A short biography and review of the founder of Kyokushin Karate, a sect of karate known for their emphasis on physical conditioning and full-contact sparring.

A short biography and review of the founder of Kyokushin Karate, a sect of karate known for their emphasis on physical conditioning and full-contact sparring.

Masutatsu Ōyama 

Korean by birth, at a young age he was sent to live on his sister’s farm. Oyama began studying Chinese martial arts at age 9 from a Chinese farmer (Lee) who was working on the farm. His father, Choi Seung Hyun, writing under the pen name of “Hakheon,” was a noted composer of classical Chinese poetry. March 1938, Oyama left for Japan following his brother who enrolled in the Imperial Japanese Army’s Aviation School. 

One story of Oyama’s youth involves Lee (his first teacher) giving young Oyama a seed which he was to plant; when it sprouted, he was to jump over it one hundred times every day. As the seed grew and became a plant, Oyama later said, “I was able to jump between walls back and forth easily.”

1945, after the war ended, Oyama left the aviation school. He finally found a place to live in Tokyo and met his future wife

1946, Oyama enrolled in Waseda University School of Education to study sports science.

Wanting the best in instruction, he contacted the Shotokan dojo operated by Gigō Funakoshi, the third son of Karate master and Shotokan founder Gichin Funakoshi. He became a student, and began his lifelong career in Karate. Feeling like a foreigner in a strange land, he remained isolated and trained in solitude.

Oyama later attended Takushoku University in Tokyo and was accepted as a student at the dojo of Gichin Funakoshi where he trained for two years. Oyama then studied Gōjū-ryū karate for several years with Nei-Chu So who was a fellow Korean from Oyama’s native province and a senior student of the system’s founder, Chojun Miyagi.

Around the time he also went around Tokyo getting in fights with the U.S. Military Police. 

“I lost many friends during the war- the very morning of their departure as Kamikaze pilots, we had breakfast together and in the evening their seats were empty. After the war ended, I was angry- so I fought as many U.S. military as I could, until my portrait was all over the police station.” 

Oyama retreated to a lone mountain for solace to train his mind and body. He set out to spend three years on Mt. Minobu in Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan. Oyama built a shack on the side of the mountain. 

One of his students named Yashiro accompanied him, but after the rigors of this isolated training, with no modern conveniences, the student snuck away one night, and left Oyama alone, the loneliness and harsh training became grueling. Oyama remained on the mountain for fourteen months, and returned to Tokyo a much stronger and fiercer Karateka.

Oyama greatly credited his reading of The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi for changing his life completely. He recounts this book as being his only reading material during his mountain training years.

He was forced to leave his mountain retreat after his sponsor had stopped supporting him. Months later, after he had won the Karate Section of Japanese National Martial Arts Championships, he was distraught that he had not reached his original goal to train in the mountains for three years, so he went into solitude again, this time on Mt. Kiyosumi in Chiba Prefecture, Japan and he trained there for another 18 months.

1963, Oyama wrote “What is Karate” which became a best seller in the US and sold million copies all over the world. It is considered by many to be the “Bible” of Karate to this day.


1953 opened his own karate dojo, Oyama Dojo (form of Gōjū-ryū), in Tokyo but continued to travel around Japan and the world giving martial arts demonstrations, which included knocking live bulls unconscious with his bare hands (sometimes grabbing them by the horn, and snapping the horn off).[

His dojo was first located outside in an empty lot but eventually moved into a ballet school in 1956. Oyama’s own curriculum soon developed a reputation as a tough, intense, hard-hitting but practical style which was finally named Kyokushinkai (Japan Karate-Do Kyokushinkai), which means ‘the ultimate truth,’ in 1957. 

He also developed a reputation for being ‘rough’ with his students, as the training sessions were grueling and students injuring themselves in practice fighting (kumite) was quite common. Along with practice fighting that distinguished Oyama’s teaching style from other karate schools, emphasis on breaking objects such as boards, tiles, or bricks to measure one’s offensive ability became Kyokushin’s trademark. 

Oyama believed in the practical application of karate and declared that ignoring ‘breaking practice is no more useful than a fruit tree that bears no fruit.’ 

1964 Oyama moved the dojo into the building that would from then on serve as the Kyokushin home dojo and world headquarters. In connection with this he also formally founded the ‘International Karate Organization Kyokushin kaikan’ (commonly abbreviated to IKO or IKOK) to organise the many schools that were by then teaching the kyokushin style.

