is a traditional style of Okinawan karate
. The founder of Uechi Ryū was Kanbun Uechi
(上地完文)(1877-1948), an Okinawan who went to Fuzhou
to study martial arts
when he was 20 years old. Uechi-ryū means "Style of Uechi" or "School of Uechi."
(half-hard, half-soft) Kung Fu
in the Fujian
(a.k.a. Fukien) province of mainland China
in the late 1800s and early 1900s. After 10 years of study under Shushiwa, Kanbun Uechi opened his own school in Nanjing
province. Two years later, Kanbun Uechi returned to Okinawa
, resolved never to teach again because one of his Chinese students had killed a neighbour with an open-hand technique in a dispute over land irrigation. It was while working as a janitor that he was persuaded by a co-worker, Ryuyu Tomoyose, to teach again after Uechi was first convinced to show Tomoyose ways of defending against different attacks. His confidence as a teacher restored, Uechi, with the help of Ryuyu Tomoyose, moved to Wakayama
City, Wakayama Prefecture
, where in 1925 he established the Institute of Pangainun-ryū (half-hard and soft) Todi-jutsu, and opened a dojo to the public. His Okinawan students eventually renamed the system in 1940
to "Uechi Ryū."
Kanbun Uechi's son, Kanei Uechi, taught the style at the Futenma City Dojo, Okinawa, and was considered the first Okinawan to sanction the teaching to foreigners. One of Kanei's senior students, Ryuko Tomoyose, taught a young American serviceman named George Mattson, formerly of Boston and now residing in Florida, who authored several books on the subject and is largely responsible for popularizing the style in America. Uechi Ryū emphasizes toughness of the body with quick hand and foot strikes. Several of the more distinctive weapons of Uechi practitioners are the one-knuckle punch (shoken), spearhand (nukite), and the toe kick (shomen geri). Because of this emphasis on simplicity, stability, and a combination of linear and circular motions, proponents claim that the style is more practical for self-defense than most other martial arts.
In contrast to the more linear styles of karate based on Okinawan Shuri-te or Tomari-te, Uechi Ryū's connection to Chinese Nanpa Shorin-ken means it shares a similar foundation to Naha-Te (and thus Goju-ryu) despite their separate development. Thus, Uechi Ryū is also heavily influenced by the circular movements inherent in kung fu from Fujian province. Uechi Ryū is principally based on the movements of 3 animals: the Tiger, Dragon, and Crane.
There are eight empty-hand katas in Uechi Ryū; the longest has 36 steps. Only Sanchin
, and 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
. The current list of empty-hand kata is:
- Kanshiwa (also known as Konchabu)
- Kanshu (also known as Dainiseisan)
- Seirui (also known as Seiryu)
- Sanseirui (also known as Sandairyu and Sanseiryu)
Note: There are newer Katas (one or two) still being worked upon by the Okinawan Karate-Do association.
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:
- - Literally translated as "3 fights/conflicts". From the kanji for "3" and . Usually interpreted as three Modes/Conflicts: Mind, Body and Spirit). An alternate interpretation is "Three Challenges" being those of softness, timing, and power.
- - 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.
- - 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 .) This kata teaches the concept of precision in timing through using crane techniques.
- - Literally translated, it means "10 fights/conflicts"). An alternate meaning interprets the name phonetically and it translates to "Spirit Challenge", and infers that it teaches the concept of soft whip-like motion. This form uses whip-like dragon-style techniques.
- - 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.
- - 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.
- - 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 techniques 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).
- - 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.
