HISTORY OF UECHI-RYU
Kanban Uechi left his home in Okinawa and went to Fuken Province, China, in 1898. Okinawa is a small chain of islands between China and Japan. Okinawa is much like our Hawaiian Islands. Kanban Uechi initially went to the Kojo Dojo, but is treated poorly because of a speech problem, apparently he spoke with a lisp. A few months later he met Shu Shiwa, a local kung-fu master, who was very famous in Southern China. Kanban Uechi then left the Kojo dojo and began studying under Master Shu Shiwa. Shu Shiwa was a master of three animal styles, tiger, dragon and crane. It was very rare to be a master of more than one animal style at that time. Shu Shiwa’s system of kung fu was called Pai Gai Noon Chaun Fa. Pai Gai Noon means half hard and half soft. Chaun-fa means law of the fist or way of the fist and is used the way we use the term "boxing". Chaun-fa is basically what we call Kung fu in English and is also called Kempo in Japanese, so these three terms are used interchangeably.
Kanban Uechi mastered the style after ten years of study and became a Non-Chinese Kung Fu instructor, which was very uncommon in China. After 13 years of living in China, one of his students got into a dispute and killed a man. Kanban Uechi left China and swore he would never teach again. Years later during poor economic times many Okinawans moved to Japan to find work. Japanese gangsters that hated Okinawans always beat up one of Kanbun’s friends. Many Japanese felt Okinawan’s were taking jobs away from Japanese workers at the time so there were some hard feelings between the two groups. Kanban’s friend begged him to teach him Pai Gai Noon Kempo. Shortly afterwards, in the early 1920’s Kanban Uechi opened the very first Kempo/Karate Dojo in Japan.
After Kanban Uechi’s death in 1948, his son Kanei Uechi renamed the style Uechi Ryu, The school of Uechi, in honor of his father. He added five additional kata to supplement the original three kata that his father brought back from China. Kanei Uechi taught Uechi-Ryu Karate-Do up until 1991. After his death, his son Kanmei Uechi took over as the Grandmaster of Uechi-Ryu Karate-Do.
Mr. James Thompson was a Green Bret in the United States Army Special Forces. He was stationed in Okinawa during the Vietnam War. He began studying Uechi Ryu at Kanei Uechi’s Dojo. He spent eleven years with Master Uechi. Today he holds the rank of an 8th Degree Black Belt (Hachi Dan in Japanese). He also studied Aikido in Japan during that same time period and holds Black Belts from three different Aikido schools. After he retiring from the military, he moved to Michigan and began teaching Uechi Ryu to Americans.
One of his best students is Mr. Allen Bennett, who at one time was ranked among the top five fighters in the world. He is currently holding the rank of fifth degree black belt (Go Dan in Japanese) and has also earned the title of "Shihan", which is a master instructor’s license that was presented by Kanei Uechi before his death. Mr. and Mrs. Bennett moved to Colorado in 1996. Mr. Bennett is currently the head instructor of the Loveland Karate Club.