Masutatsu Oyama, Sosai, The Founder of Kyokushin Karate:
Sosai (Great Master) Masutatsu Oyama was born in Korea in 1923 and became the founder of Japan’s most renowned — and the world’s most widespread — style of karate. From the age of 9, Mas Oyama learned Chinese Kenpo in Manchuria and followed into his teens by practicing Judo and boxing. Finally this led him to the practice of Okinawan karate, which ultimately served as the springboard for the creation of his own style, Kyokushin, or the “The Ultimate Truth.” By the time Mas Oyama was 20, he had received his 4th dan in Okinawan karate and though tireless study eventually attained a 4th dan in Judo as well.
Among Mas Oyama’s many accomplishments, he is perhaps best known for introducing tameshiwari or “stone breaking” into the practice of modern karate. Mas Oyama reasoned that through hard training he could condition his hands to be as powerful as a hammer. Since one could break stones with a hammer, he began the practice of learning how to break boards, bricks and stones with his bare hands. This incredible power he then translated directly into his theory of fighting karate, reasoning that if he could break stones, human bones would break beneath his blows as well. Perhaps his greatest contribution to Japanese karate, therefore, was the introduction and popularization of full-contact fighting karate. At the time he won Japan’s largest tournament sponsored by Okinawa’s Shotokan karate, he was often penalized for fighting too hard, resulting in frequent injuries to his opponents. It was this experience, perhaps above all other influences, that led to his creation of Kyokushin karate. After all, Mas Oyama believed, karate is a fighting art: Without taking it to its extreme by practicing to break the body of one’s opponent (for application during real life and death struggle), one could never realize the true spiritual potential of karate.
Frustrated by society’s opposition to his gathering strength, Mas Oyama at the age of 23, retreated to a remote spot in the mountains with the ambition of training more hours per day than he slept for three years. During this time he practiced by striking the few mountain trees around his cabin with his bare fists until those trees withered and died. He pressed twice his body weight 500 times per day, meditated under icy waterfalls, and fought in the night with the demons of bitter cold and isolation. Upon emerging from mountain training, it is said that Mas Oyama struck a telephone pole and left a clean imprint of his fist in the treated wood.
At the age of 27 convinced that he could not find another fighter in Japan who could match his power and skill, Mas Oyama began his famous battles with bulls to prove his strength and make the world realize the true power of his karate. In one famous bout in front of a movie camera, he battled an angry bull on a beach for 45 minutes, both he and the bull refusing to be beaten. Finally the bull tired, and Mas Oyama sliced one of his horns off with his shuto, or “knife-hand strike.”
Mas Oyama opened his first dojo in Ikebukuro, Tokyo at the age of 30, and called it “Oyama Dojo.” It was here that he took all that he had learned from the various styles that he’d practiced through the years, combined them with what he’d learned during the many thousands of hours of self-training and full-contact fighting, and created a new style of karate, which he called Kyokushin. In 1964, a new dojo in Ikebukuro became the world headquarters of the International Karate Organization, Kyokushinkaikan, which had over 12 million members in 133 countries at the time of his death.
Mas Oyama died of lung cancer in April of 1994, leaving to the world a legacy of the world’s strongest karate.
The Birth of Kyokushin-kan
In the decade following Mas Oyama’s death, the 12 million member International Karate Organization that he built has fragmented several times into several smaller organizations. In 2002, Hatsuo Royama, one of Mas Oyama’s early students from the Oyama Dojo era, along with many of his friends and followers, split from the then largest group of Sosai’s followers, the KyokushinKAIKAN, and created a new organization called Kyokushin-kan.
Hatsuo Royama had struggled for nearly a decade to support the young leader of the Kyokushinkaikan – his junior by 15 years – but in the end he was finally forced to accept the fact that that organization was no longer being led in a direction that would have met with the approval of his teacher, Mas Oyama. The late karate legend, Mas Oyama, said time and time again that the most important element of Kyokushin karate was the BUDO SPIRIT which encompasses elements of proper behavior, courtesy, the spirit of Osu, and good will towards man, in addition of course to fighting prowess. In 2002, Hatsuo Royama realized that this all-important element of Mas Oyama’s organization had been replaced by Mas Oyama’s initial successor with a hunger for money and that the “budo spirit” had been largely replaced by the “business spirit” in the inner chambers of the Kyokushin leadership. Human relationships, friendships, and sempai-kohai (senior-junior) relationships, which Mas Oyama held as all-important, were being butchered in the name of money and a lust for power.
