© 2019 Westcroft Kyokushin Karate

HISTORY OF KYOKUSHIN

Gichin Funakoshi introduced the basic concept of Karate into Japan from Okinawa in 1916 and, particularly since the 1960s, the popularity of Karate has been increasing rapidly.

 

The earliest origins of Karate as we know it today are somewhat vague due to the lack of documentation. The traditional idea accepted by most authorities is that it started in India. A Buddhist priest called in Chinese Daruma (or Bhodidarma, as he is better known), wished to take his particular sect of Buddhism, called Zen, to the Chinese as a missionary venture.

 

It was not uncommon for itinerant priests to be able to fight, as they would frequently be in danger on their wanderings from wild animals as well as men. Even Gautama Sidartha himself had been a warrior before he became the Buddha. When he established Buddhism, he saw no contradiction in the idea of a man of peace and love also being skilful in combat.

 

In about AD 500, Bhodidarma reached the court of Emperor Wu at Chein-K’ang in China, where he was warmly received. He left the courts, eventually north to Henan Province and into seclusion in the Shaolin temple (Shorin in Japanese) to teach Zen. He also taught his system of unarmed combat called Shorin Kempo.

 

Forms of Chinese combat have been recorded as far back as 3000 BC. Bhodidarma is credited with being the founder of Chinese Kempo, mainly because he added the meditative practices of Yoga and Zen, making it a more complete system, as we know it today. Zen is inseparably linked with Karate and every Master of Karate seeks a more enlightened experience by studying Zen; in fact, all the major developments in Shorin Kempo were achieved by various priests, through the years.

 

The close connection between priests and medicine resulted in the discovery not only of vital spots on the human body where cures could be applied but also where Kempo attacks could be directed for the best results. From China, Kempo spread north to Mongolia, east to Korea and south-east to Okinawa.

 

Eventually it reached Japan, where it became extremely popular after the Kamakura era (about AD 1200). The soldier class, the Samurai, in particular welcomed both the combat forms and the Zen philosophy. The morality and mysticism of Zen Buddhism appealed to their sensibilities, but the real attraction was the way it provided them with a discipline which made them capable of great endurance and excellence in fighting, by giving them the special psychological skills and insights into both themselves and their opponents.

 

At various times in history - for instance in 1400 and again in 1609, in Okinawa - the authorities forbade the populace to use arms. As a means of protection against the bandits, and sometimes even against the authorities, unarmed combat became widely taught. The schools, themselves usually confined to the temples, were nevertheless kept secret, because if discovered they would have been immediately wiped out by those in power.

 

The word Karate, in its literal translation, means empty hand.

Sosai - Masutatsu (Mas) Oyama​

Masutatsu (Mas) Oyama was born Yong I-Choi on the 27th of July, 1923, in a village not far from Gunsan in Southern Korea.

 

At a relatively young age he was sent to Manchuria, in Southern China, to live on his sister's farm. At the age of nine, he started studying the Southern Chinese form of Kempo called Eighteen hands from a Mr. Yi who was at the time working on the farm.

 

When Oyama returned to Korea at the the age of 12, he continued his training in Korean Kempo.

 

In 1938, at the age of 15, he travelled to Japan to train as an aviator, to be like his hero of the time, Korea's first fighter pilot. Survival on his own at that age proved to be more difficult than he thought, especially as a Korean in Japan, and the aviator training fell by the wayside.

 

He did however continue martial arts training, by participating in judo and boxing, and one day he noticed some students training in Okinawan Karate. This interested him very much and he went to train at the dojo of Gichin Funakoshi at Takushoku University.

 

His training progress was such that by the age of seventeen he was already a 2nd dan, and by the time he entered the Japanese Imperial Army at 20, he was a fourth dan. At this point he also took a serious interest in judo, and his progress there was no less amazing.

 

The defeat of Japan and the subsequent indignity of Occupation almost proved to be too much for Oyama, who nearly despaired.

