Who Trained Sonny Chiba In Martial Arts?

Martial arts legend Sonny Chiba was one of the first international action stars and was justifiably famous for his jaw-dropping skills; per Variety, he had six black belts in six martial arts. Born in Fukuoka, Japan in 1939, Chiba originally trained as a gymnast and earned a place on the Japanese Olympics team. When he was sidelined by a back injury, as reported by Fandango, he went to college and started studying judo with World Karate Grand Master Masatatsu “Mas” Oyama.

Per The History of Fighting, Mas Oyama was born Choi Yeong-eui to aristocratic parents in a small South Korean village. He later changed his name to Sosai Masutatsu Oyama. He began training in Southern Chinese Kempo at the age of nine. At 15 he moved to Japan and attended the Youth Air Force Academy before moving on to the Imperial Japanese Army. He also studied martial arts with Gichin Funakoshi and was a fourth Dan black belt by the time he was 21. He eventually became disappointed with his training and went alone to the summit of Mount Minobu where he put himself through an intense solo training program for 18 months. He returned, entered, and won the All Japan Karate Tournament, and returned to the mountains for another year of constant solo training. When he returned to civilization for a second time, he took up what he is perhaps most well known for — bare-knuckle bullfighting. According to Gizmodo, starting in the 1950s, Oyama fought a total of 52 bulls, killing three instantly, and taking off 49 bulls’ horns with knife hand blows.

Mas Oyama fought bulls bare-handed and 300 men at a time

As reported by Dynamic Karate, Mas Oyama started his first dojo in 1953 and it officially opened in 1956 as the Kyokushinkai, which translates as the “Home of Ultimate Truth.” The style is known for its intense training and testing, including the 100-Man Kumite test in which a fighter must take on 100 challengers one after the next. Oyama once reportedly completed a 300-Man Kumite Test. 

Sonny Chiba was perhaps Oyama’s most famous student and Chiba went on to portray his teacher in a trilogy of three 1970s films: “Karate Bullfighter,” also known as “Champion of Death,” “Karate Bear Fighter,” and “Karate For Life.” Chiba was more well known for his other 1970s series of movies, starting with 1974’s “Street Fighter,” which had three sequels and, per IMDb, established Chiba as an “antihero” of martial arts movies as opposed to Bruce Lee who was known for portraying a graceful, honorable fighter defending himself or his friends. Sonny Chiba played morally questionable fighters who were in it for the money and the blood. Director Quentin Tarantino was a Chiba fan from a young age and referenced him in several of his movies, eventually casting Chiba as martial arts expert and teacher Hattori Hanzo in his “Kill Bill” movies. Per his archived personal website, Mas Oyama died of lung cancer on April 26, 1994, at the age of 70. He claimed to have 12,000,000 students of Kyokushin from 140 countries. His student Sonny Chiba died on August 19, 2021, from COVID-19 complications; he was 82.

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