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, evidence clearly 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
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.
At 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 Fuchow.
Kanbun Uechi was a warm hearted, affectionate man who was well
like by his students. His fierce martial arts ability was
secondary to his easy, likable demeanor. Though now teaching in
his own dojo, Kanbun continued his instruction by making
semiannual visits to Shushiwa to continue his own dedicated
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
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
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
Kanbun left the Tebira dojo in the care of
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
Okinawan Uechi Ryu Karate Kenyukai