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Kanbun Goes to China


The new Meiji government had made the island a part of Okinawa Prefecture and had set about Japanizing the old Okinawan Ways.[21]  The Okinawans were quite aware of the effort by the Japanese to erase their culture and subjugate them to Japanese law, culture, and customs.  They strongly opposed the presence of enormous taxes levied by the Japanese on the Okinawan people, which had left most of the island in extreme poverty.  But most of all, the Okinawans were fearful that the presence of a standing army on Okinawa would invite invasion of the island by Japan's enemies.[22]  Women prayed in the Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples

that their husbands and sons would be unfit for military service.  Therefore, encouraged byhis elders, Kanbun quietly left Okinawa in the middle of March 1897 for China.[23]  Kanbun's father warned him that life would be far from easy in China.  Success, he told Kanbun, would depend upon maintaining a level of self- discipline as yet unknown to him.  Kanbun was nineteen years old.

       Because of worsening relations between Japan and China, the only way from Okinawa to China was to be smuggled out.  Kanbun, embarking quietly from Kadena, paid ten yen to join a group of young Okinawans boarding a ship bound west to China...and a new life.  Two others who were with him were Tokusaburo Matsuda (1877 - 1931) and Aragaki-Makade Undo.  It was a ten day sea voyage.  They made landfall on the portion of coastal China just west of the northern tip of Taiwan -- the city of Foochow, in the Fukien province.[24]  It was the end of March when he arrived in Foochow.  The small band spent the first few months together.  They were able to stay at the RyuKyu Kan (Okinawan Fellowship Hall), the permanent Okinawan community established in the 1400's by King Satto.  The RyuKyu Kan was a center for common interests and personal contacts around which the migrant Okinawans formed their community.  Halls, cemeteries, shrines, and tablets were maintained to provide a social stability for all newcomers.  So, it was from here that Kanbun was able to begin his new life in China.  (An interesting note:  Eiichi Miyazato tells of a popular romantic rumor that has Kanbun Uechi fleeing Okinawa by stowing away on a junk bound for China, only to be shipwrecked near Foochow, where he was helped by the locals who taught him Chinese boxing).[25]

       In the early summer of 1897, Kanbun began study at the Kugusuku Karate school with a fellow Okinawan from Izumi, Tokusaburo Matsuda (commonly called Sandaunchu Machida, or Matsuda of Henachi Hamlet) who had escaped with him for the same reasons.[26]  Kanbun Uechi and Tokusaburo Matsuda were friends and strangely shared many experiences in common -- same village, same year draft evasion, crossing to China, same school, late marriage and finding employment as spinning company employees in Japan.[27]  Matsuda is remembered for his skill with the Chinese Halberd.[28]  The Kugusuku school was run by a Chinese teacher named Kaho Kojo (1849 - 1925).  Kojo was from the village of Kumemura, the Chinese settlement on Okinawa established in 1393.

      Kanbun Uechi and Tokusaburo Matsuda began bujutsu training at the Kojo dojo.  In those days Lord Makabe (Makabe Udun) was serving as an assistant teacher at the school.[29]  Katsuya Miyahira of Shorin-Ryu (Kobayashi) claims that Makabe Udun was actually Choken Makabe (or Chan-qwa) and that he was very small and light.[30]  For a while they spent their time in daily training.  Kanbun Uechi, being born with a gentle, sincere character, sometimes gave the impression of being dull-witted.  Kanbun also had a speech impediment.  Due to these characteristics, one day, the dojo's chief assistant instructor, Makabe Udun, took him for a fool and sneered at him, nicknaming him Uechi Watabugwa meaning big belly or good-for-nothing Uechi.  He was treated with contempt and despite his beginning level, his martial exercises were severely criticized.[31]  Kanbun Uechi and Tokusaburo Matsuda entered the Kojo dojo when Kaho Kojo (1849 - 1925) was 47 years old.[32]  The Kojo family from whom Kojo Ryu derived its name descended from one of "36 families" of Chinese immigrants who settled Kumemura in 1393.  The Chinese family name being Sai.  As family members often visited Foochow for work and academic studies, close ties with China were not lost but flourished.  The first generation is counted from Kojo Penchin.  The second is Sho Sai (1816 - 1906).  The third is his son Isei Kojo (1832 - 1891) who traveled to Foochow with his father at the age of 16 to study Confucianism and Chinese weaponry.  Isei learned Chinese boxing from a military attache called Iwah and later became an assistant at Iwah's dojo.  He spent a total of 20 years at Foochow.  Fourth generation was Kaho Kojo (1849 - 1925) and seems to have been born after his father Isei Kojo had departed for Foochow.  Kaho Kojo (being of Chinese ancestry) was brought up in Kume village, Naha.  Once when Iwah came to Okinawa on official duty, he met the young Kaho and seeing that he would make a promising student, took him back to Foochow and taught him Chinese boxing.  On being granted independence from Iwah, Kaho Kojo opened a dojo at Foochow with an Okinawan called Makabe Udun (Choken Makabe).  This dojo became well known in China.[33]

