Warrior Legend Series
symbol for Kyokushin (Mas Oyama's Martial Art)
In 1964, Mas Oyama named his system “Kyokushin” which means “Ultimate Truth.” Kyokushin grew into what later became known as the International Karate Organization (IKO) which spread to 120 countries and included over 10 Million members. Mas Oyama had achieved his goal of bringing his Karate to the world.
Read on for Mas Oyama's full story... It's truly amazing!
Taking the Bull By the Horns
The Legend is born:
On July 27, 1923, one of Martial Arts greatest legends was born in South Korea. Masutatsu Oyama began his training in Chinese Kempo at the age of nine. It was clear from his youth that Mas Oyama was intrigued by athletics and sought to participate in whatever was available. When he was 13 he studied an art called Chabee in the city of Seoul and in 1938, at 15, he decided to immigrate to Japan to pursue his childhood dream of becoming an aviator. At about the time young Oyama started to wane in his pursuit of his pilot’s certification, he noticed students practicing Okinawan Karate. It was not long until he devoted himself to relentless training under Giko Funakoshi, son of Shotokan legend, Gichin Funakoshi. Eventually, Sosai Oyama moved to Tokyo to train directly with Sensei Funakoshi, and at 20 years of age he received his 4th Dan. Sosai Oyama also studied Judo as well as Goju Ryu Karate.
A Country at Great Unrest
Japan's unconditional surrender caused a great unrest and understandable level of shame throughout the nation. Mas Oyama, in particular, was stressed by this turn of events as an end to the war meant an end to his military career and a chance to prove his military skill in defending his adopted homeland. It was about this time that he happened upon one of the top students of Gochin Yamaguchi ("the Cat"), So Nei Chu who was also a Korean reputed to be a man of great strength and power. Sosai Oyama was immediately drawn to him. It was So who first tried to convince the 23 year old Oyama to dedicate his life to Karate in order to gain control; he also advised him to retreat to the mountains for three years in solitude to train his body, mind, and soul. Mas Oyama at that point was introduced to the code of Bushido and went to Mt. Minobu, where legendary Samurai Miyamoto Musashi developed his famous "Two-Sword" method. His training was intense, as was the isolation and loneliness. Unfortunately Sosa Oyama's sponsor could not continue to support him and his mountain retreat was ended prematurely after about 14 months. Shortly after returning, Mas Oyama entered and won the Japanese National Martial Arts championships. That win acted as a catalyst and provided the motivation he needed to dedicate his life to the study and instruction of Karate-do.
In 1948 he returned to the mountains to complete his journey of solitude, this time at Mt. Kiyozumi. While there, Oyama devoted himself to fanatical training that became an all-consuming obsession. He practiced for 12 - 15 hours each day which always ended with meditation and the study of Zen philosophy. He used trees for makiwara posts and was known to smash rocks with a single knife-hand strike. His regimen included constant repetition of both kata and basics, while also engaging in unorthodox mental toughness tests such as standing beneath freezing waterfalls for extended periods of time
Taking the Bull by the Horns
In 1950, Mas Oyama decided to begin to demonstrate his Karate against live bulls. All toll, he fought 52 bulls, killing three of them instantly and for the remaining 49, he was able to remove their horns with a knife-hand strike. While this was an impressive feat, it was not without pain and injury. On his first "training session" with a bull at the age of 34, Sosai Oyama was nearly killed as the not so happy bull decided to gore him. He survived and even managed to remove the bull's horns, but Mas Oyama remained bed ridden for six months as a result of his injuries. Some accounts cite the reasons for this unusual practice as simply to gain fame; however, others close to Oyama note that he wanted to perform spectacular feats so perspective students would be as passionate about Karate as he was. He believed that, for this noble purpose, the means justified the ends. Now, some 52 years later, history has proven him quite correct!
In 1952 Mas Oyama visited America for a year where he sought to demonstrate his art. Later, as he took on all challengers, Sosai Oyama’s reputation grew as he fought scores of disbelievers, defeating most of them with a single punch. He became known as “the godhand,” (the incarnation of a mythical Japanese warrior). Oyama’s philosophy was “one strike, certain death,” a concept foreign to most of today’s practitioners. Indeed, to this instructor, physical strength was an integral part of training as well as the basis for effective technique.
One of the demonstrations took place in Hawaii where Mas Oyama was befriended by a young martial artist named Bobby Lowe. Lowe, at age 23, was an accomplished fighter; he was in fact, completely taken by the physical strength and power of Mas Oyama. So much so, he was honored to become Oyama’s first “uchi deshi” (live-in student). Lowe began a tradition that included a number of “uchi deshi” who later became known as the “Young Lions” of Mas Oyama.
Distributing the Art
In 1956, Mas Oyama opened his first dojo in Tokyo, and by 1957, a few students turned into hundreds of practitioners. At the same time, Bobby Lowe returned to Hawaii and received permission to open the first Oyama School outside of Japan.
Sosai Oyama’s style developed into a brutal fighting system that used real combat or kumite, to prove effectiveness. Fights ended only when one opponent openly submitted from injury or exhaustion; the student drop-out rate was 90%.
Kyokushin is born
In 1964, Mas Oyama named his system “Kyokushin’” which means “Ultimate Truth.” Kyokushin grew into what later became known as the International Karate Organization (IKO) which spread to 120 countries and included over 10 Million members. Mas Oyama had achieved his goal of bringing his Karate to the world.
A Legacy remains
On April 26, 1994, Masutatsu Oyama died at the age of 70 from lung cancer. Today, the IKO continues to grow as millions study Kyokushin in over 130 countries. Some of his more notable students include: Sean Connery (honorary), Dolph Lundgren, and recent UFC champion, Georges St-Pierre.
Mas Oyama’s story and the accounts of his feats of physical prowess have served to create a larger-than-life image – the kind of stuff legends are made of. Truthfully, that is very fitting in today’s world, as we could all use a few more legends like Masutatsu Oyama!
Interested in Back Issues? Enter your name and email to be notified when they are available!
Editor-in-Chief & Publisher of Warriors Magazine