3. The Mystery of Pan Gai Noon (B)

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3. The Mystery of Pan Gai Noon (B)

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By Graham Noble

Although the photograph of Chou Tzu-ho spread through Uechi Ryu dojos, not everyone was convinced by the Uechi - Chou/Zhou connection. One of these was Ryukyu Tomoyose, who had actually been on that 1984 Fuzhou trip. In the interview he did with George Mattson afterwards (it’s on You Tube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1UzNh_lLvkI), Tomoyose said that although the trip had been a success in that “the deputy mayor of Fuzhou entirely welcomed us, and they very earnestly want to find what we are looking for . . . . This time what we found was that Shushiwa was not the teacher of Kanbum Sensei.” He added that they did find “some clues” and hoped that by the next visit the problems would be cleared up. Tomoyose’s main difficulty seemed to be that Zhou’s style, Tiger Boxing, didn’t seem to have any connection to Uechi Ryu. Tomoyose had been hoping that during the visit someone would have recognised Uechi Ryu as a specific Chinese style, but that had never happened.

“Shushiwa was one of the most famous martial artists in Fukien province,” Tomoyose went on, “and in 1966 when we made the trip to Taiwan I asked a very old man in Taiwan and he mentioned to us our style Pangainoon and he mentioned that this style came from Fukien province and he mentioned our style must belong to Shushiwa Sensei. Ever since, we just assumed that Shushiwa Sensei must be Kanbum Uechi’s teacher, and from that day we were trying to find out who Shushwa was, from whom he had studied, but we couldn’t get any information about him. But by this trip we were sure that Shushiwa Sensei was not the teacher of Kanbum Uechi. Because that style belonged definitely to Goju Ryu.”

Tomoyose actually confused matters even more by speculating that Tiger style was related to Okinawan Goju Ryu – even though in reality the Tiger style forms look nothing like Goju Ryu.

Rick Wilson was another who remained unconvinced by the Chinese research. He too commented on the Tomoyose interview, noting that “Tomoyose Sensei does not believe that they have found the correct Shushiwa” - and he pointed out that no one had actually found the Uechi forms of Sanchin, Seisan and Sanseiru in China. In a post dated 7 April 2006, Wilson made the insightful comment that “There is such a hunger for ‘lineage’ that we accepted something when we should have either kept looking or given up.”

In his old “Inside Kung Fu” article, Lawrence Tan seemed perplexed by the gaps in Uechi Ryu’s history, and he posed the questions: “Did he (Uechi) study more than one style? How much did he develop himself? Was he influenced by Okinawan styles?” These are perceptive questions, and almost forty years later, after a lot of searching, we still don’t have any answers to them.

It appears that we have no documentation whatsoever to confirm the story of Kanbum’s thirteen year stay in China. The first printed mention of “thirteen years” seems to be in Kenwa Mabuni’s 1934 reminiscence of his meeting with Kanbum Uechi in Wakayama City, in “Karate Kenkyu”. Mabuni wrote that “Mr. Uechi travelled to China at the age of twenty. There he studied the native genuine Chinese Kempo for thirteen years before returning to Japan (Okinawa).” That information must have come directly from Kanbum Uechi himself.

The modern history is that Uechi sailed to China in 1897, but where did that date come from? Well, if he had travelled to China at the age of twenty that would have been in 1897, which ties in neatly with the draft evasion story, the draft having dtarted in 1898. Also, Kanei Uechi, Kanbum Uechi’s first child, was born in June 1911 - about the only sure date we have for the early part of this story. Kanbum was married in May 1910 and that was said to have been shortly after he returned from China, in March of the same year, supposedly. So if you deduct thirteen years from 1910, again you come back to 1897. But actually, there is not a shred of documentary evidence that Kanbum Uechi went to China in 1897.

Even the story of Uechi’s draft evasion is problematic. This did not appear in George Mattson’s first book, or in any other earlier material such as the 1965 “Black Belt” article on Uechi Ryu. This suggests that Ryuko Tomoyose, Mattson’s teacher in the late 1950s, and someone who had a lot of stories to tell about Uechi history may not have been aware of the draft dodging story at that time. The first mention of draft evasion seems to have been in George Mattson’s 1971 booklet “Master Kanei Uechi’s Karate. Book One” which was recycled a little later into his 1974 “Uechi Ryu Karate Do”. Presumably that information was based on the historical investigations then being carried out by Shigeru Takamiyagi and later published by him in the 1977 “Okinawa Karate Do Sono Rekishi to Giho”. Interestingly, in his 1984 video interview of Ryuko Tomoyose, Mattson asked Tomoyose if he remembered “any of the stories you told me originally back in the 1950s about Kanbum’s first going to China . . . I remember vaguely that he’d saved someone’s life or he’d rescued a child and in gratitude someone then began teaching him”, and Tomoyose replied that Kanbum’s journey to China had not been for studying karate – a statement which contradicted the stories he had told Mattson in the 1950s – but was “because his parents didn’t want him to be drafted by the Japanese army.and so they decided to send him to China.” By that time, then, the draft evasion story had become the accepted history.

