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Uechi-ryu Karate – A short History: Part 2

By Mario McKenna

Editor’s Note: This is the second article in the history of Naha-Te (meaning Naha-hand, Naha referring to the seaport city in Okinawa) Uechi-Ryu karate. Part 1 introduced the style’s founder, Uechi Kanbun (1877-1948) and detailed trip to mainland China to further his martial arts studies. Part 2 chronicles his return to Okinawa and the development of his style of karate.

Kanbun Uechi returned to Naha City, Okinawa (photo Ca.1990). This teaming port city was known for its trading and rich mix of foreign traders, sailors and visitors. Along with Uechi Ryu, other styles also flourished eventually there which had their own distinct aspects and reflected a more direct heritage from their Chinese roots. The best known of this group was Goju ryu.

Like his counterpart Higashionna Kanryo several decades earlier, after his return to Okinawa Uechi Kanbun never talked about, or taught quan'fa (Chinese martial arts). In fact, many potential students came to know of Uechi Kanbun and sought him out, but Kanbun summarily dismissed them. It was only after he moved to Wakayama prefecture in 1924, at the age of 47 in search of better work to support his family that Kanbun was finally convinced to start teaching quan'fa again (Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education, 1997).

Kanei Uechi (1910-1991), the son of the founder of Uechi Ryu karate who inherited the system.

Kanbun taught full time, and also made and sold the medicinal compounds as he had done when he lived in China (Breyette, 1999). Three years later, in 1927, Kanbun's eldest son, Uechi Kanei (1911-1991) moved to Wakayama and began learning his father's system of quan'fa (Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education, 1997).

Around the time that Kanbun was teaching his brand of quan'fa in Wakayama prefecture, the popularization and modernization of Okinawan karate had begun. 'Toudi' (China hand) had now become (renamed) karate (empty hand). During this boom-era of popularization a multitude of styles were named and renamed. In contrast, Uechi Kanbun seemed reluctant to formally name his system. Indeed, Uechi Kanbun never stated the name of the system of quan'fa he studied in China and simply referred to his art as Pangainoon-ryu karate-jutsu (Jap. Half hard / soft empty-hand technique); a name which his students innocently mistook as a reference to his particular style of karate.

During his time in Wakayama prefecture, many Okinawan karate teachers visited Kanbun. Among them were Shito-ryu founder Mabuni Kenwa and Konishi Yasuhiro of the Shindo Jinen Ryu. Mabuni was intensely curious as to what had kept Uechi Kanbun in China for well over a decade and Kanbun was more than happy to oblige by demonstrating some of the xing / kata and techniques that comprised his ‘Pangainoon karate'. So inspired was Mabuni by what Kanbun showed him, that Mabuni included some of the basic Fujian tiger boxing techniques in a kata he later developed called 'Shinpa' or 'mind-wave.' Konishi, for his part, did not fair as well as Mabuni. Konishi later recalled that Uechi was ‘living like a recluse' and that he was unable to follow the conversation between Mabuni and Uechi as Uechi Kanbun's Japanese was limited (McCarthy, 1999b). Instead, the two Okinawans talked in ‘Okinawa hogen' (Okinawa dialect).

It should be noted that Pangainoon does not refer to a specific style of quan'fa or Chinese boxing. Instead, it more likely refers to the mixture of training methods from Fujian that Uechi Kanbun combined to make his system of karate. In fact, Pangainoon refers to principles common to all martial arts. These include: goho (Jap. Lit. ‘Hard method’), juho (Jap. Lit. 'Flexible method’) and gojuho (Jap. Lit. ‘Hard / flexible method’). Examples of goho or hard method include: Tiger boxing (Jap. Tora Ken), Great Ancestor boxing (Jap. Tai So Ken), and Lion boxing (Jap. Shi Ken). Examples of gojuho or hard / flexible boxing include: White crane (Jap. Haku Tsuru Ken) and examples of the Juho or flexible method include: Shaolin Flower Boxing (Jap. Shorin Hana Ken), and Crane boxing (Jap. Tsuru Ken).

