menu close menu

Kyokushin Karate History – The Origin

The following is a brief overview of the early life of Masutatsu “Mas” Oyama.

The founder of Kyokushin, Masutatsu Oyama, was born Choi Yong-i on 27 July 1923 in Il-Loong, Korea, during the long period of Japanese occupation. As a young child, Oyama enjoyed fighting and watching others fight. In 1938, he emigrated to Japan and studied Okinawan Karate under Gichin Funakoshi, eventually gaining 2nd dan. Later, Oyama also trained under Yoshida Kotaro, a famous Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu/Yanagi-ryu Aiki-jujutsu master, from whom he received his menkyo kaiden – an older form of grade, a scroll signifying mastery, from Kotaro. This scroll is still on display at the Honbu dojo in Tokyo.

Also, upon the advice of his mentor and a member of the National Diet, Matsuhei Mori, around this time the young master took his Japanese name, Masutatsu Oyama, the name he would use for the rest of his life. After World War II, Oyama began his training in Goju Ryu karate under a Korean master in Japan, So Nei Chu, who ran a dojo in Tokyo along with the renowned Goju teacher, Gogen Yamaguchi. He would finally attain 8th Dan in Goju Ryu Karate. Another influence from the Goju school was Masahiko Kimura, a champion of judo who defeated Hélio Gracie. Kimura encouraged Oyama to take up judo so that he would have an understanding of the art’s ground techniques. Kimura introduced Oyama to the Sone Dojo in Nakano, Tokyo, where he trained regularly for four years, eventually gaining his 4th Dan. It was after this time that Oyama first retreated into the mountains for one of his well-known solitary training periods, yamagomori. He completed two such retreats for a total of almost three years of solitary training in accord with the ascetic traditions of many of the great warriors of Japan through the centuries. During this period of isolated training, Oyama engaged in intense shugyo, or spiritual discipline. In the early 1950s, Oyama traveled to the USA visiting 32 states.

Founder of Kyokushin Karate, Masutatsu Oyama.

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 bare-handed challenges. His first ‘dojo’ was a vacant lot in Mejiro, Tokyo. In 1956, Oyama moved the dojo into the ballet studio attached to Rikkyo University. Oyama’s own curriculum soon developed a reputation as a tough, intense, hard-hitting, and practical style which he named “Kyokushin” in a ceremony in 1957.

As the reputation of the dojo grew, students were attracted to come to train there from Japan and beyond and numbers grew. In 1964, Oyama moved the dojo into a building he refurbished not far from the ballet studio at Rikkyo. Oyama also formally founded the “International Karate Organization Kyokushinkaikan” (commonly abbreviated to IKO or IKOK), to organize the many schools that were by then teaching the Kyokushin style. This dojo at 3-3-9 Nishi-Ikebukuro, in the Toshima area of Tokyo, remains the world headquarters.

1964 to 1994

After formally establishing the Kyokushinkaikan, Oyama directed the organization through a period of expansion. Oyama hand-picked instructors who displayed 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 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 Netherlands (Kenji Kurosaki), Australia (Shigeo Kato), the United States of America (Tadashi Nakamura, Shigeru Oyama and Yasuhiko Oyama, Miyuki Miura) and Brazil (Seiji Isobe) to spread Kyokushin in the same way. In 1969, Oyama staged the first ‘All Japan Full Contact Championships’ which took Japan by storm and Terutomo Yamazaki has become the first champion. Also in 1975, the First Open Full Contact World Karate Championships. Occasionally, world championships have been held at four-yearly intervals, although under the current confusion of self-proclaimed representative organizations, there are up to five so-called “world championships” claiming to represent Kyokushin. Upon Oyama’s death, the International Karate Organization (IKO) splintered into several groups, primarily due to conflict over who would succeed Oyama as Chairman and the future structure and philosophy of the organization.

Currently, the issue remains unresolved, although a series of court cases over the last 13 years appears to be coming to an end with a result finally due in the near future. Before his death, Oyama named Shokei (Akiyoshi) Matsui as his successor even though Matsui was junior to many others in the IKO organization. Matsui claimed that he personally owned the intellectual rights to all Kyokushin trademarks, symbols, and even the name Kyokushin. However, the Japanese legal system subsequently ruled against Matsui in this matter, returning the ownership of Oyama’s intellectual property to his family.

