Master Kanbun Uechi
1877 - 1948

Master Kanei Uechi
1911 - 1991
(pictured here)

On June 26, 1911 in Izumi, Motobu, Kanei Uechi was the first-born son of Kanbun Uechi and Toyama Gozei. When Kanei was sixteen years old and in poor health, he began training under his father and entered the Shataku dojo in Wakayama, where he began to learn the art of ‘Pangai-noon-Ryu Karate-Jutsu’.

According to Sensei Seiko Toyama (a direct student of Kanbun), Kanbun Uechi never told the actual name of the system he had studied in China, but simply named it ‘Pangai-noon-Ryu Karate-Jutsu’.  According to one researcher, its official name may have been ‘Nan-Pa Toro Ken’ - South Group Mantis Fist. As brought from China the basic system transplanted by Kanbun Uechi consisted of the three kata’s, Sanchin, Seisan, and Sanseiryu.  The system also consisted of Kakeai (technique experimentation) and body conditioning drills that combined the movements of the tiger, dragon, crane, leopard, snake, mantis, and cobra. “Min-chin-chu-ryu” was a phrase often used by Kanbun to describe Pangai-noon. It is supposed to mean ‘speed with glare’. This represents the idea of moving very fast, yet with the glare or spirit of strength.

 By this time, the art of fighting without weapons was becoming known as karate - “Empty Hand” - which had previously been known as “Chinese Hand” (in Japanese Kanji, ‘Kara’ can have two meanings - one means ‘Chinese’, the other means ‘empty’).  Uechi-Ryu KarateDo was originally a form of Chinese Boxing - one of the Pangai-noon (‘half-hard, half-soft’) styles.

Dan/Kyu ranking system
In 1935, a formal Dan/Kyu ranking system came into being. Dan ranks were licensed not through strict and impartial examination regulations but by direct recognition of Kanbun’s skilled authorization. Kanei Uechi was one of only two men to receive Dan rank personally from Kanbun Uechi. Asian tradition dictated to some degree that Kanbun pass the reins of a “family system” to his eldest son and after Kanei Uechi had received his father Kanbun’s coaching for 10 years, he had mastered theory, spirit, technique, and body to the degree that he was considered to excel his father in these aspects. With his father Kanbun’s approval and upon receiving his certificate of full proficiency, Kanei Uechi opened a branch dojo at Tsurumi Hashi Dori, Nishinari-ku, Osaka (Kansai region).  Kanei Uechi was enthusiastic about being the master of a new dojo with a sign proclaiming the Pan-gai-nun-ryu Karate-jutsu Institute, Osaka Branch. Although in those days’ people only thought of karate as a means of fighting, and under such circumstances students at the initial classes only numbered around 20.

Uechiryu’s Okinawa beginnings
By April 1942 after a 15-year absence, Kanei Uechi decided to return with his wife and children to Okinawa to take care of his mother, brother, and sisters. Soon after settling down in Nago’s Miyazato, Kanei Uechi gathered his younger brother Kansei Uechi (then 20 years old), Kohan Toyozate, and some neighborhood youths and began teaching in a spacious backyard garden.  That was in fact, Uechiryu’s Okinawa beginnings.  This came to be known as Uechiryu’s Karate-jutsu Research Club at Miyazato village near Nago.

Greater East Asia War
In 1944, at the age of 33, Kanei Uechi and his younger brother Kansei, with most of his students are drafted for duty into the Japanese military service to defend Okinawa in the Greater East Asia War. Kanei’s commanding officer, Lt. Jinbo, a first lieutenant, knew that private Uechi was a “Shihan” of karate and made him perform in front of the soldiers whenever possible.  Lt. Jinbo was to save Kanei’s life and with it, secure the future of Uechiryu KarateDo. 

