Oyama had designed the Kanji of Kyokushinkai to resemble the Samurai sword safely placed in its sheath. Kanji is the representation (using Chinese characters) of the word Kyokushinkai, which is the name of the ryu or style. Translated, “kyoku” means “ultimate”, “shin” means “truth” or “reality” and “kai” means “to join” or “to associate”. In essence Kyokushinkai, roughly translated, means “Ultimate Truth”. This concept has less to do with the Western meaning of truth; rather it is more in keeping with the bushido concept of discovering the nature of one’s true character when tried. One of the goals of kyokushin is to strengthen and improve character by challenging oneself through rigorous training.
Techniques and training
Kyokushin training consists of three main elements: technique, forms, and sparring. These are sometimes referred to as the three “K’s” after the Japanese words for them: kihon (basics), kata (forms), and kumite (sparring).
Kata is a form of ritualized self-training in which patterned or memorized movements are done in order to practice a form of combat maneuverings. According to a highly regarded Kyokushin text, “The Budo Karate of Mas Oyama” by Cameron Quinn, long time interpreter to Oyama, the kata of Kyokushin are classified into Northern and Southern Kata.
Some areas now phase out the prefix “sono” in the kata names.
The Taikyoku kata were originally created by Gichin Funakoshi, founder of Shotokan karate.
- Pinan Sono Ichi
- Pinan Sono Ni
- Pinan Sono San
- Pinan Sono Yon
- Pinan Sono Go
The 5 Pinan katas, known in some other styles as Heian, were originally created in 1904 by Ankō Itosu, a master of Shuri-te and Shorin ryu (a combination of the shuri-te and tomari-te traditions of karate). He was a teacher to Gichin Funakoshi. Pinan (pronounced /pin-ann/) literally translates as Peace and Harmony.
Some organizations have removed the “Dai” from the name, calling it only “Kanku”, as there is no “Sho” or other alternate Kanku variation practiced in kyokushin. The Kanku kata was originally known as Kusanku or Kushanku, and is believed to have either been taught by, or inspired by, a Chinese martialartist who was sent to Okinawa as an ambassador in the Ryukyu Kingdom during the 16th century. Kanku translates to “sky watching”.
The Kata Sushiho is a greatly modified version of the old Okinawian kata that in Shotokan is known as Gojushiho, and in some other styles as Useishi. The name means “54 steps”, referring to a symbolic number in Buddhism.
A very old Okinawan kata of unknown origin, the name Bassai or Passai translates to “to storm a castle”. It was originally removed from the kyokushin syllabus in the late 1950s, but was reintroduced into some kyokushin factions after Oyama’s death and the resulting fractioning of the organization.
This kata is a very old Okinawan kata, also known as Tekki in Shotokan. It is generally classified as belonging to the Tomari-te traditions. The name Tekki translates to “iron horse” but the meaning of the name Naihanchi is “internal divided conflict”. It was originally removed from the kyokushin syllabus in the late 1950s, but was reintroduced into some kyokushin factions after Oyama’s death and the resulting fractioning of the organization.
These three kata were created by Masutatsu Oyama to further develop kicking skills and follow the same embu-sen (performance line) as the original Taikyoku kata. Sokugi literally means Kicking, while Taikyoku translates as Grand Ultimate View. They were not formally introduced into the Kyokushin syllabus until after the death of Oyama.
The southern kata stems from the Naha-te tradition of karate, and are mostly drawn from Goju-ryu karate, which Oyama learned while training under So Nei Chu and Gogen Yamaguchi. One exception may be the kata “Yantsu” which possibly originates with Motobu-ha Shito-ryu.
- Gekisai Dai
- Gekisai Sho
Gekisai was created by Chojun Miyagi, founder of Goju-ryu karate. The name Gekisai means “attack and smash”. In some styles (including some Goju-ryu factions) it is sometimes known under the alternative name “Fukyugata”.
Tensho draws it origin from Goju-ryu where it was developed by Chojun Miyagi, who claimed credit for its creation. There are however some who claim that it is merely a variation of an old, and now lost, Chinese kata known as “rokkishu” mentioned in the Bubishi (an ancient text often called the “Bible of Karate”). It is based on the point and circle principles of Kempo. It was regarded as an internal yet advanced Kata by Oyama. The name means “rotating palms”.