Kyokushin Today

Existing as a single organization under the leadership of the founder, Mas Oyama, the Kyokushin organization, after the Master’s passing, broke down into various groups, each claiming their own authority as representing the original Honbu. Various other organizations have stemmed from Kyokushin and teach similar techniques but go by different names. Also, numerous dojos throughout the world claim to teach a Kyokushin curriculum without formal connection to the organization. Although difficult to quantify, it is conjectured that the number of students and instructors involved in learning or teaching the style or one of its close variations around the world is significant and numbers in the millions.[citation needed] Oyama’s widow died in June 2006 after a long illness. According to the Japanese legal system the Custodian of Oyama’s intellectual property and legacy is the youngest of his daughters, Kikuko (also known as Kuristina) who now operates the original IKO Honbu.

Techniques and Training

Kyokushin training consists of three main elements: (1) technique, (2) forms, and (3) sparring. These are sometimes referred to as the three “K’s” after the Japanese words for them: kihon (technique), kata (forms), and kumite (sparring).

Technique (kihon)

The Kyokushin system is based on traditional karate like Shotokan and Goju-ryu, but incorporates many elements of combat sports like boxing and kickboxing in kumite. Many techniques are not found in other styles of karate. Today, some Kyokushin fighters (like Francisco Filho and Glaube Feitosa) appear in kickboxing events like K-1. In this form of karate the instructor and his/her students all must take part in hard sparring to prepare them for full contact fighting. Unlike some forms of karate, Kyokushin places high emphasis on full contact fighting which is done without any gloves or protective equipment. This apparent violence is tempered because non-kick or non-knee strikes are not allowed on an opponents face, aiming to reduce the possibility of serious injury however, knees and kicks to the head and face, are allowed. In the earliest Kyokushin tournaments and training sessions bare knuckle strikes to the face were allowed but resulted in many injuries, and, thus, students who were forced to withdraw from training. Oyama believed that wearing protective gloves would detract from the realism that the style emphasizes. Therefore, it was decided that hand and elbow strikes to the head and neck would no longer be allowed in training and competition.[citation needed] Furthermore, many governments don’t allow bare knuckle strikes to the head in sanctioned martial arts competitions. The vast majority of Kyokushin organizations and “offshoot” styles today still follow this philosophy. Technically, Kyokushin is a circular style. This is in opposition to Shotokan karate, which is considered a linear style, and closer to Goju-ryu, another mostly circular style. Shotokan and Goju-ryu were the two styles of karate that Oyama learned before creating his own style. However, Oyama studied Shotokan for only a couple of years before he switched to Goju-ryu where he got his advanced training. This is reflected in Kyokushin where the early training closely resembles Shotokan but gradually becomes closer to the circular techniques and strategies of Goju-ryu the higher you advance in the system.

Kata

Kata is a form of ritualized training in which patterned or memorized movements are done in order to practice a form of combat maneuvering. Northern

The northern kata stems from the Shuri-te tradition of karate, and are drawn from Shotokan karate which Oyama learned while training under Gichin Funakoshi. (some areas now phase out the prefix “sono”).

Taikyoku sono ichi

Taikyoku sono ni

Taikyoku sono san

Pinan Sono Ichi

Pinan Sono Ni

Pinan Sono San

Pinan Sono yon

Pinan Sono Go

Kanku Dai

Sushiho

Unique

Sokugi Taikyoku sono ichi

Sokugi Taikyoku sono ni

Sokugi Taikyoku sono san

Sokugi Taikyoku sono yon

Southern

The southern kata stems from the Naha-te tradition of karate, and are drawn from Goju Ryu karate, which Oyama learned while training under So Nei Chu and Gogen Yamaguchi.[citation needed] Sanchin

Gekisai Dai

Gekisai Sho

Tensho

Saifa

Seienchin

Seipai

Yantsu

Unique

The kata Garyu is not taken from traditional Okinawan karate but was created by Mas Oyama and named after his pen name.

The kata Tsuki no kata is also unique to the style of Kyokushin karate and styles that derivatives from it. Although there is some debate on who created it, as it is never attributed to Mas Oyama. One common theory is that it was created by Tadashi Nakamura before his parting from the kyokushin organization.

