Hatsuo Royama

Without presence and without intention, technique cannot live, it cannot inhabit the body.

Hatsuo Royama

The name Hatsuo Royama is synonymous with Kyokushin Karate. Around at the birth of Kyokushin Karate, he was one of the few students to be involved with Mas Oyama, the founder of Kyokushin, from the start of the art, until Oyama’s death. Royama was a phenomenal fighter known for his devastating low kicks, a technique that he made famous.

Named Noh Cho Woong at birth, by his Korean parents, Hatsuo Royama was born on 31 March 1948 in Saitama, Japan.

Growing up in the 1950s, Royama was a big fan of Sumo Wrestling. He particularly liked the wrestler, Rikidozan, who was Korean by birth.

Still a teenager, Royama started Karate in 1963 with Mas Oyama, at a small dojo located behind Rikkyo University, Tokyo. His main motivation for training was to become physically stronger. He was one of Oyama’s first students.

When Royama started training, Oyama had not created the style of Kyokushin Karate. He taught elements of Goju-ryu, Shorei-ryu, and Kobayashi-ryu, all styles of Karate he had learnt.

Training at the Oyama dojo was extremely tough. Royama was frequently exhausted after his training sessions. There were normally four classes a week, with each training session lasting 3-4 hours. Sparring sessions lasted over an hour and were filled with intensity and plenty of violence. Injuries were no excuse for not training. Many students joined and left the dojo, finding the training too tough.

It was in 1964 that Oyama officially founded the style of Kyokushin Karate. He also established the International Karate Organisation (IKO).

Royama was promoted to 1st Dan by Oyama in 1967. He was 19 years old at the time. By this time he had become one of Oyama’s top students. He had become an instructor at the Hombu dojo, now located in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo. He was known for training hard. During one training session, he threw a student, who crashed and broke a mirror in the dojo. As was to be expected, Oyama was displeased.

In 1968 Royama arrived at the dojo one day, to find a notification stating that he had been expelled from the dojo. He was not sure why this had happened.

Away from Kyokushin Royama started looking at other martial arts. He tried his hand at boxing and kickboxing. It was around this time that he started training with Hideo Nakamura. Known as the ‘Fist Saint‘, Nakamura was the Technical Director of the Karate department at the Dai Nippon Butokukai. The aim of the organisation was the preservation of classical Japanese martial arts.

Royama became an uchi-deshi (live-in student) of Nakamura for around five years. During this time, training was focused on perfecting basic techniques. Practice session sometimes involved working on a single technique for several hours at a time.

Royama also had the opportunity to meet and train with Kenichi Sawai, a noted Japanese martial artist. Sawai had introduced a modified version of the Chinese martial art, Yiquan, to Japan, that he called Taikken. Taikken is a method of fighting that focuses on developing natural movement and fighting ability.

By 1973 Royama was allowed to return to the Kyokushin Karate family. On 4 November he competed in the 5th Open Karate Tournament, held in Tokyo. 128 competitors were invited to participate in the tournament. Royama won the tournament, with Terutomo Yamazaki and Toshikazu Sato in second and third place.

On 9-10 November 1974, the 6th Open Karate Tournament was held in Tokyo. The tournament was won by Katsuaki Sato, with Takashi Azuma and Royama in second and third place.

Between 1-3 November 1975, 128 competitors from 32 countries were invited to compete in the 1st World Open Tournament held in Tokyo. The tournament was unique in that there were no weight classes. The tournament was won by Katsuaki Sato of Japan, with compatriots Royama and Joko Ninomiya finishing second and third respectively.

During the World Open Tournament, Royama won national acclaim for his bout against the American giant, Charles Martin. Martin was a foot taller than Royama. However, Royama defeated Martin by throwing devastating low kicks, which led to the American succumbing to leg injuries. In the final, he lost to Katsuaki Sato by split decision. The next day after the tournament, he went to his usual training session at the IKO Hombu. This was impressive as many of the fighters who competed in the tournament spent the next day in the hospital.

Through the 1980s Royama taught Karate to a new generation of students at the Kyokushin Hombu.

On 26 April 1994, the founder of Kyokushin Karate, Mas Oyama, died. Following his death, the IKO split into various factions. Shokei Matsui had been named as the successor to Oyama. He was Royama’s junior by about fifteen years. Royama saw it as his duty to the late Oyama to act as an advisor to the younger Matsui.

Royama was named to the IKO Executive Committee. He was chosen to be the Chief Advisor. However, he grew frustrated as Matsui rarely followed any of his advice.

Dissatisfied with the commercial direction that Matsui was taking the IKO, Royama, alongside Tsuyoshi Hiroshige and Akio Koyama resigned from the IKO in December 2002.

On 13 January 2003, Royama created a new organisation called the International Federation of Kyokushin-Kan Karate-do. He wanted to take Kyokushin back to its roots, which he felt had been lost. He felt too much emphasis has been placed on tournament competition rather than following Kyokushin’s strong Budo roots. A number of like-minded students of Oyama left with him.

On 17 April 2003, Royama reconstructed the Kyokushin Syogakukai Foundation. Originally formed in the 1960s, the Foundation was a non-profit organisation with the aim of following the path outlined by Oyama.

The Foundation had been suspended by Oyama on 15 July 1990. However, before his death he wanted the Foundation to be reconstructed. According to his will, he had wanted that IKO to become a non-profit organisation. This had not happened and was one of the major complaints of Royama.

Yoshiharu Umeda was named the Chairman of the reconstructed Kyokushin Syogakukai Foundation. Royama was named President.

The International Federation of Kyokushin-Kan Karate-do we held its first World Open Karate Tournament in Moscow in 2005.

Hatsuo Royama has made it his aim to return Kyokushin Karate back to being the strongest Karate in the world. Through the reconstruction of the Kyokushin Syogakukai Foundation, he hopes all associations wanting to follow the path set out by Mas Oyama will agree to rejoin it.

Royama has built the International Federation of Kyokushin-Kan Karate-do into a federation with a large following around the world. He frequently travels the world, looking to teach and promote the real Budo aspects of Kyokushin Karate. He has been influenced by three great Budo masters in Mas Oyama, Hideo Nakamura, and Kenichi Sawai. Many of the lessons he learnt is now being passed to a new generation of karateka.

Author: Patrick Donkor

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