Masatatsu (Mas) Oyama was born Yong-I-Choi on the 27th July 1923 in a village not far from Gunsan in Southern Korea. He was the youngest member of a large family of the Yanban (nobility) class. Mas Oyama's father and three older brothers were very big. They were strong, gifted athletes, each brother excelling in their respective sports. Whilst still an infant, Oyama was sent to live on his sisters farm in Manchuria, in Southern China. It was where he learned Southern Chinese Kempo form known as Eighteen Hands from Mr. Yi, who at the time was working on a farm. When Oyama returned to Korea at twelve, he continued his Martial Arts training in Korean Kempo.    

In 1938, Oyama went to Japan following his brother who enrolled in the Yamanashi Aviation School Imperial Japanese Army aviation school. During the time he participated in judo and boxing, and one day he noticed some students training in Okinawan Karate. This interested him very much and he went to train at the dojo of Gichin Funakoshi at Takushoku University. He progressed in his karate training at a rate that amazed everyone. By seventeen he was a 2nd Dan, and by the time he entered the Japanese Imperial Army at 20, he was a 4th Dan.

  As a 4th Dan in Okinawan Karate, he took a serious interest in judo in hope of mastering its excellent holding and grappling techniques. His progress there was, like karate, nothing short of amazing. He gained 1st Dan after one year of training, 2nd Dan after two and 3rd Dan after three. When Oyama stopped training judo, less than four years after starting, he had gained 4th Dan. Upon the advice of his mentor and a member of the National Diet, Matsuhei Mori, the young master took his Japanese name, Masutatsu Oyama, the name he would use for the rest of his life.  
  So Nei Chu  

After World War II, Oyama began his training in Goju karate under the name of So Nei Chu, a Korean-born master in Japan. Master So was one of the highest authorities on Goju in Japan at the time. He was renowned for both his physical and spiritual strength. This great teacher had a profound influence on the young Mas Oyama. After a few years of training Oyama, Master So advised the young student to make a firm commitment to dedicate his life to the Martial Way.


So Nei Chu, Sosai Mas Oyama's Goju instructor

  Mountain Training  
  In 1946, Oyama met Eiji Yoshikawa, the author of the novel Musashi, which was based on the life and exploits of Japan's most famous Samurai.  
  Both the novel and the author helped to teach Mas Oyama about the Samurai Bushido code and what it meant. In the same year he went to Mt. Minoby in the Chiba Prefecture, where Musashi had developed his Nito-Ryu style of sword-fighting. Oyama thought that this would be an appropriate place to commence the rigours of training he had planned for himself. Among the things he took with him was a copy of Yoshikawa's book. A student name Yashiro also came with him.  
  The relative solitude was strongly felt, and after 6 months, Yashiro secretly fled during the night. It became even harder for Oyama, who wanted more than ever to return to civilisation. So Nei Chu wrote to him that he should shave off an eyebrow in order to get rid of the urge. Surely he wouldn't want anyone to see him that way! This and other more moving words convinced Oyama to continue, and he resolved to become the most powerful karate-ka in Japan.  
Sosai Mas Oyama using tree trunks as natural makiwara (striking posts)
  In 1947, Mas Oyama won the karate section of the first Japanese National Martial Arts Championships. However, he still felt empty for not having completed the three years of solitude. After an intensive period of reflection and prayer, Oyama resolved once and for all to dedicate his life completly to the study of karate-do. He thereupon entered into a further period of intensive training, this time on Mt. Kiyozumi, also in Chiba Prefecture. He trained for 12 hours a day, every day. Training included periods of standing under (cold) buffeting waterfalls, break-ing river stones with his bare hands, and striking tree trunks as natural makiwara (striking posts). He developed his jumping ability by leaping over flax plants hundreds of times each day.
  After eighteen months he came down fully confident of himself, and able to take control of his life. Never again would he be so heavily influenced by his society around him. (Though it is probably safe to say that his circumstances were also probably never again as traumatic!).  
  Bulls, Challengers, and the Godhand  


In 1950, Sosai Mas Oyama started testing (and demostrating) his power by fighting bulls. In all, he fought 52 bulls, three of which were killed instantly, and 49 had their horns taken off with knife hand blows. That it is not to say that it was all that easy for him. Sosai often recalls with amusement that his first attempt to knock out a bull resulted in simply getting the beast very mad. Today, the animal rights groups would have something to say about these demonstrations, despite the fact that the animals were already all destined for slaughter.

In 1952, Oyama first travelled to the United States to display the art of karate, demostrating regularly for an entire year, all over the country, as well as on national television.