The Japanese authorities must have had records of draft evaders and if those records still existed then Kanbum Uechi’s name should be found there, presumably with a few details of his case, but perhaps such records were lost in the destruction of World War 2. Actually, Mario McKenna picked up on this in one of his blogs (“Uechi Kanbum – Draft Dodger”, 28 July 2015), writing that “‘The Ryukyu Shimpo’ (newspaper) published the names of 774 people who had dodged the draft between 1898 and 1915 in an article published on April 8, 1916. . . . Whether or not Uechi’s name was included in the list I don’t know, but I am trying to track down the article.  But it is unlikely as Kanbun supposedly left in 1897 and the list starts from 1898.” Mario also noted that Kanbum’s home area, Motobu, had proportionately the largest number of draft dodgers in Okinawa.

John D. Mills also noted the numbers in his 1985 thesis on Uechi Ryu history, writing that between 1898 and 1915 the Tokyo government indicted and prosecuted 774 Okinawan citizens for draft evasion. So prosecutions must have begun in 1898, the year after Uechi supposedly left for Fuzhou. But if that is correct then surely the authorities would have also picked up those, such as Uechi, who had anticipated the draft and had fled Okinawa before its actual implementation? In any case, the date of 1916 shows that the issue of draft evasion was still in the authorities’ minds at that point. So if Uechi came back to Okinawa in 1910 then he returned well within that time frame, and although he kept a low profile, he married soon after returning and began to raise a family, so his presence in Okinawa was hardly a secret . . . and yet he never seemed to have had any trouble from the authorities: no one has ever suggested that he was prosecuted for evading the draft. Did he somehow fall outside the whole process? This is yet another puzzle in his story.

In his 1977 history Shigeru Takamiyagi mentioned Tokusaburo Matsuda, another young Okinawan who was said to have gone to China with Kanbum Uechi to escape the draft. Apparently Matsuda too studied Chinese kempo, but when he returned to Okinawa in 1902 he was arrested for draft avoidance and imprisoned for a year. If that information is correct then Matsuda would have studied kempo for a maximum of five years in Fujian. That is substantially less than Uechi, yet Matsuda is said to have learned weapons forms, (the sword and “naginata”), as well as a fourth kata of the Pangainoon system, Suparimpei. Unfortunately no one seems to have recorded anything about Matsuda’s time in China and his relationship with Uechi, or kept the transmission of his forms, although Mark Bishop referred to a Matsuda pupil, Sanro Toguchi, who often talked about his sensei and recalled that Matsuda could cut banana trees in two with a sword. Matsuda moved to Osaka on the mainland in the early 1920s and he died in 1931 at age 54, which means, incidentally, that he was the same age as Kanbum Uechi. But again, we run up against a total lack of information about his technique, time in China, or relationship with Uechi.

Gokenki, the Chinese tea merchant Wu Hsien-kuei, who settled in Naha in Okinawa, was also said to have known Kanbum Uechi in Fujian: in his 1974 letter to Harry Cook, Kanei Uechi wrote that “To my best knowledge my father’s companion in China was Go Ken Zen, (sic) who finally came to Okinawa and married a Okinawan girl and died in Okinawa.” Go was born in Fuchou in 1886 (1887?) but came to Okinawa around 1912 (1910?) to work for a tea trading company. He married an Okinawa girl and set up his own business in Naha, the Eiko Sako tea trading company.

In Naha, Go had become friends with a worker in the tea trade, Seisho Aniya. Aniya, who was twelve years younger than Go, worked in Go’s shop and began to learn kempo from him. At first he was Go’s only pupil but later he introduced other students, Yabe, Medorina and Sagara. Go would attend to his business during the day and teach kempo at night. The tuition was free but usually students would each bring four or five raw eggs which they would eat during the training. Practice consisted of physical conditioning and two forms, Sanchin and Crane Hand. The Crane Hand was Go’s favourite form and he was often asked to perform it at demonstrations. Apparently Chojun Miyagi was an admirer of Go’s Crane form.

