Kyokushin is a style of stand-up, full contact karate, founded in 1964 by Korean-Japanese Masutatsu Oyama. “Kyokushin” is Japanese for “the ultimate truth.” It is rooted in a philosophy of self-improvement, discipline and hard training.
Founding of the International Karate Organization / Kyokushin kaikan
After formally establishing the Kyokushinkaikan in 1964, Oyama directed the organization through a period of expansion. Oyama hand-picked instructors who displayed ability in marketing the style and gaining new members. Oyama would choose an instructor to open a new dojo. The instructor would move to that town and demonstrate his karate skills in public places. After that, word of mouth would spread through the local area until the dojo had a dedicated core of students. Oyama also sent instructors to other countries such as the Netherlands (Kenji Kurosaki), Australia (Shigeo Kato and Mamoru Kaneko), the United States (Tadashi Nakamura, Shigeru Oyama and Yasuhiko Oyama, Miyuki Miura), Great Britain (Steve Arneil), Canada (Tatsuji Nakamura) and Brazil (Seiji Isobe) to spread Kyokushin in the same way. Many students, including Jon Bluming, Steve Arneil, and Howard Collins, traveled to Japan to train with Oyama directly. In 1969, Oyama staged The First All-Japan Full Contact Karate Open Championships and Terutomo Yamazaki became the first champion. All-Japan Championships have been held at every year. In 1975, The First World Full Contact Karate Open Championships were held in Tokyo. World Championships have been held at four-yearly intervals since.
Split after Oyama’s death
After Mas Oyama’s death, the International Karate Organization (IKO) split into two groups, primarily due to personal conflicts over who should succeed Oyama as chairman. One group led by Shokei Matsui became known as IKO-1, and a second group led by Yukio Nishida and Sanpei became was known as IKO-2. The will was proven to be invalid in the family Court of Tokyo in 1995. Before his death, Oyama named no one as his successor, although he did mention Matsui to be the most eligible one.
In 1995 any new Kyokushin organization that claimed the name IKO, Kyokushinkaikan, were referred to by Kyokushin practitioners by numbers, such as IKO-1 (Matsui group), IKO-2 etc. Due to this break up, many attempted to establish their own leadership. For example, IKO-2 was not organized by the family, although Chiyako Oyama was asked to succeed after her husband as Kaicho. Chiyako Oyama stepped away from the political fight and founded the Mas Oyama Memorial Foundation with her daughters, still retaining the rights to the companies that managed IKO Kyokushinkaikan during Mas Oyama’s leadership.
Internationally known, Japanese-based organizations that claim the name “International Karate Organization” include:
- IKO Kyokushinkaikan “Sosai”, organized by Mas Oyama’s daughter, Kuristina Oyama, which by court order has the rights to Mas Oyama’s Honbu.
- IKO Kyokushinkaikan “Matsui-Ha” or “Ichi-Geki”, headed by Shokei (Akiyoshi) Matsui.
- IKO Kyokushinkaikan, All Japan Kyokushin Union or Kyokushin Rengōkai, headed by Yasuhiro Shichinohe.
Other Japanese Kyokushin groups no longer officially claiming the original name of “IKO” and “Kyokushinkaikan”:
- WKO (World Karate Organization) Shinkyokushinkai, headed by Kenji Midori as president.
- International Honbu, Kyokushin Shogakukai Foundation, Kyokushin-Kan, headed by Hatsuo Royama as president.
‘Kyokushin groups outside Japan:
- International Federation of Karate (IFK), Kyokushin, founded by former IKO member Steve Arneil.
- Kyokushin World Federation (KWF), founded by former IKO members: Loek Hollander, Antonio Pinero and Andre Drewniak.
- Kyokushin Budokai, IBK, founded by former IKO Jon Bluming.
- International Kyokushin Union (IKU), founded by former IKO member David Farzinzad.
- International Kyokushinkai Association – (IKA) founded by former IKO member Carllos Costa, based in Brazil.
- International Federation of Kyokushinkaikan Karate – (IFKK) founded by former IKO member Sahinbas Goksel and Malik Dilnawaz, based in Netherlands and Norway.
- International Kyokushinkai Karate Federation – (IKKF) founded by former IKO member Teyub Azizov, based in Azerbaijan.
- World Kyokushin Karate Federation – (WKKF) founded by IKO member Bodh Narayan Yadav, based in India.
Oyama’s widow died in June 2006 after a long illness. Mas Oyama’s youngest daughter, Kikuko (also known as Kuristina) now oversees the management of the original IKO Kyokushin kaikan Honbu. She also published a book in 2010, a collective memoir of Mas Oyama and his teachings.
