Masutatsu Oyama

OYAMA, MASUTATSU (1923-1994) Korean-born karate master, pioneer, author and administrator. Known worldwide as Mas Oyama, he was born Yee Hyung in Kimje, Korea. At age 9, while attending Yongee Primary School, he studied chabi (aka taiken), a combination of kempo and jujutsu. At this time, he also began training in Shaolin kung-fu and chabi with a North Korean farmhand employed by his father, continuing until he was 13. In 1937, he was sent to Japan to attend a boy’s military academy in Yamanashi Prefecture. He changed his name and began studying Shotokan karate. Unsatisfied with his training after two years, he moved to Tokyo and enrolled in Takushoku University. He was accepted for further karate training at the Shotokan, the private dojo where Gichin Funakoshi and his son taught. There he studied directly under the elder Funakoshi for two years, two hours a day. Oyama was drafted into the Imperial Army at 18. Stationed in Tokyo, he joined the Butokukai, the government-sponsored organization comprising all the primary martial arts, where he resumed his karate training. Oyama was a member of the Kihokai, a section of the Butokukai specializing in teaching espionage and guerrilla tactics for wartime use. After the Kihokai was disbanded, Oyama met Neichu So (in Korean, Hyung Ju Cho), a student of Chojun Miyagi, who taught Oyama goju-ryu karate for two years. During the hectic period following World War II, Oyama resumed his studies with So for one year at a dojo in the Koenji section of Tokyo. After 1948, at the urging of So and statesman Tenshichiro Ozawa, Oyama journeyed to Mt. Kiyosumi in Chiba Prefecture and for 18 months remained in seclusion, devoting himself completely to a spartan existence. Ozawa sent him $50 every month for expenses. Here Oyama followed a strict daily regimen of practicing karate seven hours each day, sleeping for eight hours, and meditating. Through such rigorous training as seated meditation under a waterfall, struggles with wild animals, and smashing trees and stones with his bare hands, Oyama refined his doctrine of karate, as well as his own mind and body. He returned to civilization in 1951, residing in a beach resort town of Tateyama, where, determined to teach the true meaning of karate to the world, he faced his first monumental challenge. At a local slaughter house, Oyama tested his strength against a bull by attempting to kill it with a single punch. After the first attempt failed, Oyama returned a few days later and this time staggered the bull to its knees with one mighty punch, then knocked off one of its horns with a knife-hand slash. In the ensuing years, he battled a total of 52 bulls in this barehanded manner, slicing the horns from 36 of them, and killing only three; all the bulls were marked for slaughter. A 20-minute film of Oyama’s barehanded bull fighting was produced by Shochiku. As a result of these battles, his fame spread far and wide. He opened a small dojo in Tateyama, but closed it after one year and returned to Tokyo in late 1950. After working as a bodyguard at the South Korean mission in Tokyo, he made the first of many trips to the U.S. From March to Nov. 1952, he toured the country with judoka Kokichi Endo and pro wrestler “The Great Togo” of California, under the auspices of the U.S. Professional Wrestling Association. Beginning in Chicago, the three men challenged pro wrestlers and boxers in public exhibition bouts. Oyama reported-ly won every one of his matches by knockout, in the process generating unprecedented media exposure for karate in America. He returned to Chicago in the summer of 1953, where, in front of television cameras, he stunned a bull with his first punch and sliced off a horn. He then went to New York to teach karate for a week, then back to Japan. By this time, Oyama was an international sensation, the publicity surrounding his feats having made him the most famous karate figure in the world. In 1954, he conducted a three-month tour of Southeast Asia. One of the rumors spread by Oyama was that he defeated the “Black Cobra,” the reigning welterweight Thai kickboxer, by knocking him out and breaking his jaw in two minutes of the first round. However, this claim is just a myth as no records of such an event exist in Thailand. Also that year, he went to Hawaii for one month to help his student, Bobby Lowe, set up Oyama’s first overseas school. Oyama founded his own first school in Japan in 1956, but it wasn’t until 1961 that he changed the name of his schools to reflect his newly-created style, kyokushinkai, which emphasizes Zen, tameshiwari (breaking), and a rough style of kumite (free sparring).
He returned to the U.S. in 1959 and 1962 to give demonstrations and establish branches of his school in Chicago, New York, and California, during which he gave karate exhibitions for the FBI at its Washington, D.C., headquarters. Among the techniques he refined for these performances was the breaking of rocks, bricks, boards, bottles, and roofing tiles. He still holds the record for smashing a stack of 30 roofing tiles with a single downward punch. He also toured Europe in 1962. In 1963, he established his present headquarters, a four-story building in Idebukuro (Prime Minister Eisaku Sato was honorary chairman). By 1980, Oyama claimed some 300,000 students in Japan alone, and more than 1.5 million worldwide. From his headquarters, he oversees a reported network of some 520 kyokushinkai schools around the world, including branches in Iron Curtain countries such as the U.S.S.R., Poland, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia. Overall, Oyama has written 22 books, all highly successful, which have been translated into 19 languages, most of them noted for lavish, spectacular photography. He wrote his first book, What Is Karate, in 1958. Among his works is an autobiographical series which became very popular in Japan. At least one film has been made about his life.