The most important thing I learned as a dormitory student at the Kyokushinkaikan, the headquarters of Kyokushin, was to be courageous in the face of any obstacle, the spirit of never giving up, and the motivation to want to succeed in everything you do in life.Nicholas Pettas
Sometimes known as the ‘Blue-eyed Samurai‘, Nicholas Pettas was one of Mas Oyama’s last live-in students and as a competitor, was known for his powerful low kicks.
Nicholas Pettas was born on 23 January 1973, on the island of Mykonos, Greece. He was the youngest of two boys. His father was Greek and his mother was Danish.
In 1976 Pettas’ father died. His mother moved him and his brother Tony, to Copenhagen, Denmark.
Growing up, Pettas was not particularly athletic. However, he enjoyed playing handball and cricket. He also liked riding BMX bikes.
When Pettas was 14 he was beaten up in a street fight. During the fight, he had been so scared, that he had run away. He realised he didn’t know how to defend himself.
Pettas had seen the film, ‘Karate Kid‘, and wanted to learn Karate to protect himself. A friend of his brother practised Kyokushin Karate and recommended the style to him. Kyokushin had a reputation for being one of the toughest forms of Karate.
On 11 January 1988, Pettas watched his first Karate class and knew he had found what he wanted to do. As he was under the age of 18, he had to get his mother’s and stepfather’s approval. Once the necessary papers had been signed, he joined the Karate dojo of Humberto Budtz.
Karate soon became Pettas’ main passion. He spent most of his free time at the dojo. With the amount of time he was spending in the dojo, a senior student once remarked he was like an uchi-deshi (live-in student), always training.
Once Pettas found out about Oyama’s uchi-deshi program in Japan, he knew it was something he had to do.
By 1989 Pettas had decided that he wanted to travel to Japan to train as an uchi-deshi. He had approached his teacher, Budtz, stating his intention. At first, Budtz thought Pettas was joking but soon realised that he was very serious.
In 1990 Budtz agreed to write a letter, on Pettas’ behalf to Mas Oyama.
Pettas was overjoyed when he received a letter from Oyama, stating that he had been accepted onto the uchi-deshi program.
In 1991, aged 18, Pettas travelled to Japan to join Oyama’s ‘Young Lions‘ intense training program that lasted for 1000 days. He was a brown belt at the time.
Pettas was one of the few non-Japanese students training at the Hombu dojo. Australian, Judd Reid, was his sempai and was one of the few foreigners training at the Hombu. As an uchi-deshi, he lived and breathed Karate.
Training as an uchi-deshi was tough. Pettas described it as being at ‘a Karate prison camp’. All uchi-deshi had their heads shaved. The sempai/kohai relationship was strictly adhered to.
Training sessions were typically around two hours long, three times a day. Oyama would teach the uchi-deshi class. The uchi-deshi would also train in the other classes Oyama taught during the week. This meant that the uchi-deshi would train with Oyama four days a week, every week.
For the first few months as a new uchi-deshi, Oyama referred to Pettas as da Costa. Over time Oyama came to know Pettas and they developed a close relationship.
Within the first week of being an uchi-deshi, Pettas broke his toe. Over the course of the year, he had two further breaks.
Apart from his Karate training, Pettas made the effort to learn Japanese and immersed himself in Japanese culture.
By 1994 Oyama had developed faith in Pettas. Pettas sometimes helped with some teaching.
After three years Pettas successfully completed the uchi-deshi program. He became the second non-Japanese person, behind Judd Reid, to complete the program. Oyama, who has been in hospital, left his hospital bed to attend the graduation.
In what was a testament to their relationship, Oyama had wanted Pettas to become an instructor at the Hombu. However, Pettas had to return to Denmark as his Visa was due to expire.
In Denmark, Pettas was drafted into the army to do his National Service. This was due to take place in 1995. While waiting to start his National Service, he decided to return to Japan to train with Oyama. He has just obtained a 90-day tourist visa to Japan when he received news about Oyama’s death.
On 26 April 1994, Mas Oyama died in hospital. Pettas arrived in Japan to attend the funeral.
At the 11th All Japan Weight Category Tournament held in 1994 a few months after Oyama’s death, Pettas finished in third place in the Heavyweight category, behind Niiho Satoshi and Kunihiro Suzuki.
In 1995 Pettas returned to Denmark to do his National Service and to also qualify for the 6th World Tournament.
While preparing for the World Tournament, Pettas tore a muscle in his groin. This meant he got an exemption from doing his National Service.
After recovering from his groin injury, Pettas competed at the 8th European Weight Karate Championships held in Bucharest, Romania. He became European Heavyweight Champion, defeating Assen Assenou in the final.
Between 3-5 November 1995, the 6th World Tournament was held in Tokyo, Japan. This was the first World Tournament following Mas Oyama’s death. Pettas finished in fifth place behind Kenji Yamaki, Hajime Kazumi, Francisco Filho, and Garry O’Neill.
In 1997 the 1st World Weight Category Championships were held in Osaka, Japan. In the Super Heavyweight category, Pettas finished in third place behind Brazilians, Francisco Filho and Glaube Feitosa.
Pettas decided to make the switch from Kyokushin to the Japanese K-1 Kickboxing circuit, in 1998.
On 18 July 1998, Pettas made his professional kickboxing debut at K-1 Dream 98′ held, in Nagoya, Japan. Pettas lost in the second round of the bout, against Stefan Leko, by TKO. The following year he won the K-1 Japan Grand Prix. The event was held at the Tokyo Dome, in front of a crowd of 70,000.
On 24 August 2000, the legendary Andy Hug died from complications due to acute leukaemia. He was well respected by friends and competitors alike. Pettas competed at the K-1 Andy Memorial Memorial Japan Grand Prix.
In 2003 Pettas made his movie debut in the Japanese film ‘Ikken-ya Puroresu (House of Smack Down)‘. Later that year he also appeared in the film, ‘Road 88‘.
Between 2004-2005, Pettas appeared in three more films, ‘Siberian Express 5‘, ‘Wrestling Inferno‘, and ‘The Winds of God, Kamikaze‘.
On 9 August 2008, Pettas competed in his last professional K-1 Kickboxing bout at K-1 World Grand Prix 2008, held in Hawaii. He lost to Rick Cheek by TKO, after severing a muscle in his thigh.
Pettas retired from Kickboxing with a professional fight record of 9 wins and 10 losses. He retired due to a serious hip injury.
In 2008 Pettas became the host of ‘Samurai Spirit‘, a television show where he travelled around Japan exploring various martial arts.
Pettas was invited to be a guest instructor in 2009, at the Danish Karate Union Summer Camp. The experience gave him the urge to return to his roots of Kyokushin Karate.
In 2001, the book, ‘Blue Eyed Samurai: 1000 days in the Young Lions Dormitory‘, was published. The book describes Pettas’ experience of being a foreigner in the uchi-deshi program.
Pettas became the owner of Reebok CrossFit Nishi Azabu in Japan. He is currently a Reebok ambassador and trainer.
Nicholas Pettas does not own a dojo and is not affiliated with any particular organisation. However, he still continues to do his own personal training and is still widely respected in Kyokushin cycles.