Sport Karate is a product of the twentieth century, but its roots can be traced to ancient India, China, and Okinawa. India developed Yoga and methods of breathing from the diaphragm. This diaphragmatic breathing influenced numerous combative styles.
India is considered the birthplace of Martial Arts by many martial scholars. During the 5th and 6th centuries BC, Zen Buddhist monks from India are known to have taught combat techniques similar to modern karate in China.
Tradition states that a Buddhist Monk from India, Bodhi-dharma, traveled to the Shaolin Temple to instruct the monks. Upon his arrival, he was distressed to find the monks in such poor physical condition that they were unable to properly attend to their religious duties.
Not only were the monks unable to meditate for the long periods required, but their poor physical condition made them easy prey for bandits and robbers.
Bodhi-dharma introduced a series of exercises to enhance the monks’ physical condition. A strong body would create a strong mind, allowing the monks to devote themselves to their daily meditations. These physical exercises developed into the first formal martial art. Many martial arts claim a lineage back to the Shaolin Temple. There is probably some truth in all of these legends.
The fighting techniques of China were later carried to offshore islands, including Okinawa by immigrants, refugees and priests. Weaponless combat, called Te (hand) already existed on Okinawa. Due to a ban on weapons issued by the Japanese occupation in 1470, these empty-hand techniques thrived.
Later, with the aid of Chinese Kung Fu masters who fled from China, Te developed into a crude form of Karate. At first the new art was translated to mean T’ang hand or China hand.
It was not until the twentieth century that Gichin Funakoshi – an Okinawan instructor – introduced Okinawa-Te to Japan. In later years, other styles of karate were developed, including Shito-Ryu, Goju Ryu, Wado Ryu, Shukukai, and Kyokushinkai. Rivalry among these groups was so intense that each style practiced in secret.
Origins of Uechi Ryu Karate-Do
Uechi Ryu Karate-Do was originally brought from the Fukien Province of China by Kanbun Uechi, an Okinawan who studied and taught martial arts there and spread the art of Pan Gai Noon (its original Chinese name) to Japan and Okinawa.
Kanbun Uechi was born on May 5th, 1877 in Izumi, a small farming village in the northern part of Okinawa. He was the eldest son of Satsuma Samurai descendants Kantoku Uechi and Tsuru Uechi. His ancestors had lost their Samurai rights in the 1600’s when the Satsuma clan had been sent to Okinawa by the Japanese Empire to subjugate the island.
It appears that these ancestors didn’t wholly agree with the harsh edicts meted out to the peaceful Okinawans, and forfeited all rights as Samurai and became peasants themselves. However, through all succeeding generations, the family retained their heritage of Samurai dignity, Integrity, and honor.
Through his youth, Kanbun mainly farmed the land of his ancestors and studied some of the Okinawan martial arts. Kanbun became proficient with the Bo staff, and often led demonstrations for local festivals.
In 1897, at the age of 19, Kanbun left for China. He had two reasons for traveling to China, to study the superior fighting forms of China and to avoid being drafted into the Japanese Army. China being the birthplace of many great fighting systems was the best place to go for intensive training.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, most of the great Okinawan Martial Arts Instructors went to China to study. Many of the Chinese styles taught today have only a superficial resemblance to the practical fighting forms of that age. The main difference between now and then is the serious attitude involved in teaching and studying martial arts. Severe restrictions were placed on who may study, and what might be taught.
Social pressures, economics, religion, and politics all played a vital role in such matters. Once accepted the student would find unparalleled instruction. The students’ abilities would be challenged, but he would experience the finest instruction ever available. The study of martial arts was a lifestyle, not a “hobby” as it is today in many Dojos’ and for many people.
Kanbun Uechi’s other reason for going to China was to avoid being drafted into the Japanese Army. Okinawan youths were being forced into military service. This force-feeding of Japanese political ideology through military indoctrination didn’t work. Neither did the militarization of Okinawa’s educational system, control of youth groups and other citizen’s societies, and even attempts to eradicate the Okinawan language by making it illegal to be taught in the schools or used on public signs.
