Biography of Saiko Shihan Y. Oyama
Chapter 18 - NAP TIME
This was a golden age in the history of the Kyokushin organization. The assistant instructors, Uchi Deshi and other members of the Obi-ken (Black Belt class) were so strong and dynamic. We helped grow the organization into an international phenomenon. During this time, too, there were a lot of funny episodes that happened.
As I mentioned previously, the Kyokushin Kaikan building was 4 stories tall. Mas Oyama lived on the 4th floor with his wife and kids. The 3rd floor had Mas Oyama’s office. His secretary had a small little room adjacent to his. There was a small storage room as well as a meeting room with a long table and chairs. The main dojo was on the 2nd floor. On the 1st floor was the lobby, which was full of historical pictures of Mas Oyama and the Kyokushin organization. There was also a small business office with a front window where people signed up for classes, paid dues, bought dogis, etc. Two old ladies worked in the business office. Behind the business office was a tiny little instructor’s office. It had a chair and tiny desk with a large phone on it. The first floor also had a small dojo. This dojo was a little different than the main one. It was painted in all white, including the floors. It was used primarily as a studio, not so much for training. The basement, under the 1st floor, had a small locker room for women and a larger one for men.
The phone in the instructor’s office was an intercom phone that was connected to the one on Mas Oyama’s secretary’s desk. Whenever Mas Oyama wanted to see us, his secretary would call us on that phone. We were expected to run, not walk, up to Mas Oyama’s office on the 3rd floor. If we didn’t get up there fast enough after being summoned, we’d have to go back down and run up again. That’s how it is in the dojo. Even now, when I tell my students to line up in two or three lines during class, if they move too slow, I make everyone do push-ups and try again.
Behind the 4-story building was a 2-story dormitory. The 2nd floor had a couple bunkbeds and a toilet. The 1st floor had a bunkbed and another toilet, as well as a kitchen and enough floor space for people to sleep on futons. Since Kyokushin was gaining rapidly in popularity, people from all parts of Japan as well as other countries travelled to the headquarters dojo to train as Uchi Deshi. One of these Uchi Deshi was named Takumi Shigashitani. He was very talented and had previous experience in another style. Somehow, Mas Oyama took an instant liking to him. We could always tell who Mas Oyama’s favorite Uchi Deshi were.
Mas Oyama’s “Teacher’s Pet” Shigashitani (L) next to Saiko Shihan outside Kyokushin Honbu Dojo
Every morning, we had to line up and stand at attention in the 2nd floor main dojo. There was a large Taiko drum that either Kishi or Miura would begin hitting at 8:20 a.m. Everyone had to be there, standing at attention, by 8:30 a.m. We would stand and wait for Mas Oyama to come downstairs from the 4th floor. He would give us our orders for the day, sometimes yell at us about something, then go back upstairs. At that point, we would start cleaning or doing some other job before morning training started at 9:00 a.m.
Morning training would go until 11:00 a.m., then we would teach lunch class from 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. In the afternoon, we had more training and more classes. The last class of the day would finish at 10:00 p.m. and we would be back in the dorm by 10:30 p.m. In the summer, it was always hot and humid. We didn’t have an A/C or heating in the dojo or dormitory. Also, the dormitory had very low ceilings, which made the heat worse. Looking back now, it was such an unbelievably different lifestyle from what people are accustomed to now.
We took lunch breaks in shifts. Between lunch and the afternoon classes, we had a little free time. All our time was spent in the dojo, we felt cut-off and isolated from the outside world. Also, of course, we had no TV. We sat around and looked at the same faces every day and heard the same stories from each other over and over. After lunch, this boredom would exacerbate the sleepiness we inevitably felt. One day, I suggested to Miura, Kishi and Shigashitani that we try to take naps in shifts. We had to do it in shifts so that, in order to avoid suspicion, one person could always alert the sleeping people if Mas Oyama had summoned them.
Shihan Miura (Front) doing demonstration with Soshu (R) and Saiko Shihan (Center)
We thought it was a brilliant scheme. The only problem was finding a place where we could lay down comfortably. The instructor’s room only had a desk and chair, so that wouldn’t work. The lobby had a sofa, but it was very likely that we’d be seen and that would be the death of us. The floor of the locker room was concrete, so that didn’t seem possible either. Finally, we figured it out—we would sleep in the 1st floor dojo/studio! There was a small window and a sliding door that we could leave ajar to allow the air to flow through since it was summer. Also, it was on the same floor as the instructor’s room, so if Mas Oyama summoned us, we’d be able to get up to his office in time so as to not arouse suspicion. One other factor that made this arrangement appealing was that we were pretty sure that Mas Oyama took a nap after lunch too. Sometimes on the 4th floor and sometimes on the sofa in his office. His secretary mentioned to me before that Mas Oyama’s snoring was so loud and powerful that it made it hard for her to concentrate.
The main part of Tokyo didn’t really have mosquitos in the summertime. But we were near a park, so we got them. Not swarms of them, but enough to drive us crazy. Plus, they were attracted to sweat, which we had plenty of in the dojo. In order to sleep in the dojo/studio, we had to keep the window open and sliding door slightly open to let the air flow through. Otherwise, it was suffocatingly hot. The opened window allowed mosquitos in, so we bought some repellant smoke coils. These coils were comprised of material that burned slowly, like incense. The smoke produced helped keep bugs away. Having one burning while we slept allowed us to get a much-needed 15/20-minute nap.
