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
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
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
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)