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But recently, I heard something that blew all of those stories right out of the water. Legendary karate master Mas Oyama apparently fought over 50 bulls hand-to-hand (or hand-to-hoof, as it were), killing each of them with his bare hands. Oyama reportedly even killed three of them with a single punch, earning him the nickname “Godhand.”

Who was this guy?!

Oyama’s Early Life

Oyama, for the bull-killing karate master that he was, had pretty humble beginnings. He was actually born in Korea with a Korean name (Yeong-eui Choi) during the Japanese occupation. He moved to China when he was young and began to learn martial arts from a worker from the farm on which he lived.

And here’s where another incredible martial arts story comes along. Legend has it that the Chinese worker that got Oyama started on the road to karate bad-assery gave the young master a seed. The worker told Oyama to plant the seed and to jump over it 100 times every day. Even as the seed grew into a big tree, Oyama kept at it.

Once he reached adulthood, Oyama decided that he wanted to become a pilot for the Japanese army and adopted his Japanese name, Masutatsu Oyama. (Years later, Oyama would become a full Japanese citizen.) After completing his pilot training, Oyama wanted to become a kamikaze pilot, writing letters in his own blood to high-ranking officers pleading to give him the chance.

After the war, Oyama’s martial arts training kicked into high gear. He learned all there was to know about karate from the top dojos in the country, earning more black belts and honors than you could shake a stick at.

He made several retreats into the mountains on his own to train, presumably by standing under freezing waterfalls, punching rocks, and fighting bears. He came down from the mountains and won the National Martial Arts Championship.

And after all that, he decided to start his own martial arts school and show everybody how it’s done.

The Harvard of Kicking Ass

Oyama founded his own karate school that taught a style known as Kyokushin karate. Kyokushin means “the search for ultimate truth.” It’s a full-contact martial art that includes sparring without any protective gear and an intense training regimen that included getting beat up by Oyama pretty much on a regular basis.

Two Kyokushin fighers“Falconnnn punch!”

Well, if not Oyama himself, then about 100 of his students. You see, Oyama developed a brutal test of skill called the 100-man kumite, an event that pits you against 100 different opponents, usually over the course of three days. It’s no wonder that Kyokushin has such a reputation for being such a tough style.

Kyokushin in the Movies

Kyokushin karate made a cameo in the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice, and is quite possibly the only accurately Japanese thing depicted in the movie. At the time the movie was made, there was no better endorsement for Kyokushin than Sean Connery using the style on the big screen.

Close-up portrait of a young Sean ConneryWhat time did Sean Connery go to watch the match at Wimbleton? Ten-ish.

Connery hasn’t been the only actor to study at the feet of the master. Japanese actor Sonny Chiba not only knows Kyokushin and has a black belt in the martial art, but studied with Oyama himself and even played Oyama in a few movies.

Oyama died at the age of 70, of all things, lung cancer. You might expect that somebody whose living was based off of intense physical training and fighting bulls, Oyama might have died some other way; but maybe it isn’t surprising that the only thing that could take him down was disease.

Today, his legacy is carried on by the more than 12 million people who practice Kyokushin all over the world. Oyama’s life has been immortalized in lots of movies and even a manga series. Sure, some of Oyama’s life has probably been exaggerated and embullished embellished; but it’s still no exaggeration that Mas Oyama was an accomplished martial artist and all-around legend.

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  • Kellylav143

    My cat could kick my ass =/ I should learn some fighting skills

  • http://twitter.com/Ball_Tazer Michael Ball Tazer

    Was he wearing red whenever he fought bulls?

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    I assume that he always fought in the most dangerous situations, so he was probably always wearing red and blindfolded.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Mine too, unfortunately. You gotta watch out for those back claws!

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    maybe the red blood of all the bulls he killed with his fists not moments earlier. 0_o

  • Kellylav143

    Did he just like punch them to death?? Is it mean that I think that’s hilarious??

  • http://www.callistospatches.com Callisto

    *Nerd flail* Awesome post. I’ve been toying with the thought of starting Shito Ryu Karate but I’m not sure it’s financially feasible at the moment…

    I love stories like the one about planting the seed and jumping over it each day, to gradually increase your ability. It’s like that episode of Samurai Jack where those weird hairy guys tie rocks all over Jack and train him to build up his leg muscles so he can “jump good”.

    (Also, inb4 animal cruelty complaints?)

  • Tensashirosaki

    Great, this guy kills 50 bulls for no other reason then to boost his own ego? Well at least karma got him in the end. Still think he should’ve been gored though.

  • ウシじゃない

    If it makes you feel better, Wikipedia notes that the bulls were tamed and tied with rope. Plus, I’d imagine that at least some of the bulls were sick, or old, or maybe sleeping at the time.

  • larisajane

    I’ve read about that tree thing being related to ninjas. Also, I want to see the bull massacre vids.

  • http://twitter.com/shollum Shollum

    I would think that the bulls would see the blood and run away screaming.

    By the way, I finally gave away the answer to the Pockey message, in case someone still wants to see it.

