Oyama Masutatsu Mas Oyama 19231994

Oyama Masutatsu was born Yong I-Choi in Korea in 1923. At age 15, he moved to Japan, hoping to become a military pilot. Life as a Korean in Japan was difficult, though, and his dreams of aviation fell away. He took the name Oyama after the family he lived with and began to train in Karate under Funakoshi Gichin (p. 23). He made rapid progress, having trained in Chinese martial arts while in Korea. He was a nidan (second-degree black belt) by age 18, when he joined the military.

After World War II, Oyama started to study Goju Ryu (pp. 170-171). He also took up Judo (p. 166), achieving yon-dan (fourth-degree black belt) after only four years. Oyama's life changed yet again after killing a knife-wielding attacker with a single strike to the head. Taking a life left him distraught. He supported the dead man's widow and children by working on their farm until they were able to take care of themselves. He then retreated into the mountains for a year and a half, meditating and developing his martial arts in constant training.

Oyama returned to civilization in time to win the first Japan-wide Karate tournament. In 1952, he toured the U.S. for a year, meeting all challengers, from all styles. He fought 270 matches, winning most with a single, well-placed blow. Oyama believed that fancy techniques and stances were secondary to power, and both his kicks and punches were strong. Word had it that if you failed to block him, you were defeated ... but if you did block him, your arm was broken! For his incredible punching power, he became known as the "Godhand."

Oyama is also famous for bullfighting, although not in the traditional sense - he fought bulls barehanded, pitting his Karate against their brute strength. It's said that he fought 52 bulls in total, killing three and striking off the horns of most of the others using only his hands. In 1957, he fought a bull in a public match in Mexico. The bull gored Oyama but he got off its horns . . . and then removed one of them with a sword-hand strike. Oyama was bedridden for six months, but upon recovery returned to fighting bulls and practicing the martial arts.

Oyama founded Kyokushin (pp. 171-172) karate-do and established its first official dojo in 1956. Prior to this, he and fellow stylists gathered in a Tokyo field to practice with few holds barred, using open hands or towel-wrapped fists. Injuries were common and the dropout rate was prodigious. Over the years, Kyokushin has spread worldwide. Its training isn't nearly as brutal as Oyama's early classes, but it still has a well-deserved reputation for turning out tough martial artists.

Oyama died from lung cancer in 1994.

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