To all Uechi-ryu Practitioners:
Why did the Okinawan Uechi-ryu Karate Association split? The second most common question is, “How does this split affect my dojo’s relationship with the other side?”
I generally respond to these questions by relating the recent history of Uechi-ryu, as I recall it, from direct experience and by interpreting as best possible, the rest. Although the Uechi style was considered to be the last “one family” style left on Okinawa, there was a minor split before the one everyone considers to be first. A small, but senior group, decided to go it alone back in the 70′s. They now call themselves “Pwangainoon” association, but practice the style essentially the same way as the rest of us. I’m not sure if my information is correct, but I was told by Ryuko Tomoyose, that the split occurred over personality problems involving seniors.
Ironically, the second and by far the more serious breakaway group, was fueled by a personality conflict between Kanmei Uechi, successor to his father and senior members of the association. I was present at meetings on Okinawa just before the split and was in constant contact with Mr. Tomoyose during the first year following the break. Many unpleasant things were said by both sides, resulting in bridges between the sides being destroyed by words and actions.
The result of this break was a choosing up of sides by non-Okinawan practitioners. When the final tally was taken, many people chose to affiliate with the breakaway group and the popular senior members of the old association. There are quite a few stories about why I decided to stay with the family. Essentially, I believed it important to maintain the continuity of the Uechi family. It’s where I started and there were no compelling reasons to switch. It was my hope at the beginning of the dispute, that a reconciliation might happen. I still continue to hope that someday it might happen.
Ironically, the split did not happen because of the style itself. Most schools I visit, that found themselves with the other side, still practice the original Uechi-ryu, in spite of many “new” changes being introduced. . . designed, I believe, to give the other side an identity distinct from Uechi-ryu. There are legal problems on Okinawa that prevent the breakaway group from using the Uechi name, photographs and other elements that have become commonplace in non-Okinawan dojo. Visiting students and teachers returning from Okinawa say that no one really talks about the split any longer. These visiting students get the feeling that most of the old association members wish things might be magically returned to the way they were 20 years ago.
Outside of Okinawa, lines have been drawn between groups with a little more emphasis. Students and teachers from the “other side,” call me, a bit afraid to be talking with me, because their teachers point out that I’ve become the enemy. The student can’t understand how one day his school was working with me and the next day all contact was severed.
When students tell me they are visiting Okinawa, I tell them to visit all dojo, not just those identified as belonging to the Uechi Association. When they return, they call and say what a great time they had. No one asked them about joining their side and all dojo welcomed them to train.
In North America, I’ve taken essentially the same position. Yes, I encourage all Uechi dojos to become involved with NAC. But not for political reasons. NAC addresses issues of importance to the students. I’m more concerned that students don’t get hurt in class than I do about whose patch is being worn on the gi. There are many issues to be addressed, regarding Uechi-ryu, that don’t have anything to do with the politics of karate. . .and I want it to continue that way.
NAC is concerned with standards of teaching and standards for operating a successful dojo. We want to see Uechi-ryu grow and prosper among an overwhelming number of non-Uechi styles that dominate the martial arts. NAC will accept any dojo that teaches Uechi-ryu. . .even if they don’t call it Uechi-ryu. All the policies contained in the membership guide are recommendations, but not mandatory. It is hoped that by working together, members will become better informed teachers and more knowledgeable people.
My Summer Camp is a prime example of the kind of activity encouraged by NAC. We get together, train together and share martial arts experiences. Instead of looking for differences, we look for ways to broaden our understanding of what we are doing. People whom three years ago were terrified at the thought of attending the camp and studying with “the enemy” are now our most vocal and loyal supporters.
Contact and communications heal all wounds. Nasty rumors and comments exaggerate and compound the differences. I have been fortunate to know and train under Grandmaster Kanei Uechi. He was a gentle person who never spoke a mean word to anyone. His physical karate was and is unequaled. Lets emulate the man we all acknowledge IS THE STYLE we practice and teach. Lets work together during the few years we have on this earth, to better ourselves and to help others through this art we call Uechi-ryu. Lets stop wasting time arguing over all the things that have absolutely nothing to do with what WE DO.
Thanks for listening, and
Bye for now . . .
George E. Mattson