The kata Yantsu is also often believed to be an original Kyokushin kata but there is enough evidence to suggest it finds its roots in Okinawa before Oyama created Kyokushin.

Ura Kata

Several kata are also done in “ura”. This means that (in some instances) on every other step forward, the practitioner slides his back leg behind his front leg and around to the position it would have been in had he stepped forward. This in effect produces a spin on one foot. The URA, or ‘reverse’ kata were developed by Oyama as an aid to developing balance and multi-direction combat skills. Taikyoku sono ichi ura

Taikyoku sono ni ura

Taikyoku sono san ura

Pinan sono ichi ura

Pinan sono ni ura

Pinan sono san ura

Pinan sono yon ura

Pinan sono go ura

Sparring (kumite)

Sparring is used to train the application of the various techniques within a fighting situation. Sparring is usually an important part of training in most Kyokushin organizations, especially at the upper levels with experienced students. In most Kyokushin organizations, hand and elbow strikes to the head or neck are prohibited. However, kicks to the head, knee strikes, punches to the upper body, and kicks to the inner and outer leg are permitted. In some Kyokushin organizations, especially outside of a tournament environment, gloves and shin protectors are worn. Children always wear head gear to lessen the impact of any kicks to the head. Speed and control are instrumental in sparring and in a training environment it is not the intention of either practitioner to injure his opponent as much as it is to successfully execute the proper strike. Tournament fighting under knock-down karate rules is significantly different as the objective is to down an opponent. Full-contact sparring in Kyokushin is considered the ultimate test of strength, endurance, and spirit.

Self defense

Also known as Goshin-jutsu, the specific self defense techniques of the style draw much of their techniques and tactics from Mas Oyamas study of Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu under Yoshida Kotaro. These techniques were never built into the formal grading system, and as kyokushin grew increasingly sport oriented, the self defence training started to fall into obscurity. Today it is only practiced in a limited number of dojos.

Grading

Kyokushin Karate Belt Order

Black

Brown

Green

Yellow

Blue

red

White

Colored belts have their origin in Judo, as does the training ‘gi’, or more correctly in Japanese, ‘dogi’. In Kyokushin the order of the belts are: White

red (Sometimes orange)

Blue

Yellow

Green

Brown

Black

Each colored belt had two levels, the second being represented by a stripe on through the belt. There are many ideas of how the belt colours came to be, some more romantic than others. One quaint tale says that students of a karate school would be given a white belt. The students’ belts would gradually become stained darker from use and eventually a person who was of a high standard and who had trained for a long time would then have a black/brown/dirt coloured belt. This is an inspiring way to encourage students to train harder, and might have its basis in truth since martial arts practitioners as a general rule don’t wash their belts after training. However, no evidence exists of this, so there is no hard and fast rule according to the Japanese and romantic notions of the belt containing the training spirit and hard toil of years of training are generally invented in the West. The tradition of only sparingly washing the belt is more likely based on the more practical reason that belts tend to lose their colour if washed too often. Perhaps the most widely read interpretation and respected of the fundamental psychological requirements of each level is found in the book, Budo Karate of Mas Oyama, written by former interpreter to Mas Oyama, Cameron Quinn. Kyokushin karate has a belt grading system similar to other martial arts. The requirements of each level vary from country to country, some far stricter and more demanding than others. For example, in some countries in Europe, the grading for each level requires the student to complete the entire requirements for each level up to the rank being tested. So the student attempting first degree black belt will do all the white belt requirements, THEN all the orange belt requirements and so on.

