Uechi-Ryu Karate-Do is named after the founder, Kanbun Uechi, who was born on May 5, 1877 in Izumi, Motobu-cho, a small village in northern Okinawa. Mr. Uechi left Okinawa in March of 1897 to avoid conscription into the Japanese military and began his study of the martial arts at the central temple of the Fukien Province in southern China. He studied under Master Zhou Tzu Ho (pronounced Jo su ho) who is known in Okinawa by his Japanese name Shushiwa. Mr. Uechi studied a system of martial arts based on the movements of the tiger, dragon, and crane with Shushiwa for approximately 10 years, after which time he opened his own school in the village of Nanching(Nansei) in the Fukien Province of China. Master Uechi referred to the art which he taught as Pangainoon. He taught there until 1909 when he returned to Okinawa.
Back in Okinawa, Master Uechi married and began farming. He did not formally teach for a number of reasons. In 1924 Master Uechi moved to Wakayama, Japan where he resumed teaching in 1926.His first student in Wakayama was Ryuyu Tomoyose, who initially tried to trick Master Uechi into teaching him by making up stories of fights he had gotten into and asking him how to defend himself in these situations. Master Uechi continued teaching in Wakayama until 1946 when he returned to Okinawa (Ie Jima island near Okinawa). He did not teach formally after his return to Okinawa, but continued to train a few students. Two years later at the age of 71 Master Uechi died on Ie Jima.
At the time of Kanbun Uechi's death, Kanei, his eldest son, was not actively teaching. However, Ryuko Tomoyose, a son of Ryuyu Tomoyose - Kanbun's first student in Wakayama, convinced him to start teaching. Ryuko Tomoyose and other students built a dojo in Futenma, Okinawa for Master Kanei Uechi. He continued teaching at that same location until his retirement in 1988. After a bout with a lingering illness, Master Kanei died at the age of 80 in March of 1991.
Another early student of Kanbun Uechi was Seiryo Shinjo. Seiryo Shinjo was born on Ie Jima on June 10, 1908. In 1923, he traveled to Wakayama to seek employment where he coincidentally got a job at the same factory as Kanbun Uechi. They became close friends, and Seiryo trained under Uechi Sensei until a respiratory ailment prevented it.
Seiryo Shinjo had a son on July 10, 1929, who he named Seiyu.
Seiyu Shinjo eagerly began his study of karate at the age of 10 in 1939 as a student of Kanbun Uechi. He was also taught by his father at home. After Kanbun’s death in 1948 Seiyu continued his training at the dojo of Kanei Uechi. Seiyu Shinjo became well known in Okinawa as an outstanding karate man and eventually as a great teacher of Uechi-Ryu. Seiyu ran a prominent dojo for many years located in the "circle" in the town of Kadena, Okinawa. Sadly, Seiyu Shinjo died at a relatively young age in 1981.
On November 3, 1951, Seiyu Shinjo's first son, Kiyohide Shinjo, was born.
Seiyu Shinjo began the training of his son Kiyohide when he reached the age of 10. Kiyohide was required to learn Uechi-Ryu and did so reluctantly at first. He continued training under his father's watchful eyes eventually becoming one of the best (if not the best) martial artist on Okinawa. Starting in 1970, he became the unprecedented, nine time, undefeated kumite and kata champion. Shinjo Kiyohide Sensei took over as the chief instructor of the family dojo in Kadena after the death of his father. Shinjo Sensei continues the family tradition to this day, though the dojo now resides in Yomitan. He currently holds the rank of Hanshi Kyudan (9th degree).
In honor of his father, Shinjo Sensei has named the organization of Uechi-Ryu practitioners associated with his father as Kenyukai. The "Ken" in Kenyukai represents "strong fist". The "yu" comes from the second character in Seiyu. Kai means association or group. Put together the translation is Seiyu Shinjo's Strong Fist Group. For more information on the Kenyukai organization in North America, visit kenyukaina.com.
In 1973, Mr. James Foley began his study of Uechi Ryu Karate in St. Louis, Missouri under Sensei Fred Norris. Mr. Foley traveled to Okinawa in March of 1982 and during the course of his stay met Kiyohide Shinjo, son of Seiyu Shinjo (Mr. Norris' Sensei). Mr. Foley trained with Master Shinjo several times a week and almost daily with Master Kanei Uechi, son of the founder of the system. Since that time Mr. Foley has trained with Master Shinjo and other Okinawa masters many times, both in Okinawa and in the United States. Mr. Foley is recognized as one of the premier Kenyukai practitioners and instructors in the United States. He currently holds the rank of Kyoshi Nanadan (7th degree black belt). For more information on Sensei Foley and the St. Louis dojo visit www.kenyukai-stl.com
Robert Eisenberg, the instructor of the Damascus Maryland dojo, is a student of Sensei Foley.