of July, 1923, in Southern Korea. At the age of nine, he started studying the Southern Chinese form of Kempo called Eighteen hands from a Mr. Yi.
In 1938, at the age of 15, he travelled to Japan to train as an aviator. 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 wayside. He did continue his martial arts training by participating in judo and boxing, and went to train at the dojo of Gichin Funakoshi (widely credited as the father of Karate). 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. He also took a serious interest in judo, and his progress there was no less amazing.
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 Myamoto Musashi, author of The Book of Five Rings, used to this day in the study of strategy around the world. Both the novel and the author helped to teach Mas Oyama about the Samurai Bushido code.
Oyama went to Mt. Minobu in the Chiba Prefecture, where Musashi had developed his Nito-Ryu style of sword fighting. He planned to live on the mountain like Musashi had 3 decade before him, spending his days training in the wild outdoors. Among the things he took with him was a copy of Yoshikawa’s book. A student named Yashiro also came with him and Oyama had a sponsor who helped by bringing them food and supplies. After 6 months, Yashiro secretly fled during the night because of the rigours of the training and living conditions.
After 14 months Oyama’s sponsor informed him that he was no longer able to support him and so had to end this training. A few months later, in 1947, Mas Oyama won the First Japanese National Martial Arts Karate Championships after WWII. He then decided to dedicate his life completely to karate-do.
In 1950, 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. Oyama’s 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. Today of course, this demonstration would not be acceptable for the animals’ rights. Because all the animals were destined for slaughter, it was considered acceptable to the values of the time.
In 1952, he travelled the United States for a year, demonstrating his karate live and on national television. 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 it.
If he hit you, you broke. If you blocked a rib punch, your 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).
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). 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 dropout rate was high (over 90%). They had no official do-gi and wore whatever they had.
Oyama tested himself by taking on 300 challengers over three days until no one was left willing to fight him. Each round lasted two minutes, and each subsequent opponent started right after the previous round completed. From this experience Oyama created the 100 man Kumite challenge that still exists to this day in Kyokushinkai Karate.
Because Mas Oyama’s technique was so powerful and realistic, he gained widespread recognition in Japan, and soon a huge following of would-be students around the world wanting to follow what they coined as “The Strongest Karate”. Mas Oyama named his system, KYOKUSHIN™ which translates to “The True Way” or “The Ultimate Truth”, and his legacy began. The International Karate Organization Kyokushin Kaikan was established in 1964, and has evolved into a global network of karate practitioners numbering over 12million in 125 countries.
Mas Oyama became a living legend in Japan and around the world. Movies were made of his life, along with comic books, cartoons and even action figures. His likeness influenced several Modern Day Video game characters and Kyokushinkai influences can be found in Tekken, streetfighter and other popular games. Oyama published what has been considered the bible of karate in 1964 “What is Karate” that sold over 500,000 copies and was translated into several languages.
Sosai (founder) Mas Oyama is credited as originating the “full-contact” style of karate. Since its inception, Kyokushin has directly spawned thousands of martial arts champions. Indeed full-contact knockdown fighters of today can trace their current methodology in some way to the success of Kyokushin.
Mas Oyama passed away in April 1994 in Tokyo, Japan. Before his untimely death, he named his favorite student and long-time protégé, Shokei Matsui to succeed him as Director of the IKO Kyokushinkaikan. The IKO Kyokushinkaikan “Honbu”, World Headquarters, are continuously operating in Tokyo, Japan.