History of Uechi Ryu

Kanbun Uechi, born May 5, 1877 on Okinawa, studied the Chinese art of Temple Fighting known as Pangai-Noon (pronounced Pwang-gay-Noon, meaning half hard and half soft at the Central Temple in China’s Fukien Province during the years 1897 – 1910.  Kanbun studied under Chou-Tzu-ho, pronounced Shoo-She-Wa, whose reputation today is known in Taiwan by the old masters and is regarded by them to be a very famous teacher. This style incorporates the Shoalin Temple’s systems of the Tiger representing Power, Speed, and Agility, demonstrated in the cat stance; the Crane, representing gracefulness and balance, demonstrated in the crane stance; and the Dragon representing powerful breathing. Uechi-Ryu is characterized buy such techniques as the one-knuckle punch, shokin, the spear-hand thrust, nukite, the palm-heel trust and the pointed toe kick.


In early 1897, Kanbun left Okinawa to go to China. Kanbun’s reasons for leaving Okinawa were two fold. One was to learn the superior art of Chinese fighting, sometimes called Kenpo, and the other was to avoid conscription by the Japanese, who forced young Okinawa’s to serve in their army.


After ten years of study, Kanbun obtained permission to open his own school in the province of Nansoue. Kanbun Uechi had the distinction of being of the only Okinawa to have actually taught in China and to be accepted as a teacher. He was doing well as a teacher when one of his students was provoked into an argument and while instinctively defending himself, struck his attacker with a fatal bow. Kanbun, after teaching in China for three years, left for Okinawa bowing never to teach Karate again.


Kanbun Uechi returned to Okinawa in 1910, married and began farming near Naha. Life during these years was uneventful while the few who had heard or knew of Kanbun’s skill and knowledge of karate tried to persuade him to teach again. But he still refused to discuss or teach Karate or to demonstrate a Kata until one year in the town of Motobu, a large celebration was held annually by the police department and all Karate schools demonstrated their skills. Other teachers were anxious to see proof of Kanbun’s ability and asked the Mayor of Motobu to request that he demonstrate. Refusal of the mayor’s request would have caused Kanbun to lose face. Eyes glaring, Kanbun performed the Kata Seisan with such speed, strength and power that after he finished no one else wished to follow his demonstration. The pressure on Kanbun to teach again was so great that the Uechi family left Okinawa for Japan in 1924.


In Japan, Kanbun lived in Wakiyama prefecture near Osaka. There he met a young, aggressive Okinawa named Ryuyu Tomoyose. Ryuyu confronted Kanbun, knowing who he was and implored to be taught. Kanbun refused but finally consented on the condition that Ryuyu never tell anyone else. Two years later Ryuyu asked Kanbun to teach the public, saying that if he did not, the art would die out and that something so good should be given to other people. Kanbun finally consented and continued to reach in the Wakiyama prefecture on the island of Ishima until 1947.


Kanei Uechi started under his father in 1927 and studied for ten years, and then in 1940, he opened his own in Osaka. He returned to Okinawa in 1942, married and settled down as a farmer in Nago. Ryuko Tomoyose, son of Ryuyu Tomoyose, was lining in Futenma, Okinawa, when he learned Kanei was there. He found Kanei and convinced him to teach. Ryuko and a group of students built a dojo and brought Kanei to Futenma to teach.


In 1948 on November 25, Kanbun Uechi died and in his honor, his students renamed the style after him and to this day it is known as Uechi Ryu.



There are eight empty-hand katas in Uechi Ryū; the longest has 36 steps. Only Sanchin, Seisan, Sanseirui are from Pangai-noon. The others were added to the style by Kanei Uechi. Kanei Uechi designed all of the non-original katas except for Kanshu (designed by Seiki Itokazu) and Seichin (designed by Saburo Uehara). Many of the names of the newer kata were formed from the names of prominent figures in the art, e.g. Kanshiwa from Kanbun and Sushiwa. The current list of empty-hand kata is:

  1. Sanchin
  2. Kanshiwa (also known as Konchabu)
  3. Kanshu (also known as Dainiseisan)
  4. Seichin
  5. Seisan
  6. Seirui (also known as Seiryu)
  7. Kanchin
  8. Sanseirui (also known as Sandairyu and Sanseiryu)

The Sanchin kata is deceptively simple in appearance. It teaches the foundation of the style, including stances and breathing. Kanbun Uechi is quoted as saying "All is in Sanchin." Though it is not difficult to learn the movements of Sanchin, it is thought to take a lifetime to master the form.