       Kanbun Uechi, after enduring great difficulty and bearing unbearable problems, finally fled the Kojo dojo.  It is said that Makabe's ridicule was the number one cause for Kanbun's seeking training in Chinese Ch'uan-fa training.[34]  Although Matsuda most likely did not move with Kanbun, none the less, they both studied the same school of Chinese Ch'uan-fa.  Kanbun began to study Kungfu under Shushabu (Zhou Zi He, Chou tsu ho, or Shushiwa).  The Dragon form, Tiger palm, and Fukien Crane styles that Kanbun learned would later become the basis of Uechiryu KarateDo.

       Kanbun Uechi was taught three kata and one body training technique.  The three kata were Sanchin, Seisan, and Sanseiryu.  The body training technique was Kote-Kitae.  Tokusaburo Matsuda learned Suparimpe in addition to the above mentioned items.  While studying the same Ch'uan-fa system, this difference in the learning content was due to the difference in their teacher's philosophical and methodological viewpoints on bujutsu instruction.  Shushabu's instruction principle was to learn a few things deeply.  Matsuda's teacher's guiding principle was to learn many things widely.  Never the less, both men consequently were well versed in the Chinese language, learned Chinese medicine and studied the same school of Ch'uan-fa.  Eventually Kanbun Uechi would return to Okinawa in 1909 at age 32.  Tokusaburo Matsuda had returned 8 years earlier in 1901 at age 24.[35]

       According to one of Kanbun's highest students, Isamu Uehara, Uechi became a servant in the Buddhist Temple in Futyo and observed that every morning and evening all the monks went to a special room which was locked for several hours.  Uechi thought they were reading the Okyo, Buddha's holy writing which were always read aloud and in a rhythm.  Sometimes loud shouts would be heard, but Uechi thought that was just the Chinese way of reading the Okyo.  One day the shouts were unusually loud so Uechi went to see what was happening.  He managed to find a place to look inside and saw the monks in an unusual stance with their shirts removed.  One older monk was giving commands and hitting the others on their legs, stomachs, and shoulders.  Later, Uechi found out this was Sanchin.[36]

      At this time a priest/monk named Shushabu ("Shushiwa" or "Chou tsu ho" or "Zhou Zi He" -- 1878 - 1926) befriended him.  He was proficient in several kinds of boxing, particularly Tiger fist.  This is one of the "Five Fists of Fukien," the others being the Dragon, Leopard, Snake, and Crane.  [However, it is interesting to note that the Chinese symbols for Pan-gai-nun (or "Fwange-nun" in another dialect), meaning "half-hard, or half-soft," or "Heaven-and-Earth" style, and the present Japanese symbols for Uechi-Ryu Karate, mean the same.  A Chinese pronouncing the Japanese symbols for Uechi-Ryu would say "Shang-te Liu," and would explain that this meant "hard-soft fist-way"!  It is possible that Kanbun saw the calligraphy for Shushabu's system of fighting, and noting the similarity of the ideograms to those of his own name (Uechi), used that as a reference point to seek him out].[37]

       The life of Shushabu is something of a mystery, due to his probable connections with the Chinese secret societies who sought to overthrow the Ching and return the Ming.  Although Shushabu made his living by making and selling herbal medicines, he claimed to be the son of a farmer and it is believed that he had been a "priest" using the name "Sosei" at the central temple at Nansoye (or Nansei), a little to the south of Foochow.  His teacher at this "temple" is thought to have been sought by the authorities. It has been put forward that the Nansoye' Shaolin Temple was actually a cover for a secret society and its history had been purposely clouded.[38]  Shushabu often wore Taoist robes.  He dressed plainly and was an affable person.  He was not only superlative in martial pursuits however, he was also an exceptional poet, calligrapher, and painter.  In particular he became known far and wide for his paintings of tigers and for his "Iron Palm."  It is said that he could stick his arms straight out to his sides and dangle two people in midair, each by one finger of each hand.  He could also toss several hundred-pound objects a considerable distance.

