Master Kanbun Uechi was born on the island of Okinawa, Japan in 1877. At the age of 20 he decided to leave Okinawa for China to avoid mandatory conscription in the Japanese army and to learn martial arts. He established himself in the town of Fuzhou in the province of Fujian (Fukien) where he trained for a time in the Kinjo family dojo that was established there.
Portrait of Master Kanbun Uechi
After a particularly difficult period he began training in Chinese boxing as well as studying the use of herbal medicines under the tutelage of Master Zhou Zhi He (Shushiwa in Japanese, 1874-1926). Master Zhou Zhi He was a enigmatic personality and it is difficult to recall the facts of his life and the school of wushu which he taught. Kanbun Uechi studied under the tutelage of this master for more than 10 years.
Popular Portrait of Master Zhou Zhi He (Shushiwa)
Kanbun Uechi received permission to train the art of his master would later open, under the recommendation of his master, a boutique for selling medicinal herbs as well as a dojo in the town of Nanjing in 1906. In 1909, a drama occured in the life of Master Uechi when one of his students killed another peasant in the village during a quarrel. Following this event, he stopped teaching this art and left China.
Upon his return to Okinawa, determined to never teach an art that kills, Kanbun Uechi married in 1911. His oldest son, Kanei, who would become his successor, was born that same year. Master Uechi then only performed public demonstrations and practiced karate in secret with his friend Tonusaburo Matsuda, who would later study the art of combat in China. These two men also made exchanges with an adept in white crane boxing named Wu Xian Gui who lived in and traded in Okinawa.
In 1924, Kanbun Uechi moved to the town of Wakayama, which is situated on the principle island of Japan, where he worked in a factory. Upon the insistence of his friends, he finally opened a dojo in 1925. In 1932, he moved his dojo and began referring to his school of karate as pangainoon, which is a phonetic transposition in Okinawan of the Chinese name ban ying gui (half hard method or method based on hardness and softness). He definitively names his school in 1940, calling it uechi-ryu.
Photo of Masters Kanbun and Kanei Uechi in 1941
In 1942, Kanbun Uechi‘s son returned to Okinawa to care for his mother. He began teaching the family karate to the youth and introduced the uechi-ryu school to Okinawa. Kanbun Uechi followed him in 1946 to find his devastated native land in full reconstruction after the war. He briefly taught in the town of Nago and later passed away at the age of 71.
His son, Kanei Uechi took over the school upon the death of his father until his own death in 1991. Master Kanbun Uechi’s students included: Takayoshi Tomoyose, Saburo Uehara, Kata Yamashiro, Genmnei Uesato, Yoshitada Matayoshi, Hidefusa Hamazaki and Seiko Toyama. Today the uechi-ryu school of karate is practiced in many countries by many different groups.