Fortunately for all of us, So Nei Chu came into his life at that time. Master So, another Korean (from Oyama's own province) living in Japan, was one of the highest authorities on Goju Ryu in Japan at the time. He was renowned for both his physical and spiritual strength. It was he who encouraged Mas Oyama to dedicate his life to the Martial Way.

 

It was he too who suggested that Oyama should retreat away from the rest of the world for 3 years while training his mind and body.

 

Mountain Training

When he was 23 years old, Mas Oyama met Eiji Yoshikawa, the author of the novel Musashi, which was based on the life and exploits of Japan's most famous Samurai. Both the novel and the author helped to teach Mas Oyama about the Samurai Bushido code and what it meant.

 

That same year, Oyama went to Mt. Minobu in the Chiba Prefecture, where Musashi had developed his Nito-Ryu style of swordfighting. Oyama thought that this would be an appropriate place to commence the rigours of training he had planned for himself. Among the things he took with him was a copy of Yoshikawa's book. A student named Yashiro also came with him. The relative solitude was strongly felt, and after 6 months, Yashiro secretly fled during the night.

 

It became even harder for Oyama, who wanted more than ever to return to civilisation. So Nei Chu wrote to him that he should shave off an eyebrow in order to get rid of the urge. Surely he wouldn't want anyone to see him that way! This and other more moving words convinced Oyama to continue, and he resolved to become the most powerful karate-ka in Japan.

 

Soon however, his sponsor informed him that he was no longer able to support him and so, after fourteen months, he had to end his solitude.

 

A few months later, in 1947, Mas Oyama won the karate section of the first Japanese National Martial Arts Championships after WWII. However, he still felt empty for not having completed the three years of solitude. He then decided to dedicate his life completely to karate-do. So he started again, this time on Mt. Kiyozumi, also in Chiba Prefecture. This site he chose for its spiritually uplifting environment.

 

This time his training was fanatical — 12 hours a day every day with no rest days, standing under (cold) buffeting waterfalls, breaking river stones with his hands, using trees as makiwara, jumping over rapidly growing flax plants hundreds of times each day. Each day also included a period of study of the ancients classics on the Martial arts, Zen, and philosophy.

In 1952, he travelled the United States for a year, demonstrating his karate live and on national televison. During subsequent years, he took on all challengers, resulting in fights with 270 different people. The vast majority of these were defeated with one punch! A fight never lasted more than three minutes, and most rarely lasted more than a few seconds. His fighting principle was simple — if he got through to you, that was it.

 

If he hit you, you broke. If you blocked a rib punch, you arm was broken or dislocated. If you didn't block, your rib was broken. He became known as the Godhand, a living manifestation of the Japanese warriors' maxim Ichi geki, Hissatsu or "One strike, certain death". To him, this was the true aim of technique in karate. The fancy footwork and intricate techniques were secondary (though he was also known for the power of his head kicks).

It was during one of his visits to the United States that Mas Oyama met Jacques Sandulescu, a big (190 cm and 190 kg of muscle) Romanian who had been taken prisoner by the Red Army at the age of 16, and sent to the coal mines as a slave labourer for two years. They quickly became friends and remained so for the rest of Oyama's life, and Jacques still trains and acts as advisor to the IKO (1) to this day. You can read a short biography of his on this site or read his autobiography at http://donbas.com.

 

In 1953, Mas Oyama opened his first "Dojo", a grass lot in Mejiro in Tokyo. In 1956, the first real Dojo was opened in a former ballet studio behind Rikkyo University, 500 meters from the location of the current Japanese honbu dojo (headquarters). By 1957 there were 700 members, despite the high drop-out rate due to the harshness of training.

 

Practitioners of other styles came to train here too, for the jissen kumite (full contact fighting). One of the original instructors, Kenji Kato, has said that they would observe those from other styles, and adopt any techniques that "would be good in a real fight". This was how Mas Oyama's karate evolved. He took techniques from all martial arts, and did not restrict himself to karate alone.