Additionally, Royama had been forced to face the conclusion that Kyokushin’s fighting prowess was suffering under the new leadership as well. During Mas Oyama’s lifetime there was no question in the hearts and minds of the Japanese public that Kyokushin was the world’s strongest karate. Royama and others knew that the reason that it remained so was because of the emphasis that Mas Oyama placed on the real-world application of karate techniques. Mas Oyama created a full-contact style of tournament competition in order to popularize budo karate, but never went so far as to equate that tournament-style fighting with what he believed to the essence of budo karate.
Kyokushin tournament-style fighting IS a great venue for developing the win-at-all-costs fighting spirit of the karateka, yet it remains far removed from real life-and-death combat for self-defense. Punches to the head, for example, were removed from Kyokushin competition in the name of the popularization of karate that Mas Oyama achieved. The reason Kyokushin fighters become the strongest under Mas Oyama’s teaching was that they trained for real-life application and then fought in the less-dangerous by comparison tournament-style environment. By 2002, however, Shihan Royama and others had realized that the new leadership of Mas Oyama’s organization had abandoned Mas Oyama’s emphasis on real-world application and instead lowered its standards to hold tournament-style fighting as all-important. After all, it was tournament-style fighting that generated money and fame.
As a result, Hatsuo Royama and other older, wiser instructors of Kyokushin karate – such as Shihan Tsuyoshi Hiroshige who holds the record for training more Japanese and world champions than any other instructor – realized that under Kyokushin’s current leadership, Kyokushin was losing its edge. After ten years of decline following Mas Oyama’s death, Kyokushin was no longer the world’s strongest karate.
Shihan Royama and Shihan Hiroshige and many followers, therefore, broke with the largest remnant of Mas Oyama’s organization, the KyokushinKAIKAN, and founded the rival Kyokushin-kan with the intention of returning Kyokushin Karate to the high level of esteem that it commanded during Mas Oyama’s lifetime. They resolved to do this by ensuring that the budo spirit of proper behavior, courtesy, the spirit of Osu, the spirit of friendship, the sempai-kohai system, and good will towards man would remain of primary importance, while at the same time refreshing Mas Oyama’s early emphasis of real-world karate application before it became tainted by the monetary lure of tournament fighting for financial gain.
One of Hatsuo Royama’s first steps upon forming Kyokushin-kan was the re-establishment of Mas Oyama’s Kyokushin Shogakukai foundation as prescribed in Mas Oyama’s will at the time of his death. Mas Oyama had originally founded this nonprofit foundation in Japan many years earlier with the mission of strengthening the bodies, minds and souls of Japanese young people while at the same time fostering ideals that would increase the possibilities for world peace. The purpose of establishing this organization as a government recognized nonprofit foundation was to ensure that money and the hunger for money would never belittle the ultimate truth and lofty ideals of the Kyokushin Way. At the time of his death, Mas Oyama willed that his followers should re-establish the foundation that he’d created, and the failure on the side of the KyokushinKAIKAN’s young leadership to achieve that goal had become yet another reason why Royama and others felt compelled to break away and follow a path that their teacher, Mas Oyama, would have celebrated. This point is supported by the fact that of the surviving board members of Mas Oyama’s Kyokushin Shogakukai Foundation – a board composed of trusted advisors of Mas Oyama during his lifetime — most of them have assumed their positions on the board and are supporting Royama’s Kyokushin-kan.
In the 3 years since Kyokushin-kan was founded, over 6000 Japanese karateka have flocked to support its cause in 50 branches composed of many dojos spread across Japan. Additionally, 25 overseas branches have formally been established, including Russia, South Africa, Korea, Kazakhstan, the United States and others. Also, for these three years Kyokushin-kan has sponsored annual all-Japan and all-Japan weight category tournaments held in Saitama, north of Tokyo, and all Kyokushin-kan members eagerly celebrated Kyokushin-kan’s 1st World Open Karate Tournament held in Moscow in September, 2005.