        Shushabu proved to be a taskmaster of the highest degree.  The young Kanbun became discouraged but persisted.  He later told his son Kanei Uechi; "all I did for 3 years was Sanchin."  Very few students survived this test of patience.  "When I first began my training, I cleaned the training floor and the toilet area, and occasionally tried to learn some of the movements by watching the senior students.  After a while, they would see me going through some of the movements by myself and would give me a little help, but the master would offer no assistance.  Finally, after being thoroughly discouraged and resigned to the fact that I would never learn karate, the master called me to him.  He said 'stand here and do this motion' indicating the opening movements for the Sanchin and double thrust.  I worked on nothing but these thrusting motions for 3 months, but because I had nothing else to work on, my thrusts became very strong."[39]

       Kanbun told Kanei that the mastery of Sanchin took at least 10 years, but after 3 years his teacher taught him the Seisan Kata.  During that time, Kanbun became very strong and fast; his whole time in China being spent in study.  This was due in part to the rigorous old-style Chinese training methods for strengthening and conditioning, which used sand, gravel, buckets of rice, gripping weights, and holding/lifting large jugs with the thumb and fingers (Nigeri).  Throughout all the training, emphasis was placed on total mastery of Sanchin kata.  "All is in Sanchin" was a phrase often used by Kanbun when training his son Kanei.[40]

       Kanbun's apprenticeship of daily training lasted almost ten years under Shushabu.  The first being devoted exclusively to the hardship training of Sanchin.  He experienced great spiritual growth and he triumphed over his previous humiliation.  Forgetting not the incident of 3 years before, he visited the Kojo dojo around 1899.  Lord Makabe requested him to do a martial exercise and Kanbun performed Sanchin.  When Lord Makabe saw Kanbun's Sanchin he was amazed.  His Sanchin was beyond words.  Despite pushing, thrusting, kicking, and being stepped on, Kanbun Uechi was completely solid.  His firmness and strength were accompanied by upper nimbleness and agile movement.  Makabe recognized his past mistake and apologized.[41]

       Under Shushabu, Kanbun not only learned the physical art, which included Chinese medicine, but also philosophy and Ancient Chinese classics.  He became fluent and literate in Chinese -- quite a change from the unsophisticated, uneducated young man who had arrived 10 years previously.[42]

       To meet the costs of almost total training, Kanbun sold medicines on street corners.  This was a popular means of income for many martial art students.  The fact that they were martial art students did not protect them from verbal abuse, even assault from angry customers if their potion did not work.  It was a tough street life and the students of the martial arts had to be strong and good at fighting.  Those who were not good would not last long on the streets.

       Shushabu also was in the medicine hawking business. Kanei Uechi tells how his father Kanbun had gathered herbs in the mountains and made herbal medicines "to cure all kinds of Illnesses."  Then Kanbun had to carry the heavy boxes of medicine on his shoulders to an appropriate spot where he would display the goods.  Uechi and Shushabu would next attract a crowd with a Kungfu demonstration and sell as much as they could before moving on to a new spot.[43]  Kanbun's increasing knowledge of the land and plant life gave him a sound medical foundation.  His herbal remedies were later passed on to his son, Kanei Uechi.  Eventually Kanbun was able to make and sell the medicines by himself.[44]  (Note: Kanbun's teacher had written a manuscript expressly for Kanbun.  This document recorded much of the history of Pan-gai-nun, including the names of many past masters, their philosophies, and a detailed analysis of Chinese medicine.  Rather than tell his son about these things, Kanbun planned to give this manuscript to Kanei at the time of his death.  In this way, Kanei would be able to learn about the many areas of karate that he was still not familiar with.  Unfortunately, soon after Kanbun's death, the manuscript was destroyed, giving Kanei very little time to study the contents of this paper).[45]

       By 1903, Kanbun age 26, was more Chinese than Okinawan, but his heart was still with his native Okinawa and the desire to return began to grow.  But he received warning from his father that a return to Okinawa would mean instant conscription in the Russo-Japanese War.

       In the spring of 1904, Kanbun Uechi received his certificate of proficiency.[46]  He became an assistant instructor at his teacher's school which was based on the principle of hard attacks and soft blocks.[47]

        At the end of 1905, with Shushabu's enthusiastic encouragement, Kanbun began making preparations for the establishment of his own dojo.[48]

      Together with the new year, 1906, he began teaching in Fukien Province's southwestern town of Nanching (Japanese pronunciation Nansei or Nansoye).  He was 29 years old.  Nanching is near the boarder of Kwangtung Province approximately 195 kilometers from Foochow in a straight line (the road distance is about twice as far, about 250 miles).[49]  Nanching was well known for its large number of famous Kungfu fighters and teachers.  Why he would go to a town so far from Foochow is not known.[50]  He would, however, revisit his teacher in Foochow twice a year for at least 10 days of training.[51]

