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Aug 14 1996

A Message from the Editor

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 (Now IUKF). 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

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Aug 12 1996

George Mattson’s response

George Mattson’s response to a Uechi student who proclaimed that his style is closer to the original Chinese method than other Okinawan systems. Comment was made on the “Cyberdojo”:

To Karateka on the Cyberdojo:

I have enjoyed reading the ongoing exchange of viewpoints for the past six months, happily allowing others do the work. . . however, after the messages involving Uechi-ryu origins, style purity etc., I felt it necessary to jump into the fray:

The Uechi style as practiced today, technically can be traced back to Kanei Uechi, son of the man who first taught the style outside of China. The movements that evolved over the Kanei Uechi teaching years are quite different in subtle, but important ways than those taught by Ryuyu Tomoyose (Kanbun Uechi’s first student) in Japan. As I visit Uechi dojo throughout the world (including Okinawa), I notice many style changes, which, while maintaining the system’s essence, differ dramatically from what I originally learned on Okinawa back in the 50’s. As far as I remember, there never was a single version of Uechi. I used to drive my teacher crazy, asking him “which variation of a move is the correct one.” He would always reply, “…the one that works for you”.

Masters Kanei Uechi and Ryuko Tomoyose always stressed the benefits of Uechi-ryu that came from the correct practice of the art. The movements should be a journey, not a destination!

I see too many teachers of the martial arts who get locked into a “style” and never grow beyond simple technique. They lose the purpose for doing the movements . . . getting “stuck” defending an understanding of what they did 10 , 20 or more years ago, blindly working harder and harder accomplishing less and less.

The “ryu” or style is, I believe, unique to the Japanese culture and practiced by some in the West with an almost religious fervor. Instead of admitting that movements must relate to individuals and that the teachers role is to help the student in developing his/her individual style, many teachers tend to try and fit everyone into a template that the instructor builds through his/her “style.” If you don’t fit, your options are few! (Find another teacher or denounce your teacher and rename what you do to another “ryu” with you becoming the new 10th dan grand master!)

In China, where less emphasis is placed on pecking order, rank and style, a person can have many instructors and usually practices more than one type of movement. Instead of emphasis on styles and the ego related problems associated with the founder and his/her role with students, the Chinese associated what they were doing with different animals from which the moves are credited. The Chinese instructor’s role was one of a chef, rather than an assembly line worker. The Chinese instructor had many tools to choose from when accepting a person as a student. When Kanbun Uechi left China, he became a living “time capsule”, preserving through his dedicated and “ryu” obsessed students, the movements that were lost in China with time, evolution and assimilation. Uechi-ryu is still there, just in different packages.

During two visits to China as part of a project to discover our Uechi “roots”, I was pleased to find teachers and students who performed techniques that contained what might be called Uechi “signature” moves. Although it would have been great to discover a hidden away school in the mountains where “Uechi” Sanchin, as we know it, was still being practiced, such a possibility was a long shot.

It has been my experience that a style’s value is linked more to the teacher’s ability than any intrinsic superiority of movements associated with a system. I’ve always found dojo to mirror the attitude, intelligence, creativity, imagination and personality of the instructor. Uechi instructors, and probably representatives of other styles, who are bullies, will end up with a small group of equally dedicated bullies. These dojo provide a very small and questionable service to the community and certainly are unable to tap the underlying spirit present in the martial arts for the benefit of their students or the community which they serve.

I would like teachers of Uechi-ryu to look very carefully at how they present and teach the art of Uechi and not so much on the placement of fingers and toes. Understand that pounding on students in class may make for great entertainment for visitors but is unlikely to help your students or build enrollment. Get back to the essentials of Uechi. . . leave the circus acts to the carnival side shows and out of the dojo.

If we want to identify with something uniquely Uechi, I strongly suggest that teachers emulate the way the old masters taught and the way they treated their students. Masters Kanei Uechi, Ryuko Tomoyose and Seiyu Shinjo were powerful martial artists and were extremely influential within the Okinawan Martial Arts community. Yet they were humble, gentle and caring individuals who taught students how to tap their Sanchin energy and strength with probing touches that built confidence, strength and natural breathing. This is the Uechi “ryu” I would like to see preserved.

George Mattson

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