The lineage of Chinto
Published: April 27, 2022
Chinto is a widespread kata, practiced in almost every style of karate that has roots in Shuri and or Tomari Te. There are actually two versions of the kata. The Tomari version, practiced in for example Matsubayashi-Ryu, Shorin-Ryu Seibukan and Shorinji-Ryu. And the Shuri version, practiced in most Itosu lineage styles, for example Chibana Shorin-Ryu schools, Shito-Ryu, Shotokan and Wado-Ryu.
There is a romanticized story that Chinto was brought to Okinawa by a Chinese drift away called Anan, or Chang Nan, and that he taught it to Sokon Matsumura. But is this really true? And is there any written evidence for the lineage of the kata? Let’s find out.
The story about Sokon Matsumura and Chinto
“Around 1850, a Chinese sailor, some say he was a pirate, got shipwrecked near Tomari. He hid in a cave at a graveyard and in order to survive, he stole from the crops of the local people. The Okinawan king heard about this Chinese man and sent his personal bodyguard, Sokon Matsumura, to arrest the man. However, in the ensuring fight, Matsumura found himself equally matched by the stranger. Matsumura was unable to defeat the man and it became a draw. Matsumura was intrigued by the man’s abilities and offered him food and clothing. They became friends and in return for the food and clothing, Anan taught Matsumura his fighting skills, including the kata Chinto.”
Okay, that’s a nice story of course. But let’s be honest; do you really think this is true? Why would the Okinawan King send his personal bodyguard to catch a thief? While he had many other staff to do the job? And íf Matsumura went to arrest the man, would he go all alone? And without any weapons? Of course, we all know about the weapon ban on Okinawa, but the royal staff was actually allowed to carry weapons. And the fight became a draw? A draw, in the 19th century? In my humble opinion, the king wouldn’t send this personal bodyguard, but other staff. And if the drift away would resist, they would simply… You can fill it in yourself.
So did this event happen like it is said? And was it even around 1850? And did the Chinese man hid in the cave in Tomari? There are several written sources that make me doubt it and even refute the story.
Gichin Funakoshi about Anan
In a 1914 newspaper article by Gichin Funakoshi, based upon what he heard from his teacher Anko Asato (1827-1906), student of Sokon Matsumura, Funakoshi says: “Those who received instruction from a castaway from Anan in Fuzhou, include: Gusukuma and Kanagusuku (Chinto), Matsumora and Oyadomari (Chinti), Yamasato (Jiin) and Nakasato (Jitte) all of Tomari, who learned the kata separately. The reason being that their teacher was in a hurry to return to his home country.”
‘Matsumora and Oyadomari’ are Kosaku Matsumora and Kokan Oyadomari (1827 – 1905). Sokon Matsumura isn’t mentioned. And Funakoshi says ‘all of Tomari’, while Sokon Matsumura was from Shuri. And we immediately read another interesting thing. A certain Gusukuma and Kanagusku learned Chinto. It is known that Anko Itosu was a student of a certain Gusukuma from Tomari. This is confirmed by Funakoshi in his book ‘Karate-Dō Kyōhan’ (Chapter 1 Introduction – Paragraph ‘The development of karate’):
‘… and masters Asato and Itosu were students of Matsumura and Gusukuma, respectively. Masters Asato and Itosu were the teachers who instructed the writer, and to whom the writer is greatly indebted.’.
So it’s possible that Anko Itosu’s teacher was the same person as the Gusukuma who is said to have studied with Anan, and that Itosu learned Chinto from this Gusukuma. More about this later. First, more about Kosaku Matsumora.
Kosaku Matsumora and the Satsuma official incident
Kosaku Matsumora (1829 – 1898) is a famous karate master from Tomari. Together with his close friend Kokan Oyadomari, he studied Tomari-Te under Karyu Uku (1800 – 1850) and Kishin Teruya (1804 – 1864).
As you can read in Shoshin Nagamine’s book ‘Tales of Okinawa’s Great Masters’, when Matsumora was about 20 years old, he had an encounter with a Satsuma official:
“One day when Matsumora was on Haariya Street, between the Takahashi Bridge and Maemichi Street in the neighborhood of Yamazato Giki, he heard screams coming from among a crowd of angry people. As he got closer, he saw a Satsuma official in the midst of the crowd holding up his sword and bellowing out: “What did you say? Come here, you little insolent bastard, you’re nothing but a bunch of low-life scum!” Witnessing such despicable behavior prompted Matsumora to respond immediately. Pushing his way through the crowed he lunged right in front of the foreign official. The crowd was astonished, as was the sword wielding samurai. For anyone to stand up to a Satsuma swordsman, with or without a sword of his own, was an unthinkable demonstration of courage.