The first couple days went very smoothly. After a few days, Miura and I were sleeping in the dojo/studio while the mosquito repellant was burning. A couple younger Uchi Deshi was seated on the couch. They were on standby in case the phone rang, but were having a hard time staying awake. Suddenly, the sound of Mas Oyama charging down the stairs in his pajama pants shook the dojo. When he saw the two Uchi Deshi on the couch, he shouted, “Wake up!” Their eyes popped open and they scrambled to their feet. “What’s that funny smell!?” Mas Oyama demanded. He pointed to the dojo/studio. “Open the door!”
Miura and I were woken by the sound of the door being slamming open. We saw Mas Oyama and scrambled to our feet. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING!!??” he screamed, “Everybody upstairs, NOW!!”
In Mas Oyama’s office, we all stood at attention with our heads down, looking at the carpet. He always told us that the way of Budo (Martial Arts) is to be hard on yourself but kind to others. He started lecturing and berating us and said if we were in Samurai times, we’d be committing Seppuku (ritual suicide) at that very moment as punishment. At first, we listened. As he went on and on, though, I started wondering how he was able to discover what we were doing. Did he have some kind of special nose???
After this incident, we had a new dilemma… would we give up our naps or try to find a different solution? Nobody wanted to surrender naptime, so we had to figure out a new plan. The dojo/studio wouldn’t work anymore and of course we couldn’t use the mosquito repellant coils anymore. In the meantime, we tried sleeping in the instructor’s room. But there wasn’t enough room in the tiny office to lay down, so we had to sleep with our head on the desk. The problem there, though, was that sleeping with your head on the desk left a red spot on the forehead, so we needed some type of cushion, which we didn’t have. A towel would leave lines across the forehead, so that wouldn’t work either. We finally decided that the dorm would be the best place for us to lie down and take our naps.
The problem with the dorm, though, was that it was in a different building than Mas Oyama’s office and the instructor’s room. Whereas we could just run up the stairs when sleeping in the dojo/studio, we’d have to run outside, around the back of the building to the front entrance, which would take more time. Plus, we didn’t have phones or anything, so there was no way for the person receiving the call in the instructor’s room to get the sleeping guy’s attention in the dorm. Finally, we figured it out. We would use Ninja Gaeshi (trip wires used to sound an alarm at the approach of a would-be intruder).
We ran a rope out the window of the instructor’s room, around the building and through the window of the 1st floor bathroom in the dormitory. We attached a bunch of tin cans on the end of the rope in the dorm. When someone in the instructor’s room pulled up and down on the rope, the cans would make a loud clanging sound and whoever was sleeping would wake up and run around the building and up to Mas Oyama’s office. We were so excited with our ingenious design. If chest bumps were a thing back then, we definitely would’ve been doing them to each other all around the dojo.
For a couple weeks, everything was smooth. We took turns napping after lunch and everyone was in a good mood. But, Mas Oyama was a special man… he knew something was up. His office had a tiny window that he almost never opened. However, one day he opened his window. It would make sense that from his 3rd floor office, he’d look out straight ahead and not down to the ground. But he looked down and saw a rope running between the buildings. “Call everybody up here!” he shouted to his secretary.
As soon as the secretary made the call, Mas Oyama could see the rope moving and hear a faint Clang-clang-clang coming from the other end. Our set up was that once the napping person heard the cans, he’d pull on the rope so the guy in the instructor’s room would know that he was awake and was on the way. The people napping must have been sound asleep this time though, because the clang-clang-clang continued for awhile before it finally stopped.
We all stood in Mas Oyama’s office again, looking at the carpet while he screamed and lectured at us—same as before. We gave up trying anymore napping schemes; we were defeated. I told everyone that from then on, they just had to figure out their own naptime by themselves. Some stood leaning against a wall and tried to rest, others tried to sleep at the desk in the instructor’s room. It was a sad day in the history of the Kyokushin organization. It wasn’t the end of the events concerning naptime, though.
As I mentioned before, Mas Oyama loved Shigashitani for some reason. One day, when I wasn’t there, Miura and Kishi were in Mas Oyama’s office. Mas Oyama was yelling at them about something, as he did every day. At one point, he told his secretary to call Shigashitani up there too. When Shigashitani entered the office, it was obvious that he had just woken up. Plus, there was a big red mark on his forehead from sleeping at the desk. “You’re so stupid,” Miura thought to himself, “you should at least use a cushion or something, so you don’t get a big red mark… idiot!”
When Mas Oyama looked at Shigashitani, though, he smiled and said, “Wow! You’re so dedicated! You were still training. That’s how you got that red mark—from practicing headbutts, right?” Kishi and Miura were dumbfounded… and also a little jealous.
The reason I included these stories in my biography is to show that these guys were still human, same as lots of people. Of course, they were top-class champion fighters, but even they behaved much like the rest of us do. Shigashitani was in the top 10 in the first World Championship and was also featured in the documentary Fighting Black Kings. He later left the Kyokushin organization and went to Europe to start his own style and is still training and successful as far as I know.
Shigashitani (R) with Kishi (Center) and Howard Collins (L)
By the way, when I came to Alabama and started taking Uchi Deshi, a lot of guys from Japan travelled over here to train with me. Even though it’s not really supposed to be part of the Uchi Deshi lifestyle, I allowed my Uchi Deshi to take naps after lunch. They’d use armguards for pillows. They all had the ability to fall asleep instantly after lunch and start snoring and farting. It brought back a lot of old memories for me.