Uechi-Ryu Karate Do
Hedge End, Near Southampton
A member of the Uechi-Ryu Kenyukai Europe
Some believe Kanbun Uechi was born in Izumi on the Motobu Peninsula, and that he moved to the tiny mountain village of Takinto at three or four years old. However, other evidence indicates that Kanbun's parents, Kantoku and Tsuru Uechi, had already moved to Takinto and it was in the mountain top village that Kanbun was born on May 5, 1877.
Kanbun Uechi grew up in this area, part of a proud, traditional Okinawan family of bushi (Samurai or Shizoku) lineage. The Uechi family farmed daikon radishes and sold them in the village at the bottom of the mountain. Radishes are still grown there today.
Empty handed Okinawan fighting arts (te), kobudo, and the samurai arts were a cultural part of rural life in Okinawa, especially on the Motobu peninsula. More organized martial arts were being taught in the southern areas such as Naha, Shuri and Tomari. Those systems were greatly influenced by the martial arts of China (tote).
Areas in the southern part of the island were an insurmountable distance for a farmer from Motobu to travel.
Kanbun learned bojutsu (staff arts) from exposure to Motobu experts such as Taru Kise and Kamato Toyozato as well as his father, Kantoku. Kanbun often taught the younger people of his area and led bo demonstrations that accompanied holidays and festivals. An aged martial arts master from Tobaru named Toyama instilled in Kanbun the desire to pursue martial arts training in China. Toyama had visited China many times to study the martial arts and bojutsu. Though he did not leave a lasting historic mark on Okinawa,Toyama influenced many young men in the Motobu peninsula, including Kanbun Uechi.
Kanbun's keen interest in karate and social objections to serving in the Japanese army provoked his decision to leave Okinawa. His parents abandoned their earlier objections against Kanbun traveling to China in the interest of their son's safety and life.
In March 1897, Kanbun undertook the ten-day excursion across the East China Sea to Fuchow City in Fukein Province. He was accompanied by Tokusaburo Matsuda, a friend from Motobu. The two young refugees, soon to be twenty years old, were uneducated and unfamiliar with the language and ways of China.
Seiko Toyoma told this version of Kanbun's acceptance into Shushiwa's school: One day Shushiwa became ill with a massive headache. He did not look well so his alarmed students sought out Kanbun Uechi and insisted that he use his medicine to cure their teacher. Kanbun successfully healed Shushiwa with herbal mixtures. As a result Kanbun Uechi was finally accepted as an official disciple at the Fu Chuan Shin Temple in a secret ceremony called Pai Soo.
Like many would-be martial arts students in the last days of the 19th century, Kanbun Uechi's first years of study were as much about patience as about martial arts! The first three years of Kanbun's training were devoted only to the kata Sanchin. During the first two years, training focused on strengthening the student's body through hard work as well as martial arts practice.
In addition to karate training, Kanbun worked at farming on the temple grounds, pulling up daikon radish roots. Another chore he performed was the cleaning and husking of beans. The beans were placed in a large stone bowl and struck repeatedly with the fingertips until the husks could be blown away. With this type of work the fingertips were being trained for martial arts. In Okinawa and China, building strength in daily work and karate training were closely related.
In the spring of 1904, the same year that war began between Japan and Russia, Kanbun Uechi received the Menkyo Kaiden certificate naming him a master of Chinese Pangainoon (half hard-half soft style). It was a monumental event in his twenty-seven years of life. He had vowed to himself to become proficient in the martial arts of China or never return to his homeland.
Kanbun became an assistant to Shushiwa, continuing his martial arts training and lessons in Chinese literature and medicine for three more years. Kanbun felt a strong obligation to perform and teach Pangainoon precisely as Shushiwa taught him. He was diligent about every aspect of his teaching.
Kanbun had learned a great deal about the language and herbal medicine by that time. The knowledge of growing, preparing and administering herbal medicine went hand in hand with martial arts teaching. A teacher was expected to heal his students when they were injured during training.
thirty years of age, Kanbun opened his own dojo, the Pangainoon Kempo
Sho (Martial Arts Institute) early in 1907. He chose a town he liked
called Nansei no cho (Nansoe), approximately 250 miles southwest of
Kanbun Uechi, despite requests from his students and Shushiwa to remain, closed his dojo in 1910 and left China forever. During his thirteen years in China, Kanbun learned three kata. They were Sanchin, Seisan, and Sanseiryu. Kanbun called the third kata Sandairyu. Kanbun also learned various methods of Chinese body conditioning.
Having satisfied his goal of learning Chinese martial arts, Kanbun returned to his homeland of Okinawa. Not long after arriving back, Kanbun Uechi began to receive requests to demonstrate his formidable and notable martial arts skills. He was also frequently asked to teach both formally and informally. The constant pressure to teach karate made life difficult for Kanbun Uechi, who sought only seclusion.
Eventually, the pressure to teach became so intense that Kanbun had to act. At that time, Okinawa was undergoing serious economic strife. The pressure to teach and the severe economic climate combined to help him make a difficult decision.
Kanbun again left his homeland. He followed the lead of many Okinawan people seeking employment during this time and at forty-seven years old decided to travel to the industrialized area of Kansai (Osaka and Kobe), Japan.
Kanbun eventually traveled to Wakayama and secured employment in a textile mill, the Hinomaru Sangyo Kabushki Kaisha. The large mill, made of red tile called akarenga, produced boseki fabric used in Japanese clothing. The factory operated twenty-four hours a day.
In April 1925, Kanbun ended his fifteen-year ban on teaching martial arts and opened his first school in Japan. It was at this point that Uechi ryu, taught as Pangainoon, was born. Kanbun used the living quarters (taku) in the company (kai-sha) compound for this purpose, naming it the Shataku (company quarters) dojo. "Dojo" is the name for a karate school. The words literally translate to "way place" and represent the place where the way of karate is taught.
