Yesterday, martial arts practitioners from all over the United States crammed themselves into the tiny Giordano Funeral Home in the Bronx, to pay their respects. Over two thousand people expressed their desire to attend, so people had to register in advance for one hour time slots.
Soshu Shigeru Oyama was most well known for popularizing full contact Karate in the United States. He was sent from Japan by Mas Oyama (who was immortalized in the manga/anime series Karate Crazy Life) to teach Kyokushin Karate in the United States. Soshu went to great lengths to spark the American fascination with karate – he performed one of the first demonstrations of a man breaking thick slabs of ice with his hand. Later on Soshu and his friend, Nakamura, would move on to awe spectators and practitioners with sword demonstrations that took years to perfect.
His style of teaching was like no other – his students would train for hours until they couldn’t stand and water breaks were unheard of. To motivate his students he would hit them with a shinai(bamboo sword). Videos of this can be found on YouTube. He wasn’t a McDojo teacher – if you couldn’t handle being hit or you didn’t want to fight, he wasn’t going to change his teaching methods for you. If you weren’t ready for full-contact karate, go somewhere else because there were hundreds of other students lining up to be in your place.
Eventually Soshu and his brother Saiko Shihan Yasuhiko Oyama left Kyokushin Karate to found their own system, World Oyama Karate Organization. WOKO headquarters was located in the East Village in NYC until the late 1990s. Soshu also traveled with his students all over the country and internationally to tournaments where only his students were the last ones standing.
The teaching skills of the Oyama brothers was so renowned that in 1981 and 1985, they were awarded the international Years Best Masters recognition. They were also received at the White House by President Ronald Reagan in recognition of their teaching excellence. A photograph with Soshu and Reagan can be seen hanging on the wall at Matsumoto Dojo in NYC.
In his youth, Soshu completed the 100-man kumite, defeating one hundred black belts in full-contact bouts, each one after another.
In old age, Soshu served as the executive chairman of World Oyama Karate Organization and traveled frequently to attend tournaments and give master classes.
Notable people at the memorial service: Soshu’s son, his wife, Sensei Patricia, Daisuke Matsumoto (Matsumoto Dojo NYC), Evan Velez (UFC), Saiko Shihan Y. Oyama, and hundreds of lovers of martial arts.
This is a great loss for the martial arts community; however, with his teachings to guide us, we can hope this is the beginning of something new.