«The strongest karate in the world» — that’s how journalists named Kyokushin karate school after the 1st Open Weight World Championship held in 1975 by rather tough rules allowing strikes and kicks with full force (excluding hand strikes in the head and strikes and kicks in the especially vulnerable body zones, like eyes, groin or throat).
Tough matches, which were imposing highest requirements to physical, technical and will preparedness of athletes, literally struck the world. And the documentary film that told in details about this epoch event in the karate history and about training of strongest athletes from dozens of countries for participation in the Championship became the real hit that vied with the best motion pictures of the day in popularity. Nobody was left untouched by the shocking knock-outs, fantastic breakings, fight of the American karateka Willy Williams against a bear, and, above all, by the undestroyable martial spirit of the Championship participants.
The glory of the "strongest Karate on the planet" and the exceptional interest in Kyokushin is largely due to the personality of the founder of this school – one of the greatest martial artists of the 20th century, the legendary Mas Oyama (1923-1994).
Oyama’s life is covered with so many legends that it is almost impossible to distinguish the real facts from a purely mythical feats attributed to the karateka by his countless fans who genuinely believed that their idol was capable of literally everything.
Mas Oyama was born in Korea, which during his childhood and youth was a colony of the Japanese Empire. He was born in a Korean family and his birth name was Choi Yeong-eui.
The path of the master in martial arts began when he was a child. According to some sources, he studied one of “Chinese boxing” styles, but according to other sources, he mastered the basics of karate. As a youth, Oyama got acquainted with judo and boxing. Later he studied under the leading masters of the leading karate schools – Shotokan and Goju-Ryu, received training in Daito-ryu aiki jujutsu which became the foundation of modern aikido.
Terrific talent, perseverance, and fanatic commitment to the chosen path enabled Oyama to become one of the strongest young fighters of Japan just in a few years. It was then that he had received his famous nickname by which he later became known to the whole world: Masutatsu Oyama, which means "The Man Who Multiplies His Achievements, Which Are Alike a High Mountain." This nickname reflected both the incessant thirst for knowledge and skill in the martial arts and the Korean origin of the master, because the characters, with which the name "Masutatsu" is written, were used in old times to write one of the names of Korea – Baedal.
After the World War II, in order to wait through the troublous times Oyama settled in a Buddhist temple on Mount Minobe where he was training hard, devoting to trainings almost all his time. He also spent some time in seclusion on Mount Kiyosumi, where he lived as an absolute hermit, did not associate with people, used forage crop for food, and fought with wild beasts, developing his own style of karate and determining the course of his life.
In stories about those days it is no longer possible to separate truth from fiction, but fact is that persistent exercise allowed the young master to achieve impressive results in learning karate and become one of the strongest fighters, if not the strongest, in all of Japan.
In addition, in the infinite perfection in the way of karate, in constant overcoming of his weaknesses Oyama found the meaning of his own life, and also a means to strengthen the spirit of the Japanese people, who as a result of defeat in World War II lost his moral guidelines, self-belief, the will to live.
In 1949, for the purpose of karate popularization Oyama began organizing demonstration fights with bulls. It is said, that altogether he conducted 52 fights with these mighty animals, and killed three of them barehanded. A part of this unusual «corridas» were broadly covered by mass media, and one film company even made a documentary about a fight, that was in cinemas and on TV. Thanks to this activity, Oyama’s name became known throughout Japan and soon afterwards throughout the world.
In 1952—1953, Oyama as a member of a group of professional wrestlers made a tour of the USA. During the tour, he performed mainly in the fight shows, but he also conducted several ultimate fights with American boxers and wrestlers and won all of them. His achievements and impressive karate showings created a real furor and gave a very powerful incentive to the victorious progress of karate throughout the continents.
Upon his return to Japan in 1954, Oyama opened his first dojo—the legendary “Oyama Dojo,” which soon became an attraction point for fighters from all over Japan, who were eager to learn the art of real fighting because they were frustrated with the limitations of other karate schools.
Oyama’s students of that time amounted to a cohort of fame of Kyokushin. Such names of collaborators and students of the Kyokushin founder as Kenji Kurosaki, Tadashi Nakamura, Hideyuki Ashihara, Yoshiji Soeno, Akio Fujihara and Hatsuo Royama and others became legends long ago. It was they who during their incredibly rigorous training sessions and fights forged the new style, which in 1964 got its official name “Kyokushin”. That same year, the International Karate-do Organization Kyokushin Kaikan (IKO, the Japanese equivalent is Kokusai Karate-Do Renmei Kyokushin Kaikan) was established with its headquarters in Tokyo.
The name “Kyokushin” is written with two characters: 極真, which are full of deep symbolism and express the main ideas of Mas Oyama’s school.