Sanchin is a very old kata with roots in China. The name translates to “three points” or “three battles”. The version done in kyokushin is most closely related to the version Kanryo Higashionna (or Higaonna), teacher of Chojun Miyagi, taught (and not to the modified version taught by Chojun Miyagi himself).
- Saifa (Saiha)
Originally a Chinese kata. It was brought to Okinawa by Kanryo Higashionna. Its name translates to “smash and tear down”.
Originally a Chinese kata, regarded as very old. It was also brought to Okinawa by Kanryo Higashionna. The name translates roughly to “grip and pull into battle”.
Originally a Chinese kata. It was also brought to Okinawa by Kanryo Higashionna. The name translates to the number 18, which is significant in Buddhism.
Yantsu is an old kata with unknown origin that is alternately classified as belonging to the Naha-te or Tomari-te karate tradition. Outside of kyokushin it is today only is practiced in Motobu-ha Shitō-ryū (that today is part of the Nihon Karate-do Kuniba-kai), where it in a slightly longer variant is called “Hansan” or “Ansan”. The name Yantsu translates to “keep pure”. How the kata was introduced into Kyokushin is unknown, although it is speculated that it was somehow imported from Motobu-ha Shito-ryu.
- Tsuki no kata
This kata was created by Seigo Tada, founder of the Seigokan branch of Goju-ryu. In Seigokan goju-ryu the kata is known as Kihon Tsuki no kata and is one of two Katas created by the founder. How the kata was introduced into Kyokushin is largely unknown, but since Tadashi Nakamura are often claimed in error as the creator of the kata in Kyokushin, speculations are that he introduced it into Kyokushin after learning it from his Goju-ryu background.
The kata Garyu, is not taken from traditional Okinawan karate but was created by Oyama and named after his pen name (Garyu =reclining dragon), which is the Japanese pronunciation of the characters 臥龍, the name of the village (Il Loong) in Korea where he was born.
Several kata are also done in “ura“, which essentially means all moves are done in mirrored form. The ura, or ‘reverse’ kata, were developed by Oyama as an aid to developing balance and skill in circular techniques against multiple opponents.
- Taikyoku sono ichi ura
- Taikyoku sono ni ura
- Taikyoku sono san ura
- Pinan sono ichi ura
- Pinan sono ni ura
- Pinan sono san ura
- Pinan sono yon ura
- Pinan sono go ura
Sparring, also called kumite, is used to train the application of the various techniques within a fighting situation. Sparring is usually an important part of training in most Kyokushin organizations, especially at the upper levels with experienced students.
In most Kyokushin organizations, hand and elbow strikes to the head or neck are prohibited. However, kicks to the head, knee strikes, punches to the upper body, and kicks to the inner and outer leg are permitted. In some Kyokushin organizations, especially outside of a tournament environment, gloves and shin protectors are worn. Children often wear headgear to lessen the impact of any kicks to the head. Speed and control are instrumental in sparring and in a training environment it is not the intention of either practitioner to injure his opponent as much as it is to successfully execute the proper strike. Tournament fighting under knockdown karate rules is significantly different as the objective is to down an opponent. Full-contact sparring in Kyokushin is considered the ultimate test of strength, endurance, techniques and spirit. 
Also known as Goshin Jitsu, the specific self-defense techniques of the style draw much of their techniques and tactics from Mas Oyama’s study of Daitō-ryū Aiki-jūjutsu under Yoshida Kotaro. These techniques were never built into the formal grading system, and as kyokushin grew increasingly sport-oriented, the self-defense training started to fall into obscurity. Today it is only practiced in a limited number of dojos.
Colored belts have their origin in Judo, as does the training ‘gi‘, or more correctly in Japanese, ‘dōgi‘ or ‘Keikogi‘. In Kyokushin the order of the belts varies in some breakaway groups, the kyu ranks and belt colors are as follows with the kyu grade black stripes optional: