Karate, meaning “empty-hand” or “China hand”, was brought to Japan from the small chain of islands that form Okinawa. The indigenous martial arts of Okinawa were called Te, Ti, or To-de, and were heavily influenced by Chinese martial arts when commercial trade, exploration, and other cultural exchanges occurred between Okinawa and mainland China. Okinawan martial arts were generally distinguished by the various parts of Okinawa from which they originated—Shuri-te came from the area called Shuri near the old capital city of the Ryukyu Kingdom, becoming the styles now called Shotokan, Shorin-ryu, and Shito-ryu. Naha-te came from the area of Naha, which is now the capital city of the Okinawa Prefecture. This developed into such styles as Goju-ryu, Uechi-ryu, and Ryuei-ryu. Another region of Okinawan martial arts is Tomari, Okinawa, giving rise to Tomari-te. The styles originating from this region came to be called Wado-ryu and Matsubayashi-ryu.
The style of Kyokushin Karate, meaning “The Ultimate Truth,” was founded by Masutatsu (Mas) Oyama, born in the year 1923 with the name Choi Yeong-eui in South Korea. He studied Chinese martial arts in Manchuria, China, and moved to Japan to participate in aviation school. He experienced much discrimination due to his Korean heritage, and decided to take the Japanese name Masutatsu Oyama and begin training in Shotokan karate. He acquired a black belt ranking, but was dissatisfied with the linear movements and the lack of focus on full-contact kumite (fighting). He began training with a fellow Korean who was a senior student of Chojun Miyagi, the founder of Goju-ryu karate. He acquired a yondan (4th-degree) black belt ranking, and soon began devising his own way of expressing the art of karate. He is said to have spent three years training in isolation on Mt. Minobu, employing a concept the samurai called shugyo; which means intense physical training meant to condition the body as well as the spirit. He opened his own dojo in 1953, calling it simply “Oyama Dojo.” He put an emphasis on hard physical and mental conditioning, and kumite that included bare-knuckle contact, only omitting closed-fist strikes to the face and head. He soon acquired a group of dedicated students, and thus began the spread of his karate style (formally called “International Karate Organization (IKO) Kyokushin-kaikan”) in 1957. Mas Oyama is said to have participated in a “300-man kumite,” meaning that he fought 300 black-belt karateka, one after another, until no one could fight any longer. While Mas Oyama passed away from lung cancer in 1994, the spread of Kyokushin karate has had much success over the years; disseminating to dozens of countries and inspiring hundreds of thousands of karateka all around the world. Some choose to participate in full-contact tournaments to test their fighting skill, most notably the All Japan Full-Contact Karate Open Championships and the World Full-Contact Karate Open Championships, held once every 4 years.
Training in Kyokushin includes the “three K’s” of karate training: Kihon (basics), Kata (forms), and Kumite (fighting). Anyone at any age and at any skill level can participate, as long as one is willing to work hard. In the words of Mas Oyama, Kyokushin is for “tempering the spirit in the fires of hard training.”