by Robert A. Kaiser
The “Okinawan Superman”, Shinjo Kiyohide (Nov 3, 1951) was awarded the rank of Judan, 10th degree, presented by 10th dan Master Takara Shintoku. Master Shinjo received this promotion on his 70th birthday.
There are few Uechi-Ryu teachers ever awarded this highest of ranks in our system and certainly few, if any, who have done more to promote Uechi Ryu around the world. One only needs to open YouTube and search his name or search through Facebook to see the plethora of videos and articles highlighting his seminars, demonstrations, and travels promoting traditional Uechi training.
Apart from the Uechi family itself, no Okinawan family could be called Uechi Ryu royalty other than the well-known Shinjo family. The current generation is led by Shinjo Kiyohide, the 9-time champion of the Uechi karate tournament in both kata and kumite, for which he was dubbed the “Okinawan Superman.”. Internet sources say he stopped competing when his father became gravely ill and died in 1982. I remember hearing, many years ago, the reason he stopped competing was so others could have an opportunity to win the tournament; such is the respect for his skills and abilities. Well, that and the ubiquitous demonstrations he and his younger brother, Narahiro, often put on, including the spectacular breaking of baseball bats, and the hardest of Sanchin shime of Narahiro who, in his own right, is a tournament kata champion many times over.
Author Christopher M. Clarke writes as far back as Kiyohide’s great grandfather, Shinjo Seizan, the Shinjo name is associated with Okinawan martial arts. Seizan was widely known as a master of the Okinawan bo. Kiyohide’s grandfather and father both studied with Uechi Kanbun, and Uechi Kanei. Born in 1951, Kiyohide began his study of Uechi Ryu under his father, Shinjo Seiyu, at the age of ten.
In an article by travel67, first published in Okinawa Living Magazine November 2006, Master Shinjo made it very clear how he sees his role in the global expansion of Uechi-Ryu:
“Twice a year I go abroad to give seminars, judge competitions and check that overseas Uechi-ryu dojo’s [sic] are not diverging from the traditional Okinawan techniques. Karate is like a gayjumaru (banyan) tree with its roots based in Okinawa. Sometimes branches grow from the main trunk and it is my job to prune these outgrowths back so that Uechi-ryu remains in its pure form and is not mixed with other styles of martial arts or even gymnastics. It is my calling to make sure the traditional skills of Uechi-ryu are handed down to future generations.”
Having the honor, more than once, of training in front of Master Shinjo, I can easily say he is one of the clearest and most focused teachers with whom I have been on the dojo floor. There is so much more that can be written, and has been, about the Shinjo family and specifically about Kiyohide Sensei. Soon we will be reading about the 4th generation of the Shinjo family, Kiyohide’s two sons, Shuichi and Kiyohito, both tournament champions during their high school years and now senior Uechi instructors.
Today, however, we really just want to congratulate the Okinawan Superman on his promotion to 10th dan, a promotion of which he is most deserving. Congratulations Master Shinjo!