Standing in the face of danger, Matsumora quickly removed the moist Japanese towel which he had recently been in the habit of carrying concealed inside his garment. Then, without warning, the infuriated swordsman took a mortal swipe at Matsumora. Without even as much as a blink of an eye, Matsumora’s evasive action moved him outside the range of the deadly blow as the crowd scattered for safety. Flinging the towel at the astonished warrior, he was able to wrap it around his sword and yank it from his grip. However, in the struggle Matsumora lost his little finger as the sword flew to the ground. As quickly as he had flung the towel, Matsumora lunged out and recovered both the sword and his severed finger, hurling them both into the Asato River before dashing away. With a complete loss of face, the overcome samurai swiftly withdrew. Losing one’s sword in battle was, for any samurai, a loss of spirit. However, for a samurai of the fierce Satsuma han, to lose his sword to an Okinawan was an unimaginable disgrace.
In complete awe, the entire neighborhood witnessed the unbelievable confrontation from behind the safety of the nearby bushed and stone wall. The brave bushi from Tomari had not only rescued them from danger, he had also removed any fear of Satsuma retaliation by publicly humiliating the foreign official. After the brief but intense encounter, everyone quietly dispersed in twos and threes, remembering that which had just occurred in the neighborhood of Yamazato Giki.
Only about twenty years old, and having lost his finger in the encounter, Matsumora was deeply concerned about the safety of the other villagers. There could be no question that if officials came looking for him, he would not be too difficult to locate with a freshly severed finger. Hence, that night he secretly departed from Tomari to hide in Nago’s Asoubaru district. [ … ] To Matsumora, the succeeding ten years or so had passed quickly as a dream. Hearing the situation in Tomari village had changed for the better, Matsumora decided to return to his hometown. Returning to Tomari without incident, he took up residence on the west side of the elementary school across from Yuhinaguwa, in the district of Ie.”
Matsumora was born in 1829. If he was about 20 years old, the encounter would have taken place around 1849. According to Nagamine, he stayed in Nago’s Asoubaru district for ten years or so. That means until around 1859. Íf Anan was shipwrecked in 1850, it’s most logical that Matsumora wasn’t even in Tomari.
According to Scot Mertz, Anan got shipwrecked in 1872. And not near Tomari, but near Onna Village (about 43 km from Tomari):
“In late spring of 1872, a man washed ashore near Onna Village Okinawa. He spoke a strange dialect of Chines that the residents of Onna couldn’t figure out, so the suspected he was from Taiwan. Because of this the Pechin in the area arrested him and took him to the Tomari areas to try to find a translator who could communicate with the man. The Pechin Matsumora Kosaku ultimately took charge of the man and found a translator. The dialect he spoke was in Minh Chinese, which was a bit different from what most of the local people were used to hearing. During the questioning of the man, it was discovered that his name was Mr Lao (no first name is ever mentioned in any of the sources), he was a sailor from Nan’an in the southern Fujian Province. Mr Lao was staying with the Teruya family in Tomari awaiting transportation and began teaching a style of Naquan that he knew to make money so he could pay for quicker accommodations to go home, he was only on Okinawa for a few months.”
The fact that he was only on Okinawa for a few months, ties in with the 1914 newspaper article by Gichin Funakoshi, where he says ‘that their teacher was in a hurry to return to his home country’. Also, the Yamasato mentioned in the article, is most likely Gikei Yamasato who was, together with Matsumora and Oyadomari, one of the most important masters from Tomari. Yamasato was born in 1835, which means he was only 15 years old in 1850. I think it’s not quit obvious that the man we know as Anan, would teach such young men. So personally, I think 1872 is indeed more logical then 1850.