The free fighting (kumite)

The free fighting (kumite) requirements for first degree black belt also ranges from twenty rounds to forty rounds, depending on the region, usually at a very high level of contact and with no protective gear other than a groin guard and mouth guard. It is not so much the number of fights but the intensity of the effort that defines the grading. Some areas don’t even have formal gradings per se, instead presenting the student with their new rank in training after the instructor feels that he/she has reached that level and is capable of all the requirements. The belt assigned to each student upon commencing training is a white belt. With each successful grading attempt the student is awarded a kyu ranking, and either a stripe on his current belt or a new belt colour altogether. Grading, or promotion tests, include calisthenic and aerobic training, kihon (basics), ido geiko (moving basics), goshinjitsu (self defence), sanbon and ippon kumite (three and one step sparring), kata (prescribed series of movements/forms, sometimes described as a form of moving meditation), tameshiwari (board, tile or brick breaking) and kumite (contact free fighting). Achieving a 1st dan black belt, or shodan, can take anywhere from four but often six to ten years of training. A belt may be awarded only by a teacher after a grading, some lower grades, eg, white & orange, can be assesed in a local dojo by an instructor, after 2 or 3 grades, you will have to wait until a “grading” usually only performed approximately 4 times a year or at martial arts camps where ther are shodan and above gradings, and 50 man kumite also are performed on rare occasions. At the highest ranks (6th dan and above) tests are performed by international committee, or, as is more common in the post-Mas Oyama era, presented honorarily. Each belt has a different number of fights required for the rank sparring for grading starts at blue belt, or 8th kyu. Of all aspects, it is the strong and spirited contact kumite that most defines the Kyokushin style and it is this aspect that has always brought the style the most respect. The one thing that usually defined the Kyokushin black belt was the spirit, strength and courage of the kumite. The number of rounds required may increase or decrease after Shodan, again depending on the region. 40 rounds of hard contact sparring is required for shodan. as part of a grading or as part of a special training requirement, is no easy feat and involves non-stop fighting of one and a half hours or more. It is a test of fortitude as well as skill.

Competition and Tournaments

Tournament competition is an important part of Kyokushin, and most Kyokushin organizations sponsor local, national, and international competitions. Kyokushin tournaments are held throughout the year on every continent in the world, but the largest are held in Japan where they are televised on Japanese television and draw crowds of thousands. Tournaments are organized as either weight category or open tournaments. The Kyokushin World Tournaments are known as the Karate Olympics. Kyokushin culture believes that accepting a “challenge” represents a Kyokushin practitioner’s commitment to the principles of the art.

One way to participate in a challenge, in which a Kyokushin student tests his/her courage and desire to defeat one’s adversary, is through tournament competition. Most Kyokushin tournaments follow “knock-down karate” rules in which points are awarded for knocking one’s opponent to the floor with kicks, punches, or sweeps. Grabbing and throwing are generally not allowed in Kyokushin tournaments. When they are, they are legal only if performed in less than a second. Hooks are usually legal if performed for a ‘split second.’ Arm or hand strikes to the head, face, neck or spine are usually not permitted, but kicks to the head are allowed. If, however, the opponent turns his back while the opponent is throwing a technique, there is no penalty. Outside of Japan straight kicks to the front of the knee are usually disallowed. Knock-outs do sometimes occur and minor to moderate injuries are common, but serious injuries are rare. The most common injuries are concussions, broken clavicles, and fractured limbs and sternums.

Many Kyokushin tournaments follow an “open” format that allows competitors from any martial arts style, not just Kyokushin, to enter and compete. Many Kyokushin practitioners tend to express concerns about influence of “Japan knockdown” rules on martial art students. The rules were designed with purpose of maintaining relatively low level of injuries by greatly reducing amount of strikes into competitor’s head (only kicks into the head should happen, and they are not exactly common given proper guard). They, however, resulted in highly specialized and barely relevant style of sparring, which is often seen during modern Kyokushin championships, particularly outside of Japan. Specifically, both opponents tend to maintain high upright stance with little or no guard for the head/neck area, make little or no movement and throw a continuous stream of punches into opponent’s mid-section and kicks into thigh/knee area.

Since many Kyokushin dojos encourage their students to compete, they tend to ingrain this fairly artificial method of combat, while abandoning realistic framework of Kyokushin. The impact of Kyokushin rules upon martial art students has been criticized for a long time, yet there is little indication of possible changes on a worldwide scale, as resorting to protective gear is considered to be against spirit of Kyokushin, and imposing restrictions on contact hardness may result in just a variation of Shotokan competitions. The amount of Kyokushin “spin-off” schools that try to overcome the situation is still growing.