       Years earlier, at Shushabu's dojo, Kanbun Uechi met a Chinese man named Gokenki.  Gokenki (1886 - 1940) was a native of Foochow city and also a Master in Fukien Shaolin[52] a method of Kingainoon which specialized in the Hakutsuraken (white crane fist boxing).  Kingainoon is a sister style of Uechi's Pan-gai-nun.  Their martial exchange took place at not only Shushabu's dojo but also in Nanching.[53]  Eventually, Gokenki would move in 1912 to Naha, Okinawa and set up a tea shop.  Eventually he became a Japanese citizen and adopted the name "Yoshikawa."[54]

       Gokenki would rouse Kanbun's enthusiasm and would purposely visit Kanbun to exchange Ch'uan-fa techniques.  This was before and after 1906.[55]  Gokenki warned Kanbun not to open the school in Nanching, as others had tried and failed.  Kanbun replied by saying that he wished to test his karate ability by teaching here and looked forward to the challenge because he liked the area.  In time, despite a few run-ins, his reputation grew until he finally had a successful school with many students, including Mr. Gokenki.  Kanbun Uechi had the distinction of being the only native Okinawan to have actually taught successfully in China, being accepted by the locals.[56]

       By 1909, Kanbun was quite happy in this village and was doing well as a teacher.  Unfortunately, one of his students, who by nature was quiet and unassuming, fell into an argument with another man over a farming dispute.[57]  That year had seen a severe drought in the area, and the disagreement concerned the irrigation of the parched fields.  Violence ensued when his opponent viciously attacked the student.  Instinctively, calling upon his training, the student accidentally struck the other man with a fatal blow.[58]  It was well known that he was a student of Pan-gai-nun under master Uechi.  While the young student was punished, Kanbun was held responsible for having trained him.  It was then that the respect of the village turned to distrust and hatred against Kanbun.[59]  The city accused Kanbun of failing to teach the proper spirit of Kenpo (Chinese boxing) and in that society, this accusation was a serious thing.  Kanbun vowed never to teach again, closed his school, and returned to Okinawa in February 1910; a bitterly disappointed man.  He was 32 years old.[60]

       Kanei Uechi (Kanbun's son), and Ryuyu Tomoyose (Kanbun's first student) confirm the following story after that.

       In February, 1910, at the age of 32 Kanbun Uechi returned to Okinawa where Japanese officials were arresting all Okinawans accused of evading the draft and sentencing them to prison terms.[61]  Kanbun's return to Okinawa had been as secretive as had been his departure over 12 years earlier.  He came back disguised as a Chinaman to avoid detection by the police -- a lesson he learned from the fate of his friend Tokusaburo Matsuda who had been imprisoned on his return eight years earlier.  Matsuda had been accused as a draft dodger.  Kanbun had so completely adapted to the life and culture of China that when he landed in Naha, a port city and capitol of Okinawa, the examining officials were convinced he was a Chinese scholar.  He wore Manchu clothing, spoke Chinese, and wore his hair Chinese-style in a queque.  Kanbun returned to Izumi without incident.[62]



[21] Bishop (pg. 10)

[22] Breyette (pg. 1)

[23] Mattson (pg. 8)

[24] Breyette (pg. 1)

[25] Bishop (pg. 41)

[26] Mahar (pg. 389, 399)

[27] Mahar (pg. 308, 431, 714)

[28] Bishop (pg. 138)

[29] Mahar (pg. 389, 399)

[30] Bishop (pg. 49)

[31] Mahar (pg. 389, 399)

[32] Mahar (pg. 389, 399)

[33] Bishop (pg. 47-49)

[34] Mahar (pg. 389, 399)

[35] Mahar (pg. 431, 308, 714)

[36] Nakaya, Takao (pg. 38)

[37] Breyette (pg. 2)

[38] Bishop (pg. 42)

[39] Mattson (pg. 51)

[40] Breyette (pg. 2)

[41] Mahar (pg. 400-401, 410, 414)

[42] Breyette (pg. 2)

[43] Bishop (pg. 42)

[44] Bishop (pg. 42)

[45] Mattson (pg. 50)

[46] Mahar (pg. 400, 401, 410, 414)

[47] Breyette (pg. 2)

[48] Mahar (pg. 114)

[49] Mahar (pg. 114)

[50] Breyette (pg. 2)

[51] Mahar (pg. 439)

[52] Mahar (pg. 439)

[53] Mahar (pg. 439)

[54] Bishop (pg. 28)

[55] Mahar (pg. 439)

[56] Mattson (pg. 9)

[57] Mattson (pg. 9)

[58] Mattson (pg. 9)

[59] Mattson (pg. 9)

[60] Breyette (pg. 3)

[61] Breyette (pg. 3)

[62] Breyette (pg. 3)




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