The Okinawans strongly opposed the presence of Japanese officials at every opportunity. The Japanese were attempting to erase the Okinawan culture and subjugate Okinawa to Japanese laws and customs.
Conscripting young, able-bodied men from the Okinawan peasantry left fewer farmers to work the land. The entire local economy was always on the verge of total collapse. The ever-increasing size of the Japanese Army called for increases in already enormous taxes levied on the Okinawan people. Most of Okinawa was left in extreme poverty.
Most of all, the Okinawans were afraid that the presence of a standing army on Okinawa would invite invasion of the island by Japan’s many enemies. Long before the Sino-Japanese War of the mid 1890’s, relations between Japan and China (and other Asian countries) had been strained, and the feeling in the Imperial Government was that Japan should prepare for a war on the continent. This was something the tiny Okinawan kingdom wanted no part of.
Eventually, in 1897, Okinawa was formally claimed by the Meiji Government of Japan as a Japanese prefecture, breaking all Chinese ties and claims on the island. Okinawa was decreed subject to Japan’s Universal Male Conscription Act of 1873, which become effective on the island beginning in 1898. The Japanese military draft was referred to as the “Blood Tax”. One could become subject to the draft law, pay an enormous exemption fee, hire a proxy to fill the open slot, go to prison, or escape from the island.
At the urging of his families elders, Kanbun Uechi quietly left for China in March 1897. One of the many draft resistance groups assisted with his ten day passage to mainland China. Many such groups existed, plotting secret routes and alternate travel methods out of the new prefecture.
Kanbun Uechi arrived in China just west of Taiwan, at the city of Fuchow, in the Fukien Province. In the early summer of 1897, he began study at the Kugusuku Karate School with Matsuda Tokusaburo, an Okinawan from Izumi who had also escaped to China. While Kanbun Uechi became friends with other Okinawans at the school, he had a personality clash with one arrogant senior student and soon left to study a form of Chinese boxing called Pan Gai Noon, under a master named Shu Shi-Wa. Shu Shi-Wa had been described by various martial arts historians as either a merchant or a thief. All in all, he apparently had a somewhat colorful history.
Shu Shi-Wa (the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese name Chou Tzu-Ho) was a master of a combination form of Tiger-style Chinese boxing, one of the “Five Fists of Fukien” (the five fists being the Dragon, Tiger, Leopard, Snake, and Crane styles of Kung-Fu). (A visit to Fuchow by Master Kañei Uechi determined that Shu Shi-Wa was the last instructor of Pan Gai Noon in China. Not much more is known about him at this time.)
The Chinese symbols for Pan Gai Noon mean “half-hard, half-soft”, or “Heaven and Earth” style. The present Japanese symbols for Uechi Ryu Karate have the same meaning. A Chinese pronouncing the Japanese symbols would say “Shang-te Liu” and would explain this meant “hard-soft fist-way”. It is possible that Kanbun saw the calligraphy for Shu Shi-Wa‘s system of fighting, and noting the similarity of the ideograms to those of his own name, used that as a reference point to seek him out.
Pan Gai Noon
At this time in China, it was very difficult to become accepted as a foreign student in a Chinese martial Arts training hall. Most martial societies, being influenced by Buddhist philosophies, forbid the teaching of their art to “outsiders” fearing misuse of their technique. Many Chinese systems were regarded as temple treasures or secrets, which could not be shared.
The Chinese Imperial Government also regarded such martial societies as potential threats to the order, and took measures to suppress and contain them.
Tests of patience and endurance were commonly applied to prospective students. Not many passed. The purpose of these trials was to severely test personalities and sincerity in an understandable effort by the instructor to establish just what kind of person he was accepting into the training hall, and whether it was worth the risk to instruct this person.
Shu Shi-Wa was a most difficult instructor. The young Okinawan became discouraged, but persisted. He later told his son, Kañei Uechi, “For three years, I practiced nothing but Sanchin. Only a small number of students survived this test of patience and endurance. At first I began my training by cleaning the study hall floor and the toilet, and occasionally tried to learn some movements by imitating the senior students. After a while, they would see me trying to perform some of the movements, and would help me a little, but the master ignored me completely. Finally, after becoming convinced that I would never learn, Shu Shi-Wa began to teach me.”
