The Uechi-Ryu Karate-Do Association credits Kanbun Uechi with bringing Pangai-noon out of China. Kanbun Uechi was born on May 5, 1877 in Izumi, Motobu-cho, a small village in northern Okinawa. He left Okinawa in March 1897 at the age of nineteen to study Pangai-noon at the central temple of Fukien Province, China. During his study under Master Shu Shi Wa, Kanbun Uechi concentrated on the study of Sanchin while also studying all other aspects of the art as well. These included the preparation of herbal medicines, philosophy, and the use of various weapons.
Around 1908, after completing the traditional apprenticeship period of some ten years, Kanbun Uechi opened his own school in Nan-p'ing, Fukien Province. Kanbun Uechi was successful until one of his students killed a man in a land dispute. Public opinion turned against Kanbun Uechi and he returned to Okinawa in February of 1910. He had taught 2 to 3 years in Nan-p'ing.
Disillusioned by the incident in China and vowing never to teach or speak of karate again, Kanbun Uechi married and started farming in Motobu-cho. However, Kanbun was unable to keep his skill a secret. One of his students from China moved to Okinawa and before long knowledge of Kanbun Uechi's ability was widespread. Despite the fact that many asked Kanbun Uechi to teach, he refused to do so.
Master Kanbun Uechi taught a pure form of Pangai-noon, but sped up the training process. The first three years were devoted to Sanchin and conditioning exercises. After Sanchin, Master Uechi taught Seisan and allowed his students to spar. The student was taught Sanseirui as the last kata. Master Uechi felt that enough material was contained in the first three kata: Sanchin, Seisan, and Sanseirui, to last a student a lifetime, and thus did not teach the 108 movements of Suparimpei to any of his students.
Although the Uechi Ryu masters of today know Suparimpei, the kata is not among those taught in the Uechi-Ryu system. Suparimpei has become a secretive kata in Uechi Ryu, and is only taught to the most dedicated and senior students.
In January 1924 Kanbun Uechi and his family moved to Wakayama in southern Japan. Again he avoided publicizing his skill in Pangai-noon. However, it was not long before a personal friend named Ryuryu Tomoyose learned of Kanbun Uechi's history. After a great deal of persuasion Kanbun Uechi agreed to teach Tomoyose on a private basis. Approximately two years later, around 1927, Master Uechi opened his teachings to the public on a limited basis.
Kanbun Uechi continued teaching in Wakayama until 1947. In April of that year, he left Japan, leaving Ryuryu Tomoyose in charge of the dojo there. Tomoyose continued teaching there until early in 1971 when he died of a stroke. The Wakayama Dojo is now run by one of Tomoyose's sons, Takakzu Tomoyose.
Upon returning to Okinawa, Kanbun Uechi taught a small group of students on Ie-Jima, a small island off the northwest coast of Okinawa Proper. There he died on November 25, 1948 at the age of 71, and the style was renamed by Master Uechi's students to Uechi Ryu in his honor.
The second master of Uechi-Ryu was Kanei Uechi who was Kanbun Uechi's eldest son. Kanei Uechi was born June 26, 1911. He began studying under his father in 1928 at the age of seventeen. After about ten years of study Kanei Uechi taught for several years in the Osaka area, a large city in southern Japan not far from Wakayama. Then, in April 1942, at the age of thirty, Kanei Uechi went back to Okinawa, where he married and started farming at Nago.
When his father died in 1948, Kanei Uechi was not teaching. However, Ryukyo Tomoyose, a son of Ryuryu Tomoyose, soon persuaded him to do so. Ryukyo Tomoyose and a group of students built a dojo in Futenma. Kanei Uechi started teaching there in April 1949. Master Kanei Uechi continued to teach in Futenma until his death in 1991. He held the rank of Judan and Hanshi-Sei.
Kanei Uechi contributed many kata, two man routines, and exercises currently practiced in Uechi Ryu. He devised a set of preliminary and supplementary exercises, Hojo Undo and Junbi Undo, to warm up the student and to teach him basic karate skills.
He also created five bridging kata, which serve as stepping-stones between the three main kata taken from Pangai-noon. Master Uechi also devised several pre-arranged sparring drills designed to teach the skills needed for free-style sparring.