 

 The Oyama Dojo members took their kumite seriously, seeing it primarily as a fighting art, so they expected to hit and to be hit. With few restrictions, attacking the head was common, usually with the palm heel or towel-wrapped knuckles. Grabs, throws, and groin attacks were also common. Kumite rounds would continue till one person loudly conceded defeat. Injuries occurred on a daily basis and the drop out rate was high (over 90%). They had no official do-gi and wore whatever they had.

 

Mas Oyama gave a demonstration in Hawaii. A young Bobby Lowe saw him and was stunned by the power Oyama demonstrated. It was not as though Bobby Lowe was inexperienced in martial arts. Though still quite young, his achievements to date were not much less than those of Mas Oyama himself. His father had been a Kung Fu instructor, and he had participated in any fighting art he could find. By the age of 23, he was yondan in judo, nidan in kempo, shodan in aikido, and a highly regarded welterweight boxer.

 

 It was not long before Bobby Lowe became the first Kyokushin uchi deshi or "live-in student" of Mas Oyama's. He trained daily with Mas Oyama for one and a half years.

 

Eventually, an uchi deshi's time became "1000 days for the beginning". These uchi deshi became known as Wakajishi, or the "Young Lions" of Mas Oyama and only a few of the hundreds of applicants were chosen each year for the privilege of training full time under the Master.

 

In 1957, Bobby Lowe returned to Hawaii to open the first School of Oyama outside Japan.

 

The beginning of Kyokushin

The current World Headquarters (IKO) were officially opened in June 1964, where the name Kyokushin, meaning "Ultimate truth" was adopted. In the same year the International Karate Organization (IKO) was established.

 

From then, Kyokushin continued to spread to more than 120 countries, and registered members exceed 10 million making it one of the largest martial arts organisations in the world. Among the the better known Kyokushin yudansha (black belts) are Sean Connery (Honorary shodan), Dolph Lundgren (sandan, former Australian heavyweight champion), and President Nelson Mandela of South Africa (Honorary hachidan), and most recently (June 1988), the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard (Honorary godan) who was awarded the grade at the official opening of the Sydney Kyokushin dojo.

 

Sadly, Sosai Mas Oyama died in 1994 of lung cancer (he was a non-smoker), leaving Akiyoshi Matsui in charge of the organisation. This has had many political and economic ramifications throughout the Kyokushin world, which are still being resolved. In the end, the result may well be a splintering of Kyokushin, much like Shotokan now appears to have done, with each group claiming to be the one-and-only true heir of Mas Oyama's Kyokushin, either spiritually or even financially.

 

Some of the splinter groups remain faithful to the Kyokushin principles, such as Hanshi Steve Arneil in Great Britain.

Hanshi Steve Arneil

Hanshi (Honorable Master) Steve Arneil was born in South Africa in 1934.  At the age of 10, his family moved to Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), and there he began training in Judo and boxing.  His mother made him stop boxing, but he continued studying Judo.

From an early age, Hanshi Arneil was fascinated with the Orient, and he began watching a Chinese man practicing Shorin (Shaolin) Kempo in the man's back yard.  The Chinese man noticed Arneil "spying" on him, and invited him to train.  Arneil accepted the offer and trained with his new friend throughout his school years and college.

 

Around the age of 25, Hanshi Arneil moved to Durban, South Africa, to complete his education in mechanical engineering.  He found a local Judo dojo in Durban that also offered karate.  At the time, a number of Japanese people were emigrating to South Africa, arriving at the port city of Durban.  Arneil would go to the arriving ships and ask if any of the Japanese practiced karate.  If so, he would invite them to train at the dojo.  These men practiced various karate styles, but Arneil didn't care about the differences – to him, karate was karate.