“Take this stance, and follow my movements.” Shu Shi-Wa said as he performed the opening movements for Sanchin and the double thrust. “I worked on these motions alone for three months, but because this was all I had to work on, my Sanchin thrusts became very strong.”
Kanbun told Kañei that it takes at least ten years to master Sanchin, but his teacher taught him the Seisan Kata after only three years. During that time. Kanbun Uechi became very powerful, spending all his time in China studying Pan Gai Noon. His progress was due in part to the rigorous old-style Chinese training methods for strengthening and conditioning which used buckets and bags of sand, gravel, rice, gripping weights, and holding/lifting with the fingers. Throughout all this training, the most emphasis was placed on total mastery of Sanchin.
“All is in Sanchin” was a phrase Kanbun used frequently when training his son Kañei. Today’s Okinawan Goju-Ryu teachers and teachers of White Crane Ch’uan-fa (Kung-Fu) say that Sanchin is the most important of all the kata and exercises.
Kanbun studied under Shu Shi-Wa for ten tears learning not only the physical arts (which included Chinese medicine) but also philosophy, calligraphy, and the ancient Chinese classics. He became fluent and literate in Chinese – quite a change from the uneducated young Okinawan teenager who had arrived ten years previously!
To supplement his meager income, Kanbun sold medicines outside Buddhist temple gates.
In 1904, Kanbun received certification in Pan Gai Noon from Shu Shi-Wa, and became an assistant instructor at his master’s school.
In 1907, Kanbun obtained permission to open his own school. With great difficulty, he finally opened a training hall in Nanching, a city in the Fukien Province, about 250 miles southwest of Fuchow. Nanching was also known for its large number of famous Kung-Fu fighters and teachers.
Wu Hsien-Kuei (in Japanese Go Ken-Ki), a Chinese Tea Merchant and friend to Kanbun warned him not to try to open a school in that district. Others had tried and failed. Kanbun replied that he liked the area and looked forward to the challenge.
In time, despite a few run-ins with jealous locals, Kanbun Uechi’s reputation grew and he was heading a successful school – the Pan Gai Noon Kenpo-Jo. Even Go Ken-Ki left his old system of Kingai (a Chinese forerunner of Gojo Ryu) and became his student
Twice each year, Kanbun would close his school and travel back to Fuchow for further study with Shu Shi-Wa. While there, he would refine his technique, learn and discuss new concepts with Shu Shi-Wa, and assist in teaching. The other students held him somewhat in awe because of his powerful performance, and his capacity for taking on enormous workloads.
By 1909, Kanbun was doing quite well as a teacher and was very happy with his new life. However, one of his students got into an argument with another man over farming problems. That year a severe drought had hit the area. Irrigation became a problem and Kanbun’s student argued with another man about water rights to irrigate the rice fields. Violence ensued and Kanbun’s student instinctively called upon his training, striking the other man and killing him. It was well known that he was a student of Kanbun Uechi.
While the young student was punished, Kanbun Uechi was held responsible for having trained him. The city accused Kanbun of failing to teach the proper spirit of Kenpo (Chinese boxing).
Such an accusation was extremely serious due to the severe proscriptions by the Ch’ing Dynasty against the teaching and misuse of martial arts. Kanbun accepted the responsibility for his student’s actions. He vowed to never teach again, closed his school, and returned to Okinawa in early 1910. He had the distinction of being the only Okinawan ever to have been accepted in China as a teacher of Pan Gai Noon.
Return to Okinawa
At this time, Japanese officials were arresting all Okinawans accused of evading the draft. Kanbun had so completely adapted to the Chinese way of life and culture that when he arrived at the Naha port, the examining officials were convinced he was a Chinese scholar. He wore Manchu clothing, spoke Chinese, and wore his hair Chinese style. Kanbun successfully returned to Izumi without incident.
