Kanbun Uechi was the founding grand master in whose honor the Karate system of Uechi-Ryu (Pronounced Way-chee-Roo) Karate was named. Kanbun studied at the Central temple in the Fukien Province of Southern China during the years 1897-1910. The Chinese name for this system of Karate is Pwang-gai-noon, which means half-hard-half-soft. Kanbun was the first Okinawan to study this system. Kanbun studied under a Chinese teacher named Shishiwa, the last known instructor of Pwang gai noon in China.
Kanei Uechi, son of Kanbun, learned karate from his father and became grand master and head worldwide of all Uechi-Ryu Karate schools after his father Kanbun died on November 25, 1948. Kanei died on February 24, 1991. After Master Kanei Uechi's death several of his senior students created the Okikukai Association of Okinawa to teach and promote the art and spirit of the late grandmasters. They named their style Shohei Ryu.
Kanbun Uechi was born on May 5, 1877, in Izumi, a small farming village in Northern Okinawa. Through his youth, he learned to farm the land of his ancestors and studied some of the martial arts forms available at the time.
Kanbun's reasons for leaving Okinawa were twofold. Probably the main reason was to learn the superior art of Chinese fighting. During the 18th and 19th centuries, most of the great Okinawan teachers went to China to study the ancient art of self defense.
Since 1879, under Japan's rule, Okinawan youths were forced to serve in the Japanese army. The older generation, which included Kanbun's parents, fearful of inviting invasion from Japan's enemies should an armed force be maintained in Okinawa, strongly opposed this military conscription. Women prayed daily at the Shinto Shrine and Buddhist temples that their husbands and sons would be unfit for military service. Encouraged by his parents, Kanbun quietly left the Island of Okinawa, bound for unknown adventures in China, early in 1897.
Although little is known of Kanbun's 13 years in China, he occasionally told his students stories relating to his travels and study of Karate. His son Kanei did say that Kanbun directed all his energies toward the Mastery of Karate. He learned not only the physical art, which included Chinese medicine, but also the underlying philosophy of the art which made such a lasting impression on him.
After ten years of study, Kanbun obtained permission to open his own school. With great initial difficulty, Kanbun set up a school in the province of Nansoue. Kanbun was warned not to open the school there as others had tried and failed. Kanbun replied by saying that he wished to test his Karate ability by teaching there, because he liked the area. In time, despite a few run-ins, his reputation grew until he finally had a successful school with many students, including Mr. Gokenken, who was the one who told Kanbun that it was not a good idea to open a school there. Kanbun Uechi had the distinction of being the only Okinawan to have actually taught in China and to be accepted as a teacher.
Kanbun was quite happy in this village and was doing well as a teacher when unfortunately, one of his students, who by nature was quiet and unassuming, was provoked into an argument over a boundary dispute.
The opponent viciously attacked the student who instinctively defended himself and accidentally struck his attacker with a fatal blow. The village people blamed his death on Kanbun, since he had instructed the student. It was then that the respect of the village turned to distrust and hatred against Kanbun. Kanbun had been teaching in China for three years before returning to Okinawa, vowing never to teach Karate again or ever speak about it.
There are many versions of the story of how Kanbun Uechi began his teaching career once again; most are partially true. The following story was told by Kanei Uechi (Kanbun's son) and confirmed by Kanbun's first student, Ryu Ryu Tomoyose.
Kanbun Uechi returned to Okinawa in 1910, married and began farming in the southern part of the island near Naha. Life was uneventful for Kanbun during these years. Then about two years after Kanbun's return to Okinawa, Mr. Gokenken, a Chinese tea merchant and former student of Kanbun, visited Okinawa on business. Mr. Gokenken urged Kanbun to resume teaching but with no success. Gokenken became involved in a fight with a Naha Karate teacher. When Gokenken defeated the teacher, many other teachers challenged him, but none were able to defeat Gokenken. Then many young men visited him, asking that he instruct them in his style of Karate. Gokenken would tell them that there lived in Okinawa a truly great Karate expert who had even been his teacher in China. Soon Kanbun's reputation grew and spread, even though no one had ever seen him perform. Many young men visited Kanbun, asking that he teach them, but he would reply that they must have mistaken him for somebody else. Finally the townspeople confronted Kanbun with Gokenken. After that he was unable to deny the stories, but he still refused to discuss Karate or demonstrate a Kata.
Every year the Motobu Police department had a large Celebration and all of the Karate Schools demonstrated their skills. The other teachers who were anxious to see proof of Kanbun's ability, asked the mayor of Motobu to request that he demonstrate at the Celebration. They would see that Kanbun attended and was seated so near the stage if he refused the mayor's request, he would lose face. The plot worked, for when the mayor asked Kanbun to demonstrate, the other teachers were standing close by and playfully pushed Kanbun on stage. Eyes glaring, Kanbun performed the Kata Seisan very fast and beautifully, with such strength and power that after he had finished, jumped down from the stage and proceeded home, the Karate part of the Celebration had ended, for no one else wished to follow Kanbun's demonstration.
The art of karate is based on three main principles: technique, speed and strength. Technique is the most important factor in learning and mastering karate. The only way one can develop technique is through constant devotion and daily practice. Speed and strength are developed as one learns technique and develops skills.
If you become a student of Uechi Ryu karate, you will belong to a unique group of individuals. Regardless of the type of training you pursue or for whatever reason, be it self-defense, a way to improve your physical condition, or to learn a new sport, you will be offered challenges and rewards that cannot be found anywhere else.