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Masutatsu Ōyama

Masutatsu Ōyama
Born July 27, 1923(1923-07-27)
Gimje, Jeollabuk-do, Korea
Died April 26, 1994 (aged 70)
Tokyo, Japan
Style Kyokushin karate
Rank 10th dan karate
Spouse Oyama Chiyako (1926–2006)
Notable students Steve Arneil, Hideyuki Ashihara, Bobby Lowe, Tadashi Nakamura, Terutomo Yamazaki
This article contains Japanese text. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of kanji and kana.
This article contains Korean text. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Hangul or hanja.

Ōyama Masutatsu (Japanese: 大山倍達 Ōyama Masutatsu July 27, 1923 – April 26, 1994), also known as Mas Oyama, was a karate master who founded Kyokushinkai, arguably the first and most influential style of full contact karate. He was born Choi Yeong-eui (Korean: 최영의, Hanja: 崔永宜), but preferred to be called Choi Baedal (Korean: 최배달, Hanja: 崔倍達) to indicate his Korean ethnicity. A Zainichi Korean (在日韓国人) he spent most of his life living in Japan and chose to become a Japanese citizen in 1964.


Early life

Oyama was born in Gimje, South Korea, during Japanese occupation and subsequent annexation of Korea. His parents were Yangban (nobility) in the region where he was born.[1] At a young age he was sent to Manchuria to live on his sister's farm. Oyama began studying martial arts at age 9 from a Chinese seasonal worker who was working on the farm. His name was Lee and Oyama said he was his very first teacher. Lee gave the 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." However, the story of the young Oyama and the Chinese seasonal worker teacher was considered a fiction by many.

In March 1936, Oyama left for Japan following his brother who enrolled in the Yamanashi Aviation School Imperial Japanese Army aviation school [1] . He was inspired to go to Japan by General Kanji Ishihara who was against the invasion of Asian neighbors (as a consequence, he was ostracized by higher ranks of the Japanese Army), to carve out his future in the heart of the Empire of Japan.

In April 1941, Oyama enrolled at Takushoku University and attained his 2nd dan in Goju Ryu karate. During this time he applied to Yamanashi Aviation School to serve the Japanese Imperial Army.

Post-World War II

In 1945 after the war ended Oyama left the Aviation school. He began "Eiwa Karate Reseach Center" in Suginami ward but closed quickly because "I soon realized that I was an unwanted Korean. Nobody would rent me a room."[1] He finally found a place to live at a corner of Tokyo. This is where he met his future wife whose mother ran a dormitory for university students.

In 1946, Oyama enrolled in Waseda University Sports Education.

Wanting the best in instruction, he contacted the Shotokan (Karate school) operated by Funakoshi Giko, the second son of karate master Funakoshi Gichin. 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.[1]

Oyama attended Takushoku University in Tokyo and was accepted as a student at the dojo (training hall) of Funakoshi Gichin, the founder of shotokan. He trained with Funakoshi for two years, then studied Goju Ryu karate for several years with "So Nei Chu" (소네이쥬, 1907-?),[citation needed] a senior student of the system's founder, Miyagi Chojun and was eventually graded to 8th Dan in the system by Yamaguchi Gogen who at the time was the head of Goju ryu in mainland Japan.

Korea had been officially annexed by Japan since 1910. During World War II (1939 - 1945) there was much unrest throughout Korea. As South Korea began to fight against North Korea over political ideology, Oyama became increasingly distressed. He recounts, "though I was born and bred in Korea, I had unconsciously made myself liberal; I felt repulsion against the strong feudal system of my fatherland, and that was one of the reasons which made me run away from home to Japan."[1] He joined a Korean political organization in Japan to strive for the unification of Korea, but soon was being targeted and harassed by the Japanese police. He then consulted with a fellow Korean from the same native province, Mr. Neichu So, who was a Goju Karate expert.[1]

Around the time he also went around Tokyo getting in fight with the US Military Police. He later reminisced those times in a television interview, "Itsumitemo Haran Banjyo" (Nihon Television), "I lost many friends during the war- the very morning of their departure as Kamizake 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 US Military as I can, until my portrait was all over the police station. At this time, Mr. So suggested that Oyama retreat 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. With only monthly visits from a friend in the town of Tateyama, the loneliness and harsh training became grueling. Oyama began to doubt his decision, so he sent a letter to the man who suggested the retreat. Mr. So replied with encouragement to remain, and suggested that he shave off one eyebrow so that he would not be tempted to come out of the mountain and let anyone see him that way. Oyama remained on the mountain for fourteen months, and returned to Tokyo a much stronger and more fierce Karateka.[1]

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 18 months.