In 1910 Kanbun married (it was an arranged marriage as was common at that time) and settled down to raise his family and farm his land. On June 26, 1911, his first son Kañei was born. Master Kanbun tried to forget his years of training and subsequent disgrace in China, but his reputation was following not far behind.
Go Ken-Ki, the Tea Merchant
Go Ken-Ki, the former Kingai-style student who became Kanbun’s Pan Gai Noon student in China, often traveled to Okinawa on business. He soon located his friend and teacher and tried to persuade him to teach again. With the ghosts of past events and the sudden downfall of his reputation in China still haunting him, coupled with the possibility that his recent connections with Chinese training might help to identify him as a draft-evader, Kanbun was alarmed at the thought that his now happy and peaceful life might be destroyed and his new family made to suffer so he vehemently refused.
Go Ken-Ki was a rather outspoken fellow and made no secret of his obvious preference for Chinese-style training. He also was an advocate of the superiority of Chinese styles over the many Okinawan methods. Without too much effort, he managed to provoke a fight with an Okinawan Naha Karate teacher. Go Ken-Ki defeated him rather soundly.
Now the reputation of several teachers and systems was at stake. To save face, other well-known karate teachers challenged Go Ken-Ki, but none were able to defeat him. Naturally, many prospective students showed up at Go Ken-Ki’s door, asking to be taught. Go Ken-Ki made is known that his teacher in China was actually an Okinawan, and that teacher now lived on the northern end of the island.
Kanbun’s reputation grew, although no one had ever seen him perform. Whenever he was approached by men seeking instruction, he always said that they must have mistaken him for someone else. Finally, the townspeople got Kanbun and Go Ken-Ki together to clear up the mystery. Kanbun could no longer deny the stories.
He still refused to discuss Karate or demonstrate a kata, and offered no explanation. Somehow, the question of draft-evasion never came up, and Kanbun was never indicted. He continued to farm his land as if he had never been away. He began to teach Bo staff at village gatherings and festivals, but NO karate.
The Leaders Plot
Every year, the Motorbus Police Department held a large celebration at which it was customary for all the local karate schools to demonstrate their skills. The teachers got together before the celebration to discuss the demonstrations and plan the day’s events. The idea came up to have the mayor of Motorbus announce that Kanbun Uechi would demonstrate by performing a kata. The other instructors were anxious to see proof of his legendary ability. They saw to it that Kanbun attended the festival and was seated near the stage. In this way, when he was introduced by the mayor, if he refused to perform he would lose face.
The plot was successful. The mayor introduced Kanbun and asked him to demonstrate, the other instructors pushed him onto the stage where all could see him. He could not refuse!
First there was applause, followed by silence. Kanbun was furious, but quiet. He hesitated for a moment. The teachers began wonder if it was all just a story.
Then, with eyes glaring, Kanbun performed Seisan Kata fast and beautifully with strength and power. After he finished, he jumped down from the stage and went home. The karate portion of the day’s festivities had come to an unscheduled end. No one wished to try to follow Kanbun’s demonstration.
From that time on, Kanbun was respected throughout Okinawa as a true expert. He was repeatedly asked to teach his karate in public school and was even offered a position as a professor of karate at the Teacher’s College of Okinawa by Anko Itosu, the great Shorin teacher who was also a professor at the college. Kanbun politely refused all offers.
Into Exile Again
Okinawans have always felt great pride in their national and cultural heritage in spite of severe Japanese suppression. They were always on the lookout for heroes and role models to bolster the society’s morale. Kanbun was concerned for his family’s welfare because of his self-imposed political exile in China. He would not give into the pressure to teach as this would only expose him to official scrutiny. There was so much pressure from different sources, and the family income was so low, that Kanbun left Okinawa again, this time moving to Japan in 1924 to search for security and stable employment.
The Wakayama Prefecture
Kanbun Uechi settled in a housing compound near Osaka, Japan, in the Wakayama prefecture. He had found a position as a janitor in a cotton mill there. A fellow Okinawan who was his neighbor, Ryuyu Tomoyose became a friend of the quiet new comer and they spent some of their leisure hours together.
