Uehara Seikichi Sensei

Upbringing and Training

Uehara Seikichi sensei
Uehara Seikichi sensei

Uehara Seikichi sensei was born in Oroku Village (now Naha's Oroku Ward) in 1904, the fifth son of Uehara Kamado. His childhood name was Kanagwaa.


The Uehara family made a living brewing and selling miso (soybean paste) and shōyu (soy sauce) in addition to farming, and was comparatively prosperous. Uehara sensei did well in school and excelled in sports. However, in his sixth year of primary school, his family experienced financial difficulties and he was forced to give up school to help in the family business.


Uehara sensei started peddling his family’s products, and would cross the river into Naha to deliver goods to various homes. At that time, merchants of the same goods would fight among themselves over territory and even though Uehara sensei was only a child, he was intimidated and bullied by other miso and shōyu peddlers. Because of this, Uehara became interested in learning karate.


In the Ryukyu Kingdom, karate had only been studied by families of the military class. Even after the classes were abolished in the Meiji reforms, it was not made accessible to the average person. Outside of physical education in schools, study of karate was only available to children of the former military families of Shuri and wealthy merchant families of Naha, and then by invitation only.


While delivering his family’s goods, Uehara sensei would sometimes cross paths with Motobu Choyu sensei and eventually became his student. Choyu sensei was widely respected as the 11th head of the Motobu Udun family. His younger brother Choki sensei was known as the premier practitioner of karate on Okinawa. Choyu sensei was himself recognized as a great master of the martial arts, from bare hand to weapons and even horsemanship.

Choyu Sensei’s Training Methods

Motobu Chomo sensei (1890-1945). His nickname was Trajū, or "Tiger Tail," because of his quick kicking technique.
Motobu Chomo sensei (1890-1945). His nickname was Trajū, or "Tiger Tail," because of his quick kicking technique.

Uehara sensei’s training took place every day--morning, noon, and night during breaks from his work. For the first few years, this training centered on the basics of punching, kicking, and walking. Choyu sensei’s training methods were unique--such as punching oneself to strengthen the abdomen and doing spins on a horizontal bar. Uehara sensei was also made to jump from graves or stone walls while punching and kicking and scale walls as part of his training.


Gradually, Uehara sensei was introduced to training in weapons, tuiti, and horsemanship. Choyu sensei's training was always jissen style, in which attacking was done freely. Choyu sensei and Choki sensei were apart in teaching this way in the Taisho Period, when kata practice was the mainstream. Emphasis on sparring against opponents was a Motobu Udun tradition.


By the age of 17 or 18, Uehara sensei had developed his skills enough to be charged with instructing other pupils in place of Choyu sensei. In 1924, Uehara sensei traveled to Wakayama to instruct Choyu sensei’s second son Chomo sensei in Motobu udundi. Upon his return to Okinawa, Uehara sensei studied with Choyu sensei until the end of 1926, when he left for the Philippines.

Time in the Philippines

Uehara sensei in the Philippines, age 22
Uehara sensei in the Philippines, age 22

While managing a hemp plantation in the Philippines, Uehara sensei established a dōjō and started instruction. There in 1928, he participated as one of three representatives of Okinawa in an enbu commemorating the anniversary of the investiture of the Showa Emperor.


At the start of the Pacific War in 1941, he was drafted as a military auxiliary and fought in a number of battles where conditions were unimaginably harsh. His mettle on the battlefield was above the average soldier's, and his superiors at that time praised his swordsmanship especially as being highly skilled.


During his time in the Philippines, Uehara sensei would read poems he received from Choyu sensei almost every night and committed them to memory. Even on the battlefield, he recalled Choyu sensei’s teachings. He felt his study of udundi helped him to escape danger a number of times, for example, when deciding how to fight based on the terrain and how to get to safety by reading the direction of the wind.

Homecoming and Return to Instruction

Uehara sensei at the age of 35
Uehara sensei at the age of 35

In 1947, Uehara sensei returned home to Okinawa. Since he had been in the Philippines for so many years, he was almost completely unknown in the Okinawan karate world--what is known as kakure bushi, or hidden martial arts master. Even so, rumors of his time in the Philippines spread and he was approached by people seeking instruction.