  • http://twitter.com/shollum Shollum

    I heard about this style on this series I saw. Basically, these two (mma, possibly) fighters go around the world learning about various fighting styles and study the basics for a short period of time (like a week or something) then get their butts handed to them at the end of the episode. Of course, the whole time they comment for the T.V. and stuff. It was pretty interesting, I wish it had continued longer.

    Anyway, interesting article like always. Taking down bulls is nothin’, taking down bulls bare handed… That’s just badass.

  • Brandon Inoue

    Mas Oyama has had quite a bit of controversy when it comes to the things he did.  However, there are some factual things about him that were not stated above.

    First and foremost he was called the hands of God because he could defeat any opponent with one blow.  Whether they blocked it or not. 
    A regular feat at his school was to break stones with your bare hands (a physics trick but still requires quite a bit of strength)
    His strength regiment included hundreds of repetitions of the bench and shoulder press every day. 
    He holds the current record for 100-nin kumite by defeating 300 of the black belts.  They only stopped because there were no more left.
    He fought against the best Thai Kickboxing fighters at the time and won.

    He basically is the Japanese Chuck Norris… except not ironically.

    If you’re still not convinced about it, here’s something to chew on.

    He trained Sonny Chiba.

    The Characters of Ryo, Ryo Sakazaki, Mr. Karate, and Doppo Orochi (the most accurate fictional representation so far) are all influenced by him. 

    GSP and Bas Rutten both had a Kyokushin base. 

    Interesting note:
    The gradual progression of the tree and jumping over it can be traced as far back as Ancient Greece. A young man adopted a calf and lifted it above his head everyday. Eventually his strength grew with the calf and he was able to lift a full grown cow above his head. When the cow would grow no more, he ate it.

  • Brandon Inoue

    This was called Human Weapon.  They went to many Karate schools in Okinawa and I believe in the end Bill took on the Kyokushin Champion.

  • Brandon Inoue

    I think he would dodge and hit the bull on the back of the neck.  At least that’s what was reported.  I only wish the footage wasn’t so taboo that it’s rare to come across.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Interesting, I’d never heard of Human Weapon before. Sounds like a cool premise for a show!

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Unfortunately, the only bull vids I could find were super-low quality, and probably just of a re-enactment :(

  • ウシじゃない

    Oh man, cattle have it pretty bad when it comes to people doing strength training, don’t they?

  • ウシじゃない

    Oh man, cattle have it pretty bad when it comes to people doing strength training, don’t they?

  • http://twitter.com/shollum Shollum

    Doesn’t sound quite right. But it still sounds really interesting, I’ll have to look it up!
    I think they only went to Japan for Kyokushin. I think at the end, one of them had to do a 20 man kumite or something. It definitely wasn’t the 100 man kumite, that’s for sure!

    Like I said, I’m not sure if that was it or not, but I’ll still have to look it up. Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/shollum Shollum

    It could be worse. This could be a blog about ancient Greece, they took bull worship to a whole other level. Then again, I don’t think it had much to do with strength training. But, they may have had a torture mechanism that was a bull statue and don’t forget the Minotaur… That taking it too far.

  • Brandon Inoue

    http://youtu.be/Snd28UyE86Y
    I did the research for you.

    The multi fighter thing sounds more like the Krav Maga, Silat, and Ninjitsu episodes.

    Also, there was a rival series called Fight Quest. That starred a former soldier and an MMA fighter. They did almost the same locations.

  • Brandon Inoue

    Exactly correct

  • chris coll

    OSU! i have been studying kyokushin, here in nyc, for about 5 months and love everything about it. I also love your blog and seeing a kyokushin article on here made my night.

  • Purrlsta

    I studied Kyokushin karate for years. It’s interesting as at the second grading part of it involved passing a theory exam where you were asked questions all about Mas Oyama. So if you study Kyokushin karate you learn all about his bull fighting, etc. If I remember correctly he also spent a lot of time training in solitude on a mountain somewhere (as all good martial artists seem to do :P)

  • Brandon Inoue

    He was gored in his final encounter with bulls.  Apparently it wasn’t in the state he thought it was in, and it got him in the back.  He still managed to defeat the bull but was laid up for months afterwards. 

    After that encounter he decided to stop the bull fighting.  Not only did he realize he was getting slower and complacent, but maybe such reputation boosting acts were no longer necessary for his art to thrive.

  • http://twitter.com/shollum Shollum

    Fight Quest, that was it! I liked it because it was interesting to learn about the styles and I couldn’t find anything similar.

    Thanks for the links as well! I’ll be sure to take a look.

  • Bruce Smith

    Google (or search YouTube for) Andy Hug. Or Francisco Filho.

  • Ogun1

    Bas I Kyokushin Karate  if you want to learn this style in Miami Fla call Kancho Newton James  dojo 305 256 2765 cell 786 316 5183   17030 S.Dixie Highway Miami Fla 33157 Kancho  studied under Mas Oyama

  • Senpai Kim James

    The phone number for the dojo above is out of date.  Just wanted to let you know… The cell phone listed is the correct number for the dojo and for Kancho, direct.  Thanks for the recommendation.