Multi-man Sparring

In addition to the number of rounds of kumite as mentioned above in the Grading section, a special tradition of Kyokushin has been the 50- and 100- man kumite. The 100-man kumite was designed as a special test for advanced practitioners of the art. In these extreme examples of kumite, the subject of the test fights 50 to 100 opponents (depending on the test) in rapid succession, usually two-minute bouts separated by one-minute rest periods. The subject has to “win” (i.e., not get knocked-out) in at least 50-percent of the bouts in order to be deemed as passing the test. One example of someone who successfully completed the 100-man fight is Miyuki Miura. Reportedly, only 16 people have successfully completed the 100-man fight. There is a trend these days of dojos and organizations around the world to run their own 100-Man Kumite in their own country with their own students as opponents. Only 100-man kumite tests conducted by Honbu are recognized and recorded. Masutatsu Oyama is reported to have completed a 300-man fight over 3 days.

Influence on other Knockdown Styles

Kyokushin has had a big influence on many other styles, and the knockdown karate competition format is now used by a large number of styles. AS a group these styles are called knockdown styles, or knockdown karate styles. Most other karate styles that originated in Kyokushin, such as Ashihara Karate, Budokaido, Enshin Karate, Seido juku, Shidokan and Seidokaikan (the style that originated the K-1 kickboxing tournament) are also knockdown styles and use slight variations of the competition rules. A few other styles such as Kansuiryu Karate and Byakuren are also knockdown karate styles, but originated independently of Kyokushin, having simply adopted the competition format. Some styles originating in Kyokushin such as Daido Juku and its derivative, Japanese Zendokai, has also been strongly influenced by Kyokushin technique and traditions, but has chosen to abandon traditional Knockdown karate sparring for more Mixed martial arts influenced competition rules.

Movies

A trilogy of films starring Sonny Chiba and directed by Kazuhiko Yamaguchi were produced in Japan between 1975 and 1977: Champion of Death, Karate Bearfighter and Karate for Life. Chiba plays Master Oyama who also appears in two of the films. The James Bond movie “You Only Live Twice”, starring Sean Connery, was filmed largely in Japan and featured a karate demonstration by a number of well-known Kyokushin students, including Shigeo Kato (who introduced Kyokushin to Australia and was the original teacher of Shokei Matsui) and the well-known Fujihira who was one of the three fighters who took up the Muay Thai challenge in 1964 and who fought in the ring for many years under the name of Noboru Osawa. Fighter in the Wind (Korean: ??? ???) is a 2004 South Korean film. It is based on the Japanese comic book Karate Baka Ichidai which is a fictionalised account of karate competitor Choi Yeung-Eui (???) who went to Japan during World War II to become a fighter pilot but found a very different path instead. He changed his name to Masutatsu Oyama (????) and went across the country, defeating martial artists one after another. This film concentrates on the period when he is still young, and developing his famous karate style, Kyokushin.

TV

Kyokushin was featured on Fight Quest as the Japanese Martial Arts Style. Kyokushin was the style of Karate featured in an episode of Human Weapon Notable practitioners

Terutomo Yamazaki (???? ,Yamazaki Terutomo?) ?The first champion which is the First All Japan Full Contact Championships?

Sonny Chiba

Hideyuki Ashihara

Steve Arneil (creator of IFK)(Head of Kyokushin Great Britain)

Andy Hug

Dolph Lundgren

Michael Jai White[6]

Miyuki Miura

Tadashi Nakamura

Paul Arel (Kokondo Karate Founder, 1970)

Joko Ninomiya

Masutatsu Oyama

Georges St. Pierre (2-time UFC Welterweight Champion)[7]

Mariusz Pudzianowski (5-time World’s Strongest Man)

Bas Rutten (former UFC Heavyweight Champion)

Katsuaki Sato

Mike Sterniotis

Sam Greco

Glaube Feitosa

Francisco Filho

Kaicho R. David Farzinzad (founder of the International Kyokushinkai Union)

Howard Collins

John Jarvis

Nicholas Pettas

Semmy Schilt (3-time K-1 World Grand Prix Champion, Reigning K-1 Super-Heavyweight Champion)

Tomasz Kucharzewski – 3-time Polish national champion

Nobuyuki Kishi uchi-deshi of Mas Oyama, founder of Kishi Karate

Shihan Patrick Hussey, founder of Tenkara Karate