 

After completing his engineering education, Hanshi Arneil went back home to Northern Rhodesia.  Still fascinated with the Orient, he decided to go there and experience it for himself, and his Chinese friend gave him the names of people to train with in China.  Fresh out of college and without any money, Arneil got a job as an engineer on a ship and worked his way from Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika (now Tanzania), to Kowloon, Hong Kong.  From there, he went into China and traveled northward to the province of Manchuria, where he came to a monastery at which he studied Shorin (Shaolin) Kempo.  The rigorous training, strict discipline, daily work in the monastery's fields and daily meditation was just what Arneil was looking for – he was in "seventh heaven."

 

Unfortunately, China was beginning to experiencing Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution, and life for a Westerner in China began to get difficult.  People outside of the monastery even started hitting Arneil on the head with their copies of Mao's "Little Red Book".  His friends at the monastery suggested that he leave China for his own safety, and they brought him back to Kowloon to train with another kempo teacher.  The training was very different than at the monastery, and Arneil didn't like it.

 

Around that time, Hanshi Arneil heard of a karate master in Japan named Mas Oyama, and he was determined to go there and seek him out.  He didn't have enough money to get to Japan, so he first had to work on boats to the Philippines.  When Arneil finally saved enough money, he returned to Hong Kong and from there went to Yokohama, Japan in 1961.

 

Initially, Hanshi Arneil was lost in Japan – he couldn't speak the language and knew nothing about Japan other than the name of its capital.  He somehow managed to get to Tokyo and found his way to the Kodokan, the headquarters of one of Japan's styles of Judo.  Arneil trained at the Kodokan for a short while and received the rank of Shodan (1st Dan) in Judo, but he was really interested in studying karate.

 

At first, Hanshi Arneil studied Goju Ryu karate under Gogen Yamaguchi.  (Master Yamaguchi, who lived from 1909 to 1989, was also the instructor of Nei-Chu So, under whom Mas Oyama trained in the late 1940's.)  He trained in Shotokan karate as well, but still felt that something was missing.

 

Shortly after earning his Shodan in Judo, Hanshi Arneil met an American named Don Draeger and asked him if he knew of this karate master who "knocks bulls out."  Draeger did, and he took Arneil to Mas Oyama's dojo.  Arneil saw the intensity of the training and the discipline of the students, and he knew that this was where he wanted to be.  Draeger (who was fluent in Japanese), asked the instructor if Arneil could train.  The instructor told him that if he were interested, he would have to sit and watch, since Mas Oyama was in America at the time.

For about six weeks, Hanshi Arneil sat and watched, until one day Mas Oyama returned.  Using Draeger as a translator, Mas Oyama told Arneil that he needed to come back and watch for a few more weeks in order to really make up his mind about joining the dojo.  And so he waited and watched some more.  After two weeks, Mas Oyama gave Arneil his first karate gi (uniform) and said that he would have to start from the beginning.  He trained very hard, and even though he wasn't Japanese, he was treated the same as the other kohai (juniors).  They started training at 6:00 PM and couldn't finish until Mas Oyama was finished, usually four or five hours later.  Along with the other kohai, Arneil had to wash the dirty karate uniforms for the entire school and clean the dojo and its toilets – including emptying the toilet buckets.

When Hanshi Arneil tested for the rank of Shodan in Kyokushin Karate, he learned an important lesson in life from Mas Oyama.  At the test, he thought that he did better than the others, but when the promotion list came out, his name wasn't on it.  No one told him why, and he became very upset and stayed away from the dojo for a few days.  Eventually, Mas Oyama came by and asked Arneil where he had been, and he responded that he had been sick.  Arneil was depressed and wanted to leave Japan, but he didn't have enough money to do so.  Instead, he stuck it out and continued to train. 

 

At the next promotion test, Arneil lacked some confidence in himself, but he did what he had to do.  When the promotion list came out, he was finally on it as a Shodan. 

 

Looking back on what happened, Arneil later realized that he wasn't ready in his mind or heart when he first tested.  If he had earned his Shodan the first time, he would have left Japan and moved on to something else, thinking that he had learned enough.  Mas Oyama later told him that he saw more in Arneil than just a black belt, and he took the chance of losing his student through disappointment.  Arneil's initial failure eventually let him develop the patience, determination and perseverance (Osu) needed to master Kyokushin Karate.