Uechi Ryu Karate is a powerful, hard Okinawan style that shares many similarities with Goju Ryu karate and the lesser Naha-Te styles of To'on Ryu and Ryuei Ryu. Stances are mostly high, such as the pigeon toe stance (rather than long and deep as some Japanese styles). Techniques feature one knuckle punches, kicks using the big toe (photo left), spear hand (photo right) that symbolically refer to Tigers Teeth and Crane’s beak (moves emulating animal fighting techniques). Also included are a variety of open and closed hand techniques combined with angling and the use of circular blocks and grabs. There were no closed fist punches, however, in the original three kata of Uechi-ryu: Sanchin, Seisan and Sanseryu. Open hand striking techniques emphasize (fingers and many other parts of the hands) striking specific pressure points on the body.

In 1940, Kanbun renamed his system Uechi-ryu Karate-jutsu (Uechi style empty-hand technique). By 1947 Uechi Kanbun had returned to Okinawa and moved to Ie Jima. He passed away the following year on November 25,1948. The year after Kanbun's death, his son, Uechi Kanei returned to Okinawa and opened his first dojo in Ginowan calling it ‘Uechi-ryu Karate-jutsu Kenkyujo' or the Uechi-ryu Karate-jutsu Research Center (Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education, 1997). There Kanei continued to teach his interpretation of his father's art until he relocated his dojo to the city of Futenma in the 1950's. After Uechi Kanei's passing in 1991 at the age of 79 Uechi-ryu karate-do splintered into literally dozens of different organizations each teaching their own interpretation of Uechi Kanbun's art.

Acknowledgements: would like to thank George Mattson for use of a photo (worked on with Photoshop) from his book “The Way of Karate,” and Alan Dollar for a photo from his article ”Uechi-Ryu Deadly Strikes” that appeared in Bugeisha Magazine, Issue 2, March 1997


Breyette, G. (1999). History of Uechi Ryu.

Cook, H. (1999). Sanchin: Training for Power. Dragon Times, Vol. 13, pp.34-36.

Dollar, A. (1996). Secrets of Uechi-ryu Karate and the Mysteries of Okinawa. Antioch, California: Cherokee Publishing.

Kinjo, A. (1999). Karate Denshin Roku (A True Record of the Transmission of Karate). Okinawa: Tosho Centre.

McCarthy, P. (1999). Fujian Quanfa. Archives section. International Ryukyu Karate Research Society.

McCarthy, P. (1999b). Ancient Okinawan Martial Arts: Koryu Uchinadi. Vol. 2. Rutland, VT: C.E. Tuttle.

Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education. (1997). Karate Kobudo Kihon Chousa Hokokushou (Karate Kobudo: A Basic Investigative Report). Vol. 2. Ginowan: Nansei.

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About The Author:

Mario McKenna is a martial arts teacher, writer and historian who also translates Japanese texts into English. He began his training under Yoshitaka Kinjo sensei in 1985, while a high school student in Lethbridge, Alberta. He moved to Japan in 1994 and while living on the island of Amami Oshima in Kagoshima, Japan, he trained under Minowa Katsuhiko sensei and his student Yoshimura Hiroshi sensei in classical Okinawan weaponry. In 1998 he began studying Tou'on-ryu from Kanzaki Shigekazu sensei until his return to Canada in 2002. His qualifications include: Tou'on-ryu Karatedo Go-dan (5th degree), Ryukyu Kobudo Yon-dan (4th degree), and Gohakukai San-dan (3rd degree). Other martial arts experience includes limited training in Aikido, Judo, Shorinji Kenpo, and 18 months of training in Chikubishima-ryu bo-jutsu in Omura, Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan. He has written on the historical and cultural aspects of martial arts training. He now teaches Okinawan karate-do at his Kitsilano dojo in Vancouver, B.C., Canada. Mario has previously contributed to His website is:

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

Karate, karate-do, Kanbun Uechi, Naha-Te, Kanei Uechi, Toudi, karate history, Pangainoon-ryu karate-jutsu, Pangainoon karate', Tiger Boxing, White Crane

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