The Chinto kata was created by Bushi Matsumura (1797-1884) and was based on the techniques he learned from a Chinese sailor named Chinto who became shipwrecked on the Ryuku Islands. After drifting ashore, Chinto taught the inhabintants of the Tomari village including, Matsumura, Kosunku, and Oyadomari. Though the exact meaning of chinto is uncertain, one translation of the name means, “fighting to the east (This is also developed as a fight on a ship)” while another is “fighting in a city”. The form was probably named after its originator.
Matsumura studied with the famous Karate Sakugawa who spent significant time studying martial arts in China. It was Sakugawa that brought many kata to Okinawa and initiated many kata such as Kusanku. He is also credited with introducing the dojo concept. Matsumura is credited with integrating the Chinese Chuan Fa with the Okinawan Te creating Tode (1750) which evloved into Shuri-Te (1830) which evolved into Shorin-Ryu (1870).
The Chinto form was most likely introduced through Tomari, but was adopted into the Shuri-Te system. There are over five versions of Chinto. The Tomari-Te version has a Chinese flair to it as opposed to the Shuri-Te version, which is more simplistic.
The Chinto form follows a straight line of movement and should be executed with powerful techniques. Characteristic of this form is the one-legged stance (Sagi Ashi Dachi or Chinto Dachi) occurring repeatedly, which resembles the splendid sight of a crane poised on a rock and about to strike down upon its victim. It also uses flying kick which distinguishes it from other katas.
Now, what exactly is Chinto? There is a form (kata) called Chen Tou in Mandarin Chinese (Jpn. Chinto, lit. Sinking the Head) in Wu Zho Quan (a.k.a. Ngo Cho Kuen, Five Ancestors Fist), which was a style popular in the Quanzhou and Shamen (Amoy) districts of Fujian, or Fukien (Kinjo, 1999), the southern Chinese province facing modern day Taiwan, a popular destination and departure point for both trade and immigration to an from Okinawa before the 20th century.
There are three distinct “families” of Chinto in modern Okinawan karate: (1) Matsumura/Itosu lineage (performed front to back), (2) Kosaku Matsumora lineage (performed side to side), and (3) the Chotoku Kyan lineage (performed on a 45 degree angle). The version practiced by Kenwa Mabuni is clearly from the Matsumura/Itosu lineage.