Additionally, some organizations teach that each kata has a 'meaning' or moral; the more accurate meaning however is that each kata teaches a specific concept:

  1. Sanchin (三戦, Sanchin?) - Literally translated as "3 fights/conflicts". From the kanji for "3" and 戦う ("to fight/to struggle", 戦う?). Usually interpreted as three Modes/Conflicts: Mind, Body and Spirit). An alternate interpretation is "Three Challenges" being those of softness, timing, and power.
  2. Kanshiwa (漢子知, Kanshiwa?) - A combination of the first kanji in Kanbun's name, and the last two kanji (if written in Chinese order) of Shu Shiwa's[Japanese pronunciation] name.) This kata teaches the new student the concept of harnessing natural strength through use of primarily tiger-style techniques.
  3. Kanshu (完周, Kanshu?) - A combination of the first kanji in Kanbun's name, and the kanji for Shu Shiwa's family name (Shu) [see previous note on pronunciation]. This kata is also known as Daini Seisan (第二十三, Daini Seisan?).) This kata teaches the concept of precision in timing through using crane techniques.
  4. Seichin (十戦, Seichin?) - Literally translated, it means "10 fights/conflicts"). An alternate meaining interprets the name phonetically and it translates to "Spirit Challenge", and infers that it teaches the concept of soft whiplike motion. This form uses whip-like dragon-style techniques.
  5. Seisan (十三, Seisan?) - Literally translated, it means "13". Usually interpreted as "Thirteen modes of attack and defense" or "13 positions to attack/defend from.") An alternate meaning is simply "13th Room Kata", being the form synthesised in the 13th room of Shaolin, using individual techniques taught in the previous training rooms. This kata now successfully combines the "Three Challenges" concepts, and the student can now go back and recognize and further develop those elements in the previous forms.
  6. Seirui (十六, Seirui?) - Along the lines of the others, literally translated this means simply "16"). An alternate translation is to use phonetics rather than literal kanji meaning, and can mean "10 Dragons Form", as there are 10 dragon techniques in the kata. This kata teaches the concept of stability as the four consecutive Dragon techniques in rotation call for a strong sense of balance.
  7. Kanchin (完戦, Kanchin?) - A combination of Kanbun's first kanji and "fight." The first kanji of Kanbun, Kanei, and Kanmei are the same. Since this was created by Kanei UECHI from fighting techiques he favored from his father's training, the name be considered to mean "Kanei's Challenge", or "Kanei's Fight". This form teaches the practitioner the concept of making defensive movements in one stroke (called "ikkyoodo" - all in one stroke).
  8. Sanseirui (三十六, Sanseirui?) - Literally translated, it means simply "36". Usually interpreted as "thirty-six modes of attack and defense" or "36 positions to attack/defend from."). It can also mean "36th Room Kata" as it is made from techniques taught individually in the previous 35 rooms (or previous 12 rooms in 3 rotations). Shu Shiwa was also known as "The 36th Room Priest" according to the 1977 Uechi-Ryu Kyohon (Techniques Book). This final kata combines all the previous concepts to pre-empt the attack.

After Kanei Uechi, some Uechi Ryū schools have added additional kata such as Shoshu, Seiunchin, Seiryuchin, Tochin, and others.


These are the ten black belt or Dan ranks:

  1. Shodan
  2. Nidan
  3. Sandan
  4. Yondan
  5. Godan
  6. Rokudan (Master's title: Renshi)
  7. Shichidan or Nanadan (Master's title: Kyoshi)
  8. Hachidan (Master's title: Kyoshi)
  9. Kyudan (Master's title: Hanshi)
  10. Judan (Master's title: Hanshi-sei)

These are the ten beginner or Kyu ranks:

  1. Jukyu
  2. Kyukyu
  3. Hachikyu
  4. Shichikyu
  5. Rokkyu
  6. Gokyu
  7. Yonkyu
  8. Sankyu
  9. Nikkyu
  10. Ikkyu



Additional Training Elements

Kanei Uechi, in addition to adding kata, also introduced a sequence of exercises to the Uechi Ryū training regimen. The "junbi undo" are warm-up and stretching exercises based on Asian school training exercises. The "hojo undō" are standardized exercises that incorporate elements of all of the katas of the system.

The junbi undo exercises are:

  1. Ashi saki o ageru undo (heel pivot)
  2. Kakato o ageru undo (heel lift)
  3. Ashikubi o mawasu undo (foot and ankle twist)
  4. Hiza o mawasu undo (knee circular bend)
  5. Ashi o mae yoko ni nobasu undo (leg lift and turn)
  6. Ashi o mae uchi naname no ageru undo (straight left lift)
  7. Tai o mae ni taosu undo (waist scoop)
  8. Koshi no nenten (trunk stretch)
  9. Ude o mae yoko shita nobasu undo (double arm strike)
  10. Kubi o mawasu undo (neck exercise)

The hojo undo exercises are:

  1. Sokuto geri (Side Snap Kick)
  2. Shomen geri (Front kick)
  3. Mawashi tsuki (Hook Punch)
  4. Wauke shuto uraken shoken tsuki/Shuto Uchi-Ura Uchi-Shoken Tsuki (Chop, Backfist, One-knuckle punch)
  5. Hajiki uke hiraken tsuki (Tiger Paw Blocks and Strikes)
  6. Hiji tsuki (Elbow strikes)
  7. Shomen tsuki/Seiken tsuki (Reverse Punch)
  8. Tenshin zensoku geri (Turn-Block-Front Kick-Forward Leg)
  9. Tenshin kosuko geri (Turn-Block-Front Kick-Back Leg)
  10. Tenshin shoken tsuki (Turn-Block-One Knuckle Punch)
  11. Shomen hajiki (fingertip eye strikes - NB: some consider this to be a throat attack)
  12. Koino shipo uchi, tate uchi (fish-tail wrist blocks in four directions)
  13. Koino shipo uchi, yoko uchi (fish-tail wrist blocks side-to-side)