This story is a small part of a far larger effort by The MMA UnderGround to determine what is real in martial arts, and what isn't. If you enjoyed it, check out more stories on:
•Martial Arts on The Street
•PART 2: Did Mas Oyama Ever Fight?
Mas Oyama is one of the most influential figures in the history of realistic martial arts. He studied Shotokan and Goju karate, and declared it was nothing but "mild calisthenics, and etiquette." Eventually he founded one of the most popular styles of karate in the world - Kyokushinkai. It is unquestionably a formidable and effective approach to striking.
Every martial arts student has heard the stories. Oyama fought 52 bulls, the story goes, although the numbers vary. 49 of them lost a horn to his shuto blow. Three times the bulls were killed instantly with one blow. Sometimes it two bulls that were killed instantly by a single blow. Sometimes it was all of them.
There is even proof, shot on film, shot on January 14, 1954.
Oyama earned the name Godhand. That said, the former pro wrestler was an excellent showman, and by some accounts was not above the antics associated with 'Rasslin.
The story below come from Dutchman Jon Bluming, the first non-Japanese awarded a 6th degree black belt from Oyama. Although the pair parted ways with some acrimony over the leadership of Kyokushin in Holland, Bluming remained a respected figure in the organization, and was awarded a 9th-degree in 1989. Further, Bluming was invited by Oyama to lend his expertise to Akira Maeda's pioneering mixed martial arts Rings organization.
Bluming is also an extraordinary instructor. He taught Willem Ruska, the only man to win Olympic Gold in Judo twice in the same Olympics (Ruska won both the heavyweight and the absolute division, in 1972). He taught Semmy Schilt, the only fighter in K-1 history to win the Grand Prix three times in a row. His student Chris Dolman won a silver medal at the world championship in Judo and was the first non-Russian Sambo world champion. Dolman's students include Bas Rutten, Alistair Overeem, Gilbert Yvel, and Gegard Mousasi.
In short, Jon Bluming is a man worth listening to, and this is what he had to say about Mas Oyama fighting bulls. The excerpt below comes from Michael DeMarco's Okinawan Martial Traditions: Te, Tode, Karate, Karatedo, Kobudo - Vol. 1.2.
When hearing stories about the old days, remember that the Japanese are great storytellers. If the story is good, they don't check to see if it is true. Even today, I meet people who heard from their fathers or grandfathers about the roughhousing I supposedly did in my younger days. It doesn't amaze me anymore and I am tired of telling people that the stories are impossible because if you hit somebody, you were hauled into a police station, charged, and sent to jail or kicked out of the country. I admit I had a few fights, but always with witnesses saying that I did not start it.
The story about Oyama fighting bulls is not true. He never met a real bull, for he never visited Spain. I also doubt that he was gored, for he never told me about it and he used to tell me everything.
Kurosaki Kenji was there and he told me what happened. They went early in the morning to a stockyard in Tateyama Prefecture. Workmen prepared a fat old ox for Oyama by hitting one of its horns with a hammer so that it was quite loose. Oyama did not kill the ox he only knocked off the loose horn.
Oyama showed Bill Backhus and I the 16mm "bull fighting" movie in 1959. 1 told Oyama never to show this film in Europe because it looked too phony and everyone would laugh at him. As far as I know, nobody saw that movie again.
Bluming had a falling out with Oyama, although the two cared for each other deeply to the end of their lives. So he had reason to disparage Oyama. And Oyama obviously had reason to create superhuman stories about himself. In the end, it doesn't mean much; it's just a little lesson.
Helio Gracie disparaged his son Rickson's purported 400-0 record. That does not in any way diminish the effectiveness of jiu-jitsu, or the extraordinary legacy of the Gracie family generally, or Rickson specifically.
The idea that Mas Oyama didn't kill 52 bulls, or 49 bulls, or any bulls at all, does not take away from the fact that his approach to karate, Kyokushinkai, is one of, if not the most respect and effective form of karate ever devised. What it does mean is that students of martial arts should not venerate their teachers to the point of believing things that just aren't so.