Go actually became a fairly well-known figure in the Okinawan karate world of that time. He was even involved with the Okinawan Karate Kenkyu Club in the mid-1920s with Miyagi, Mabuni, Kyoda, Hanashiro, Chibana etc. It was probably through Go that the kata Nipaipo (Twenty Eight Steps) was introduced to karate: both Mabuni (Shito Ryu) and Kyoda (To-on Ryu) included this kata in their styles and it’s reasonable to conclude that they learned the kata from Go, possibly at the Kenkyu Club. “Twenty Eight Steps” is a form of Fujian Crane style, and it is shown in the 1982 book “Hao Ch’uan” (Crane Boxing), published by the Fujian Peoples Publishing House. Although the form has subsequently been karateised in Japan and Okinawa, you can still demonstrate a movement by movement correspondence between the form shown in this book and the modern karate kata. Apart from Sanchin, which shares some general similarities with Fujian forms of the same name, Nipaipo is the only Chinese form that can be traced directly into any traditional karate style.

Where Kanei Uechi got that information about his father and Go being companions in China it’s hard to say, and there is some confusion about the relationship between Kanbum Uechi and Go Ken Ki. Takamiyagi’s history states, on what evidence we don’t know, that Uechi and Go trained together at Shushiwa’s school. Takamiyagi wrote that Go was impressed by Uechi’s skill and often visited him at the Shushiwa and Nansoe schools. It’s speculated that Go trained with Uechi in China around 1905, when Go would have been eighteen or nineteen. It is also said within Uechi Ryu that after Kanbum returned to Okinawa people often visited him in Izumi with a reference from Go. It was from these visits that Uechi found out that Go was in Okinawa and visited him at his Eiko Sako business. According to Takamiyagi, Uechi became well known as a kempo expert in the Naha area because of Go spreading the word about his abilities.

However, all the information about Go and Uechi in China seems to come from the Uechi Ryu side. There is no corroborative evidence outside of that and so we don’t actually know anything for certain about Uechi and Go’s relationship in Fujian, or even if there was one: Go died in 1940 and he never seemed to have left any direct testimony about himself or Kanbum Uechi. As for he and Uechi being fellow students under Shushiwa – or in another account, Go being Uechi’s pupil – it’s very hard to buy that story. It’s fairly clear that Go Ken Ki was a practitioner of Fujian Crane Boxing – we can be pretty sure of this from the Nipaipo kata – and Crane Boxing is a style that is quite different to Uechi’s karate. It’s extremely unlikely, then, that Go and Uechi shared a common training history in Fujian.

Also, there is this: in a May 1983 letter to Harry Cook responding to various questions, the Okinawan martial arts teacher Seitoku Higa wrote “I will write what I know. Wu Hsien Kuei (Higa used Chinese characters for the name) is a Chinese who was in a tea store in Naha City. Though he was acquainted with Chojun Miyagi under the influence of arts, he wasn’t acquainted with Kanbun Uechi. Because Kanbun Uechi was in Wakayama and he came back home after World War 2 when Wu Hsien Kuei had been to China. Besides, Kanbun Uechi country was the north part of Okinawa, it wasn’t Naha. Only (way) they knew each other, Wu Hsien Kuei was famous, but his style of karate hasn’t remained.”

This is a little confusing, but Higa seemed to be saying that Kanbum Uechi could not have known Wu/Go after the war when he (Uechi) returned to Okinawa because Wu had gone back to China. In fact Go died in 1940 in Okinawa, and before that, Uechi and Go lived in different parts of Okinawa and were not acquainted with each other, although Uechi may have heard of Go because he was quite well known in martial arts circles. I don’t what authority Higa had to speak on this, but it’s interesting. It’s also possible, though we don’t know, that Go only became acquainted with the Okinawan karate world when he became involved with the Okinawan Karate Club, which is where he was friendly with teachers such as Chojun Miyagi, Juhatsu Kyoda and Kenwa Mabuni. Kanbum Uechi, of course, had nothing to do with the Karate Club because from the mid-1920s he was living in Wakayama, on the Japanese mainland, and before that the story is that he kept himself away from other karateka and didn’t teach anyone. We don’t really know, but there doesn’t seem to be much proof of a direct Kanbum Uechi/Go Ken Ki relationship.

June 2023 – Andreas Quast, in a June 30, 2023 post on his brilliant Ryukyu Bugei site, wrote:

“Uechi Kanbun was born in 1877 in what is now Motobu Town, Okinawa Prefecture. He appears first in a historical record of twenty years later, when prefectural governor Narahara Shigeru reported a list of conscription evaders to Minister of War Katsura Tarō. According to the report, Uechi Kanbun stowed away for China on May 9, 1898.

“While living in Fujian Province for several years, Uechi Kanbun learned Chinese kenpō. He returend to Izumi Village in the northern part of Okinawa around 1910 and is said to have brought with him the three kata of Sanchin (Three Battles), Sēsan (13), and Sansēryū (36).”

This seems to confirm the story of Kanbum Uechi’s draft evasion and his escape to China. But personally, O still have problems with the stories of his Fujian stay and the origins of his art.

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“Old minds are like old horses; you must exercise them if you wish to keep them in working order.”
- John Adams
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