Akio Koyama, Honbu Chief, Kyokushin-kan
Akio Koyama was born in August of 1958 in Tottori Prefecture, Japan. At the age of 21 he begain training at Ikebukuro’s Kyokushinkaikan So-Honbu. Afterwards he transferred to Royama Dojo in Saitama and became Royama Kancho’s first uchi deshi dormitory chief. After learning the essense of budo karate at Royama Dojo, Koyama founded Kyokushinkaikan’s Sanin Branch. In December of 2002, he resigned from the Kyokushinkaikan along with Hatsuo Royama and Tsuyoshi Hiroshige and helped to create Kyokushin-kan, where he was made Honbu Chief.
Hiroto Okazaki, Vice Honbu Chief, Kyokushin-kan
Hiroto Okazaki was born in April of 1961 in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan. From his first year in middle school he began his practice of Kyokushin Karate and upon graduating from high school he entered Royama Dojo and became an uchi deshi. He recieved Royama training since the time he was in Saitama Branch and after learning the essense of Royama’s karate, he founded Kyokushinkaikan’s Fukushima Branch. He also practiced Koryo Karate and Iaido for many years and he is known as an expert of kata. In December of 2002, he resigned from the Kyokushinkaikan along with Hatsuo Royama, Tsuyoshi Hiroshige and Akio Koyama, and helped to create Kyokushin-kan, where he was made Vice Honbu Chief.
Hatsuo Royama, Kancho (Chairman), Kyokushin-kan
Hatsuo Royama was born in Saitama, just north of Tokyo, in 1948. Inspired by a country-wide boom in popularity of celebrity fighters and wrestlers, he traveled to Ikebukuro at the age of 15 and entered Mas Oyama’s legendary “Oyama Dojo” where his Kyokushin Karate was being born. Having trained there at the birthplace of Mas Oyama’s Kyokushin, Royama was one of a very few of Mas Oyama’s students to still be closely affiliated with Mas Oyama’s organization from so close to the beginning all the way until Mas Oyama’s death in 1994.
Royama rose to some notoriety when at the age of 25 he became champion of Kyokushin’s 5th All Japan Tournament, and later when he defeated the American, Charles Martin, a giant who stood nearly a foot taller (about 30 cm) than himself, in the 1st World Open Karate Tournament in 1975. This young prodigy of Mas Oyama then went on to a historic finish in that 1st World Open Tournament, when a split-decision was finally broken by the tournament judges in the final match and 1st place was given to Katsuaki Sato, leaving Royama with no choice but to accept 2nd place. The day following the tournament when more than a few fighters entered the hospital for injuries sustained during the competition, Royama attended his usual training.
No one who knows Kyokushin Karate today can hardly separate the style from its devastatingly powerful low shin kick. Not everyone knows, however, that it was Royama who made this technique famous. At the early World Tournaments the Japanese would hear the foreigners yell, “Low kick! Low kick!,” and since the pronunciation of “R” in Japanese is so similar to “L”, it was an honest mistake for them to hear “Ro kick! Ro kick!” instead, believing that even the foreigners had named this technique after the first Japanese fighter to make it famous. After all, it was with Royama that all of Japan had associated the introduction of this bone-breaking technique ever since they’d watched Royama break down Charles Martin in the 1st World Tournament with one destructive low shin kick after another.
Tsuyoshi Hiroshige, Fuku-Kancho (Vice-Chairman),
The Vice-Chairman (Fuku-Kancho) of Kyokushin-kan, Hiroshige Tsuyoshi was born in Japan on November 1st, 1947. From a young age, spiritual discontent led him on a search that finally ended when he began his study of budo karate at the age of 25. As a high school student Hiroshige had excelled as a handball player. In 1966 at the age of 19, he began working for Honda and ultimately worked for a total of three companies before ending his career as a “salary man” to become an Uchi Deshi (live-in disciple) of Mas Oyama.
Hiroshige began his training at Kyokushinkaikan So-Honbu Dojo in June of 1972. Three years later he entered Mas Oyama’s Waka Jishi Ryo (Young Lions Dormitory) where he became Dormitory Chief responsible for overseeing the activities of younger uchi deshi. At the unheard-of late age of 28 Hiroshige began tournament fighting with his debut in the 8th All-Japan Tournament. After this tournament he supplemented his karate training with Ikken, and took 7th place in the next year’s 9th All-Japan tournament. Hiroshige then went on to take 4th place in the 10th All-Japan tournament, and 5th place in the 11th All-Japan Tournament. In 1979 he represented Japan as a member of the 2nd World Open Karate Tournament team.
