Kata Chinto - Fighting to the East

Gregory Allen

Once upon a time in the early nineteenth century a shipwreck marooned a Chinese sailor named Chinto near the Okinawan town of Tamari. Left with no other means of support Chinto took up residence in the caves surrounding the town and started looting farmsteads for food. The local citizens, unhappy with this arrangement, appealed to King Sho for assistance. The king dispatched Sokon Matsumura, commander of the palace guard, to put a stop to the sailor’s looting. When the commander finally found Chinto he was unable to defeat him. Every time Matsumura struck, Chinto would spin away and counterattack. Unable to defeat his opponent physically, Matsumura took a peaceful approach: over the next several months he brought food and clothes to the sailor in exchange for being taught his unusual fighting methods.

This story, while charming, may be apocryphal: It was first published in a 1914 newspaper article written by Gichin Funakoshi who heard the story from his teacher, Itosu Anko, who heard it from Matsumura himself. Further complicating the story's authenticity is its fable-like nature. A well known and respected individual attempts to face down a challenger by physical means and is thwarted only to find success through a peaceful approach.

There is, however, some supporting historical evidence. The Wu Zhou Quan (Five Ancestors Fist) style of kung fu, popular during the period when Matsumura served the king of Okinawa, has a kata called Chen Tou in Mandarin. Wu Zho Quan was practiced in Fujian, a southern Chinese province facing what is now Taiwan. Fujian was a popular departure point for trade with Okinawa.

From a practical perspective the kata emphasizes balance and deceptive evasion. The form makes frequent use of the so-called “Chinto stance” or sagi ashi dachi where the practitioner balances on one foot with the other knee drawn up to protect the groin. With the hands positioned one high and one low, the stance gives the impression of a crane poised to strike an opponent. Chinto also promotes balance through frequent single-footed spins. These spinning movements, some as small as forty-five degrees, create a deceptive form of evasion. Rather than using full steps, Chinto evades attacks through movements that narrowly avoid techniques while leaving the defender close enough to mount a sudden counterattack.

There are currently three distinct “families” of Chinto:

  1. The Matsumura/Itosu or Shuri branch practices the kata from front to back.
  2. The Matsumora or Tomari branch practices the kata from side to side.
  3. The Chotoku Kyan branch practices the kata on a forty-five degree angle.

Shotokan also practices a version of the kata renamed Gankaku (“crane on a rock”) by Gichin Funakoshi, the styles founder.