Based on the most commonly used meanings of the characters “Kyoku” (極) and “Shin” (真), the name “Kyokushin” can be interpreted as “the absolute truth.” Oyama himself, in his well-known work “Philosophy of Kyokushin” explains the meaning of the word “Kyokushin” through the expression “makoto-o kiwameru,” which means “to dig through till the truth” or “to reach the end in comprehending the truth.” Thus, Oyama with the very name of his school encouraged his followers to comprehend the "absolute truth."
At the same time, in the ancient Chinese philosophical tradition the hieroglyph "Shin» (真) was used as a symbol of maximum of sincerity in man necessary to gain the lost unity with the world, and understand the Way, the Tao, ruling the universe. And the character "kyoku» (極) corresponds to the notion "Li," which refers to an abstract principle or law, as well as the highest standard and the perfect prototype of a thing. Accordingly, the word "Kyokushin" can be translated also as "the ultimate sincerity", which stands the quality, without which it is absolutely impossible to grasp the truth, acquire the true knowledge of a martial art, to reach the highest – the absolute – skill.
Indeed, Oyama saw the ultimate goal of karate-do as the search for absolute truth in the way of martial art. This turned the practice of Kyokushin into a kind of ritual and the way of self-knowledge. The master decisively stood up for the spiritual values of budo karate as the way of self-learning and self-development through the practice of martial arts, contrary to the self-interested motivation of professional sport. He set the spirit of self-denying typical to budo against the spirit of self-affirmation which dominates in professional sports.
Emphasizing spiritual values of karate Oyama conceived the Kyokushin world movement as the union of searchers for the ultimate truth, as one family, which would unite people regardless of skin color, nationality, religion and political stand.
The search of the absolute truth, as taught by Oyama, should be done in the way of harsh austerity consisting of heavy physical trainings in the gym and on the nature, the endless repetitions of basic techniques and kata – karate standard complexes, of the will tests in multiple full-contact bouts and tameshiwari – the trials of breaking solid objects with bare hands and feet, which require extreme physical and spiritual mobilization.
From 1969, when the 1st Open Weight Kyokushin Championship of Japan was held, the sport development of Kyokushin began. And from 1975 the World Championships count their history. Initially they were, similarly to the Olympic Games, held only once every four years and were to reveal the only ultimate champion.
Oyama conceived karate tournaments in their deep substance as a kind of survival tests and a special type of spiritual martial practice. The master conceived a dangerous fight as a martial ritual on the verge between life and death. The extreme conditions of full-contact combat imposed special requirements to the competitors’ training. But they were also conductive to actualization of hidden physical, technical and spiritual abilities of fighters.
Thanks to Oyama’s remarkable individuality, efforts of his closest associates who made an enormous contribution to the support of image of Kyokushin as the strongest martial art in the world, and also thanks to the large-scale promotional campaign, Kyokushin school became widespread. Presently, about 12 million persons in 140 countries engage in Kyokushin practice. No other school of karate is as popular as Kyokushin.
In course of time, the International Karate-do Organization Kyokushin Kaikan turned into a complex organization. A great number of talented and ambitious leaders with different views of the IKO structure, principles of its activities and ways of development of karate gathered in the school. At first, the problems had been settling by the withdrawal from the organization of particular instructors who were establishing their own schools. However, in 1992, on the initiative of a number of national organizations which did not agree with the policy conducted by the Japanese headquarters, the International Federation of Karate (IFK) headed by Oyama’s close student Steve Arneil (Great Britain) was created. Unlike other organizations established by Oyama’s students, this new organization did not want to cultivate a new karate school and continued to cultivate the Kyokushin. This was the beginning of the split of Kyokushin into a number of competing organizations.
On the death of Masutatsu Oyama in 1994, IKO split into several organizations (IKO, President — Shokei Matsui; WKO Shinkyokushinkai, President — Kenji Midori; Kyokushin-kan International, President — Hatsuo Royama; Kyokushin Rengokai, President — Yasuhiro Shichinohe; IKO-3, President — Yoshikazu Matsushima; IKO-4 or Tezuka Group, President — Toru Tezuka; Kyokushin Karate Seibukai, President — Yukio Nishida; Kyokushin Budokai, President — Jon Bluming, Kyokushin World Federation, President — Loek Hollander, etc.). The process of creation of new organizations still goes on.
Many Kyokushin followers are very sore over the split of the school, advocate its reunion on the foundation of Masutatsu Oyama’s karate grand conceptions, and struggle for the absolution of Kyokushin from hostility, introduced during the years of the split.
On October 12, 2011, the leaders of three international Kyokushin organizations — of Kyokushin-kan International (KI), International Federation of Karate (IFK), and of Kyokushin World Federation (KWF) — have signed the joint declaration of the establishment of “Kyokushin World Union” Association with major goal of bringing Kyokushin to Olympic sports program. This event of historical importance will definitely exert enormous influence on the future development of the world Kyokushin.[>