Shigeru Oyama

Fear is part of being human. All people feel fear sometimes. I don’t feel it very often, but when I do feel afraid or nervous, I keep a poker face. I hide my emotions, and I fight harder.

Shigeru Oyama

A pioneer of Kyokushin Karate in the United States, Shigeru Oyama, was one of Mas Oyama’s first students. One of the few people to complete the 100-Man Kumite Challenge, many have described him as the best student Mas Oyama ever had.

Shigeru Oyama was born on 7 July 1936. He and his younger brother, Yasuhiko, grew up in Tokyo, Japan. The Oyama family were immigrants from Korea.

In 1943, Shigeru Oyama, along with many other school children were evacuated from Tokyo to the Japanese countryside, to avoid the looming war. He was evacuated to Akita Prefecture, 280 miles away from Tokyo. He returned to Tokyo two years later, after the war.

Around 1946, the young Oyama met Choi Young- Eui for the first time. Choi would frequently stay at the Oyama family home, where he would practice Karate. Choi eventually changed his Korean name to Masatatsu (Mas) Oyama as a sign of respect to the family.

In 1948, aged 12, Shigeru Oyama began learning Karate from Mas Oyama. Mas Oyama hadn’t created Kyokushin Karate at the time. He taught elements of Goju-ryu, Shorei-ryu, and Kobayashi-ryu. These were all Karate styles he had studied.

Mas Oyama opened a small dojo, behind Rikkyo University, in Tokyo, in 1953. The 17-year-old Shigeru was one of his first students. There were four classes a week, with each training session lasting 3-4 hours session. The training was extremely tough. The sparring session lasted an hour and was often filled with a lot of intensity and violence. Injuries were frequently sustained. This was no excuse for not training. Many students came and went, finding the training too hard.

In 1953 Shigeru Oyama was awarded his 1st Dan by Mas Oyama. That same year he enrolled at Nihon University. Mas Oyama paid his school fees.

Thailand issued a challenge to Japan to determine which country had the best martial arts and artists. They had said Japanese Karate was dead. Oyama accepted the challenge, which took place in 1962.

Shigeru Oyama was selected as one of Mas Oyama’s top three students to answer the Thai challenge. However, he was unable to obtain a visa for Thailand.

The Japanese team sent to Thailand consisted of Kenji Kurosaki, Tadashi Nakamura, Noboru Osawa. The Japanese won two fights and lost one.

On 21 May 1965, Steve Arneil became the first person after Mas Oyama to complete the gruelling 100-Man Kumite Challenge. Shigeru Oyama was one of the fighters he had to face. Shigeru Oyama would attempt his own challenge the following year.

Shigeru Oyama became the fourth person behind Mas Oyama, Steve Arneil, and Tadashi Nakamura, to attempt the 100-Man Kumite Challenge on 17 September 1966. He fought 121 times and faced 40 black belts. He successfully completed the challenge but had several of his ribs broken and had multiple bruises. He is quoted as saying:

One-hundred Kumite is the hardest thing I ever did in my life. It is probably the hardest thing anyone can do in the Karate world. You don’t beat the 65th man with your body. That’s all gone by then. You beat him with your spirit.

Now that Shigeru Oyama had completed the challenge, he was ready to teach abroad. At the time, Mas Oyama required all instructors going abroad take the 100-Man Kumite Challenge. Shigeru Oyama was sent to teach in the United States.

Shigeru Oyama arrived in New York in 1966. Initially, he found things very difficult. By this time he was married with two small children. He arrived in the United States without his family. He had very little money and spoke very little English.

Oyama was also carrying injuries he sustained during the Kumite Challenge. When he started teaching, some of the students doubted his fighting prowess. However, two weeks after he had fully healed, he showed them the full extent of his fighting skills in a class. Very few of the students were left standing after the class. There was no more doubt about his skills.

Oyama opened his first two dojos in White Plains, New York, and Bridgeport, Connecticut. He taught during the day. He supplemented his income by working at a gas station. He also worked as a nightclub bouncer, even though he was small compared to the other bouncers. There were fights almost every night at the club. He did this for around six years.

In 1972 Mas Oyama sent Yasuhiko Oyama, Shigeru’s younger brother, to introduce Kyokushin Karate to Birmingham, Alabama.

The 1st World Open Tournament was held in Tokyo, Japan in 1976. Shigeru Oyama was one of three vice-main judges. Known for giving entertaining dynamic demonstrations, he also gave a demonstration where he broke several blocks of ice.

On 4 April 1977, Bobby Lowe, one of Mas Oyama’s earliest students, organised the 1st Hawaii All-Stars vs Japan Kyukoshin Tournament. The event was held in Honolulu, with 6000 spectators in attendance. Japan won the event was 6 wins, 2 draws, and 0 losses. Shigeru and Yasuhiko gave a sword exhibition. Miyuki Miura gave a sai demonstration.

By 1981 Kyokushin Karate had become established in the United States. This was mainly due to the efforts of Tadashi Nakamura, Shigeru and Yasuhiko Oyama, Joko Ninomiya, and Miyuki Miura. In 1981 Shigeru and Yasuhiro Oyama were voted ‘Years Best Masters‘. They were invited to the White House to receive their award from President Ronald Reagan.

In 1985 Shigeru Oyama, his brother Yasuhiko, and Miyuki Miura established the World Oyama Karate. They felt it was time to part ways with Mas Oyama and his International Karate Organisation (IKO). They felt the Japan-based IKO placed too many restrictions on them. They wanted an organisation free of politics. At the time Shigeru Oyama was ranked as an 8th Dan.

On 26 April 1994, Shigeru Oyama’s teacher and mentor, Mas Oyama died in Tokyo.

By the 1990s the World Oyama Karate had grown to encompass 150 dojos in 19 countries. In 2001 Miyuki Miura left the organisation.

On 14th February 2016, Shigeru Oyama died at home, with his wife Patricia by his side. His funeral was conducted at the Giodano Funeral Home, in the Bronx. More than 200 people wanted to pay their respects to the deceased Kyokushin Master. People had to register in advance and were given one-hour time slots to pay their respects.

A Kyokushin Karate pioneer, many describe Shigeru Oyama as one of the best Kyokushin practitioners. Those who trained with him described him as a man passionate about teaching Karate. His many exceptional students include Katsuaki Sato, Howard Collins, Miyuki Miura, Toshikazu Sato, Takashi Azuma, Willie Williams, and Joko Ninomiya.

Author: Patrick Donkor

1 thought on “Shigeru Oyama

  1. Soshu Shigeru Oyama developed fighting kata, a break from traditional Kyokushin kata. He was a dynamic and dedicated Sensei for his students, white through blackbelt. He traveled throughout the world to ensure the quality of World Oyama Karate. I was one of his blackbelt students and instructors. He was a remarkable man. Osu!

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