Underground Strength Training from 1947 + the TOUGH Training of Mas Oyama


In the early 2000s when I began Underground Strength, it was truly "Underground".

At the time, the "in thing" was training on one leg, on a bosu ball or physio ball. You had to use a medicine ball, rotating, half kneeling and doing what many today consider "circus tricks". That was when "functional training" became the buzz word along with the infamous "core training".

Many of the "popular" Coaches laughed at me and made jokes. During an interview one day I remember saying, "I would put my guys up against any of their guys in the same sport and we'll kick their ass!" I didn't need some Coach who had a "big following" to talk shyt about us when I knew the training we did was delivering powerful results.

Then, just a few years later, we see Grandma flipping tires on TV shows or we see army navy bags filled with sand become high end leather bags with handles. What was once self made and rugged made it's way to mainstream. From there, things get commercialized and made "nice".

Now, the training that was once "Underground" became "mainstream". Of course when gyms closed during covid, everyone began training with stones and sandbags. Many did this for the next highlight video on Instagram. I used these training tools and methods because they PRODUCED RESULTS. I did it when no one cared and no one was watching. Before YouTube and before MySpace, forget Facebook.

And I gotta admit. I never liked fitting in. I don't want to fit in. I do NOT want to have anything to do with normal and mainstream.

To me, Normal anything equates to normal results, aka Average.

I despise average.

Anytime I've gotten away from my roots, the athletes got less from the training. This doesn't mean I haven't evolved. I am infinitely smarter than I was in 2002, but I know what works. Easy training does NOT work.

Training DOES need to be tough, contrary to popular opinion.

There's a cancel culture in strength & conditioning nowadays where coaches are afraid to have people sweat or get tired.

I see it all the time, Coaches saying this.....

"If your athletes are tired and sweaty after a workout, that doesn't mean they're getting anything out of it."

Or this one......

'We train, we don't work out"

bla bla bla

Who the F--k cares what you call it. Training. Working Out. The name doesn't magically change the results.

I train people to WIN in Sports AND Life.

That means we WILL sweat. We WILL get tired. We WILL WORK.

What kind of chicken shyt training doesn't make you sweat?

Are we now afraid of the WORK?!

The cancel culture of strength & conditioning simply wants to rename things from 20 - 40 (or longer) years ago. They want to package it and call it their own. If you've got a great videographer, you can convince anyone nowadays.

I recently came across a Karate Master from the 40s and his training inspired me greatly.

His name?

Mas Oyama.

Read below to see how inspiring and TOUGH his training was, and this was from 1947. Ironically, many of my favorite training ideas have come from the early 1900s from men like George Hackenschmidt, Goerner the Mighty, then the mid 1900s from men like Reg Park, John Grimek & The York Barbell Crew.

Here is a powerful story of Mas Oyama's training when he decided to commit himself to mastering his mind and body to levels far beyond normal.

Oyama went to the Kiyozumi Mountain, also in the prefecture of Chiba (Japan). According to Oyama, his training was very intense and rigorous. Training for about 12 hours a day:

  • Practicing techniques and meditating under freezing cold waterfalls
  • Jumping over bushes and boulders repeatedly
  • Using trees and rocks as makiwara boards to condition the bones in his hands, arms, legs and feet
  • Running up steep slopes
  • Lifting heavy rocks as strength training

​He would rise at 5 AM in the morning and once his training was done, would read extensively from martial arts manuals and from Zen Buddhist texts other philosophies. He would finish the day with contemplative meditation; it was here that he began to develop the ideas that would form his own style, Kyokushin Karate, and where he first though of the idea of testing his abilities by fighting a bull.

During these 18 months of rough and intense training, Mas Oyama had combined the most effective techniques of the different systems he had studied and made up his own unique style.

After this time, he returned back to society as a completely different man. Mentally, Physically and Spiritually. Mas Oyama returned to civilization fully confident in himself and able to take control of his life. Oyama was trained tough at an early age when he was sent to live with his sister on a farm.

One story of Oyama's youth involves the first man to teach him Karate. The man's name was Lee. The story is, Lee gave young Oyama a seed which he was to plant; when it sprouted, he was to jump over it one hundred times every day. As the seed grew and became a plant, Oyama later said, "I was able to jump between walls back and forth easily."

I see this training with the wrestlers of Dagestan and Kazakhstan. These young wrestlers live in the mountains, and so hill sprints and lifting stones is normal for them. UFC Champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov has spoken often of his tough upbringing and why it has shaped him to be so tough.

This training reminded me of early days Underground StrengthWe trained in my garage, backyard and local playgrounds and fields. The training was Tough AND highly effective. 

You see, we live in comfort. I have no one trying to steal my car or beat me up. No one is walking down the street ready to jump me. There is no immediate threat minus government taking away our freedom while they tell us they are "helping us". I look back to my childhood, and there was almost always a threat in Edison, NJ. A bully, a criminal, etc. You kept your head on a swivel. I did push ups because of fear, not because I wanted to look good for girls.

Karate in Edison and the surrounding towns was very popular. My older brother saved his money to join Karate schools and would practice his knuckle push ups daily. Unlike today, it is BJJ and MMA. My brother would have me go with him to buy things from The Striking Fist in Woodbridge, NJ.

More on Mas Oyama's training..... 