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:
- Rokudan (Master's title: Renshi)
- Shichidan or Nanadan (Master's title: Kyoshi)
- Hachidan (Master's title: Kyoshi)
- Kyudan (Master's title: Hanshi)
- Judan (Master's title: Hanshi or Hanshi-sei)
These are the ten beginner or Kyu ranks:
- Jukyu (White Belt)
- Kyukyu (Yellow Belt) (or white belt with one yellow stripe)
- Hachikyu (Blue Belt) (or yellow belt)
- Shichikyu or Nanakyu (Red Belt) (or yellow belt with one purple stripe)
- Rokkyu (Purple Belt)
- Gokyu (Green Belt) (or purple belt with one green stripe)
- Yonkyu (Green Belt w/ 1 Brown Stripe) (or green belt)
- Sankyu (Brown Belt) (or green belt with one brown stripe)
- Nikkyu (Brown Belt w/ 1 Black Stripe) (or brown belt))
- Ikkyu (Brown Belt w/ 2 Black Stripes) (or brown belt with one black stripe)
There are no weapons in the Uechi Ryū system, although several masters in Okinawa have cross-trained with Kobudo
weapon systems and made them part of their curriculum. Okinawan weapons include in part: bo
(6' staff), Nunchaku
, Eku Bo (Oar), Tonfa
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:
- Ashi saki o ageru undo (heel pivot)
- Kakato o ageru undo (heel lift)
- Ashikubi o mawasu undo (foot and ankle twist)
- Hiza o mawasu undo (knee circular bend)
- Ashi o mae yoko ni nobasu undo (leg lift and turn)
- Ashi o mae uchi naname no ageru undo (straight left lift)
- Tai o mae ni taosu undo (waist scoop)
- Koshi no nenten (trunk stretch)
- Ude o mae yoko shita nobasu undo (double arm strike)
- Kubi o mawasu undo (neck exercise)
The hojo undo exercises are:
- Sokuto geri (Side Snap Kick)
- Shomen geri (Front kick)
- Mawashi tsuki (Hook Punch)
- Wauke shuto uraken shoken tsuki/Shuto Uchi-Ura Uchi-Shoken Tsuki (Chop, Backfist, One-knuckle punch)
- Hajiki uke hiraken tsuki (Tiger Paw Blocks and Strikes)
- Hiji tsuki (Elbow strikes)
- Shomen tsuki/Seiken tsuki (Reverse Punch)
- Tenshin zensoku geri (Turn-Block-Front Kick-Forward Leg)
- Tenshin kosuko geri (Turn-Block-Front Kick-Back Leg)
- Tenshin shoken tsuki (Turn-Block-One Knuckle Punch)
- Shomen hajiki (fingertip eye strikes - NB: some consider this to be a throat attack)
- Koi no shippo uchi, tate uchi (fish-tail wrist blocks in four directions)
- Koi no shippo uchi, yoko uchi (fish-tail wrist blocks side-to-side)
Kanei Uechi developed a set of pre-arranged sparring exercises for the colored (non-black) belt ranks. These exercises are referred to as "kyu kumite". They involve two partners exchanging a formal sequence of blocks and strikes. There are five of these exercises, and each one involves three to six exchanges of single blocks and strikes. The kyu kumite exercises involve blocks and strikes that are, for the most part, also found in Uechi Ryū kata. Thus, like kata bunkai, these exercises help students become familiar with the application of Uechi Ryū techniques. Typically, the highest kyu ranks are expected to be able to move through these exercises with great strength and fluidity. Dan level students practice additional pre-arranged sparring exercises.
Applications of kata are also practiced in a pre-arranged format. These patterns are called kata bunkai. Kanshiwa bunkai and Seisan bunkai date to Kanei Uechi. Other bunkai for other katas, such as Kanshu and Seichin, are also often practiced but may vary in format more from dojo to dojo.
Special forms of strength training and body conditioning are generally practiced in Uechi Ryū training. A formal Uechi Ryū forearm conditioning exercise, called kote kotae, involves the ritualized pounding of one's fists and forearms against the forearms of a partner. Kanbun Uechi learned this conditioning exercise in China. A similar Uechi Ryū exercise involves exchanging leg kicks with a partner (ashi kotae).
Working with a makiwara is also a part of Uechi Ryū training. Some Uechi Ryū karateka also incorporate other traditional Okinawan physical conditioning exercises as part of their training, such as plunging hands into baskets full of rocks, or performing Sanchin kata leg movements while gripping nigiri-game (heavy stone jars).
Uechi Ryū Today
Like many arts, Uechi Ryū experienced organizational splits after its founder's death.
Some of the senior practitioners of the original art split from the main organization and created other organizations or styles, including Shohei-ryu
and recreated versions of Pangainoon
. The rift came about through some teachers wanting to teach a varied form of Uechi (from slightly different kata to newer conditioning drills), and some wanting to teach the "classical" form as designed by Kanbun. The differences between the three remaining major groups are unnoticeable to the casual observer, and some in Japan believe that a large part of the split was due to personality conflicts.
Major Organizations of Uechi Ryu
- Uechi-Ryu Karate-Do Association (Soke Shubukan)- headed by Kanmei UECHI
- Okinawa KarateDo Uechi-Ryu Zankai (Zakimi Shubukan)- headed by Seiko TOYAMA student of Kanbun Uechi
- The Okinawa Karate Do Association (Okikukai Shohei-ryu) - headed by former senior students of Kanei UECHI in rotation
- International Kenyukai Association (Kenyukai) - headed by Kiyohide SHINJO: Started as a fraternity within the Uechi Ryu Association in 1981
- International Uechi-Ryu Karate-Do Federation - headed by George Mattson
- International Uechi-Ryu Karate-Do Association - headed by James Thompson
- Uechi-Ryu Karate Association Hong Kong- Headed by Robert Campbell
8 Ji Teki Jeku Headed by Master Ken Nakamatsu
- Allan Dollar, Secrets of Uechi Ryu and the Mysteries of Okinawa, Cherokee Publishing: 1996.
- George E. Mattson, Uechiryu Karate Do (Classical Chinese Okinawan Self-Defense), Peabody Publishing Company: 1997 (8th printing).
- Ihor Rymaruk, Karate: A Master's Secrets of Uechi-ryu, Iron Arm International: 2004.