One night after the two had become good friends, Ryuyu told a story about a fight he had been involved in Ryuyu had told Kanbun that his only form of entertainment was roughing up local Japanese youths. (Ryuyu was about 24 years old at the time.) He enjoyed humiliating them because of their arrogance and belligerence before the Okinawans, who were considered to be socially inferior.
One story claims that Ryuyu told Kanbun that he had lost that day’s brawl and sadly described his defeat. He lamented that he did not know what he should have done. The attacker used techniques for which Ryuyu was not prepared and which he was not familiar with. Perhaps, Ryuyu surmised, the training he had was all a lie – merely fancy dancing with no real substance.
Kanbun became excited. He had Ryuyu repeat the story, and then explained, in detail, what should have been done. From that time on, Ryuyu would occasionally present a different fighting situation and Kanbun would excitedly become involved in explaining and describing the proper fighting response. Ryuyu soon realized he was in the presence of a real master of the fighting arts.
Ryuyu was anxious to begin some real training with Kanbun. He confronted him with the fact that he knew of Kanbun’s reputation as an expert and asked him to give lessons. Ryuyu was originally from the Okinawan Ie-jima Island, very close to Kanbun’s home in Izumi, and news had reached him about Kanbun’s identity.
At first, Kanbun refused, but karate and teaching were in his blood, so he agreed on the condition that Ryuyu tell no one of his training.
After two years, Ryuyu tried again to convince Kanbun to teach publicly again. Ryuyu cautioned that the style would die out if it was not passed on, and by also appealing to Kanbun’s sense of social responsibility.
A hoodlum group known as the “WaBoDan” had been terrorizing the Okinawan community in Wakayama by bullying the workers, extracting “protection money”, threatening them and even beating them. The local Japanese authorities would do nothing. The Okinawans were treated as a foreign minority and were subject to harsh social and legal discrimination. The WaBoDan was considered to be an Okinawan problem.
Kanbun, Ryuyu, and other Karate men had been petitioned by a group of Okinawans in an effort to resolve this problem. It was finally made clear that the actions of the WaBoDan would not be tolerated, and the violence ended.
The Shataku Dojo
After this event and some further persuasion, Kanbun consented to teach publicly again. He taught mostly Okinawans, beginning with a very small school and a very limited enrollment – only five students. The other students were carefully recruited by Ryuyu Tomoyose, who became Kanbun’s right-hand man. The other students were Uehara Saburo, Uezato Gemnei, Matakishi Yoshitada, and Yamashiro Kata, all from northern Okinawa. As enrollment grew, prospective students were screened by one of these original five members who acted as guarantors for their nominees’ behavior. Students were forbidden to perform outside of the dojo, which was located in the cotton mill’s company housing area. The school was named the “Shataku Dojo”. This was the first time Pan Gai Noonwas taught outside of China
At that time, and for a long time afterward, Karate uniforms (Gi) were not worn. In the Shataku Dojo, students and instructors wore nothing more than white shorts with no tops, nor did they wear any type of belt to indicate rank. If you were a student, you knew who your seniors were.
The reason for this style of clothing was actually quite simple and basic. Since the Okinawans preferred that very few people knew they practiced a martial art, they would practice in clothing which would allow them to fully dress in an instant. When someone would knock at the door to the dojo, or it was announced that a stranger or non-student was approaching, the students would discontinue practice and quickly put on their work clothing. When the door opened, they would stand around acting as though they were discussing work policies or making small talk. In this way, they safeguarded the privacy of their practice sessions.
The PanGaiNoon-Ryu Karate-Jutsu Kenkyu-jo
In 1927, Kanbun’s eldest son, Kañei (then 16) joined his father at the Shataku Dojo. In 1932, Kanbun decided to move the school to a hall in nearby Tebira-cho and established an official dojo. The system was called PanGaiNoon-Ryu and the school was called the PanGaiNoon-Ryu Karate-Jutsu Kenkyu-jo (PanGaiNoon-Style Karate Study Hall). This school was later moved to a nearby location and is still in operation today. Master Kanbun also referred to the as “Min-chin Chu-Ryu”, meaning “Speed with-Glare Style”, but this was only a description, not a name.
