Yasuhiko Oyama

When a person walks into a dojo, he should sense that there is a serious attitude about the place. The people should be sweaty from a lot of hard work.

Yasuhiko Oyama

One of the early pioneers of Kyokushin Karate, Yasuhiko Oyama was known as a phenomenal fighter. Alongside his brother Shigeru Oyama, Tadashi Nakamura, and Kenji Kurosaki, he trained during what some have called the ‘ Golden Age’ of Kyokushin Karate.

Yasuhiko Oyama was born in Tokyo, in 1942, during the height of World War II. He was the youngest of four children, having two brothers and a sister.

Oyama’s father had moved from Korea to Tokyo, where he established is successful business. However, after the business had failed, the family disintegrated. Oyama’s parents divorced while he was still young. He left with his mother, while his siblings remained with his father.

By 1953 Oyama’s older brother, Shigeru, had been training with Mas Oyama at a small dojo located behind Rikkyo University, in Tokyo.

Shigeru Oyama was one of Mas Oyama’s first students. Training at the Oyama Dojo was extremely tough. There were four classes a week with each training session lasting in 3-4 hours. Sparring sessions lasted over an hour, and were filled with a lot of intensity and violence. Many students came and left, finding the training too tough.

In 1953 Shigeru Oyama was promoted to 1st Dan by Mas Oyama.

Growing up Yasuhiko Oyama had a lot of free time on his hands. He started hanging around a gang of older boys. In 1958 his older brother Shigeru persuaded him to stop hanging around the gang and to start practising Karate.

In the tough dojo of Mas Oyama, Yasuhiko Oyama was one of the youngest students. His sempai included his brother, Tadashi Nakamura, and Hideyuki Ashihara.

Around 1960 Yasuhiko Oyama was promoted to 1st Dan. This was at his third attempt.

After graduating from high school, Oyama enrolled at Meiji University to study law. He focused for the next few years on his studies.

In 1961 Yasuhiko Oyama became an instructor at the Oyama Dojo.

In the spring of 1963, Thai Boxer, Osama Noguchi issued a challenge to the Oyama Dojo, to determine which was the better martial arts style.

Never one to shy away from a challenge, Mas Oyama chose Kenji Kurosaki to oversee the training of Hirofumi Okada, Yasuhiko Oyama, Tadashi Nakamura, and Akio Fujihara, to face the challenge. They were known as the ‘Four Samurai’.

In August 1963, a month-long training camp was held for the four fighters, in preparation for a trip to Thailand in October. However, the trip was postponed to December. The trip was further postponed to January of the following year. Unfortunately Hirofumi Okada and Yasuhiko Oyama were unable to travel to Thailand.

Yasuhiko Oyama graduated from Meiji University in 1964, with a degree in law.

1965 saw the construction of a new dojo in Tokyo by Mas Oyama. This marked the growth of Kyokushin Karate.

On 17 September 1966, Oyama’s brother, Shigeru, completed the 100-Man Kumite Challenge. He was the fourth person behind Mas Oyama, Steve Arneil, and Tadashi Nakamura to complete the challenge. Mas Oyama sent him to New York to teach Karate.

Yasuhiko Oyama returned to training at the new dojo in 1969. This was at a time when he was trying to decide what he wanted to do with his life.

On his return, Yasuhiko Oyama had a meeting with Mas Oyama. He committed to staying at the dojo for at least two years. At the end of the two years he requested that he be allowed to teach abroad. He was appointed the Head Instructor of the dojo by Mas Oyama.

Most of the black belts Yasuhiko Oyama had previously trained with had left the dojo. He got in contact with them. Many of them agreed to come back. They organised the Kurobi Ura No Kai (Black Belt Association).

On 20 September 1969, the 1st Kyokushin All–Japan Knockdown Open Tournament took place. It was held at the 10,000 seat Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. By 1971 Yasuhiko Oyama two-year commitment to the dojo was coming to an end. By this time he had been promoted to 3rd Dan. The dojo had become very strong, with the likes of Nobuyuki Kishi and Miyuki Miura being among the top black belts at the dojo.

Mas Oyama requested that Yasuhiko Oyama fulfill his two year commitment by competing in the All-Japan Knockdown Open Tournament and completing the 100-Man Kumite Challenge.

On 24 October 1971 the 3rd Kyokushin All-Japan Knockdown Open Tournament was held at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. There were over 100 competitors. Yasuhiko Oyama had not competed in the previous two tournaments. He reached the final, where he faced Katsuaki Sato. This was after he had defeated Miyuki Miura after three overtimes and a referee’s decision. He lost to Sato in the final. Daigo Oishi was third and Miyuki Miura was fourth.

