Masutatsu Oyama (大山倍達), more commonly known as Mas Oyama, was a Korean-Japanese Karate master who founded the Kyokushin Karate style—considered by many to be the first, and most influential style of full contact karate. Sosai Masutatsu Oyama was renowned for his incredible feats of superhuman strength, focus, power, and fighting prowess. Below you will find information regarding Sosai Oyama’s life and his Kyokushin Karate legacy.
In March 1938, Sosai Oyama left for Japan following his brother who enrolled in the Yamanashi Aviation School Imperial Japanese Army aviation school. Sometime during his time in Japan, Sosai, the then Choi Young-Eui would choose his Japanese name, Oyama Masutatsu (大山 倍達), which is a transliteration of ‘Baedal’ (倍達). ‘Baedal’ was an ancient Korean kingdom known in Japan during Sosai Oyama’s time as “Ancient Joseon”. ‘Masutatsu’ can also be pronounced ‘baitatsu’ in Japanese. During this time he started training in boxing and Judo.
One story from Sosai Oyama’s youth involves when Mr. Yi gave young Sosai 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, Sosai would later say, “I was able to jump between walls back and forth easily.” The writer, Ikki Kajiwara and the publisher of the comics based the story on the life experience Sosai Oyama spoke to them about—thus the title became “Karate Baka Ichidai” (Karate Fanatic).
In 1946, Sosai Oyama enrolled in Waseda University School of Education to study sports science.
Wanting the best in instruction, he contacted the Shotokan Dojo (Karate school) operated by Gigō Funakoshi, the second 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.
Sosai Oyama attended Takushoku University in Tokyo and was accepted as a student at the Dojo of Gichin Funakoshi. His training progress was very impressive, by the age of seventeen he was already a 2nd Dan, by the age of 20, he was a 4th Dan. At this point he also took a serious interest in judo, and his progress there was no less amazing. By the time he had quit training in Judo, less than four years after he had started, he had achieved the rank of fourth Dan in Judo. After styudying with Funakoshi for a number of years, he then studied Gōjū-ryū karate for several years with “So Nei Chu” (소네이쥬, 1907–?), a senior student of the system’s founder, Chojun Miyagi, and was eventually graded to 8th Dan in the system by Gogen Yamaguchi who at the time was the head of Goju-ryu in mainland Japan.
It was Master So who suggested that Sosai retreat to a lone mountain for solace to train his mind and body. Sosai set out to spend three years on Mt. Minobu in Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan. Sosai 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, after six months of training, and left Sosai Oyama alone. With only monthly visits from a friend in the town of Tateyama in Chiba Prefecture, the loneliness and harsh training became grueling. Sosai Oyama began to doubt his decision, so he sent a letter to the man who suggested the retreat. Master 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. Sosai Oyama remained on the mountain for fourteen months, and returned to Tokyo a much stronger and more fierce Karateka.
Sosai Oyama gave great credit to reading “The Book of Five Rings” by Miyamoto Musashi—a famous Japanese swordsman, to change 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 18 months. This time, his training was fanatical—12 hours a day every day with no rest days, standing under (cold) buffeting waterfalls, breaking river stones with his hands, using trees as Makiwara, jumping over rapidly growing flax plants hundreds of times each day. Each day also included a period of study of the ancients classics on the Martial arts Zen, and philosophy.
In 1952, he traveled the United States for a year, demonstrating his karate, live and on national television. During subsequent years, he took on all challengers, resulting in fights with 270 different people. The vast majority of these were defeated with one punch! A fight never lasted more than three minutes, and most rarely lasted more than a few seconds. 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, you arm was broken or dislocated. If you didn’t block, your rib was broken. He became known as the Godhand, a living manifestation of the Japanese warriors’ maxim Ichigeki 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). Sosai Oyama tested himself constantly through kumite, a progression of fights, each lasting two minutes, and each after the featured participant wins. Sosai Oyama devised the 100-man kumite which he went on to complete three times in a row over the course of three days.
In 1964 Sosai 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. In the same year, his Dojo received a challenge from Muay Thai (Thai Boxing) practitioners. Sosai Oyama, believing that no other style was comparable to his, accepted the challenge and sent three students (Kenji Kurosaki, Tadashi Nakamura, Noboru Ōsawa) to Thailand who won 2 of the 3 fights, thus redeeming the reputation of his Karate style.
After formally establishing Kyokushin-kai, Sosai Oyama would direct the organization through a period of growth. Sosai and his staff of hand-picked instructors displayed great ability in marketing the style and gaining new members. Sosai 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. Sosai Oyama also sent instructors to other countries such as the United States, Netherlands, England, Australia, and Brazil to spread Kyokushin in the same way. Sosai 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.
- Terutomo Yamazaki, the first champion of the All-Japan Full Contact Karate Open Championships and professional kickboxer
- Sonny Chiba, popular Japanese actor and martial artist
- Akira Masuda
- Hatsuo Royama, 9th dan, Kancho (Director) of the Kyokushin-kan International Honbu
- Tadashi Nakamura, founder of Seidō juku
- Bobby Lowe, 10th dan
- Steve Arneil, 10th dan
- Jon Bluming, 10th dan
- Hideyuki Ashihara
- Yoshiji Soeno, founder of fr:Shidokan
- Loek Hollander
- John Jarvis
- Miyuki Miura
- Howard Collins
- Shokei Matsui,
- Tae-hong Choi, one of the pioneers for taekwondo in the United States
- Peter Urban, Founder of USA GoJu Karate & Grand Patriarch of All American GoJuRyu Karate Do Styles, Systems, & Organizations.
- Nicholas Pettas, Last Uchi Deshi (1000 days live-in student of Mas Oyama) also K-1 Japan Champion 2001
Sosai Oyama wrote over 80 books in Japanese (some were translated to other foreign languages).
Sosai Oyama died at the age of 70, on 26 April 1994, of lung cancer. He was a non-smoker. His widow Chiyako Oyama, made a trust foundation to honor his lifelong work.
Sosai Oyama was portrayed 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). Sosai Oyama also appeared in the first two films.
The SNK video game character from their 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 Sosai 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 mighty character, Shozan Matsuo, who’s apparently again inspired by Oyama.
Fighter in the Wind, a Korean movie, depicts Sosai Oyama’s life as a young Karate practitioner before he develops the Kyokushin style of Karate.
The Pokémon species Sawk are based on Mas Oyama.
“A human life gains luster and strength only when it is polished and tempered.” – Mas Oyama (1923-1994)