Enrollment grew to several hundred, with forty-four senior members. Kanbun taught only the three original Chinese forms; Sanchin, Seisan, and Sanseirui, one conditioning exercise, and Chinese medicine. He was able to quit working at the cotton mill and taught karate mornings and evenings, as well as teaching some private daytime sessions.
Kanbun also opened a small shop where he sold medicines and Chinese curios, but he concentrated mainly on teaching karate.
In 1933, Kanbun Uechi and his senior students formed the Shubukai (Organization of Martial Training) and the following by-laws were adopted:
- This Association is called “Shubukai”.
- The Association headquarters is located at Uechi Kanbun’s residence in
- The Association’s goals are the following principles:
a.) We will embody the principles of filial piety and make efforts to be upright
b.) We will deepen our understanding of everyday life and pursue a
hardworking, humble, and frugal lifestyle.
c.) We will emphasize physical exercise and bodily health.
d.) We will cultivate moral behavior and increase our appreciation of others.
e.) We will promote social spirit and contribute to public well-being.
- Our members will refrain from drunken violence and will not injure another person
under penalty immediate expulsion.
- Twenty sen will be collected monthly for dojo maintenance.
- There is a one yen registration fee.
Uechi Ryu Karate-Do
In August of 1940, the students of Pangainoon-Ryu Karate-Jutsu Kenkyu-Jo renamed the system ”Uechi Ryu” (Uechi’s style or Uechi’s system) and awarded Kanbun (age 63) the title of Grandmaster.
Grandmaster Kanbun Uechi was very strongly influenced by his old-style Chinese training and traditions. He was very shy about having his photograph taken; believing that capturing his image would involve capturing part of his spirit. As a result of his strong beliefs, there are very few photos and absolutely no film footage of Grandmaster Kanbun Uechi available. The few photographs we have today show him to be quite uncomfortable before the camera – never at ease or relaxed like the other people in the photos.
Kañei Uechi studied for ten years, as did his father, then received certification in 1937 to open his own dojo. He taught in Osaka for two years, marrying in 1939. In 1941 Kañei was promoted to Godan, then decided to return to Okinawa in 1942 after his students were called away to war. Kañei settled in Nago for a short time to look after his family.
Ryuko Tomoyose, son of Ryuyu, learned from his father that Kañei had come back to the old family lands on Okinawa. He located Kañei and soon convinced him to teach. Kañei’s first students in Nago were family members and a handful of neighborhood youths. His dojo was the family yard.
In 1944, Kañei, his younger brother Kansei and most of the students were called into the war effort to defend Okinawa. The school in Nago closed. Kañei was able to return to Okinawa after a short time, but his brother Kansei was captured by the Russian army in Manchuria and spent two years in a Siberian prison camp before returning to Okinawa in1947.
In October of 1946, Kanbun, then age 69, placed his Tebira School in the hands of Ryuyu Tomoyose. Ryuyu moved the school to a nearby location and continued to teach there until his death from a stroke in 1971. The school still exists and is headed by Master Takatzu Tomoyose, son of Ryuyu.
Kanbun Uechi returned to Okinawa to reopen the school in Nago himself and teach a small group of students on Ie-Jima, a small island off the northwest coast of Okinawa. This was Kanbun’s last voyage. He was still shy of publicity, and consented to demonstrate his art in public only two more times after his return to Okinawa.
Three days after his last public performance, in January 1948, he fell ill with nephritis, a disease of the liver (some forms are also known as Bright’s disease). He fought his disease for the next eleven months, but succumbed on November 25th, 1948 – little more than one year after returning to his beloved Okinawa He was buried in Nago near some of the old Uechi family lands. The tomb was moved in the early 1970’s to Futenma, closer to Master Kañei Uechi’s home and dojo.
Kanbun Uechi refused medical treatment during his last year of life because he believed an old prophecy from his younger years which said he would not die until he was 79 years old. Kanbun Uechi was 71 years old.