To these people, Uehara sensei taught certain fundamentals of udundi--especially striking and kicking--as a kind of karate. Like Choyu sensei, Uehara sensei’s practice was centered on jissen kumite. He had his students wear boxing gloves and encouraged them to attack freely.


On Okinawa in the 1950s, there were still hardly any styles that focused on kumite. Uehara sensei’s kumite did not consist of pre-arranged drills. His method of facing his students directly and allowing them to attack freely was practiced by almost no one else.


The kumite Uehara sensei taught was the same as in udundi today, using the characteristic tachū-gwaa stance, me-oto-de kamae, forward-arm punches and forward-leg kicks. At that time, it was accepted as common sense that the basics of karate consisted of hiki-te, gyaku-tsuki, and rear-leg kicks. Because of this, there were people who insinuated that Uehara sensei’s teachings were “not karate.” But in fact, the kind of kumite that is generally practiced in karate today is a Showa-period--particularly, post-war--invention that did not exist when Uehara sensei was sparring freely with Choyu sensei. Eventually, even critics of Uehara changed their minds after seeing the level of his skill.


By the early 1960s, Uehara sensei was teaching tuiti to shihan he had become acquainted with through the Kobudo Kyokai, including Higa Seitoku sensei. However, this was again seen as odd. Critics said that there was no such thing as tuiti in Okinawan martial arts. Independent descriptions of tuiti--such as in the Itosu jyukkun (Ten Precepts of Karate)--were largely unknown in the world of Okinawan karate at that time.


In 1962, Uehara sensei was invited by Kaneshima Shinsuke sensei of Tozan-ryu to participate in a seminar in Okinawa given by Okuyama sensei of Hakko-ryu Jujutsu. Because of this, there are those who have said Motobu udundi tuiti came from Hakko-ryu without understanding the chronology or technical differences. The amount of time Uehara sensei received direct instruction at the seminar, which was held in March, was limited to about an hour over the course of four days. Higa Seitoku sensei’s son Kiyohiko sensei remembers the circumstances at that time and his father being invited to the seminar but declining. He has also stated, "It’s nonsense to say that Motobu udundi tuiti came from Hakko-ryu. My father was learning tuiti from Uehara sensei a year before the Hakko-ryu seminar.”


The Hakko-ryu shihan who was in charge of Uehara sensei’s instruction has said, "There was only one person among the participants in Okinawa who was not susceptible to our techniques. That person was Uehara sensei." He has also stated that he does not believe Uehara sensei was influenced by Hakko-ryu.


Similar to what happened to Choki sensei, there were people who sought to damage Uehara sensei’s reputation by singling out points for criticism without regard to facts.

Research on Mai and Bu

Pamphlet of Mai and Bu, 1976
Pamphlet of Mai and Bu, 1976

In spite of such criticism, talk of Uehara sensei’s ability and amazing waza gradually spread. Even in his sixties, he could not be touched--even by students in their twenties striking with full power. Many people who saw Uehara sensei’s skill in use called it remarkable,something they had never seen before.


In order to increase the number of his students, Uehara sensei decided to open up the study of Motobu udundi to all comers. Until then, students had only been accepted upon recommendation. Then in 1970, he established Motobu Udundi Kobujutsu Kyokai with himself as chairperson.

Uehara sensei demonstrating mai no te at a presentation
Uehara sensei demonstrating mai no te at a presentation

In 1974, Uehara sensei started to research the relationship between mai (dance) and bu in conjunction with the ryūkyū buyō master Shimabukuro Koyu. Uehara sensei was especially interested in elucidating the similarities between the mai no te he inherited from Choyu sensei and actual ryūkyū buyō. It was found that among the classical Ryukyuan court dances, the "women's dances" in particular employed hand movements similar to udundi’s mai no te, such as the gestures known as oshi-te, ogami-te, and koneri-te


The results of this research were announced at joint presentations seven times from 1976 to 1990. For a relatively small ryūha, or school, like Motobu Udundi, there were considerable costs associated with these presentations. However, Uehara sensei’s enthusiasm for enlightening the development of the ancestral Motobu Udun martial art made it possible to gain the support of many others.

