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Ichariba Choodee -- Brothers and Sisters in Karate

This is an excerpt of my Editorial in the current issue of Classical Fighting Arts (Volume 2, Number 21, Issue #44), about how we are all brothers and sisters in Karate. It is a subject I believe in wholeheartedly. I also conducted a pretty extensive interview with Sensei Pat Nakata about his teacher's (Chosin Chibana's) memories of Anko Itosu. I hope that you will read the magazine and the many fine articles written by other authors.
There is a saying in Okinawa, "Ichariba choodee," which means, "Now that we've met and talked we're brothers." You might have read this saying in a book or at one of the many Okinawan culture websites. I first heard it at a coffee shop on the way to Yonabaru. I had arrived to Okinawa to visit and train with Sensei Katsuhiko Shinzato, the head of the Kishaba Juku form of Shorin-Ryu. He was kind enough to meet me at the airport and was driving me to an inn conveniently located close to his home where he teaches a small group of students.

Before we reached the inn, Shinzato Sensei suggested that we stop at the coffee shop so that we could talk and become better acquainted as this was our first meeting. During the conversation he explained the saying, "Now that we've met and talked we're brothers." The thing is, it was not just a saying to him -- he meant it.

When I trained with Shinzato Sensei I felt like a member of his Karate family. I know that I was a visitor and guest. Shinzato Sensei and his students graciously went out of their way to help me get around and with necessities. But I never felt like a stranger or a foreigner, a beginner yes, but never an outsider. I found that Shinzato Sensei and his students welcomed me the same way we do here in Hawaii, with Aloha.

This is not an editorial about me. My story is neither special, nor unusual. The point I am making is that Karate students are welcomed in Okinawa, as brothers. When I mentioned this recently at a Karate demonstration for which I was the emcee, I was reminded that I should not only say brothers, but brothers and sisters! I wrote to Shinzato Sensei about this and he confirmed that choodee means siblings in Uchinaguchi (Okinawan), while ikiga choodee means brothers and inagu choodee means sisters.

We Karate students are brothers and sisters.

Shinzato Sensei mentioned another thing to me at the coffee shop. Japan in generally viewed as a vertical society in which every person knows his place. Okinawa is more of a horizontal society based on mutual respect and assistance. "When the typhoon came," Shinzato Sensei explained, "even the King needed help." This was represented symbolically at the dojo, where the students did not line up in the traditional rows facing the Sensei. Instead, all of the students, including Shinzato Sensei, formed a circle and bowed to each other as a sign of mutual respect.

* * *

I am reminded again of something Shinzato Sensei told me during my first visit and has repeated many times over the years since. He said, "We can learn together." He did not say, "I am the teacher and you are the student," or "I am the head and you are the lowly slave." He said, "We can learn together." No titles, no positions, no politics. The basis for our relationship is learning and that comes from one thing -- training. You learn by training and by training you learn."
Last week, we had a visitor at our dojo. He had come all the way from Florida, where he also studies the Kishaba Juku form of Shorin-Ryu. It was my pleasure to tell him that "Now that we have met and talked, we are brothers and sisters in Karate." I was not just saying this. I meant it.


Charles C. Goodin