Some time prior to his death, Grandmaster Kanbun Uechi had presented his son, Kañei with a text given to him by Shu Shi-Wa. This text was said to contain information regarding the total mastery of Pan Gai Noon. Today, such a text would be called a “Bubishi” (Study Guide of the martial Way).
Unfortunately, the war prevented Kañei from translating and copying the Text. This priceless treasure was lost during the war on Okinawa. Rumor has it that it was destroyed in a fire, but Master Kañei recalled in later years that it had been saved, but it was misplaced or lost in the confusion of war, like so many other valuable items during that time. He often wondered what might have become of it and believed that it still existed somewhere, perhaps in some safe but forgotten place in an old ruin of a home in Nago, or lost along the road from Nago to Ginowan city.
Kañei had fortunately read it thoroughly enough to recall all of the important aspects of the essence of Pan Gai Noon, the philosophies his father had taught him, and much of the Chinese medicine.
Master Kañei Uechi’s memory served him well, and in the mid 1970’s, he published his own Bubishi, called “A Minutely-Detailed History and Study of Okinawan Karate-Do”, based largely on what he had memorized from Shu Shi-Wa’s Bubishi. This was his tribute to his father’s dedication and efforts to preserve the system of Pan Gai Noon, and embodied all of Master Kañei Uechi’s training, historical knowledge, Chinese educational studies, medicinal training, and philosophies, as well as including an invaluable collection of exquisite photographs of Master Kañei, and Grandmaster Kanbun.
What was missing, and remains a mystery today, was the history of the system before Shu Shi-Wa. The war prevented Master Kañei Uechi’s deep study of the training lineage provided in the original text by Shu Shi-Wa, tracing the system back to its origin. While the book was published in Japanese, one needn’t be able to read the language to understand the perfect artwork of the photography.
This is the utmost extent of all “Bubushi” known in the world today, and is often referred to in Japan as “The Bible of Martial Arts”. While the original work is largely unavailable now (copies sell for over $1000 for badly used conditions – autographed copies are absolutely priceless). Efforts are being made to make its contents available to all interested researchers and students.
Uechi Ryu Karate Dojo
Shortly after his father’s death, Master Kañei Uechi moved his dojo to Ginowan, naming it Uechi-Ryu Karate-Jutsu Kenkyu-Jo (Uechi Ryu Karate Study Hall). He was assisted by the 20 year old son of Ryuyu Tomoyose, Ryuko.
In 1957, Master Kañei moved his Dojo again a short distance to its present location in Futenma, calling the school ”Uechi-Ryu Karate Dojo”. It was reconstructed in 1963, and renamed “Soke Shubukan” (Style Headquarters). From here the system spread throughout the world.
In February 1967, the All-Japan Karate Federation awarded Master Kañei Uechi the rank of Judan – 10th degree Black Belt, and official recognition as the Master of Uechi-Ryu Karate-Do. In April of the same year, the All Okinawan Karate Federation also awarded Kañei the 10th Dan.
Uechi Ryu Karate-Do Practice
As brought from China, Pan Gai Noon consisted of three kata and several arduous training techniques, most of which are avoided by the more sports-oriented modern karate systems.
The basic system transplanted by Grandmaster Kanbun Uechi consisted of the kata Sanchin, Seisan and Sanseirui. Body conditioning drills later gave rise to several muscle and mind-conditioning exercises which are used in all classes.
Master Kañei Uechi, realizing that long periods between kata and the various training exercises would discourage the average modern student saw a need to fill the gaps in the training schedule. He proceeded to piece together the fighting techniques taught to him by his father and created the intermediate kata which today form the bridge in the long difficult training program which makes up the system of Uechi Ryu Karate-Do.
There are only eight kata in Uechi Ryu Karate. It is universally recognized that the number of movements is not nearly as important as the depth of understanding of the movements and the underlying philosophy of mental toughness and moral strength – throughout this entire defensive system, one’s first response to an aggressive situation is to detain the opponent or to block his attack and diffuse his power through deflection or absorption. Never attack first, and avoid confrontation altogether if possible. This is exactly what attracted the Okinawans in the days of Grandmaster Kanbun and today to the style of Uechi Ryu Karate.
