Deconstructing Choi Yeong-Eui (최영의) [1923-1994]

Choi Yeong-Eui – known in the West as ‘Mas Oyama’

(Research and Translation by Adrian Chan-Wyles PhD)

Choi Yeong-Eui was very much the product of Japanese imperialism and colonial domination of Korea prior to WWII. Koreans under Japanese control were brought-up to think of themselves as lucky subordinates to the superior Japanese race, who, through their Japanese education and fascistic cultural indoctrination, possessed the right to consider themselves spiritually and racially superior to all the other races in the world. Koreans were often sent to Japan to further their education, and also sent to other Japanese colonies such as Taiwan and Manchuria. They were taught to think of themselves as racially inferior companions of the noble Japanese, whose only goal in life was to demonstrate their gratefulness to the Emperor by serving Japan in any capacity necessary. Of course, this led to the bizarre forming of ‘foreign legions’ in the Imperial Japanese Army consisting of Chinese and Korean natives, forming often very brutal military units. These units often assisted the regular Japanese military in the carrying-out of atrocities in China from around 1931 onwards, raping, pillaging and murdering Chinese men, women and children. Although there is no evidence that Choi Yeong-Eui took part in these antics, nevertheless, I think the (psychological and physical) cultural background to his upbringing is important as it seems to possess the foundations of what would later become his ‘Kyokushin’ style of karate.

Indeed, as early as 1923, Choi Yeong-Eui was sent to live on a Japanese colonial farm established in the Manchurian area of Northeast China – run by his older sister. Japan had been interfering in this area for decades and looked to eradicate the indigenous Chinese population and replace it with people loyal to the Japanese Empire. In 1936, Choi Yeong-Eui entered Elementary School in Seoul, and it was here that he first started training in the Shaolin Boxing style of 18 Luohan, or 18 Hands of Bodhidharma. This was because historically Korea used to be a region of China, and much of traditional Korean culture has its historical roots deep within Chinese culture. Therefore, despite what was written later, Choi Yeong-Eui, typical of many young Koreans, had a martial background in Chinese and not Japanese martial arts. Curiously, his time in Japan appears to start variously dated from 1938 or 1939, with Chinese sources not covering his time at the aviation school that is mentioned in English language sources. This is interesting as Choi Yeong-Eui is quoted (within English sources) as saying that he hated Westerners after Japan’s defeat, because he had to watch many of his friends take-off in Kamikaze suicide attacks. If this is the case, then why was it that Choi Yeong-Eui himself was not asked to fly a Kamikaze mission? Could it be that this story is fake? Chinese sources report that during the war Choi Yeong-Eui was of the opinion that ‘日本走错了脚步、偏离了正道。结果就是有史以来最大的苦难跟惨败。 大山倍达 谈’ – ‘Japan has gone the wrong way and deviated from the right path. The result is the greatest suffering and fiasco in history. Mas Oyama.’

Having supposedly then trained in Shotokan and Goju Ryu, Choi Yeong-Eui suffers from ethnic alienation in a post-WWII Japan that was being transformed into a rightwing capitalist State by the occupying Americans (to be used as a bulwark against Communist China). Despite marrying a Japanese woman, Choi Yeong-Eui was experiencing what any non-Japanese ethnic person living in Japan goes through even today (where Japanese citizenship is still premised upon blood and not birth). Whilst becoming famous for misunderstanding Goju Ryu karate (and emphasising the ‘hard’ to the exclusion of the ‘soft’), Choi Yeong-Eui developed a thuggish form of overly violent karate that deviated away from the harmonious balance of yin (soft) and yang (hard). This attracting the attention of the US Authorities in Japan and soon Choi Yeong-Eui was touring the US as part of the American Cold War policy of spreading Japanese martial arts across the West as a means to side-line Chinese martial culture. This was simply another means of propagating Japanese imperialist tendencies without the need to invade and subjugate foreign lands. In the meantime, Chinese people and Chinese culture were treated as if they did not exist in the West.

Not long after arriving in Japan in 1938 and enlisting in the Imperial Army Yamanashi Aviation School, Choi Yeong-Eui changed his name to ‘Oyama Masutatsu (大山 倍達 – Da Shan Bei Da)’, being known in the West as ‘Mas Oyama’. In 1963 he published his book entitled ‘What is Karate?’ which is a peculiar mix of implicit rightwing nationalism, Social Darwinism and natural determinism – but which was immediately picked-up and propagated around the world by the US Authorities in Japan, translating it into English, French and even Hungarian! Hungary had been a rightwing, fascist State during WWII, and its military forces had assisted Nazi Germany in its invasion of the USSR between 1941-1945. Despite a Socialist government coming to power after liberation (in 1945), in 1956 there was a US-backed neo-Nazi uprising which was quickly put down by the Red Army. It seems that ‘Mas Oyama’s’ karate book was intended by the US not only to turn Western attention away from Chinese culture, but also to encourage Hungarian rightwing resistance toward its Socialist government. Quite extraordinary for a non-Japanese person, for his efforts in assisting the US Cold War efforts, ‘Mas Oyama’ was awarded with full Japanese Citizenship in 1964!

Finally, although it is generally reported that ‘Mas Oyama’ had a dim view of Chinese martial arts, and was undefeated during his lifetime (he beat 270 opponents during a visit to the US in 1952), the ‘Jingwu’ (精武) Chinese language martial arts magazine (issue 10, 2007), states that Wing Chun Master Huang Chunliang (黄淳梁) [1935-1996] fought ‘Mas Oyama’ in Hong Kong, and beat him with rapid short-range chain punching to the heart and head area (bloodying ‘Mas Oyama’s’ nose and knocking him down). Master Huang Chunliang described how he got inside ‘Mas Oyama’s’ tremendous strength and surprised him by preventing his arms from moving at the elbow. Master Huang Chunliang avoided and deflected all of ‘Mas Oyama’s’ fierce attacks and immediately countered whilst continuously changing stances. This encounter is recorded in ‘Mas Oyama’s’ book entitled ‘Fighters of the World – Thrilling Fights in 32 Countries’, but there is a complication. ‘Mas Oyama’ is said to have changed the name of Master Huang Chunliang to that of ‘Old Master Chen’ (陈老人 – Chen Lao Ren), so as to avoid any negative publicity Master Huang Chunliang might have received from telling everyone about his victory. Master Huang Chunliang was a traditional Chinese martial artist and did not want any publicity. However, this name change has given the false impression to many that it was a Chen Style Taijiquan practitioner who bettered ‘Mas Oyama’, but this is not true. The exact date of this competition is not given, but Master Huang Chunliang was born in 1935 and fought all his honour fights between the ages of 20 – 24 years of age (winning all 100), meaning that this encounter must have happened sometime between 1955-1959.

Chinese Language Sources:



Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s