Chinto’s Elusive Embusen

by Matthew Apsokardu

Chinto is a phenomenal kata…but it’s also very difficult. The embusen (meaning line in which the kata is performed) is unique. As opposed to a horizontal line like in naihanchi, or an “I” pattern like in the pinans, Chinto utilizes a 45 degree path. This diagonal orientation often gives students fits as they attempt to learn the techniques. Students also quickly notice the amount of spinning, gliding, and rotation that the kata demands.

When teaching the kata, instructors often suggest that this kata was developed for combat on a bridge or between rice patties. This is a valuable piece of kata mythology because it gives a strong visual reference for retaining the embusen line. However, the actual bunkai of the kata is not related to physical environment at all.

Kata, being the preserved pieces of brilliance that they are, are not relegated to environmental circumstance. Naihanchi doesn’t need to be with a back against the wall, passai doesn’t need to be at night, and Chinto doesn’t need to be on a bridge. While each kata might work in those circumstances, the contained knowledge is such that the concepts work and can be adapted for variable environments.

Let’s look closer at Chinto. For smooth execution of the kata, turns and spins are executed at 180 or 360 degrees. Each turn places you back on track to continue performance. Imagine, for a moment, if 10 students in a dojo each decided to turn a different amount.

By the end of the kata you would have students ramming blindly into each other and finishing all over the place! This is hardly organized. As kata have become more formalized and suitable for bigger classes over the past few generations, adherence to the embusen has become more critical.

Now, if we look at the practical application of each turn and spin in Chinto, we quickly realize that they are not optimally executed to the predetermined degrees. In fact, most of the spins indicate a throw or trip of an already struck and grabbed opponent. As the throw is executed, the practitioner needs to adapt to the body weight and mobility of the opponent. Sometimes that means digging your hip in and tossing a full 180, but other times it means turning just 30 degrees in order to quickly off balance the opponent.

As bunkai is explored, the value of different angles becomes apparent. Kata, thus, is telling us: “Hey, consider more than one angle! Then get back on track”.

Chinto’s embusen is a powerful tool for teaching balance, momentum, transitioning, and mobility; but its real power becomes apparent once you allow yourself to break out from the embusen and explore all the implications contained within.

Matthew Apsokardu is a practitioner of Okinawa kenpo Karate and Kobudo. He is also the author of  http://www.ikigaiway.comMartial Arts Blog.


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