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Who's Who in
Kyokushin Karate

Mas Oyama

Kyokushin kaikan (極真会館, Kyokushin kaikan) is a style of stand-up, full contact karate, founded in 1964 by Masutatsu Oyama (大山倍達, Ōyama Masutatsu) who was born under the name Choi Yong-I (최영의). Kyokushinkai is Japanese for "the society of the ultimate truth." Kyokushin is rooted in a philosophy of self-improvement, discipline and hard training. Its full contact style has had international appeal (practitioners have over the last 40+ years numbered more than 12 million).

Kyokushin has influenced many of the "full-contact" schools of karate, emphasizing realistic combat, physical toughness, and practicality in its training curriculum. Many other martial arts organizations have "spun-off" from Kyokushin over the years, with some adding additional techniques, such as grappling, but continuing with the same philosophy of realistic and practical training methods.

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 studied Chinese and Korean Kempo. In 1938, he emigrated to Japan and studied Judo and Okinawan Karate under Gichin Funakoshi. He attained "dan" status in both disciplines. He would eventually attain 4th Dan in judo, and 2nd dan in karate under Funakoshi. He also trained under Yoshida Kotaro, a famous Daito-ryu jujutsu/Yanagi-ryu Aiki-jujutsu master. Oyama received his "Menkyo kaiden" - an older form of grade, a scroll signifying mastery, from Kotaro.

Also, upon the advice of his mentor and well-known 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 trained 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. During this time, he retreated into the mountains for a total of almost three years for solitary training as was the ascetic tradition over the centuries of many of the great warriors of Japan. During this period of isolated training, Oyama engaged in intense shugyo, or spiritual discipline, forging a powerful and explosive body ruled by a mind and will power second to none.

In the early fifties, Oyama traveled to the USA, visiting 32 states and demonstrating the power of his karate against all comers.

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 against. His first 'dojo' was a vacant lot in Mejiro, Tokyo. In 1956, Oyama moved the dojo into the ballet studio attached to the 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 the building that would from then on serve as the Kyokushin Honbu Dojo (world headquarters). 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 to this day.

After formally establishing the Kyokushinkaikan, 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 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 Holland, Australia, the United States of America and Brazil to spread Kyokushin in the same way. In 1969, Oyama staged the First All Japan Full Contact Championships and in 1975, the First Open Full Contact World Karate Championships, which took Japan by storm. From that time, world championships have been held at four-yearly intervals.

Upon Oyama's death, the International Karate Organization (IKO) splintered into several groups, primarily due to inconsiderate 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. Based on what was quickly proved to be a false and invalid will, Shokei (Akiyoshi) Matsui was named 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 has recently ruled against Matsui and IKO in this matter, returning the ownership of Oyama's intellectual property to his family.

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 self-serving 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.

Controversy has continued to plague the Kyokushin organization (International Karate Organization Kyokushinkaikan, usually shortened to the abbreviation "IKO") since the death of Masutatsu Oyama. The family of Oyama currently oversees one of the smaller IKO organizations which is based at the original Honbu Dojo established by Oyama. Classes continue there daily as well as in centers worldwide.

Oyama's widow passed away 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). Miss Oyama has maintained the original Honbu Dojo with her husband, Yoshikazu Suzuki, since 1999. The IKO Honbu has expanded rapidly over the last few years to now have members worldwide.

In addition, UFC star Georges "Rush" St. Pierre utilizes the Kyokushin style.

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