Over the next few years, Hanshi Arneil intensified his training efforts and progressed rapidly.  During this time, Mas Oyama became like a father to him.  In fact, Mas Oyama actually adopted him so that he could marry a Japanese woman.  With the financial support of his wife, who worked in a bank, Arneil was able to stay in Japan and train.  To earn money, he also acted in some movies under the name "Steve Mansion". 

 

One day, Mas Oyama told Hanshi Arneil that he wanted him to perform the 100 man kumite (fight).  Others had tried to do it, but no one (other than Mas Oyama) was able to complete all 100 fights.  At first, Arneil thought that Mas Oyama was crazy for asking him, since he didn't think he could do it.  Mas Oyama kept pestering him until he finally agreed, and afterwards he trained fanatically for the event – 18 hours a day, every day, doing kata, makiwara (punching post) training and bag work.  Arneil asked when he would do the fights, and Mas Oyama said that he would let him know when he was ready. 

 

Arneil kept on training, thinking that Mas Oyama had only done this in order to get him to train harder.  One Sunday morning, he went to the dojo to train.  When he walked in, everyone was there waiting for him.  This was the day.  At first, Arneil tried to keep track of how many fights he had completed, but stopped doing so after the first 20 in order to concentrate on fighting.  He completed all 100 fights in about 2 hours and 45 minutes – "you can save time if you knock them out."

Before leaving Japan in 1965, Hanshi Arneil had achieved the rank of Sandan(3rd Dan).  He moved to Great Britain and began to teach Kyokushin Karate here.  That same year, he and Shihan Bob Boulton founded the British Karate Kyokushinkai (BKK) organization.  Between 1968 and 1976, Hanshi Arneil was the team manager and coach for the All Styles English and British Karate team, which became the first non-Japanese team to win the World Karate Championship in 1975-76. 

 

In 1975, the French Karate Federation also awarded him the title of the "World's Best Coach."

 

In 1991, Hanshi Arneil and the BKK resigned from the International Karate Organization (IKO), and he founded the International Federation of Karate (IFK).  The IFK currently has a membership of over 120,000 in 19 countries.  After the death of Mas Oyama in 1994 and the subsequent splintering of the IKO, Hanshi Arneil was asked by Mas Oyama's widow to lead the IKO(2).  Not wishing to become involved in the tangled politics of the various Japanese organizations, he politely declined the offer, in order to devote his time and efforts toward running the IFK and teaching Kyokushin Karate.

One of Hanshi Arneil's goals in the IFK is consistency – every Kyokushin karateka in any country at any dojo should perform the techniques and katas the same.  Toward that end, he has developed a systematic grading syllabus for the IFK and has published a book on Kyokushin kata.  Mas Oyama had told him that the only way you can unify an organization is by doing the same thing, and the only way you can do the same thing is by kata.

 

Mas Oyama, prior to his death, personally awarded Hanshi Arneil with the rank of Shichidan (7th Dan). 

 

The entire British karate community later awarded him with the rank of Hachidan(8th Dan) for his dedication and services to karate in Great Britain.  On May 26, 2001, the Board of Country Representatives of the IFK awarded Hanshi Arneil with the rank of Kudan (9th Dan) in recognition of his work in promoting Kyokushin Karate throughout the world during the past 40 years, and in particular during the past 10 years under the banner of the IFK.

While studying Kyokushin Karate in the early 1960's, Hanshi Arneil took meticulous notes of what Mas Oyama taught him.  Because of this, for the past four decades he has taught Kyokushin Karate true to the spirit of Sosai Mas Oyama.  Despite his busy schedule as head of the IFK, Hanshi Arneil still teaches Kyokushin Karate – to beginners as well as black belts – on a regular basis.

Hanshi Steve Arneil