History of Karate (& Hāwea Karate)

by Melia Brett

“Karate, is the most essential of the arts of unarmed self defence. It is, among many other things, a protective, not an aggressive, technique. It is a rigid training of the mind and body.” – Masutatsu Oyama, What is Karate

The history of Martial Arts dates back to 500 a.d. Budarama (also known as Daruma in Japan), an Indian Budist Monk, introduced martial arts as a form of exercise to the Monks living in the Shaolin Temple, China. In the 1400s it was introduced to Okinawa, an island off the coast of Japan. At the time the ruling of the government (King Shō Shin) banned the use of all bladed weapons in an attempt to control the people of Okinawa. As a result of this self-defence was practiced in secret involving the use of everyday household and farming tools as weapons. This eventually led to the beginning of the three main styles of Okinawan Te (te meaning hand); Shuri-te, Tomari-te and Naha-te.

It wasn’t until the 20th century (1922) that Karate was introduced to the Japanese mainland by Gitchen Funakoshi (founder of Shotokan and modern karate). At the same time Funakoshi changed the name of Karate to mean “way of the empty hand” as opposed to “China hand” as it had previously been called in Okinawa. In 1938 Masutatsu (Mas) Oyama joined the dojo of Funakoshi at Takushoku University when he was 15 years old. He trained for nine years reaching a fourth dan at the age of 24.

Mas Oyama was born in South Korea in 1923 under the name Choi Yeong-eui, the youngest of a large, athletic family. As a child Oyama was first introduced to martial arts in the form of Southern Chinese Kempo when he was sent to live with his sister in China. He continued to study the art, in many different forms including; Korean Kempo, Judo, Boxing, Okinawan Karate and Goju-Ryu, for the rest of his life. In the year 1953 Oyama took the first step to developing his own style of Karate by opening a dojo in Tokyo known as Oyama Dojo. The first Instructors being; Mizushima, Masami Ishibashi, Kenji Kato, Ken Minamoto and Eiji Yasuda. By 1957 there were 700 members and the distinct style of Kyokushin was emerging.

A significant step in the development of Kyokushin was the intensive mountain training that Mas Oyama dedicated a total of three years to. In 1946 Oyama was inspired by Musashi, a novel based on the life of Miyamoto Musashi. The novel describes Musashi’s mountain training in Reigandō (a cave near Kumamoto, Japan) where he developed his Nito-Ryu style of Samurai Sword Fighting. At the age of 23 Oyama and one of his students, Yashiro, went into training on Mt Minobu. After about six months however Yashiro was unable to bear the solitude and left Oyama to continue training alone. Every month a friend, Mr Kayama, would deliver food supplies to the mountain. This continued for just over one year until, due to changes circumstances, Kayama was unable to continue supporting the mountain training. Following this Oyama was forced to return to civilization, going on to win the Japanese National Martial Arts Championships. However he felt something was missing and decided that his three years of training must be completed. He began a second intensive training period on Mt Kiyozumi. His training consisted of fasting, Misogi (training under waterfalls), breaking river stones with his hands and striking tree trunks. Oyama returned to civilization for a second time after 18 months, ‘reborn’ as a new man.

Kyokushin in New Zealand was initiated by Doug Holloway. In 1961 Holloway trained Judo in Invercargill. As a high school student he would go down to the port at Bluff to see if there were any Japanese seamen who knew any Karate. After forming the beginnings of a Dojo in the YMCA the book ‘What Is Karate?’ by Mas Oyama reached the shelves in New Zealand. Holloway was inspired by the coloured photos of Oyama’s battles with bulls, cutting the top of a bottle with knife hand and training barefoot in the snow. In an attempt to find out more he began writing letters back and forth to the author, and in 1964 he travelled to Japan to train intensely for 6 months with Mas Oyama. At the end of this training he was graded to Shodan. He then returned to New Zealand and started to build a Kyokushin organisation. Holloway became the official NZ branch chief. He gained his third dan at the age of 22, the youngest sandan in Kyokushin at the time.

After Doug’s return from Japan a police officer, Murray Mckay, started training with him in Invercargill. Murray then shifted to Dunedin where he and a few others opened the Dunedin Dojo in the old Synagogue. One evening while at the Captain Cook (a pub in Dunedin) Murray and his college, Lindsay Parry were trying to arrest some people. They set a dog on one of the people that ran away. However the dog was untrained and just ran beside him barking. In the end they caught up with him and Lindsay held him so Murray would be able to punch him. As Murray was punching, the person twisted away and Lindsay ended up wearing the force of the punch. This did not anger Lindsay but inspired him to learn how to punch with such force and he joined the Dunedin Dojo soon after.

After gaining his ni-dan Lindsay Parry shifted to Wanaka, where he started a Kyokushin Dojo of his own. However he wasn’t involved for long. The club was taken over by Marco Geisreiter, around the same time Sensei Lachy joined. At the time the club consisted of one Blue Belt (the instructor, Marco) and twenty white belt students. Not long after this Marco left and the club was passed on to yellow belt Steve Brett. After shifting to Dunedin Lachy and Tania continued training both gaining their black belts. This led to the formation of several other dojos: Karitane, Tarras, finally the Hawea dojo in 2015 which is still running today.