In November 1971 Yasuhiko Oyama attempted the 100-Man Kumite Challenge. He was aged 30 and suffered from back problems and bad knees. His opponents included Katsuaki Sato, Yoshiji Soeno, Noboyuki Kishi, Miyuki Miura, Daigo Oishi, and Howard Collins. Mas Oyama had spiced things up by saying anyone who knocked him out would be promoted.

Yasuhiko Oyama’s challenge saw many VIPs in attendance plus reporters and cameras. He lasted for 62 fights. He had fulfilled his commitment to Mas Oyama.

On 23 September 1972, Yasuhiko Oyama left Japan for New York via Anchorage, Alaska. He was met at the airport by his brother and Tadashi Nakamura. He visited Shigeru Oyama’s dojo and was impressed by the standard of Karate on display.

On 3 October 1972, Yasuhiko Oyama left New York for Birmingham, Alabama. He had stayed with his brother for around 10 days. Oyama, was tasked with establishing Kyokushin Karate in the south of the United States.

Oyama was met by Ron Epstein, who helped him settle in Birmingham, and would become a lifelong friend. He was initially scheduled to stay in the United States for one year. His first dojo was located in the boiler room of the Shades Valley YMCA. From these humble beginnings he would build a successful dojo in Birmingham, Alabama. Many of those who began training with him still train with him today.

In 1973 Oyama returned to Japan. He helped organise the 5th Kyokushin All–Japan Knockdown Open Tournament. He worked as a TV commentator for the tournament. After the tournament he returned to the United States.

Between 1-2 November 1975, the 1st Kyokushin World Open Tournament was held in Tokyo. Katsuaki Sato defeated Hatsuo Royama in the final.

On 4 April 1977, Bobby Lowe sponsored the 1st Hawaii All-Stars versus Japan Kyokushin Tournament. The event was held at the Neal Blaisdell Centre in Honolulu. 6000 spectators attended the well-advertised event. During the tournament, Shigeru and Yasuhiko Oyama gave a demo of sword defence.

In 1977 Yasuhiko Oyama became the owner of the New Tokyo restaurant in Birmingham.

By 1979 Oyama had met his future wife Audrey. That year they travelled to the 2nd Kyokushin World Knockdown Open Tournament.

On 3 December 1979 a traditional Japanese wedding ceremony was held for Oyama and his fiance Audrey. On 15 December they held their official wedding in Birmingham, Alabama.

On 30 April 1980, Yasuhiko Oyama became an American citizen.

In 1981 Shigeru and Yasuhiko Oyama were voted the Year’s Best Masters. They were invited to the White House where they received their award from President Ronald Reagan.

Shigeru Oyama, Yasuhiko Oyama, and Miyuki Miura traveled to Japan for the All-Japan Tournament in 1983.

Yasuhiko Oyama wrote a biography on his brother, Shigeru, in 1984. The book was published in Japan in Japanese.

In 1984 Shigeru and Yasuhiko Oyama received a letter from the IKO (International Karate Organisation) Hombu in Japan, stating that they had been expelled from the organisation. They were not sure why this had happened.

In 1985, world Oyama Karate was established by Shigeru and Yasuhiko Oyama, and Miyuki Miura. Miura was now based in the Chicago area. They felt the time had come for them to part ways with Mas Oyama, and follow their own path. They felt that IKO had placed too many restrictions on them. They also wanted an organisation that was free of politics.

Shigeru Oyama was named the Executive Chairman of World Oyama Karate. Yasuhiko Oyama was named Vice-Executive Chairman.

In 1985 Shigeru and Yasuhiko Oyama were voted the Year’s Best Masters and were invited to the White House for a second time to receive their award from President Ronald Reagan. The award recognised their excellence in teaching.

By the 1990s World Oyama Karate had grown to around 150 dojos in 19 countries.

On 26 April 1994, Kyokushin Karate founder, Mas Oyama, died in Tokyo. He had been a big influence on the Oyama brothers.

In 2001 Miyuki Miura left the World Oyama Karate organisation. He established the World Karate-do Miura Dojo. He would eventually have several schools in the United States and Japan.

World Oyama Karate, a four-volume book set was published in 2005.

Yasuhiko Oyama’s book, Uchi Deshi in America, was published in 2015.

On 14 February 2016, Shigeru Oyama died at his home, with his wife Patricia by his side. His funeral was held at the Giodana Funeral Home in the Bronx, New York.

In 2017 Yasuhiko Oyama appeared in the horror film, Get Out, where he had a small speaking role.

In 2022 Oyama’s book, Chasing The American Dream was published. It was his autobiography.

A well-respected master, Yasuhiko Oyama has lived and taught in the United States for over 50 years. He and his wife Audrey, have two daughters and a son. They also have three grandchildren.

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