The cave that is today known as ‘Chinto’s cave’ is actually called ‘Furuherin’ or ‘Temple of the Fire God’. This cave is also mentioned in Shoshin Nagamine’s book ‘Tales of Okinawa’s Great Masters’, but not as the cave where Anan hided, but as the place where a recluse lived: “There was a cave, nicknamed Furuherin, about 200 meters away from the family tomb, which a recluse used as his sanctuary. Living there, he soon became aware of the daily exchange between master and disciple, and often secretly observed their training. One day while Matsumora was practicing his kata by himself, he let go a kick with a sharp kiai. As he turned for the next move, he unexpectedly made eye contact with the recluse, who, acknowledging Matsumora’s presence, just turned and nonchalantly stepped back into the case. During an era when the practice of martial arts was so secret, Matsumora was surprised by the man’s lack of curiosity. Matsumora’s intuition told him that there was something special about this recluse. Notwithstanding, he concluded his training and returned home early that day. Matsumora was unable to fall asleep quickly that night in anticipation of this early morning training. Impatient for dawn to come, he ran to his teacher’s house to tell him about the old man in the cave. Master Teruya responded by saying: “He sounds quite mysterious, you should go and pay a visit to him by yourself.”
That evening Matsumora politely visited the old man at the cave and was welcomed with a smile. The recluse apologized to Matsumora for disturbing his private training and also commended the level of his skill. Taking out an old piece of paper from his garment, the recluse handed it to Matsumora, and left the cave quietly. On the paper was inscribed the following: “Bu wa shinjitsunari. Kokoro wa kokoro o motte migaku. Shikashi gi wa taizan yori omoshi. Kore bu no shinzui nari.” After reading the paper Kosaku looked for the recluse, but he was nowhere to be found in the darkness. He called out for the old man but received no reply. He even waited for him to return, but to no avail. The stranger was gone. Relucantly, Matsumora went home. Showing the paper to his master, Teruya responded by saying: “Exactly!”, but never said another word.
The mysterious recluse was never again seen or heard from. Pondering the underlying message of the abstract lesson left to him by the recluse, Matsumora was unable to analyze its value and became increasingly tormented. Then one rainy day while he was listening to Master Teruya, Matsumora had a flash of insight and in a moment understood the underlying meaning of the message left to him by the old recluse: “The essence of bu(do) is to denounce immoral consideration, understand humanity, follow a virtuous path and devote your life to cultivating peace in Okinawa.”
Personally, I think that two stories got mixed up. Matsumora is linked to Anan and also to the Furuherin cave. At one point in history, the Furuherin cave was said to be the cave where Anan hid, while originally it was the cave where Matsumora met the recluse who lived there.
When I visited the cave in 2020, I couldn’t find it at first. I asked several passers-by for ‘Chinto’s cave’, but they were all looking at me like ‘What are you talking about?’. When I showed the characters 地頭火神 to a woman, she knew immediately where it was.
地頭火神 or "Temple of the Fire God" on the cemetery behind Okinawa Prefecture Tomari High School.
Photo made by the author on January 25, 2020.
What really happened and what is Chinto’s lineage?
As I often say, it is easier to trace back a lineage than trace it from the past to present. So let’s start at the present with the facts. Fact: Chinto is part of the curriculum of Matsubayashi-Ryu.
Shoshin Nagamine (1907 – 1997), the founder of Matsubayashi-Ryu, stated that he learned Chinto (and also Passai, Rohai, Wankan and Wansū) from Kotatsu Iha, as you can also read in his book ‘Tales of Okinawa’s Great Masters’;
“The fighting traditions of Bushi Matsumora were handed down to Yamazato Giki (1866 – 1946), Kuba Koho (1870 – 1942) and Iha Kotatsu (1873 – 1928). Of these three, it was Master Iha who was most responsible for teaching karate to so many young people at the Tomari Student Association. In fact, I enjoyed the privilege of learning the Tomari Passai, Chinto, Wankan, Rohai and Wanshu kata directly from Master Iha. Even to this day I continue to preserve and study these profound kata at my own school.”
So, Shoshin Nagamine learned Chinto from Kotatsu Iha. He also says that Iha learned Chinto from Kosaku Matsumora: “Of these three, it was Master Iha who was most responsible for teaching karate to so many young people at the Tomari Student Association. In fact, I enjoyed the privilege of learning the Tomari Passai, Chinto, Wankan, Rohai and Wanshu kata directly from Master Iha.”
So the lineage here is: Kosaku Matsomora -> Kotatsu Iha -> Shoshin Nagamine
The Matsubayashi-Ryu version of Chinto by Tetsuo Makishi Sensei
Kosaku Matsumora was one of the men who was taught by Anan. But according to Gichin Funakoshi, he did not learn Chinto from him, but Chinti (of Chinte). And Gusukuma learned Chinto.
