The animal techniques of Uechi ryu (1)

Uechi Kanbun, an icon in Okinawan karate history, introduced Uechi-ryu karate to Okinawa. The Okinawan Prefectural Government recognizes Uechi-ryu as one of the three major roots of all Okinawan karate along with Shuri-te and Naha-te. Uechi Kanbun spent thirteen years in China mastering a quanfa style called Pangainoon (half-hard, half-soft). He taught the style, later called Uechi-ryu, in China, Japan, and Okinawa. Some believe Chinese health exercises and fighting forms were developed by observing animals. At that time, the general health of the Chinese people was poor. Scholars believed diseases were caused by inactivity. They observed that animals were very fit and began watching their living habits.

The next step in this comparative development was to determine how animals fought one another and who most often survived. Fighting moves emulating animals, such as the tiger, snake, monkey, dragon, and birds native to China, is one source of origin attributed to their fighting systems. Uechi Kanbun favored the more difficult and effective of these striking techniques: shoken (one knuckle punch), sokusen (big toe kick), and nukite (finger-tip strike). These strikes are symbolically referred to as the tiger’s teeth and the crane’s beak. Closed hand techniques predominate in many martial arts styles and are called heishu. There are three types of closed hand strikes in Uechi-ryu karate. They are tsuki, uchi, and ate. Tsuki means thrust and applies to all forward thrusting actions, such as a straight punch. The Romaji spelling of tsuki changes to zuki when used with another word, as in seiken zuki (two-knuckle strike). Uchi strikes are roundhouse or swinging strikes. Ate (pronounced autay) is used to describe strikes with larger surface weapons like the knee and elbow. Open hand strikes, used extensively by Chinese and Okinawan styles, are called kaishu. There are three types of open-hand strikes used in Uechi-ryu karate: nuki, uchi, and tsuki. Nuki means attacking with a smaller weapon in a poking motion. Uchi (circular) and tsuki (straight) striking methods are the same as with closed-hand techniques, however, many parts of the hand can be used.


There are no seiken punches in Sanchin, Seisan, or Sanseryu, the original three kata of Uechi-ryu karate. The Chinese origins of this system emphasized many other striking techniques delivered to precise targets or pressure points (kyusho). Kanshiwa kata, created by Uechi Kanei, is the only Uechi-ryu kata that contains seiken punches. The literal translation of shoken is “small knuckle.” This refers to the second knuckle of the index finger, the proximal joint. A shoken fist is made very similar to a seiken fist except that the forefinger is brought forward and locked against the thumb. It is chambered and delivered in the same manner as seiken zuki. Shoken is a dominate weapon of the Uechi-ryu system and is found in supplementary exercises (hojo undo) and all katas except Sanchin. Shoken is used only to attack soft spots and pressure points, such as the throat, neck, solar plexus, armpit, ribcage, arms, and legs. Shoken is called the tiger’s tooth. This punch is compared to being bitten by a tiger. The tissue damage caused by a shoken punch is more intense than the blunt result of a seiken punch. It delivers more destructive power than any other hand strike because the force of the punch is focused into a very small area. The impact penetrates deep into the body.

The word ken means knuckle. Ken has been expanded in the martial arts to mean fist and encompasses many fist or hand strikes. Seiken (left), a fundamental two-knuckle fist, is the most popular hand weapon in karate. It is the least difficult fist to for m and the safest to use, therefore, it is good for beginners. The shoken (right), one-knuckle fist, is more difficult to form and condition, therefore, it is a more advanced technique.

Uechi-ryu’s shoken fist symbolizes a tiger’s teeth. Notice how the thumb overlaps or wraps around the index finger to give it maximum support.

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