Uehara Takenobu “There is no End to Karate”

Sixty Years of Training, Growing Everyday

[Dojo Visit, 1]

Karate is for training the mind. If you continue to train, you will acquire a strong body and a strong and tough spirit. Uehara Takenobu, 87, is the holder of a prefectural designation of an intangible cultural asset for Okinawa Karate and Kobujutsu, . He has been devoting himself to Karate for 60 years. The 10th dan instructor of Uechi-ryu continues to hone his skills and mind, saying, “There is no end to Karate“. At his Uechi-ryu Karate-do Shinkokai Head Dojo in Oroku, Naha City, where he serves as the chief instructor, he continues to teach his students the traditions he has inherited, including kata and philosophy.

Under the tutelage of his father and Karate master Uehara Saburo (born in Naha City, 1900-1965), he was exposed to Karate from a young age, and at the age of 18, he decided that he wanted to become strong and train his mind in earnest. He trained himself in a “tent dojo” in Ueihara, Naha City, by practicing punching the makiwara, bunny hops, and kata every day.

September 1949 – Uehara Takenobu at age 19

Saburo was a disciple of Uechi Kanbun (born in Motobu-cho, 1877-1948), the founder of Uechi-ryu. He learned the basic kata of Uechi-ryu, including Sanchin, at Uechi’s dojo in Wakayama Prefecture.

Uechi-ryu is a style based on tiger fist (Pangai Noon Kempo) that Uechi learned in Fuzhou, Fujian, China. The characteristic of this style include the fists of the, “Dragon, Tiger, and Crane”. The offensive and defensive movements of the three animals are incorporated into the kata and techniques.

Sanchin is a kata that trains the fundamentals of Uechi-ryu which include the mind, body and spirit. It includes a unique breathing technique of inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth in short bursts, as well as a unique way of standing, and grounding feet. Students train dozens or hundreds of times to improve their concentration and patience, and to cultivate a steadfast mind.

In Uechi-ryu, Uechi Kanbun taught that “Everything begins and ends with Sanchin“. Saburo was thorough in his training throughout his life and continued to train up until a few weeks before he passed away. Takenobu, who took over the dojo at the age of 35, also follows his teachings and focuses on teaching Sanchin.

About 50 people, ranging in age from three years old to adults, practice at the dojo. In the children’s group, etiquette is thoroughly taught. Practice begins at 7:00 pm. Takenobu corrects their Sanchin stance and posture, tapping their hands and checking with a keen eye to see if there is strength in their fingertips and legs. At the end of practice, all the students recite the guiding principles, which include, “show courtesy to others” and “think of all your daily activities as training“, and take them to heart.

The charm of Karate in Okinawa is that it can be continued throughout one’s life, and the students are passionate about Karate, which trains the mind and builds character. He stresses the importance of daily training, “Karate is a struggle against yourself. No matter what hardship you face, it’s important to keep going until you’ve mastered a mind that believes you can do it.

Okinawa Karate has spread around the world. We need to promote Okinawa, the birthplace of Karate,” he says. In order to spread Karate around the world, he feels it is necessary to look at the kata, training methods, and philosophy that have been handed down from each style, such as Uechi-ryu Sanchin, etc., and to systematize them according to style. Traditional Karate is in the styles and have to be protected and passed down.

Background: Born January 24, 1930 in Wakayama Prefecture, Uehara Takenobu began to devote himself seriously to Karate at the age of 18. He became the fifth president of the All Okinawa Karate Do Federation from 1975 to 1977, and in 2013, he was certified as an intangible cultural asset in Okinawa Karate and Kobujutsu.

Originally Published in the Okinawa Times, April 2, 2017