In June of 1978, Hiroshige founded the Jonan Branch of Mas Oyama’s Kyokushinkaikan in Tokyo, and there, due to his original teaching style, emphasis on hard training, and special attention paid to special characteristics of each potential fighter, he made three successive world champions, Midori Kenji in 1991, Yamaki Kenji in 1995 and Tsukamoto Norichika in 1999. Since the World Tournament was only held once every four years, this means that Hiroshige’s students remained world champions for 12 years. Additionally, Hiroshige made All-Japan champions, Kazumi Hajime and Takaku Masayoshi.
Hiroshige coached the Japanese Kyokushinkaikan World Cup team for the Paris competition in 1998, and the Japanese team for the 7th World Open Karate Tournament in 1999.
In December of 2002, Hiroshige left Kyokushinkaikan, and founded Kyokushin-kan together with Royama Hatsuo with the intention of reviving Kyokushin Karate to the status that it held during Mas Oyama’s lifetime.
Jacques Sandulescu, Senior Chairman,
Kyokushin-kan International Committee
“Big Jacques” Sandulescu had been Mas Oyama’s close friend and “gaijin brother” since the early 1960s, when they met on one of Sosai’s early trips to the United States. It’s a meeting made legendary in the “Karate Baka Ichidai” comic books, with the result that people always ask Jacques, “Did you fight him?” (Isn’t that always how strong men become friends?)
Let the answer remain shrouded in mystery; what we can say is that Jacques – then a Greenwich Village coffeehouse and jazz-bar owner, today an author and actor – trained with Sosai for six hours a day up to the rank of nidan, and received one of Sosai’s own belts. Though Sosai did award Jacques a 6th dan consonant with his advisory status, Jacques has never worn it and still trains in that “old” belt.
Jacques helped to arrange some of Sosai’s spectacular demonstrations that introduced the power of karate to the U.S. The photos here give a sense of how close they were, and remained to the end of Sosai’s life. Jacques is still training and still active as an advisor to Kyokushin-kan and a friend to many Kyokushin Karateka around the world.
Perhaps the reason Jacques understood Sosai so well is that hardship, physical strength, and the will to achieve the impossible had been so central to his own life. Jacques had been taken prisoner by the Red Army in his native Romania in 1945, when he was 16.
After working for 2 years as a slave labourer in the Donbas coal mines (now in the Ukraine), he was injured in a mine cave-in, and then escaped in mid-winter to avoid the amputation of his legs. You can read his autobiography, DONBAS, on the net at http://donbas.com. He is adding a special epilogue about his friendship with Sosai Oyama, including more photos.
José Millán, Chairman, Kyokushin-kan International Committee
At the time José Millán began his practice of Kyokushin Karate under Sosai Mas Oyama in April of 1963 at “Oyama Dojo” as a contemporary of Kyokushin-kan Chairman, Hatsuo Royama, he had already practiced Judo in his native Spain and was a successful Judo player while in university (He now holds a 5th dan in Judo). After practicing at Oyama Dojo and upon his return to Spain for the first time in the summer of 1966, he became the first person to hold a black belt in karate in that country. Unfortunately, however, due to laws set up by the Sports Ministry of Spain, the practice of karate was prohibited, and he finally returned to Japan where he has lived for 40 years.
When the King and the Queen of Spain come to Japan in 1972, Mas Oyama organized a karate demonstration and a group of Kyokushin karateka, including Millán, performed in a two-hour demonstration that had only been scheduled to last ten minutes. The King enjoyed the demonstration so much that he asked to see more and once the demonstration was finally over he congratulated each participant one by one.
Until 2001, Millán participated as either a referee or judge in every one of the All Japan Tournaments and every World Open Karate Tournament, appointed to this honor since the very beginning by Mas Oyama himself. Alter Sosai’s death, Millán became an advisor to the Kyokushinkaikan Honbu, a position which he held until Hatsuo Royama established Kyokushin-kan. This establishment, Millán realized, would have met with the approval of his original teacher, Mas Oyama. Millán’s two daughters have also followed in his footsteps by training for many years in Japan under Kyokushshin-kan Vice-Chairman, Tsuyoshi Hiroshige.
José Millán is Professor Emeritus at Yokohama’s Kanagawa University in Japan, making him the only foreigner to hold this honor. He has been a professor at this university ever since 1964. In 1998, Millán was decorated Knight Commander of the Civil Merit Order by Juan Carlos I, King of Spain.