Oyama was one of the first to bring Karate to America and founder of the Kyokushin style of Karate. His 1958 classic, "What is Karate?" was one of the first books on the subject written in English, and designed to make the subject accessible to westerners.

According to Mas Oyama's 1958 book, strength and speed are more important than skill for Karate, and speed more important than strength. Also, he said it was very important to practice jumping.

Here are some recommendations he gives in "What is Karate?":


Running - 4 km per day

Rope-skipping - 20 minutes per day

Dumbbell arm exercise (shoulder press & curls perhaps?) - 200 times

Dips - 100 times

Push-ups (with hands in fist) - 300 times

Inclined push-ups - 100 times

Jumping side kick over 4 foot vaulting horse

Inclined dumbbell bench press

Exercises requiring a partner:

Hitting bag with upper elbow and side of elbow - 200 times each

Practicing jumping kick with bag

Exercises for neck (with partner)

Leg exercise (squat with partner on back)

Back and Abdomen exercises with partner

Elsewhere in the book, Oyama said that he would bench press 175 pounds 500 times a day (photo above). Then there are karate-specific exercises such as straw striking and exercises that are specific to board and stone breaking abilities. All this was in addition to practicing forms, sparring, etc.

The moral of the story. Keep training TOUGH. But of course, train smart. This combination of tough, intelligent training is what I've been doing with athletes for 20 years now.

Gladiator STRONG is the best way to train Tough AND Smart. Mind and Body. Get after it with a 7 Day FR-EE Trial HERE.

10 Responses

  1. From what book exactly is that picture with the Mountain Training? Is it from “What is Karate”? Because my version doesn’t include this, I might have the 1959 version, would be great if you could shed some light on this, thanks.

    1. Hi brother, to be honest, I don’t remember!!! I can’t recall where I found those photos, they may have been from an old Karate magazine if I recall, possibly a book though. I have soooooo many books, it becomes a blur!

  2. My Shihan was Preston Carter.
    He would do 1500 reps on the makiwara as part of his maintenance training.
    Carter was a legendary pioneer.
    A dedicated instructor but, on the side an enforcer for a well known pimp.
    He destroyed four thugs who were bothering dancers at a go go bar he bounced at.
    Unfortunately, one pulled out a piece and shot him the back but not before Carter knocked him out.
    His remaining years were spent in a wheelchair.

  3. Zach,
    The Preston Carter story is 100 true.
    I am the sole surviving practitioner of Grandmaster Carter’s Nippon Kudo system.
    I earned my Godan under Shihan Carter and trained under him up until he passed away.
    Shihan ran classes at the local YMCA in Trenton NJ.
    On the side he provided security for Happy Carmichael a Trenton pimp who also owned a go go bar across from the train station, two blocks from Pete Lorenzo’s Restaurant an alleged Mafia owned and very famous steakhouse.
    The altercation between Shihan and the out of town gangbangers occurred at the go go bar.
    Shihan Carter was lightning fast for a 6″0 250lb guy.
    Not muscular, but thick.
    And, he was highly respected by the local Trenton gangs, both in the hood, and also the Italian mob that operated out of the Chambersburg section of Trenton.
    The local police also respected Shihan who often donated street style karate training to local law enforcement.
    If you have any more questions about Shihan Preston F. Carter please let me know.

    1. Joseph, those are some crazy stories!!! Was MAN’s World Gym in Trenton back then as well? I remember bodybuilder Phil Hill from Trenton.

      Also, the safety squat bar was invented by Jesse Hoagland who was from Trenton. Thank you for the history and time to comment!

  4. Christian says:

    Great Article !
    Reminds me I still need to read Musashi !

  5. Zach,
    Man’s World gym came many years later from the Preston Carter era.
    Phil trained there as did most serious, aspiring bodybuilders from the area.
    If I’m not mistaken Phil is heavily into Chinese Martial Arts now.
    You’re spot on as far as Hoagland and the safety squat bar goes.
    Here’s another real life story from back in the day.
    Bodybuilder Tom Willert was a bouncer at “Brothers” in Hamilton a Trenton suburb.
    Local mobster Frank Stilitano, his crew, Catfish and Moonbeam frequented the club.
    One night, Frank and his buddies were in the men’s room smoking weed and were politely asked by Willert to cease or “take it outside”.
    Frank apologized, stopped, but a short while later was back in the men’s room with his crew doing the same thing.
    The other bouncers were apprehensive to approach Stilitano because of his reputation.
    Not Willert.
    He point blank asked them to leave, they refused, so Willert grabs all three like sacks of potatoes and “escorts” them outside.
    The three turn on Tommy, who proceeds to knock all three out cold, the worst punch received by the mobster wannabe Frank who went three feet into a Volkswagen and flips over the trunk onto the pavement😴.
    As the two other bouncers try to come out, Frank’s girlfriend wearing CLOGS(I’m old)hits Willert on the back of the head knocking him out.
    There’s another barroom brawl incident involving former AAU Mr. America Joe Tete, who was one real badass.

  6. AAU Mr. America Joe Tete once took out a handful of bikers at the Satellite Lounge in Fort Dix.
    This was back in the 70’s.
    Tete took a knife jab, kept fighting, and barreled through one biker taking him and the door onto the parking lot pavement.
    My account of this comes from a bartender who witnessed it.
    Carlo, the owner and allegedly a connected guy flagged everyone involved.
    Not sure what happened legally but more than likely, Carlo got things squashed with the cops.

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