History of Motobu Udundi: 1955 - 1965 (2)

Enrolled around 1957 or 1958 (Showa 32 or 33)

Uehara Hiroshi

Uehara Hiroshi
Uehara Hiroshi

・I was born in 1927 (Showa 2). I initially learned karate from a teacher by the name of Meza no Tanmee (Old Meza), who had returned to Okinawa from China. I think I was in my first year of junior high school, under the old system. Before WWII, Tanmee had visited places such as Hawai’i and America, in order to find out about foreign martial arts, which he ended up training for about ten years. Tanmee had decided to visit such places thinking that perhaps he would find martial arts more impressive than Okinawan karate. However he was not able to find what he expected. It was more the case that Okinawan immigrants were simply practicing karate in their new homeland. He came to the conclusion that nothing was superior to karate, and returned home around 1937 or 1938 (Showa 12 or 13). 


・Before WWII, in the village where I lived, anyone practicing karate was thought to be training to kill people. Had it been discovered that I was practicing, I would have been ostracized, so I had to practice in secret.

・Later on, Tanmee introduced me to Tsuha Komei sensei  (1919 - 1966), who was also know as "the samurai who commands Okinawa's future," whom I started to study under. Tsuha sensei initially learned karate from Nishizato no Tanmee (Old Nishizato) who had moved to Agarie, Nago after the dissolution of the Ryukyu Kingdom in 1879. Subsequently, Tsuha sensei had also studied under Nakamura Shigeru sensei (founder of Okinawa Kenpo), later becoming his student. However it was Tsuha sensei's brother-in-law, Omura Motozen (b. 1919) who was the first to study under Nakamura sensei in Okinawa Kenpo. Before the war, at the time when Nakamura sensei opened his dojo in Nago, Nakamura sensei had been visited by Motobu Choki sensei & Kyan Chotoku sensei.


・I think it was around 1941 or 1942 (Showa 16 or 17) that I became Tsuha sensei’s student. In the middle of this period, from 1944 (Showa 19) until December of 1946 (Showa 21), I was on the mainland as a cadet in the Japanese Naval Aviation Preparatory School. Back in Okinawa, I returned to train under Tsuha sensei and stayed with him until the time of his death. He died in a car accident in 1966 (Showa 41).


・I remember Tsuha sensei, speaking about studying under Uehara Seikichi sensei in order to expand his field of martial arts. This was around 1955 (Showa 30).

Omura Motozen
Omura Motozen

・Two or three years later, the time came to meet Uehara sensei. One day, two or three of us were basically forced into a car and taken to Uehara sensei’s place. Uehara sensei’s technique was deeper than Tsuha sensei's. It made me think that even with people of high-level skill, there is always someone else who is even at a yet more superior level. As time passed, I came to train under Uehara sensei along with Tsuha sensei. Tsuha sensei’s brother-in-law, Omura Motozen, was also with us. Mr. Omura was an expert in the use of sai. There were even people such as Kyan Shinei sensei — who was known as a sai expert at the time — who, upon seeing Mr. Omura’s skills with sai, said, “I also need to study this a little further,” and trained under him. 


・We would do our practice on the beach or in a bar that was run by Uehara sensei. In those days, bars were permitted to stay open until midnight, so after closing time, we would practice in the hall area of the bar. When the weather was good, we would practice on the beach, in the dead of the night. We would go whenever Uehara sensei was free, usually travelling two hours from Nago to Uehara sensei’s place. We did not practice along with the rest of sensei’s students.


・The practice consisted of thrusts, kicks and tuiti.1 We studied both standard karate and tuiti. 


1: Flowing dance like motion designed for finger, wrist, arm locks, breaks, design to administer pain, control opponent's body dynamics and disrupt their attack, immediately gaining control.


・There are people who question Motobu Udundi tuiti, saying that it was influenced by Hakko-ryu. However this is incorrect. In actual fact, it was we who invited Uehara sensei to a Hakko-ryu training session. In 1961 (Showa 36), Okuyama sensei, the founder of Hakko-ryu, visited Okinawa before heading to Taiwan. At that time, Nagamine Shoshin sensei (founder of Matsubayashi-ryu) organized the training session to which Tsuha sensei was also invited and in which we also participated. 


・Then the following year, 1962 (Showa 37) a second training session was held. Together with Kaneshima Shinsuke sensei (founder of Tozan-ryu), we all asked Uehara sensei whether he could take part in a second training sestion with us, as we needed to gather many participants. This was the only session that Uehara sensei took part in. Prior to this, neither Hakko-ryu not Uehara sensei of Motobu Udundi had any exposure to one another. This proves it is false rumour that tuiti was influenced by Hakko-ryu. We studied both styles and know that udundi has something about it that is greater than Hakko-ryu. Also, that in Hakko-ryu there is something greater than udundi. Personally, I think that Motobu Udundi most likely came into existence earlier than Hakko-ryu. 


・In Motobu Udundi I also trained in the use of weapons such as the staff and sai. I also learned how to defend myself against ancient Okinawan martial arts weapons and methods of attack.


・ I practiced karate until I was about 60, after which I retired. I am not especially conscious having learned any particular style, but if anything, I would say that Nakamura sensei’s Okinawa kenpo was my school. People from the mainland ask about schools straight away, and if the school does not have a name, they think that what you practice is phony. They look down on people who practice their own style, despite the fact that schools did not actually exist in the past in Okinawa.


(Interviewed on May 30th and June 1st, 2007)


・The “Meza” from “Meza no Tanmee” is written using the characters for “front seat.” This was Tanmee’s professional name, not his surname. I think that his surname was Miyagi. I do not recall his given name. The karate that I learned from him was not kata oriented, but focused on techniques such as basic kicks and thrusts that were from an earlier period. Tanmee is said to have learned kenpo from the immigrants in Hawai’i.


・Tsuha sensei was not an ordinary teacher. He was kind and helpful. Amongst those who study martial arts for a long time, there are some whose hearts end up rough, but Tsuha sensei was nothing like that. Uehara sensei was also deeply impressed by Tsuha sensei’s character. Their relationship was more like brothers than teacher–student. If he was still alive, he would be about 95 years old now. 


・Nakamura sensei and Uehara sensei would interact sometimes. I had not met Nakamura sensei in the days before the war, but after the war I would sometimes ask him to critique my forms, as he was the master of my master. From about 1950 (Showa 25), Nakamura sensei started to run kumite matches using kendo masks, armour, and groin protectors. If I am not mistaken, these were the first kumite matches held in Okinawa after the war.


・Bushi Kuniyoshi (Kuniyoshi Shinkichi) was from a samurai family. After the abolition of feudal domains and establishment of prefectures, he retreated to the countryside. I have never met him, so of course, I don’t know much about him. 


・Even after the war, people would react strangely if they heard that you practiced karate. Public demonstrations never happened either. Making any display of karate while having an alcoholic drink was particularly frowned upon. In those days, karate was something that one did for oneself; it was not something to show other people.


(Interviewed on August 31st, 2013)