The intermediate kata of Uechi Ryu, as created by Master Kañei Uechi and his colleagues are Kanshiwa, Kanshu, Seichin, Seirui, and Kanchin. Master Kañei also created several two-person prearranged sparring drills and Bunkai out of the kata.
Of the eight kata, Sanchin is considered to be the basis of the whole system. It’s the link of continuity between all the other kata and movements in Uechi Ryu. Most instructors will say that if a student is in doubt, he must go back to the basics, and check it against Sanchin. Are the arms in the proper Sanchin position? Are the hands placed properly? Isn’t that block or strike merely a modification of a basic Sanchin motion? And so we come full circle, as was intended: as a tree depends on its roots for strength and support so does the entire system of Uechi Ryu Karate rely on Sanchin kata for developing strength and balance in all movements.
Sanchin is shared by several other systems as well. Although Uechi Ryu considers Sanchin to be a true kata and the most important to the system, most other systems use some form of Sanchin as merely an exercise for breathing practice, form, or conditioning, and do not stress its development as much. There is no other system known today which relies so heavily on the development of Sanchin as does Uechi Ryu except perhaps the old-style Chinese White Crane Kung-Fu. The Uechi Ryu Sanchin uses open hand thrusts, while most other systems have adopted a closed fist thrust.
The name “Sanchin” means “three conflicts”. In training, the student is often told that these are of the body, mind and spirit. Very basically, the body is first trained to perform the movements. Stance, balance, and breathing rhythm form the basics, and this is a very animalistic and elementary level. Later, the mind strives to develop concentration, learning to block out distractions and focus on the task at hand, coordinating body motion with pinpoint accuracy, and able to perform the motions of Sanchin smoothly and with confidence in the physical motions – in the memory pattern is established, and the student no longer hesitates in his or her performance. Then the spirit (or will-power) develops. This involves more dedication to ideals, commitment, and belief in one’s personal identity and power as a martial artist. When the student’s Sanchin has developed in all three stages, he or she is on the road to true mastery. It normally takes many years to master these concepts in actual practice. Real knowledge becomes apparent like a sudden flash of light (“Satori” – a sudden enlightenment – in many Zen training halls, this is sought after through one’s whole life). All movements in the Uechi Ryu system spring from Sanchin, and so Sanchin is considered to be the “Seed Kata” or Master Kata, teaching the basics for the entire system.
Master Kañei Uechi passed away with peace and dignity on February 24th, 1991 at 4:00 PM, after a long and gallant fight with a complicated illness. He was 79 years old and had been in and out of hospitals since he took ill in August of 1987.
His contributions to furthering the understanding of Karate in general and in spreading Karate-Do throughout the world are inestimable. Those who studied under his guidance, however briefly treasure the memory of his unselfish dedication, his generosity, and his humor. For Kañei Uechi, to live and breathe was to do kata, and every day brought new developments. He always insisted that he, himself, was no Master, but only another struggling student. He seemed somewhat shy when called ”Master”.
Uechi Ryu in the United States
In about 1958, George Mattson began teaching Uechi Ryu in the Boston area. Although other Americans had studied the style previously and had introduced it to the United States informally, Mr. Mattson was the first to truly popularize the art in this country. He had studied Uechi Ryu while in the service and was one of the first two Americans to achieve Dan rank in the style.
Allen Horton introduced Uechi Ryu to Kalamazoo in about 1961. Mr. Horton had also studied in Okinawa while in the armed forces. During the late 1960’s and the early 1970’s, Uechi Ryu was further popularized in southwest Michigan by Mr. Horton’s senior student, William Keith. Later Sensei James Thompson’s Okinawan Karate Club in Kalamazoo, Michigan became the main dojo for Uechi Ryu Karate in Michigan. Mr. Thompson is one of the senior American practitioners of Uechi Ryu and studied directly under Master Kañei Uechi for about eight years.
Other centers for Uechi Ryu can be found in the New York area, Florida, the St. Louis area, California, and Arizona.