Portions of the early history of Mas Oyama are disputed, particularly by one of Oyama's early students, Jon Bluming.[2]

Founds Kyokushin

In 1953 Oyama opened his own karate dojo, named "Oyama Dojo," in Tokyo but continued to travel around Japan and the world giving martial arts demonstrations, including the fighting and killing of live bulls with his bare hands. 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 'kyokushin' in a ceremony 1957. He also developed a reputation for being 'rough' with his students, often injuring them during training sessions. As the reputation of the dojo grew students were attracted to come to train there from in and outside Japan and the number of students grew. Many of the eventual senior leaders of today's various kyokushin based organisations began training in the style during this time. In 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 Kyokushinkaikan' (commonly abbreviated to IKO or IKOK) to organise the many schools that were by then teaching the kyokushin style.

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. The instructor would move to that town and usually 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 of America, Netherlands, England, Australia and Brazil to spread Kyokushin in the same way. Oyama also promoted Kyokushin by holding 'all-world' karate tournaments every few years in which anyone could enter from any style.

Prominent students

Public demonstrations

Oyama tested himself in a kumite, a progression of fights, each lasting two minutes, and each after the featured participant wins. Oyama fought 300 men in 3 days.[citation needed]

He was also known for his propensity for combat with bulls, bare-handed. In his lifetime, he battled 52 bulls, three of which were killed instantly with one strike, earning him the nickname of Godhand.[citation needed] He killed some of them by making them chase him around the arena and by losing their stamina the bulls died.

Final years

Before dying, Oyama built his Tokyo-based International Karate Organization, Kyokushinkai, into one of the world's foremost martial arts associations, with branches in more than 120 countries boasting over 10 million registered members. In Japan, books were written by and about him, feature-length films splashed his colorful life across the big screen, and comic books recounted his many adventures.

Oyama died at the age of 70, on April 26, 1994, of lung cancer. He was a non-smoker.


A manga about Oyama's legacy, Karate Baka Ichidai (literal title:"The Fanatical Karate Generation") was published in Weekly Shonen Magazine in 1971, the manga was written by Ikki Kajiwara while the art was done by Jirō Tsunoda and Jōya Kagemaru. A 47 episode anime adaptation was released in 1973, the anime had several changes in the plot and for some reason replaced Mas Oyama with a fictional character named Ken Asuka as the main character. However the anime, although some of its plot was different from the manga was still inspired by Oyama's legacy like in the manga.

Oyama was played by Japanese actor Sonny Chiba in the martial arts film trilogy based on the manga (Ikki Kajiwara, Jirō Tsunoda and Jōya Kagemaru were credited as original creators) Champion of Death (1975), Karate Bearfighter (1975), and Karate for Life (1977). Oyama also appears in the first two films.

Oyama's life story is also portrayed in the 2004 South Korean film Fighter in the Wind or Baramui Fighter.

SNK video games character from King Of Fighters and Art Of Fighting series of games, Takuma Sakazaki (AKA Mr. Karate), was inspired by Mas Oyama. Takuma Sakazaki is the founder and grandmaster for the fictional Kyokugenryu Karate, which is heavily based on Mas Oyama's Kyokushin Karate.

Grappler Baki manga character Doppo Orochi is a master karateka based on Mas Oyama, founding his own school of Karate, Shinshinkai; the other most known Keisuke Itagaki's work, Garouden, features a migthy character, Shozan Matsuo, who's apparently again inspired by Oyama.


  • The Kyokushin Way. ISBN 0-87040-460-1
  • What is Karate? ISBN 0-87040-147-5
  • This is Karate. ISBN 0-87040-254-4
  • Advanced Karate. ASIN B000BQYRBQ
  • Vital Karate. ISBN 2-901551-53-X

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Oyama, 1963, What is Karate, Japan Publications Trading Company.
  2. ^ - Reality-based Self-defense. Jon Bluming, Europe’s first Mixed Martial Artist Bluming asserts, based on supposedly first-hand history with Oyama, that most, if not all, of the legends about Oyama's early years are false and were perpetrated by Oyama's followers, not Oyama himself. It should be remembered that Jon Bluming, whilst arguably the strongest all round fighter Oyama had as a student, left the company of his teacher and his teacher's organization well before Kyokushin Karate as we know was formed. So his personal association with Oyama, or Oyama's organization, the International Karate Organization, Kyokushinkaikan, was limited to a very brief period in the very early years. Claims made by Bluming relating to Oyama were generally primarily influenced by Bluming's other Kyokushin teacher, Kenji Kurosaki, who also left Kyokushin in the early sixties, in less amicable circumstances than even Bluming.

External links


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