Kanbun intentionally limited the number of students he taught. New students had to be recommended by one of the original members. That member guaranteed the moral character and behavior of the candidate they recommended. All prospective students were carefully screened and scrutinized by Kanbun. All students were forbidden to display their martial arts outside the dojo. All training was conducted secretly behind closed doors and shutters.
In March 1932, Kanbun Uechi, at fifty-four years of age, changed the location of his dojo. He opened the Pangainoon-ryu Karate-jutsu Kenkyu-jo in the Tebira section of Wakayama. The new dojo, located at Showa Dori (street), less than two miles from the former Shataku dojo, was dedicated to formalized training and personal development.
Gichin Funakoshi, who is generally credited with being the fist Okinawan to open a dojo in Japan, opened his Meisei Juju dojo in Koishigawa, Tokyo two years later in 1934. The clandestine atmosphere of the Shataku dojo was left behind and the new dojo was open to the public. Kanbun continued to screen potential students. Only persons of an unbalanced or deceitful nature were excluded. The student enrollment grew and Kanbun soon quit his job at the boseki factory.
Due to post war strife in Japan, Kanbun decided to return to Okinawa. In October 1946, Kanbun Uechi, accompanied by students Seiryo, Tsuru, and Seiyu Shinjo, Seiko Toyama and a few others, returned to Okinawa together. Several others later returned separately and settled in the northern portion of Okinawa.
Kanbun left the Tebira dojo in the care of Ryuyu Tomoyose.
In January 1948, Kanbun Uechi became ill with nephritis that he fought for eleven months. Kanbun, 71 years old, died on Ie-jema Island on November 25, 1948. The Shinjo family were the only ones present when Kanbun died.
Kanbun Uechi has been described by many people who knew him as a kind, gentle, quiet man in day-to-day life but a fierce, intense, and strict instructor of Pangainoon ryu. His life was as unique and eventful as other forefathers of karate, as was his influence.
While Kanbun Uechi was in Wakayama, Japan, his eldest son Kanei lived in Okinawa with his mother. After Kanei reached thirteen years of age, he lived with his grandmother for three years.
In 1927, at sixteen years old, Kanei traveled to Wakayama and joined his father. Kanei joined the Shataku dojo and began chuan fa training under his father.
Kanei soon realized he would be the successor of the martial arts legacy left by his father. He took this responsibility seriously and trained daily with great enthusiasm to become proficient in Pangainoon. After ten years of rigorous study Kanei Uechi received a certificate of instruction and full proficiency from his father in 1937. At age 26, he opened a branch dojo of his own, the Osaka dojo.
In 1941, Kanei Uechi was promoted by his father to Master level. In 1942, Kanei, with his wife and family, returned to his mother's new home in the village of Miyazato, near Nago, Okinawa.
Kanei Uechi's first Okinawa dojo
Kanei Uechi began teaching his twenty-five year old brother Kansei and other young men from the village in the yard of his home. This was the first time Pangainoon (soon to become Uechi ryu) was taught in Okinawa.
Kanei closed his dojo after only two years. He and his students responded to the government call into the war effort to defend Okinawa.
Ryuko Tomoyose, then twenty years old, learned from his father, Ryuyu, that Kanei was back in Okinawa. In April 1949, he helped Kanei Uechi establish the Uechi ryu Karate jutsu Kenkyu-jo in Ginowan-son, Aza Nodake, known as the Nodake dojo. The style name was then changed from Pangainoon karate jutsu to Uechi ryu karate jutsu in honor of Kanbun Uechi.
In 1957, Kanei
Uechi combined the Futenma dojo and the Kanzatobaru dojo. The resulting
dojo was relocated a short distance to a new site.
Kanei Uechi was very ambitious about organizing and teaching his father's system. He recognized the difficulty in teaching newer generations in the rough manner of the past. His desire was to make Uechi ryu karate available to the public at a level at which they could participate, without compromising the integrity and authenticity of Pangainoon.
Toward this end Kanei and other senior Uechi ryu practitioners created four new kata between 1954 and 1958. These were to be used as steppingstones between the three kata that Kanbun Uechi brought from China.
In June 1958, Kanei Uechi held the first dan test and awarded the first belt ranks in Uechi ryu karate. Students of Kanbun Uechi such as Seiko Toyama and Seiyu Shinjo were promoted to Godan (fifth degree) while others received first through fourth degree promotions depending on their seniority and ability.
In July 1959 Kanei Uechi was awarded the Master Instructor Certificate by Ryuyu Tomoyose.
In February 1967, Kanei, at age fifty-six, was promoted to Hanshi Judan (tenth degree) by the Japanese Karate-do Federation, Zen Nihon Karate-do Renmei.
In May 1975, Kanei, sixty-four years old, was elected President of the All Okinawa Karate-do Federation, Zen Okinawa Karate Renmei, which had been founded in May 1956. In April 1977, Kanei was promoted to Hanshi Judan by that association, ten years after his promotion from Japan.
In 1987, Kanei Uechi was hospitalized with a severe stomach ailment. He remained in that frail condition until his death on February 21, 1991. He was eighty years old.
Kanei was a kind, gentle person like his father. His soft-spoken manner was in direct conflict with the expressiveness of his karate. He dedicated his life to his father's style of karate and directed his efforts to its propagation. Kanei Uechi's vision and years of tenacious work have created a karate system that is practiced in many countries throughout the world.
Details on Master Kanmei Uechi (son of Master Kanei Uechi) will be added as soon as possible.
This is a new website - April 2006. More details will be added as soon as possible. Please revisit as it is being actively pursued.