Oki, Masahiro (1921-)

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Oki, Masahiro (1921-)

Idiosyncratic teacher-healer-philosopher, originator of a very individual system of yoga. Oki was born in Korea in 1921, and brought up in a strictly religious environment. His early education familiarized him with martial arts and Zen. He was influenced by the politician Ottama Daisojo, who played an important part in the history of Burma (now Myanmar). Oki asked him about such great individuals as Buddha, Christ, and Muhammed, and their spiritual eminence. Daisojo explained that all three practiced something called yoga, which he would understand through later experience. At the time Oki was only eight years old.

As a young man, he studied at a military academy and also took a brief course in medicine before becoming a soldier. He became a spy for the Korean government in 1939, after Japan had seized areas on the China coast. Oki's task was to enter parts of southern Asia and cooperate with Islamic independence movements. As a cover for this, he went to Tibet to train as a lama. At that time, this was a purely utilitarian move without religious significance.

His religious experience was later stimulated when he was arrested on an assignment in Iran and thrown in jail, with a leg chain and an iron ball. He shared a cell with an older man who, although facing a death sentence, was always serene and peaceful. Oki himself was scared that he would be executed, so he became a pupil of the older man, learning from his chanting, meditation, and religious observances that gave him serenity. Later, both men were freed when a raiding party liberated the jail. Oki's first teacher turned out to be Hoseini-shi, father of the Ayatollah Khomeini, the former spiritual leader of Islam in Iran.

After the war was over, Oki concentrated on earning a living. He ran a medical clinic and also operated a profitable smuggling business between Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. Becoming dissatisfied with material success, he joined a Japanese peace movement, but was soon disillusioned. He decided to become a Zen monk. He divorced his wife, built six orphanages, gave away the remainder of his money, and joined a monastery. After some time he grew restless in the monastery and concluded that he should do something more practical than simply purifying himself.

United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) officials employed him to work for peace in India and Pakistan, where he lectured, practiced medicine, and taught practical skills in housing and food production. He stayed at the ashram of Mahatma Gandhi in India, where the concept of yoga in relation to practical life matured in Oki's experience.

During 1960 he worked as a researcher for a Japanese newspaper, traveling Europe and North America and lecturing on Zen to religious groups. In 1962 the Buddhist Society of America invited him to teach yoga. Oki also taught in Brazil before returning to Japan, where he founded the International Oki Yoga Institute in Mishima in 1967. He has since authored a number of books on healing, mastered thirty-two martial arts and taught them to students from all walks of life, and has given private lectures on the Oki yoga system to the Japanese royal family.

Oki has been criticized for violence in his teaching sessions by people who are unaware of the traditional use of a training stick in the old Zen tradition. However, his success with students and his uncompromisingly individualistic attitude to teaching and living rank him as a kind of Japanese Gurdjieff.


"Behind the Scenes of Oki Yoga." East West Journal 15, 9 (September 1985).

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Oki, Masahiro (1921-)

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