In May 2012, the Japanese Patent Office granted the Kyokushin related trademarks to Kikuko Kuristina Oyama, after years of long court battle. She has internationally trademarked and copyrighted her father’s work and devotes the proceeds to various charities.
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:
|10th Kyu||Orange Belt|
|9th Kyu||Orange With Black Stripe|
|8th Kyu||Blue Belt|
|7th Kyu||Blue With Black Stripe|
|6th Kyu||Yellow Belt|
|5th Kyu||Yellow With Black Stripe|
|4th Kyu||Green Belt|
|3rd Kyu||Green With Black Stripe|
|2nd Kyu||Brown Belt|
|1st Kyu||Brown With Black Stripe|
|1st Dan||Black Belt 1st Dan|
|2nd Dan||Black Belt 2nd Dan|
|3rd Dan||Black Belt 3rd Dan|
|4th Dan||Black Belt 4th Dan|
|5th Dan||Black Belt 5th Dan|
|6th Dan||Black Belt 6th Dan|
|7th Dan||Black Belt 7th Dan|
|8th Dan||Black Belt 8th Dan|
|9th Dan||Black Belt 9th Dan|
|10th Dan||Black Belt 10th Dan|
Note: Mukyu of the white belt literally means “no grade”
Kyokushin has had an influence on many other styles. The knockdown karate competition format is now used by other styles. Karate styles that originated in Kyokushin, such as Ashihara Karate, Budokaido, Godokai, Enshin Karate, Seidō juku, Musokai, Shidōkan and Seidokaikan, are also knockdown styles and use slight variations of the competition rules.
A few styles (Kansuiryu Karate and Byakuren) originated independently of Kyokushin and have adopted the competition format. Kokondo is derived from Kyokushin, albeit without a strong focus on competition with the emphasis rather on realistic goshin-jutsu (self-defense). Some styles originating in Kyokushin (Jushindo, Daido Juku, Kudo, Zendokai) have changed to mixed martial arts rules.
Kickboxing has been seen as a natural progression for kyokushin competitors and many of Japan’s top kickboxers[who?] have started in knockdown karate. The influence of Kyokushin can be seen in the K-1 kickboxing tournament that originated out of the Seidokaikan karate organization, which is an offshoot from Kyokushin.
In popular culture
In Namco‘s Tekken series, Jin Kazama is said to travel to Brisbane, Australia to learn karate. At the time of Tekken’s creation, Cameron Quinn – a well-known instructor of Kyokushin Karate, Mas Oyama’s interpreter, and the author of The Budo Karate of Mas Oyama – was teaching students such as Garry O’Neill and Walter Schnaubelt at his well-known Kyokushin dojo in the city of Brisbane.
Jin Kazama uses the art of Kyokushin Karate from Tekken 4 to Tekken 7 (including Tekken Tag Tournament 2); he can be seen practicing Yantsu and Pinan Sono Yon Kata in various demonstration modes in the Tekken series.
Jean Kujo, from the Virtua Fighter series, practices varied forms of full-contact karate, including Kyokushin Karate.
Solara from Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects is said to practice Kyokushin.
Kyokugenryu Karate is a fictional martial art from SNK Playmore‘s Art of Fighting, Fatal Fury, and King of Fighters series. Kyokugenryu (lit. “the extreme style”), which is practiced by Ryo Sakazaki, Robert Garcia, Yuri Sakazaki, Takuma Sakazaki and Marco Rodriguez/Khushnood Butt, is heavily based on Kyokushin Karate.
Torao Onigawara in the arcade game The Fallen Angels (video game) is a master of Kyokushin Karate.
Ichigeki: Hagane no Hito is a 3D fighting game for the PlayStation that focuses primarily on Kyokushin Karate, including training and full contact competitions.
Karate Master Knock Down Blow a recent game from Crian Soft that is heavy Kyokushin based.
A trilogy of films starring Sonny Chiba and directed by Kazuhiko Yamaguchi were produced in Japan between 1975 and 1977: Champion of Death, Karate Bearfighter and Karate for Life. Chiba plays Master Oyama, who also appears in two of the films.
Actor Dolph Lundgren has a third Dan blackbelt in Kyokushin.
The James Bond movie You Only Live Twice, starring Sean Connery, was filmed largely in Japan and featured a karate demonstration by a number of well-known Kyokushin students, including Shigeo Kato (who introduced Kyokushin to Australia and was the original teacher of Shokei Matsui) and Akio Fujihira, who was one of the three fighters who took up the Muay Thai challenge in 1964 and who fought in the ring for many years under the name of Noboru Osawa.
Kyokushin was featured on Fight Quest on Discovery Channel as the Japanese Martial Arts Style.
Kyokushin was the style of karate featured in an episode of Human Weapon.
Kyokushin was studied by a character named Sutton in an episode of Elementary.