Kanbun Uechi

Kanbun Uechi
Kanbun Uechi (1877-1948)

Early Years and China

Kanbun Uechi (1877-1948) grew up on the Motobu peninsula of Okinawa. His family was a minor noble family but they worked as farmers. Growing up Kanbun reportedly learned the basics of chinese medicine from his father and rumor has it some karate and bo techniques.

At the time many young Okinawan men were being conscripted into the Japanese army. Kanbun and his family did not want him in the army. So in March of 1897, at the age of 19 Kanbun left for China.

Kanbun arrived in Fuzhou City, Fujian province in Southern China. There he reportedly settled at a boarding house for Okinawans (Ryukyukan). Various sources report at this time that Kanbun attended the Kojo dojo and learned some form of Chinese Boxing, but soon left.

What is known is that Kanbun Uechi eventually found his way to a man named Zhou Zhi He (Jap: Shu Shi Wa) in Fujian Province. Shu Shi Wa reportedly practiced Crane and Tiger boxing as well as his own family style of Kung Fu. Kanbun studied under Shu Shi Wa for ten years learning many forms (kata/hsing), and chinese medicine. In 1904 Kanbun received his teaching licence in Pangainoon (half hard/half soft) Quan'fa.

Kanbun opened up his own school after that and taught for three years. However it is reported that either he or one of his students killed someone in a land dispute and so Kanbun left China in 1910 vowing never to teach again.


Kanbun came back to Okinawa and lived as a farmer. In 1911 his eldest some Kanei was born. However times on Okinawa were hard and in 1924 Kanbun left his family in Okinawa for Wakayama, Japan to find work. There he was convinced to teach again and in 1927 Kanei Uechi moved to Wakayama and began studying under him.

In 1947 Kanbun moved back to Okinawa and moved to Ie Jima. He died on November 25, 1948 from a kidney disease common in post-war Okinawa.

Kanei Uechi

Kanei Uechi Kanei Uechi
Kanei Uechi (1911-1991)

Kanei Uechi became the head of the style in 1948 after his father's death. He is responsible for modernizing and expanding the style. Kanbun Uechi brought back the three kata Sanchin, Seisan, and Sanseirui as well as Seisan Bunkai and ideas on conditioning. Kanei Uechi took these and created five new kata and many other exercises and kumites. In addition Seisan Bunkai was changed and a more sport aspect was added. Kanei is responsible for what we now know as Uechi-ryu.

Uechi-ryu comes to America

George Mattson was stationed on Okinawa in 1956. There he studied Uechi-ryu under Ryuko Tomoyose. In 1958 he returned to the United States and began teaching karate at a YMCA in Boston.

Kanei Uechi passed away in 1991 after a long illness.