But as Tomari is not a very big village, certainly not at that time, and many men from Tomari knew each other, and the fact that they were all taught by Anan, there is a high possibility that they exchanged the kata they learned among themselves. Which would mean that Anan taught Gusukuma and Gusukuma taught others like Matsumora and Oyadomari.
Famous karate master Chotoku Kyan was born in 1870 in Shuri. He studied karate with, amongst others, Sokon Matsumura, Chatan Yara, Kokan Oyadomari and Kosaku Matsumora. From Kosaku Matsumora he learned Chinto. Chotoku Kyan taught it to, amongst others, Zenryo Shimabukuro (1908 – 1969), the founder of Shorin-Ryu Seibukan, Joen Nakazato (1922 – 2010), the founder of Shorinji-Ryu, and Tatsuo Shimabuku (1908 - 1975), the founder of Isshin-Ryu.
The Seibukan version, Shorinji-Ryu version and Isshin-Ryu version of Chinto are very close to Matsubyashi version. If they all stem from Kosaku Matsumora, I think it’s most logical that this is the closest to the original form.
So the lineage here is: Kosaku Matsomora -> Chōtoku Kyan -> Zenryo Shimabukuro, Joen Nakazato and Tatsuo Shimabuku
The Shorin-Ryu Seibukan version of Chinto by Zenshun Shimabukuro Sensei
The Shorinji-Ryu Senshinkan version of Chinto by Masanobu Sakugawa Sensei
The Isshin-Ryu version of Chinto by Michael Calandra
The version of Chinto in the Anko Itosu lineage is a different version. It is practiced in, amongst others, Chibana Shorin-Ryu schools, Shito-Ryu, Shotokan and Wado-Ryu.
If you take a closer look, you see that it is based on the same embusen and you can also recognize several techniques, but the kata as a whole is totally different. Also, this version has the typical ‘crane stance’, while the version in the Kosako Matsumora hasn’t.
Now, Itosu is said to have been a student of Gusukuma, who was most likely the Gusukuma who learned Chinto from Anan. And Itosu most likely learned Chinto from Gusukuma. So why is Itosu’s Chinto different?
Well, Itosu is known to have changed several kata to less complex forms. For example, Itosu no Passai which is probably based on the older Tomari version of Passai (Oyadomari no Passai) and Itosu no Wansu, based on the older and more complex form of Wansu. He also developed new kata like the Pinan kata and Kusanku Sho.
I personally think that Itosu learned the same version of Chinto as in Matsubayashi-Ryu, Seibukan, et cetera, from Gusukuma. But changed it to a less complex form, which he taught to Choshin Chibana, Gichin Funakoshi, Kenwa Mabuni and others. A form that is more suitable for educational purposes.
The Shorin-Ryu Shidokan version of Chinto by Kunio Taira Sensei
Gankaku, as Chinto is called in Shotokan, by Hirokazu Kanazawa Sensei
The Shito-Ryu version of Chinto
The Wado-Ryu version of Chinto by Hironori Otsuka Sensei
Putting it all together
Based on the above facts and assumptions, we can conclude as follows:
The man we today know as Anan, didn’t got shipwrecked around 1850, but around 1870
Anan never hid in the cave on Okinawa Cemetery, this story is mixed up with a story about Kosaku Matsumora who met a recluse who liver there
Anan taught the kata Chinto to Gusukuma
Gusukuma taught the kata to Kosaku Matsumora, Kokan Oyadomari and Anko Itosu
Kosaku Matsumora taught the kata to Kotatsu Iha and Chotoku Kyan and probably also Giki Yamazato and Koho Kuba
Kotatsu Iha taught the kata to Shoshin Nagamine
Chotoku Kyan taught the kata to Zenryo Shimabukuro (Seibukan), Joen Nakazato (Shorinji-Ryu) and Tatsuo Shimabuku (Isshin-Ryu)
Anko Itosu changed the original kata and taught his own version to Choshin Chibana, Gichin Funakoshi (Shotokan), Kenwa Mabuni (Shito-Ryu) and others
Choshin Chibana taught the Itosu version to, amongst others, Shuguro Nakazato (Shorinkan), Yuchoku Higa (Kyudokan), Katsuya Miyahira (Shidokan) and Joki Uema (Shubukan)
Gichin Funakoshi taught the kata to Hironori Otsuka (Wado-Ryu)
And Sokon Matsumura? Contrary to many other claims, I personally think that Sokon Matsumura never learned nor taught Chinto. So far, I haven’t found any written and reliable sources that he did. Of course, I am open for any reliable source.
Author: Olaf Steinbrecher