Masutatsu Oyama, also known as Mas Oyama, was a karate master who founded Kyokushinkai, arguably the first and most influential style of full contact karate. He was born Choi Yeong-eui (최영의; 崔永宜), but preferred to be called Choi Bae-dal to indicate his Korean ethnicity. A Zainichi Korean, he spent most of his life living in Japan and took citizenship there for personal reasons in the sixties.
Oyama was born in Gimje, near Gunsan, in what is now South Korea, during Japanese colonization. Later accounts often reported Oyama as having been born in Tokyo, Japan, and Oyama also stated this after he took Japanese citizenship. This conflict must be taken in the context of the ongoing unsettled conflict between Korea and Japan and the difficulties faced by the zainichi Koreans (Koreans resident in Japan) even to this day. At a young age he was sent to Manchuria to live on his sister’s farm. Oyama began studying martial arts at age 9 from a Korean man who was working on the farm. Five years later he moved to Japan where he enlisted in the Imperial Japanese Army at 15, hoping to become a Japanese fighter pilot.
He went to Japan at the inspiration of General Kanji Ishihara who was against the invasion of Asian neighbours (as a consequence he was ostracized by higher ranks of the Japanese Army), to carve out his future in the heart of the Empire of Japan.
After the end of World War II, he studied shotokan karate and various other styles of martial arts, training alone on Mt. Minoubu in Chiba Prefecture, Japan. It was said that he shaved one of his eyebrows so he would not leave the mountains. He stayed in the mountain for a total of 14 months and was forced to leave 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 and he trained there for 18 months. Although many of Oyama’s followers repeat the story of Oyama’s training alone in the mountains, Oyama apparently never confirmed whether this story was true or not.
Oyama enrolled at Takushoku University in Tokyo and was accepted as a student at the dojo (training hall) of Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of shotokan. He trained with Funakoshi for two years, then studied Goju Ryu karate for several years with So Nei Chu, a senior student of the system’s founder, Chojun Miyagi.
Portions of the early history of Mas Oyama are disputed, particularly by one of Oyama’s early students, Jon Bluming.
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 the fighting and killing of live bulls with his bare hands. His dojo was first located outside in an empty lot but eventually moved into a ballet school in 1956. Oyama’s own curriculum soon developed a reputation as a tough, intense, hard hitting but practical style which was finally named ‘kyokushin’ in a ceremony 1957. He also developed a reputation for being ‘rough’ with his students, often injuring them during training sessions. As the reputation of the dojo grew students were attracted to come to train there from in and outside Japan and the number of students grew. Many of the eventual senior leaders of today’s various kyokushin based organisations began training in the style during this time. In 1964 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.
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 of America and Brazil to spread Kyokushin in the same way. Oyama also promoted Kyokushin by holding ‘all-world’ karate tournaments every few years in which anyone could enter from any style.