Thank you to everyone who kindly purchased an ebook with the proceeds being donated towards the Vancouver Food Bank. I will keep the post open until the end of this month and then make the donation. In the mean time, below you can find a brief article on the late Toyama Seiko of Uechi-Ryu fame. It is not particularly insightful but is an enjoyable ‘light’ read during the holidays.
Uechi Kanbun (1877 to 1948) went to China to learn kenpo and started his own school, Uechi-Ryu Karate. He came to China at the end of the 20th century at the age of 20, as a secret stowaway to escape military service. He was born in the northern village of Izumi, far from Naha and Shuri, where many famous karate masters were born. Although he had no relatives in the area and did not come from a wealthy family, he trained hard and finally obtained his license. He was able to open his own dojo in China, which shows how much effort he put in. However, the dojo was closed and Kanbun returned to Okinawa after a student killed someone. After a long time of silence, he decided to open a dojo in Wakayama.
In 1925, Uechi-ryu Karate-do’s predecessor, Pan Gai Noon-ryu (Half Hard and Soft) Karate-jutsu Institute was established and the dojo began in earnest. In 1940, the name of the school was changed to Uechi-ryu after Kanbun’s family name, and master Toyama Seiko began to receive direct instruction from the founder Uechi Kanbun. He inherited the kata and training methods as the last student of Kanbun. He lived in Wakayama Prefecture for a while, but after moving to Okinawa, he settled in a remote area on the outskirts of Kadena. For a long time after the war, the area was without electricity or running water.” He never intended to teach karate,” says master Toyama. However, there was no end to the number of people who heard about his name and came to his remote home to ask for instruction. Incidentally, Kanbun did not teach martial arts at all for more than ten years after returning to Okinawa from Fujian. He was concerned any violent intent of his students. The days of teaching karate began after working in the fields with ten children in tow. His students brought electricity to the mountains and they worked hard to get the water supply running.
I could see the personality of Master Toyama here. There are many foreigners who attend the Shubukan dojo. Some of them came from as far as an hour away, others attracted by the charm of master Toyama have settled in Okinawa. He has been featured in foreign martial arts magazines including France, America, India, etc. and is often invited to martial arts demonstrations. Toyama has a hermit-like look to him which makes him appear mysterious not only to foreigners, but to us as well. He has been training for more than half a century, and his strong body, which has never lost its suppleness, is a mark of the unfathomable power of Okinawan karate. Okinawan karate was always practiced in secrecy. It was also strictly forbidden to perform in front of others outside the dojo. In order to preserve the tradition and to pass on the techniques only to those with good character, Kanbun Uechi insisted on a selective and elite few.
It is said that the students had to have a guarantor to be allowed to enter the dojo and that no one other than the students of the same dojo were allowed to see the training. After the Pacific War, the training became less strict, but the students who attended Master Toyama’s classes still showed their stoicism. This is probably because they have an image of their master burned into them, one of a man who never missed a day of training.
As you can see from the photos, his training is so strong that he still does sit-ups and push-ups without fail. When I ask him how many times he does them, he said without hesitation, “Until I get tired, I guess.” This unique abdominal exercise is unusual and frightening because it is done sometimes more than a hundred times until you are exhausted. It’s difficult to do it without struggling because your legs are crossed as you lean back and you cannot bounce. This abdominal exercise is not a conventional one and you also need to be flexible, as well as to not use your back, arms, or legs. There is something ingenious about the way Toyama does it, such as paying attention to the angle of his arms when he lifts heavy objects, “how can I make it work for my body?” he thinks. In addition to this, Sanchin also uses traditional training equipment to balance the body as a whole. As you can see, the quality and quantity of his training has gone beyond the norm in the creation of his steel-like body.
This is partly made possible by the secluded environment. The dojo is a natural environment in which one can concentrate one’s mind. In addition to this basic training, the students are also thoroughly trained in “kata.” The founder, Uechi Kanbun, was taught by Shushiwa, a leading figure of the Chinese school of Shaolin kung fu, based on three kata Sanchin, Seisan, and Sanseiryu. After the war, five kata were developed, Kanshiwa, Kanshu, Kanchin, Seichin, and Seiryu, and completed them by adding kumite. It is said that the characteristics of the three animals, Dragon, Tiger and Crane, have been systematized into the principles of offense and defense. It is natural for martial artists to pay attention to the instinctive characteristics of animals. There is no doubt that the keen eyesight and spirit of a human being can pose a great threat to an opponent, not simply by mimicking the animal form.
If you want to see how well-trained master Toyama is, please visit the web site (“Wonder Okinawa” = https://www.wonder-okinawa.co.jp). And then there is his daughter Naomi, who speaks eloquently about the correctness of the master Toyama’s training and Sanchin, the kata that creates an invulnerable body. It is said, Sanchin is the beginning and the end of a unique training method. Sanchin in Uechi-ryu is a posture in which the body is tightened in time with the breath, which is short and sharp (In Okinawan language, this is called “tonto.”). Sanchin in Uechi-ryu is a posture in which the body is tightened in time with the breath, which is short and sharp. In Sanchin the body is tightened in time with the out-breath, and whether the breath is correct or not is checked by striking the body.
Written by: Oshikiri Shinichi, Photography by: Yamanaka Junko, Hayata Hiroshi