Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Influence of Mas Oyama on This Boy's Karate

Japan Blog Matsuri - Famous Japanese People - Mas Oyama

On the theme of Famous Japanese People a Korean born man by the name of Choi Yeong-eui may not seem like a logical choice. After getting the nod from @reesan I couldn't resist posting about a man who shaped my concept of Japanese culture. If Japan is to survive the next 100 years it will certainly need to embrace more outsiders like Mas Oyama.

When I started training in the martial arts at the tender age of 5, my father gave my brother and I a book called "Boys' Karate". The book was similar to a boy's annual, with lots of illustrations to accompany the stories it told. The exploits of boys our age seemed similar, yet were told upon the backdrop of a strange and exotic land of rice fields and bamboo groves.

The tales were in keeping with a much deeper philosophy of martial arts that I was only to recognise much later in my development. The book was written by Mas Oyama, a Zainichi Korean that was the founder of Kyokushin kaikan, a martial art that for many would come to define Full Contact Karate. His teachings and my life long practise of martial arts would ultimately lead me to visit Japan.

As a boy I was raised on Bushido and tales of Samurai and Shogun. My father taught lessons in a traditional style of martial art popular with bikies and bouncers. Every day there was some form of physcial training and some violence. It was a pretty tough way to grow up.

"Keep your head low,
eyes high and mouth shut;
base yourself on filial piety
and benefit others."

I imagine that for a Korean born during a brutal Japanese occupation my childhood would have been nothing compared to the hardship Oyama endured. At the age of 9 his parents sent him to Manchuria to live on his sisters farm, where he began learning martial arts from a seasonal worker named Lee.

One of the earliest stories I was told, during practice for a high jumping contest no less, was that Lee gave the young Oyama a seed to plant. When the seed sprouted Lee gave him the instruction to leap over it a hundred times a day. As it grew into a plant Oyama continued his practice and later said, "I was able to leap back and forth between walls easily."

As a young man he joined the Japanese Airforce and saw many of his friends sacrifice their lives as kamikaze. When the war ended he grew disaffected at being denied a place among Japanese society. He was pursued by the Japanese Police as a member of a political organisation for the reunification of Korea. He trained in Shotokan and Gojuryu styles of Karate and gained a reputation as a loner and a brawler for his street fights with US Military Police.

Eventually the constant harrassment took its toll, following the suggestion of a friend, he retreated to the mountains to perfect his fighting style. He eventually founded Kyokushin years later in 1953.

"The heart of our karate is real fighting.
There can be no proof without real fighting.
Without proof there is no trust.
Without trust there is no respect.
This is a definition in the world of Martial Arts."

During the foundation of his martial art Oyama would invite people to fight him in public demonstrations. Legend has it that in one three day kumite he fought 300 men. He earnt the nickname 'god-hand' for his practice of killing bulls with a single punch. Even today Kyokushin bears the mark of its founder, as global tournaments are full contact and open to all-comers. Thankfully, to the best of my knowledge his followers no longer travel around fighting and killing bulls with their bare hands.

I admire him though not for his immense physical power, but for his contribution to the spiritual way of the warrior, Bushido.

"Although it is important to study and train for skill in techniques, for the man who wishes to truly accomplish the way of Budo, it is more important to make his whole life in training and therefore not aiming for skill and strength alone, but also for spiritual attainment."

This philosophy echoes that of Miyamoto Musashi the author of the Book of Five Rings, who according to Oyama;

"said that he had no regrets about what he did. If you have confidence in your own words, aspirations, thoughts, and actions and do your very best, you will have no need to regret the outcome of what you do. Fear and trembling are the lot of a person who, while stinting effort, hopes that everything will come out precisely as he wants it to."

Mas Oyama spent most of his life in Japan and chose to become a Japanese citizen in 1964. He is the focus of my post for the January 2010 Japan Blog Matsuri hosted thanks to Lee (@reesan on Twitter) at loneleeplanet. You can find out more at the Japan Blog Matsuri FAQ page.

Boys' Karate by Masutatsu Oyama is now a sought after collectors item. I asked a former flatmate if he'd seen it and this was his response.

Photograph: Masutatsu Oyama! by KEMPO!

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