Uechi Ryu is a traditional Okinawan style of karate developed by Kanbun Uechi in the early 1900’s, following Kanbun’s training for a number of years in China.
On May 5, 1877 Kanbun Uechi was born in Izumi, a small village in the Takinto mountain area on the Motobu peninsula of northern Okinawa. In 1879, Okinawa became an official state, or prefecture, of Japan under Emperor Meiji. During this time, Emperor Meiji wanted to make Japan a ‘viable player’ in the modern world of the 20th century. Among many things, this meant getting rid of the Samurai class (warriors) in Japan and Okinawa. The Uechi family was from this Samurai class, and had already moved to Takinto when Kanbun was born.
Because the Uechi family members were farmers of radishes, Kanbun had skilled knowledge of herbs and herbal medicines. Also through farming, Kanbun became skilled in bo (staff) arts and other arts that used farming tools as weapons. This is where Kanbun’s interest in martial arts began to grow.
By the time he was 20 years old, Kanbun was 5′ 5” and very strong from tilling soil as a farmer. In order to avoid being drafted into the Japanese army, Kanbun left for Fuchow City in the Fukien Province of Southern China in March 1897. There, he began his vigourous perfection of martial arts, specifically Chuan Fa. (Chuan Fa and/or Kung Fu are the 2 names used to describe Chinese martial arts. The systems from Northern China emphasize soft, flowing movements. The systems from Southern China focused on strength and conditioning.)
One of the men who made the greatest impact on Kanbun’s martial arts training was a man named, Chou Tsu Ho (pronounced in Japan as Shushiwa), in his school, The Fu Chuan Shin Temple. Shushiwa allowed Kanbun to train with him because Kanbun healed Shushiwa with an herbal medicine mixture that Kanbun made. The first 3 years of Kanbun’s training with Shushiwa were focused only on Sanchin training and body conditioning (kote kitae).
In 1904, when Kanbun was 24 years old, he received a Master Certificate of Chinese Pangainoon (the half hard and half soft style). He diligently taught Pangainoon from a precise and traditional perspective for another 3 years under Shushiwa. At age 30, after training with Shushiwa for ten years, Kanbun was allowed to open his first dojo, the Pangainoon Kempo Sho, where he taught until 1910. His reputation as a remarkable martial artist became widespread through parts of China and into Okinawa.
In 1910 there was due to a dispute between one of Kanbun’s students and a Chinese farmer that led to a fight and the delivery by Kanbun’s student of a lethal fingertip strike to his opponent. The people of Kanbun’s village turned against him, calling him a teacher of murderers. This humbled and shamed Kanbun, and he stopped teaching martial arts and returned to Okinawa. In Okinawa, news of Kanbun’s unrivaled skill in martial arts spread rapidly. However, Kanbun desperately wanted to remain secluded and vehemently denied the many requests for lessons.
Kanbun Uechi married in Okinawa, and in 1911 his first son, Kanei Uechi, was born. Kanbun also had another son, Kansei, and two daughters, Tsuru and Kamai.
Due to economic circumstances, Kanbun left Okinawa in 1924 without his family and traveled to Kansai, Japan (now Osaka and Kobe). Kanbun eventually ended up in Wakayama, Japan, where he found employment at a textile mill. In 1925, Kanbun opened his first dojo in Wakayama, the Shataku Dojo, and began teaching karate under the name “Pangainoon”. In 1927, Kanei Uechi moved to Japan to study under his father.
In 1942, Kanei Uechi returned to Okinawa and established a dojo in Nago, representing the first time that this style was taught in Okinawa. This dojo was closed in 1944, when Kanei and his younger brother Kansei were drafted into the Japanese army. In 1946, Kanbun Uechi returned to Okinawa, where he reopened the dojo founded by Kanei in Nago. In Janaury 1948, Kanbun Uechi became ill with nephritis, leading to his death after a long illness on November 25, 1948. Following Kanbun’s death, the style was re-named from Pangainoon to Uechi Ryu in his honor.
History of the Shinjo Family and Kenyukai
Today there exist a number of organizations and associations which practice Uechi Ryui karate. One of these organizations was founded by the Shinjo family, and is known as Kenyukai.
Seiryo Shinjo, living and working in Japan, befriended Kanbun Uechi and became his closest friend and student in the Shataku Dojo. He remained a student of Kanbun for 10 years. Seiryo Shinjo’s son, Seiyu, was born in Japan in 1929. Seiyu Shinjo became a student of Kanbun when he was 10 years old.
In 1946, when Kanbun Uechi returned to Okinawa, three of his students Seiryo and Seiyu Shinjo and Seiko Toyama, returned to Okinawa with him. In 1951, Seiyu Shinjo’s first son, Kiyohide Shinjo, was born. Seiyu moved to Naha City, Okinawa in 1953, where he continued to train under Kanei Uechi.
In 1960, Seiyu Shinjo and his family moved to Kadena City in Okinawa to join his father, Seiryo, where they opened the Kadena Shubukan. Seiyu Shinjo’s second son, Narahiro Shinjo, was born that year. Kiyohide Shinjo also began training in 1960. It was in this dojo, the Kadena Shubukan, that grandfather, father, and son all taught Uechi Ryu (at one time or another) until the dojo was closed down due to city redevelopment in September 2004.
Kiyohide Shinjo was promoted to Shodan (first degree black belt) in 1968. In 1970, Kiyohide Shinjo won 1st place in both kata and kumite (sparring) in the 3rd annual Okinawa Championship Tournament. He continued to do so for a record nine years straight. Between 1981 and 2004, Narahiro Shinjo placed 1st in kata in 6 of the annual all Okinawan Championship Tournaments.
In 1976, Seiryo Shinjo, Kiyohide’s grandfather, died. Kiyhohide Shinjo was inducted to the Board of Directors of the All Okinawan Karate Federation in 1981. He was the Chairman of the Board from 1991 through 1994, and he still serves on this Board today.
In 1981, Seiyu Shinjo, Kiyohide’s father, died. Following his death, Kiyohide Shinjo founded a “fraternity” within the Uechi Ryu Association to honor his father and called the group, Kenyukai. Ken means “fist”. Yu is part of his father’s name, “Seiyu”. Kai means “group”. Together, the name Kenyukai stands for “Seiyu Shinjo’s Strong Fist Group”.
Following the death of Seiyu Shinjo, Kiyohide Shinjo took over as the chief instructor at the Kadena Shubukan. After the closing of the Kadena Shubukan in 2004, Kiyohide Shinjo opened a new dojo in Zakimi City, Okinawa.