Kanbun Uechi studied Pangai-noon (half-hard, half-soft) Kung Fu under Shushiwa, also known as Chou Tsu Ho, in the Fukien province of mainland China in the late 1800's and early 1900's. After 10 years of study under Shushiwa, Kanbun Uechi opened his own school in the Nanching province. Two years later, Kanbun Uechi returned to Okinawa, resolved never to teach again because one of his Chinese students had killed a neighbor with an open-hand technique in a dispute over land irrigation. Kanbun Uechi, while working as a janitor was persuaded by Ryuyu Tomoyose, a coworker to teach again. He did this by getting Kanbun to show him ways of defending against different attacks. His confidence as a teacher restored, Kanbun Uechi with the help of Ryuyu Tomoyose opened a dojo to the public. His Okinawan students eventually renamed the system in 1940 to "Uechi Ryu", which translates as "Way of Uechi".
Kanbun Uechi's son, Kanei Uechi, taught the style at the Futenma City Dojo, Okinawa, and was considered the first Okinawan to sanction the teaching to foreigners. One of Kanei's senior students, Ryuko Tomoyose, taught a young American serviceman named, George Mattson, formerly of Boston and now residing in Florida, who authored several books on the subject and is largely responsible for popularizing the style in America. Uechi-ryu emphasizes toughness of the body with quick hand and foot strikes. Several of the more unique weapons of Uechi practitioners are the one-knuckle punch (shoken), spearhand (nukite), and the toe kick. Because of this emphasis on simplicity, stability, and a combination of linear and circular motions, the style is practical for self-defense. Uechi-ryu is principally based on the movements of animals, the Tiger, Dragon, and Crane. Of all styles of Karate, none are closer to the Chinese roots of the art; Uechi-ryu still strongly resembles Southern Chinese Kung Fu.