1961 at the All-Japan Student Open Karate Championship, one of Oyama’s students, Tadashi Nakamura, at 19 years old (1961) made his first tournament appearance, where he was placed first. Nakamura later became Mas Oyama’s Chief Instructor as referenced in Mas Oyama’s book, “This is Karate.” In 1969, 

Oyama staged the first All-Japan Full Contact Karate Open Championships which took Japan by storm and Terutomo Yamazaki became the first champion, which have been held every year since. In 1975, the first World Full Contact Karate Open Championships were held in Tokyo. World championships have been held at four-yearly intervals since. 

After formally establishing Kyokushin-kai, Oyama directed the organization through a period of expansion. Oyama and his staff of hand-picked instructors displayed great ability in marketing the style and gaining new members. Oyama would choose an instructor to open a dojo in another town or city in Japan, whereupon the instructor would move to that town, and, typically demonstrate his karate skills in public places, such as at the civic gymnasium, the local police gym (where many judo students would practice), a local park, or conduct martial arts demonstrations at local festivals or school events. In this way, the instructor would soon gain a few students for his new dojo. After that, word of mouth would spread through the local area until the dojo had a dedicated core of students. Oyama also sent instructors to other countries such as the United States, Netherlands, England, Australia and Brazil to spread Kyokushin in the same way. Oyama also promoted Kyokushin by holding The All-Japan Full Contact Karate Open Championships every year and World Full Contact Karate Open Championships once every four years in which anyone could enter from any style.


*Oyama devised the 100-man kumite; which he went on to complete three times in a row over the course of three days.

He was known for his toughness. If you blocked one of his strikes you would in turn be injured. He was injured during the 3 day Kumite, but continued on, prepared for a 4th day, it’s rumored to not have happened because no-one else had the disire to continue with him… 

*He was also known for fighting bulls bare-handed. He battled 52 bulls over the course of his lifetime, supposedly cutting off the horns of several and killing three instantly with one strike, earning him the nickname of “Godhand”.

*Later in life, Oyama suffered from Osteoarthritis. Despite his illness, he never gave up training. He held demonstrations of his karate, which included breaking objects.

*Oyama wrote over 80 books in Japanese.

*Oyama died at the age of 70 in Tokyo, Japan on April 26, 1994, due to lung cancer.

Inspiration from Mas Oyama

  1. Go all in 100% – his time in solitude and commitment to training and joining the military.
    1. The reality is that if you can’t truly commit to one task at a time, you aren’t putting in your best efforts. This doesn’t mean that you’ll have to love doing the task. Oyama needed letters from his teacher [Master So] to convince him to stay on the mountain when he was only six months in. You too might need a little extra motivation, but if you commit to your goal, even if you don’t complete it, you’ll be successful.
  2. Be your best even when at your worst – Mas Oyama dedicated to his craft, and once he committed, he couldn’t back down even at his worst. After winning the championship, he returned to the mountains to finish his training and descended like a beast on the karate world. His power was immense and uncontested, but even he had moments of near fatal injury. Oyama fought 300 karate matches in three days, full-contact and non-stop fighting to the hundred. This means no breaks or breathers while fighting one hundred men each day. Even if you begin as a beast, the matches have to wear you down.
    1. Oyama demonstrated his true worth by not only enduring these fights through injury, but also winning every fight. He had incredible strength, but his strongest ability was that he didn’t submit in the face of injury or fatigue. He could be his best even at his worst.
    2. Sensei say’s “Never them you’re tired” – they may beat you but don’t let them beat you down…  “Your competition may beat you up and down, but show them you’re determined to survive, to win.”
  3. Mind, Body Spirit
    1. He was alone on the mountain. Legend says he trained 12 hour days, 7 days a week. No one to push him daily or critique him. He had to find out who he truly was to endure this.
    2. Physical training also trains your mind and spirit. Focus, determination, discipline are all parts of this puzzle.
  4. Simplify
    1. He removed what he thought was ‘extraneous’ techniques, katas, etc… and focused on his striking power. “One strike, one kill” power. 
    2. There will be many, many differnet fitness programs created in the world, but you just can’t beat the tried and true methods of getting into shape and losing weight…


History from Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mas_Oyama 



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