Kyokushin – The Strongest Karate. Kyokushin Karate has long been considered one of the toughest martial arts, with full-contact fighting and gruelling training regimens. Kyokushin Karate, literally meaning “the ultimate truth” is a full-contact, stand-up style of karate popular all over the world. It was founded in 1964 by Japanese-Korean Masutatsu “Mas” Oyama. Born Choi Young-Eui, Oyama studied martial arts from a young age.
His challenging training regimen culminated in year-long periods of isolation in the Japanese mountains, where, legend has it, Oyama shaved off one of his eyebrows so that he could not return to civilisation before his training was complete. This solitary training, known as yamagomori, was inspired by the ascetic tradition of Japanese Samurai, and involved a great amount of shugyo, or spiritual discipline.
History of Kyokushin and Mas Oyama
Once Oyama returned from the mountains, he founded his own dojo and his particular uncompromising style of training began to spread around Japan. He began touring the world and popularising Karate. As he travelled, he laid down open challenges to fighters from a wide variety of disciplines: boxers, wrestlers, judo practitioners and muay thai fighters were among those who stepped forward to accept the challenge.
The average length of each fight was only six seconds, and Oyama beat an overwhelming majority of challengers with a single technique. To accompany his series of fights, he performed showboating spectacles such as cutting the necks off beer bottles and breaking bricks with his bare hands, as well as fighting upward of fifty bulls in his lifetime, killing several.
Customs and Etiquette of Kyokushin Karate
Practitioners of Kyokushin greet each other and answer affirmatively with the Japanese word “Osu” (pronounced “Oss”) apparently a compound construction of the verbs oshi, to push, and shinobu, to endure. Translations vary from “push and endure” to “push through endurance”. Kyokushin training is divided into kihon (basics), kata (pre-choreographed sequences of movements) and kumite (sparring).
Competitive Tournament Fighting
Competitive Kyokushin fighting is full-contact, and typically participants wear no gloves or shin-pads. Only a groin box and gum shield are worn for protection. No contact to the head is allowed with the hands, due to the significant risk of injury and illegality of bare knuckle boxing in almost all countries in the world. Fighters must engage each other with a mixture of punches and elbow strikes to the body, and knees and kicks to the body or head, with the aim of either disabling the opponent for several seconds or knocking them out completely.
Due to the full-contact nature of the sport, there is a significant risk of minor injury, and although serious injuries are rare, concussions, fractured clavicles and sternums are the most common accidents to occur. To win a fight, competitors must knock their opponent to the floor before the two-minute round is up, force them from the ring three times (thus evoking a disqualification), or win by a majority judge’s decision after the time has elapsed.
50- and 100-Man Kumite
The ultimate test of a Kyokushin fighter’s skills are multi-man sparring events, known as 50- and 100-man kumite. The challenger will fight the requisite number of men one after the other until all challengers are defeated. Only a select few have completed these gruelling tests of physical endurance. Mas Oyama is the only man in history to have completed a 300-man kumite, which took place over three days. It is said that he requested to continue fighting for another day, but that all his challengers were too sore to go on.
Famous Kyokushin Fighters and Importance in Popular Culture
Notable practitioners of Kyoushinkai Karate are Swedish actor and fighter Dolph Lundgren, who played Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, and Jean-Claude Van Damme, as well as tragically deceased K-1 superstar Andy Hug. A trilogy of films starring Sonny Chiba serialise the life of Mas Oyama: Champion of Death, Karate Bearfighter and Karate for Life. The video games Dead or Alive and Tekken both feature characters trained in Kyoksuhin Karate, and can be seen performing some medium-level kata.
Fighter in the Wind, a 2004 South-Korean film, is based on a graphic novel of the same name based on the life of Mas Oyama. Although it takes many liberties with the facts of Oyama’s life, it is credited with bringing his story to many Koreans, and its translation into English has helped to popularise the style of Kyokushin Karate internationally.
Kyokushinkai continues to be one of the fastest-growing martial arts in the world.