This style is popularly considered to be the hardest school around in karate. It utilizes a full-contact style of sparring and competition and pre-training and conditioning therefore emphasize the build up to full out contact. Thus, even from white belt level training is geared towards fighting with contact. The style was created by one of karate's most famous masters, Masutatsu 'Mas' Oyama, a Korean-born fighter who became a Japanese citizen in his middle-ages. At the same time, in sharp contrast to the severity of training is a pronounced spiritualism reminiscent of the approach taken by the Kendo master Yamaoka Tesshu (who seems to have influenced Oyama in his multi-man kumite tests as well will see later). Oyama was himself equally famous for his extended solitary retreats into the mountains to enhance his spiritual discipline.
Oyama claimed to have begun his training while a child living in Manchuria under a Chinese man named Lee. His more formal education in martial arts began after his emigrated to Japan in 1938. He first studied under Shotokan founder Funakoshi Gichin and this was followed by extended instruction in Goju ryu under Gogen Yamaguchi which led him into Judo thanks to the influence of Masahiko Kimura, a Goju ryu instructor who also trained in Judo (and who also defeated BJJ expert Helio Gracie). Following this intense training Oyama undertook two spiritual retreats into the mountains that extended over a three year period. According to the great man his only reading material was a copy of Musashi's Go Rin no Sho (Book of Five Rings), a curious treatise that describes the killing philosophy of Musashi but ends with a deeply insightful chapter on spiritualism.
Upon Oyama's return to civilization he traveled to the US in the early 1950s and performed as a wrestler. Coming back to Japan, in 1953 he opened his first school, naming it 'Oyama Dojo'. In 1957 he renamed his method Kyokushinkai (The Society of Ultimate Truth - meaning to find the truth of oneself, of one's character, through hard, arduous training and testing). His reputation was growing and overseas visitors were turning up to train with him. From the 1960s on Kyokushinkai spread throughout Japan and internationally with Oyama sending out promising instructors to teach and open their own schools.
Mas Oyama died in 1994 and his passing caused his organization to splinter into different groups as no clear successor had been named. Kyokushinkai is one of the most popular styles of karate now practiced around the world.
As noted, Kyokushinkai is famous as a full contact form of karate and punches are not pulled. However, punching and elbowing to the face are disallowed, though kicks and knees are acceptable. In lighter sparring punches and elbows to the head may be practiced, but not at full speed or power. Fighters tend to be more upright, closer and work in combinations rather than take a more standoffish stance seen in other styles of karate that place more emphasis on speed and delivering a (controlled) single blow supposed to end a real fight. One of the more dramatic sparring events is multi-person extended sparring sessions. A practitioner faces multiple opponents for two minute rounds with a one minute rest in between. Officially recognized tests are the 50 man and 100 man sessions, though preparatory training will build up from 10 men. The Kendo master Yamaoka Tesshu also emphasized this type of training for advanced students with the intention being to so utterly exhaust the participant that he 'forgot' himself, forgot his technique, forgot about victory or defeat and, in the process, discovered something essential to himself and to life and existence. This was the way beyond technique and beyond self.