(birth name Yong i-Choi), born 27 July, 1923 in Qa-Ryong-Ri Yong-chi-Myo'n Chul Na Do
, South Korea
, began practicing the martial arts
from a young age. He moved to Manchuria
, at the age of nine, to live on his sister's farm
. He first began his undertaking of martial arts there -- particularly, the Southern Chinese martial art Kempo
, "Eighteen Hands", which teaches its students the finer uses of eighteen
different weapons. At twelve he returned to Korea
, and continued his martial arts training in the Taiken
, or Chabi discipline
When he was fifteen, he travelled to Japan (where he was pressured to change his name to something more Japanese, and thus he chose Oyama, "mountain"), to become a fighter pilot. He enrolled at the Yamanashi Youth Aviation Institute; however, Japan was more unfriendly to the young Korean than he thought it would be, and he reluctantly gave up his dreams of aviation. Despite his failure as a potential pilot, he continued learning the martial arts, especially judo. Impressed by watching students of Okinawan karate one day, he enrolled at the Dojo of Gichin Funakochi, where he learned what is now called Shotokan Karate. By the age of 20, he was a fourth dan black belt.
During his 20th year, in 1943, after earning his coveted fourth dan black belt, he joined the Japanese Imperial Army's Butokukai, a special academy which trained soldiers specially for the purposes of guerilla warfare, espionage, and hand-to-hand combat. He spent two years in the Butokukai, his training there ending with Japan's defeat in World War II. Oyama despaired at the defeat and subsequent occupation of Japan; however, he elected to continue his training in the martial arts under Master So Nei Chu.
Master So, also a Korean (from Oyama's own province, no less), was an expert on Goju Karate, even being touted as being the master of this particular discipline -- apart from the then-living founder of Goju, Chojun Miyagi, of course. Master So encouraged Oyama to make use of his mountain retreat for a three-year isolation, to strengthen his skills and spirit. For six months, Mas's only company was another student of Master So's -- however, the other student fled secretly during the night, leaving Mas to continue his training in total isolation. His urge to return to society was dominating, he told Master So (who he had constant communication with) in a letter. So responded with "Shave off one of your eyebrows, then you won't want to go out in public so badly." So continued to encourage Mas by letter, and through So's help, Oyama resolved to become the strongest fighter in Japan.
However, after 14 months of solitude, he was forced to leave the mountain retreat -- his sponsor could no longer pay to have him live there. After returning to civilization in 1947, he decided to compete in the Japanese Martial Arts Championships' karate division, and easily won. However, despite his victory, he still felt disenheartened that he did not complete the full three years of isolation. He resolved to devote his entire life to karate, and secluded himself on Mount Kiyozumi for eighteen months.
His training in the wilds of Kiyozumi could only be considered fanatical. He trained twelve hours each and every day, standing under torrential waterfalls, punching and breaking trees and river rocks with his bare fists, and jumping over flax plants upwards of four hundred times a day. He also studied Zen philosophy during this period. After his rigorous training, he returned to society once again, fully confident of his abilities.
And just to prove that point, Mas Oyama began demonstrating his power by fighting bulls -- real, live, angry bulls. He fought 52 during his career, killing three instantly and removing the horns of the other 49 with "knife hand" blows. He was nearly mortally gored in 1957, and was bedridden for six months while recovering. Don't try this at home, kids. In 1952, he travelled all over the United States, fighting in televised matches. He fought against 270 different opponents, beating the majority of them with a single punch. If you blocked his strike, he broke your arm; if he got around your defense and hit you, he broke a rib. He became known as the Godhand, representing the Japanese warriors' saying ichi geki, hissatsu - "One strike, certain death".
Oyama opened his first real dojo in 1956, in Tokyo in a former ballet studio. By 1957, there were over 700 members, despite the incredibly high drop-out rate of over 90%. Oyama taught through full-contact fighting; a student could expect to hit and get hit on a daily basis. Injuries were common and sometimes severe. Oyama stressed that they were to observe other arts, and use anything that would be "good in a real fight" -- so naturally, head attacks, grabs, throws, and groin attacks were commonplace.
In 1964, Mas Oyama opened the world headquarters for his martial art, adopting the name kyokushin, "ultimate truth". It has spread to over 120 countries, and students and masters of kyokushin exceed 10 million -- today, it is one of the largest martial arts organizations in the world.
Mas Oyama died in 1994 from lung cancer (although he wasn't a smoker), at the age of 70. Kyokushin reeled, and broke off into three separate groups -- IKO1, IKO2, and IKO3, which attempt to keep the spirit of Kyokushin alive today.