  Over the years to follow, he matched against professional boxers, wrestlers and anyone else who would accept the challenge. In all, Oyama fought 270 challengers, defeating every one. Of these, the vast majority of these were defeated with one punch! Never did a fight last more than three minutes; rarely did it take more than a few seconds to crush his opponent. His fighting principle was simple - if he got through to you, that was it.  
  If he hit you, you broke. If you blocked a rib punch, your arm would break or dislocate. If you didn't block, your rib was broken. Due to his power, he became known as the Godhand, a living manifestation of the Japanese warriors' maxim Ichi geki, Hissatsu or "One strike, certain death". To him, this was the true aim of technique in karate. The fancy footwork and intricate techniques were secondary (though he was also known for the power of his head kicks).  
  During one of his visits in the United States, Mas Oyama met Jacques Sandulescu, a big (190cm and 190kg of muscle) Romanian who was sent to prison by the Red Army (at the age of 16), and sent to the coal mines as a slave labourer for two years. The two quickly became friends and remained so for the rest of Oyama's life. You can read a short biography of Jacques on this website:  
  or his autobiography at  
  Oyama Dojo  
  In 1953, Mas Oyama opened his own independent karate dojo, named "Oyama Dojo" a grass lot in Mejiro, Tokyo. Shihandai Kenji Mizushima was the chief instructor. In 1956, the true beginning of the Oyama Karate School was made, with the opening of the Oyama Dojo in a former ballet studio behind Rikkyo University, 500 metres from the location of the current Japanese honbu dojo (headquarters). Within a short space of time membership grew to 300, and then 700 within a year. Practitioners of other styles came to train here too, for the jis-sen kumite (full contact fighting).  

The Oyama Dojo members took their kumite seriously, seeing it primarily as a fighting art, so they expected to hit and to be hit. With few restrictions, attacking the head was common, usually with the palm heel or towel-wrapped knuckles. Grabs, throws, and groin attacks were also common. Kumite rounds would continue till one person loudly conceded defeat. Injuries occurred on a daily basis and the drop out rate was high (over 90%). They had no official do-gi and wore whatever they had.

  One of the original instructors, Kenji Kato, has said that they would observe those from other styles, and adopt any techniques that "would be good in a real fight". This was how Mas Oyama's karate evolved. He took techniques from all martial arts, and did not restrict himself to karate alone.  
  Whilst the Tokyo dojo continue to grow , Mas Oyama continued to travel the world, researching all types of Martial Arts and demostrating his power karate. In 1957, when he was 34, he was nearly killed when he was gored by a bull during an exhibition match in Mexico. Oyama somehow managed to pull the bull off and break off his horn. He was rushed to hospital and soon returned to Japan where he remained for six months unable to move from bed. By sheer force of will, he gradually regained his health from the usually fatal wound.  
  Bobby Lowe  
  In 1952, Mas Oyama gave a demonstration in Hawaii. There a young Bobby Lowe saw him and was stunned by the power that Oyama demonstrated. Bobby Lowe (born 1929 - 2011) was involved in martial arts at an early age. His father was an instructor of Kung Fu, so he had done much training in the Chinese Martial Arts. Besides Kung Fu, Bobby participated in any fighting art he could find. When Bobby was 23, he was a 4th Dan in judo, 2nd Dan in kempo, 1st Dan in aikido, and was a highly regarded welterweight boxer. It was not long before Bobby Lowe became the first Kyokushin uchi deshi or "live-in student" of Mas Oyama's.  
  He trained daily with Mas Oyama for one and a half years. Eventually, an uchi deshi's time became "1000 days for the beginning". These uchi deshi became known as Wakajishi, or the "Young Lions" of Mas Oyama and only a few of the hundreds of applicants were chosen each year for the privilege of training full time under the Master.  

Shihan Bobby Lowe (left) and Sosai Mas Oyama

  In 1957, Lowe returned to Hawaii to open the first School of Oyama outside Japan. Since then, Oyama promoted him to 4th dan in or before 1957, 5th dan in 1965, 7th dan in 1976, and 8th dan in 1984.  
  The beginning of Kyokushin  
  The building of the current World headquarters (Honbu) commenced in 1963 and was officially opened in June 1964. It was at this time that Oyama Karate had adopted the name Kyokushin, meaning "Ultimate Truth". In the same year, the International Karate Organization (IKO) was established.  
  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, Netherlands, England, Australia and Brazil to spread Kyokushin in the same way.  
  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. All-Japan Championships have been held at every year. In 1975, The First World Full Contact Karate Open Championships were held in Tokyo. World Championships have been held at four-yearly intervals since.  
  Sadly Sosai passed away in April 1994  
  In the end, all Kyokushin organizations still maintain the standards set by Mas Oyama for the sake of many generations to come. This is why it is the responsibility of all those who have chosen to follow Sosai, to train hard and forge and indomitable spirit so that the tradition of strength in Kyokushin Karate may be recognised by all for many years.  
  Kyokushin has had an influence on many other styles. The knockdown karate competition format is now used by other styles. Karate styles that originated in Kyokushin, such as Ashihara, Budokaido, Godokai, Enshin Karate, Seido juku, Musokai, Shidokan and Seidokaikan, are also knockdown styles and use slight variations of the competition rules. Kickboxing has been seen as a natural progression for kyokushin competitors and many of Japan's top kickboxers have started in knockdown karate. The influence of Kyokushin can be seen in the K-1 kickboxing tournament that originated out of the Seidokaikan karate organization, which is an offshoot from Kyokushin.