At the end of April 1949, shortly after the death of his father Kanbun, Kanei Uechi renamed the style Uechi Ryu.  After leaving Nago and moving south, he established the Nodake thatched hut dojo at Ginowan-cho, Aza Nodake 1537 banchi.  He put out a sign, “Uechiryu Karate Jutsu Kenkyu-jo” (Uechi Karate study hall).  The Kanzatobaru dojo (zinc-roofed) in the suburbs of Naha was also set up with Mr. Seiki Itukazu from the Hyoyo dojo as senior student. Three days a week Kanei would bus to Naha to teach a large number of students at the Kanzatobaru dojo.  He did this because he wanted to make Uechiryu grow. May 1956 the first meeting of the Okinawa KarateDo Renmei (Okinawa Karate Federation) is held in Naha with Uechiryu as a charter member.

Master of Uechiryu KarateDo
July 11, 1959 Kanei Uechi received a Master Instructor Certificate and “Hanshi” title in the name of Kanbun Uechi from his senior Hanshi Ryuyu Tomoyose. To receive these titles is the greatest honor for a martial artist. On March 19, 1967 at age 55, Kanei Uechi was awarded the rank of Hanshi Judan (10Th. Dan) by the Zen Nihon KarateDo Renmei (All Japanese KarateDo Federation) and official recognition as the Master of Uechiryu KarateDo.  Then, on April 11, 1967 the Zen Okinawa KarateDo Renmei (All Okinawa Karate Federation) awarded Master Kanei Uechi the same by a unanimous decision—Hanshi Judan). Kanei Uechi had been awarded three “Hanshi” titles.  Later, in May 1975, Master Kanei Uechi would be elected President of the same association. 

Kanei Uechi, Ryuko Tomoyose, and other members of the Uechi Karate Association visited Taiwan and met with Chinese Kenpo experts to discuss the origins of Pangai-noon. As a result, it is believed that “Shushabu” is a variant pronunciation (due to differences in dialect) of “Shushiwa,” a famed Kenpo teacher from Foochow City. Then in August, Kanei Uechi and Ryuko Tomoyose visited the United States of America to observe Uechiryu KarateDo’s growth. In January 1971 the “Shubukai” was renamed “Uechiryu KarateDo Kyokai” (Uechi Karate Association) and became an international organization with member schools in the United States, Canada, England, France, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, and the Philippines. 1974, many distinguished and talented martial artists who built up Uechiryu’s first Golden Age were awarded the “Kyoshi” title posthumously at the Uechiryu KarateDo Association’s general meeting.  The senior students who were still living received the “Kyoshi” title retroactively to December 3, 1964.

Through years of experience, Master Uechi realized the need for Uechiryu to evolve and grow.  Understanding a need to expand the curriculum, he proceeded to develop other fighting techniques taught to him by his father.  Over time, he created additional Katas (forms), Yakasuke Kumite’s (sparring drills), Bunkai’s (kata applications), a stretching routine called Junbi-Undo, and a technique exercise called Hojoundo.  Initially, all were developed for demonstrations, but eventually became regular training methods and requirements in the system.  All of these methods form a bridge to the understanding of the “sacred three” katas—Sanchin, Seisan, and Sanseiryu.

Pan-gai-nun-ryu was reformed in October of 1978 by a breakaway group of Kanei Uechi’s disciples headed by Seiko Itokazu and Takashi Kinjo.  One reason was that they wanted to include Kobudo as well as other fighting arts in their dojo training. This, however, was not the only reason for this split and the style has been politically factionalized since Kanei’s death. One separate group calls itself Pangai Noon, the original Chinese name of the style and another is called Shohei Ryu dropping the name of the founder.

There are now approximately 24 associations on Okinawa directly related to Uechi-Ryu, all teaching slightly different but equally valid styles of the same system. Today, Uechi Ryu is very popular and Kanmei Uechi heads the system in Okinawa. Kanei Uechi died at the age of 79 in Okinawa. He passed away in early 1991 after a lengthy hospitalization and a long term of illness. He is buried in the families “turtle-back tomb” on the side of a hill in Futenma. Since Kanei’s death in 1991 the Uechi ryu system has divided into numerous factions in Okinawa and worldwide. These various associations all generally maintain high standards and cooperate with each other on friendly terms.