Uechi Kanbun was born in Izumi Village, Motobu Peninsula in northern Okinawa. He was the eldest son of a samurai family. In 1897, at age twenty, he left Okinawa to avoid conscription into the Japanese military. Like many young Okinawan adventurers before him, he traveled to China to study the Chinese martial arts.
Shortly after arriving at Fuzhou in Fujian Province, he became a pupil of Shushiwa, studying Pan Gai Noon kempo and Chinese medicine. After nearly ten years of study, he was allowed to teach Pan Gai Noon in Nanching, China. Three years later one of his students killed another man during a land dispute. Kanbun Uechi was forced to close his school. In 1910, he returned home to Izumi to farm, vowing never to teach again. He married and started a family. Word that Uechi was a karate master leaked out thanks to Gokenki, a friend and fellow martial artist from his years in China. Many sought him out, but he refused to teach.
In 1924, Uechi Kanbun was forced to move to Wakayama, mainland Japan, for employment. A young Okinawan friend, Tomoyose Ryuyu, finally convinced Kanbun to teach him privately. For the first time Pan Gai Noon was being taught outside of China. Two years later Tomoyose convinced Uechi to teach Pan Gai Noon publicly to prevent the art from being lost. Kanbun taught in Wakiyama until 1947, when he returned to Okinawa to teach. Unfortunately, in 1948 he fell ill and died a few months later at the age of 71.