Latter years

Uehara sensei and Chosei sōke in Kobe, 1976
Uehara sensei and Chosei sōke in Kobe, 1976

In 1976, Uehara sensei was invited to Kobe for the national karate championship of national and public universities. This marked the first public demonstration of Motobu udundi on the Japanese mainland. It was at this time that Uehara sensei met Motobu Choki sensei’s third son and heir, Chosei sensei, and decided to fulfill his longstanding desire to return Motobu udundi to the Motobu family.


In 1984, Motobu Udundi became the first ryūha from Okinawa affiliated with the Nihon Kobudo Kyokai, the most authoritative association of kobudō, or traditional Japanese martial arts. In the same year, a demonstration was given at a kobudō tournament in Okayama Prefecture. At that time, Uehara sensei was already 80 years old, but continued to participate in demonstrations himself even past the age of 90, earning the admiration of many.

Uehara sensei on the cover of Bu no mai
Uehara sensei on the cover of Bu no mai

In 1989, Uehara sensei published the book Bu no mai, detailing his meeting with Choyu sensei, the events of his time in the Philippines, the path his life had taken, and the techniques of Motobu udundi. In particular, his description of training under Choyu sensei is a precious record of how training in the martial arts was done on Okinawa in the Taisho Period.


Up to his last years, Uehara sensei continued to lead daily practices, not passing it off on his shihandai, or assistant instructors. Then at ceremony for the celebration of his 99th birthday, he transferred the title of sōke to Motobu Chosei sensei. The next year, Uehara sensei passed away at the age of 100.


Uehara sensei's personal history

March 24, 1904

Born in Oroku Village, Okinawa. Fifth son of Uehara Kamado.

July 1916

Begins studies under Motobu Choyu sensei.


Participates with Motobu Choyu sensei in an enbu at the south palace of Shuri Castle performing ufukun, or kōsōkun-dai


Performs ufukun again at an enbu at Naha's Taisho Theater. Also from this time, he becomes the youngest member of the Okinawa Karate Kenkyu Club, with the official position of cha-wakasaa, or tea server, to the chairperson, Motobu Choyu sensei. 

December 24, 1926

Emigrates from Okinawa to the Philippines. 


Establishes a dōjō on Mindanao Island in the Philippines. Participates as one of three representatives of Okinawa in anenbu commemorating the anniversary of the investiture of the Showa Emperor. 

December 1941

Start of the war in the Pacific. Drafted as a military auxiliary. 

March 1947

Returns to Okinawa. 

November 3, 1951

Establishes a dōjō in Ginowan City. 

March 5, 1961

Names his own ryūha Motobu-ryu in honor of Choyu sensei. In the same year, establishes Motobu-ryu Kobujutsu Kyokai with himself as chairperson. Is also asked by Higa Seitoku sensei to help in establishing Okinawa Kobudo Kyokai.


In November of the same year, performs the kata known as jicchin at the first Okinawa Kobudo Happyo Taikai. 

September 1963

Invited to perform an enbu at an exhibition of Okinawan products in Kumamoto Prefecture, on the island of Kyushu. 


Establishes the Seidokan dōjō in Ojana, Ginowan City. On April 8, receives the highest rank of hanshi from the All-Okinawa Karate Kobudo Rengo-kai. 


Renames his ryūha Motobu Udundi with the intention of publicizing the techniques he inherited from Motobu Choyu sensei. In the same year, establishes Motobu Udundi Kobujutsu Kyokai with himself as chairperson. 


On May 30, is invited to perform an enbu at the national karate championship of national and public universities. At this time, meets Motobu Choki sensei's son Chosei sensei in Kobe for the first time, informing Chosei sensei of his desire to return Motobu Udundi to the Motobu family.

August 15, 1981

Becomes an advisor to the Okinawa-ken Karate-do Renmei. 

April 20, 1982

Becomes chairperson of the All-Okinawa Karate Kobudo Rengo-kai. 

November 3, 1984

Awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, sixth class. 

March 31, 1985

Awarded commendation for distinguished service from Nihon Kobudo Kyokai. 

August 17, 2003 At the celebration of his 99th birthday, transfers the title of sōke to Motobu Chosei sensei.
April 3, 2004

Passes away from old age at 7:15 a.m., age 100.