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The Legacy of Masutatsu Oyama, founder of Kyokushin Karate

Mas Oyama

Masutatsu Oyama, born in Wa-Ryong-Ri Yong-chi-Myo’n Chul Na Do Korea in 1923, completed middle school in Seoul and moved to Japan at the age of 12 in 1938. Entering Tokyo Takushoku University in 1941, he had already mastered the Eighteen Techniques of Chinese kempo in his homeland. Under the guidance of Gichin Funakoshi, the pioneer who introduced karate to Japan, Oyama quickly rose to the rank of second-degree (dan) karate master. Despite being drafted into the military in 1943, he continued his karate studies with Sodeiju at the Goju school and emerged as a fourth-degree karate master after World War II.

Mas Oyama

Temporarily volunteering to aid his homeland's recovery post-war, Oyama shifted his focus back to karate due to the Korean conflict. Winning the All-Japan Karate Tournament in 1947, he resolved to dedicate his life to karate and embrace its principles. From 1948 to 1951, he secluded himself, practicing rigorous disciplines such as seated meditation under waterfalls and confronting wild animals to refine both his karate philosophy and his own mind and body.

Returning to civilization in 1951, Oyama embarked on a mission to teach the true essence of karate to the world. His extraordinary skills, including the ability to rip the horns from bulls, garnered attention, leading to the rapid spread of Oyama karate. His 1952 tour of the United States and subsequent global travels established training halls for the Oyama karate method.

Renowned for efficiency and power, Oyama's fighting style was characterized by quick victories, often within a few seconds. Known as the "Godhand," he embodied the Japanese warriors' principle of "One strike, certain death." Oyama's Dojo members took Kumite seriously, expecting both to hit and be hit, resulting in frequent injuries and a high dropout rate.

Members of the Oyama Dojo approached Kumite with a serious dedication, viewing it as a martial art focused on combat where both delivering and receiving strikes were anticipated. There were minimal constraints, and head attacks were prevalent, often executed with palm heels or knuckles wrapped in towels. Common practices included grabs, throws, and groin attacks. Kumite rounds persisted until one participant audibly admitted defeat. Injuries were a daily occurrence, contributing to a substantial dropout rate exceeding 90%. Official do-gi attire was absent, and practitioners wore whatever clothing they had available.

in 1957 Mas Oyama's style was finally named Kyokushinkai which means 'the ultimate truth".

Mas Oyama and his students walking barefoot on the snow
Mas Oyama and his students walking barefoot on the snow

In addition to the distinctive practice fighting that set Oyama's teaching style apart from other karate schools, Kyokushin's hallmark became its emphasis on breaking objects like boards, tiles, or bricks to gauge one's offensive prowess. Oyama staunchly advocated for the practical application of karate, asserting that neglecting 'breaking practice is no more beneficial than a fruit tree that bears no fruit.'

Oyama tested his abilities by taking on 300 challengers over three days, creating the 100-man Kumite challenge. His teaching style emphasized practical application, with breaking objects like boards becoming Kyokushin's trademark. The system gained global recognition, leading to the establishment of the International Karate Organization Kyokushin Kaikan in 1964, boasting over 12 million practitioners in 125 countries.

Oyama built his Tokyo-based International Karate Organization, Kyokushinkaikan, into one of the world's foremost martial arts associations, with branches in more than 100 countries. In Japan, books were written by and about him, feature-length films splashed his colourful life across the big screen, and manga recounted his many adventures. Oyama died at the age of 70 in Tokyo, Japan, on April 26, 1994, due to lung cancer. His widow, Chiyako Oyama, created a foundation to honor his legacy.

Sources: "This is Karate" by Mas Oyama, Toronto Kyokushinkai Karate and Kickboxing school, Wikipedia.

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Face your fear, empty yourself, trust your own voice, let go of control, have faith in outcomes, connect with a larger purpose, derive meaning from the struggle.
Kano Jigoro