When Your Imaginary Opponent Wins


“Tonight is kata…”  We had warmed up performing standing basics, followed by moving basic technique up and down the dojo focusing on individual skills and mindset – and from that work, most of has deduced what the rest of the content of the class would be.  Sensei gazed around at the brown and black belt class… “Last week we worked on ‘kushanku’ – a system kata in our style and this week we will work on the other major ‘system’ kata…  can anyone tell me what it is?”

The hands shot up.  Sensei had always taken the time to explain why we practised the way that we do and how the structure of our kata was so important and the skills that we need to focus on at each individual grade in each kata.


“Chinto kata, Sensei!” 

“Well done Paul…  how many of you know the history and legend of the kata?”

Around half the hands went up, mainly from the black belts…  time to give a reminder to those that knew and to inform those that didn’t.

“The legend behind this kata is that Chinto was a Chinese sailor shipwrecked on Okinawa and hid in the caves by day and was forced to steal food by night to survive.  The King sent a group of men several times to capture him and he was able to outwit and out manoeuvre them utilising his cunning and superior fighting ability.  Finally the King sent one of his retainers, a warrior named Matsumura to deal with him.

Matsumura was also unable to defeat Chinto in his encounters and was amazed by his ability to subtly evade his attacks and rapidly move in close with his own.  Matsumura decided on a peaceful solution and fed and clothed Chinto in exchange for instruction in his art, reputed to be northern Chinese Chuan Fa.  Most certainly, it can be seen to contain many snake and crane boxing and grappling skills and techniques.

Chinto kata is the result of those teachings and passed into the Shorin Ryu system from  Tatsuo Shimbaku to Chotoku Kyan and has undoubtedly been adapted along the way, but the snake and crane boxing and grappling skills are still very much in evidence.”

Sensei scanned the sea of faces, “everyone here knows the sequence of the kata, so find yourself an area of space and practice.  I’ll come around to each of you and give correction.”

As everyone practised, sensei went around to each student and made some personal correction that would have been too time consuming in class if everyone was moving together and waiting while he did so.

Suddenly he stopped, looked thoughtful and then stopped the class.

“Sit down… How many of you had an opponent present whilst you were practising?”

About half of the class put their hand up…  “If you’re working on a technique sensei, you don’t tend to think of the opponent…”

“It doesn’t matter if you’re working on the technique, or if you’re working fast or slow, you must ALWAYS have an opponent on the end of your technique and present in your mind.  You don’t have to picture a person, in fact it’s better if you don’t, just feel his body mass and arms and legs, it’s simply a body that you’re professionally controlling or destroying.”

“I always have an opponent present sensei..”

“Yes you do Terry….  The only problem is that you give me the impression that the opponent is winning…”  Everyone laughed…  “You may well laugh, but many of you give that impression – and how sad is that!

When we’re children, we play at being ‘super heroes’ and win against all manner of opponents, this is excellent visualisation for a child and the positive aspects need to be brought into adult training.  The problem is that somewhere along the line we can become negative; often we start karate training because we’re aware of that negativity creeping in to our life.

Watching you practise, some of you look ‘desperate’ and are trying very hard, in fact too hard!  You’ve lost your confidence and act in a negative, desperate way.  Others are weak and negative with no power in their mindset.

You need to practise in a confident and positive manner, body language plays a vital part, keeping the spine erect, looking and projecting your energy to your opponent helps.  Remember you only become what you practise, practise desperately or negatively and that’s how you’ll react when it counts.

‘Fake it ‘til you make it’ is a good quote.  You may not feel positive and confident, so fake it.  ‘Pretend’ to be that way and keep it up until it becomes a part of your nature.  Remember you cannot be positive and confident 10% of the time and negative 90% and expect to develop a strong spirit.  You become the way you train.

When working to overcome fears or phobias, challenge them in small ways and then increase the pressure until they are utterly defeated.  Remember they are likely to return unless you maintain that awareness and keep a positive outlook.

The Chinese used animals not just technically but also in a shamanistic way, they ‘became’ the animal so that the relationship went deep into their psyche.  When they fought, they didn’t just fight with the technique of the animal but with its character and spirit.

Chinto is primarily snake and crane, when performing the movements, take on the character, when applying the techniques, do so with the spirit of the animal in combat, dig deep to access the reptilian and mammalian parts of your psyche.  This is more likely to ensure victory in combat than any other factor.  Now practise with these factors in mind…”

The spirit of Chinto, of the Shaolin – and the shamans of Kung Fu were finally resurrected…… as the students took Sensei’s advice on board challenging their inner demons with the tried and tested methods of the warrior priests of the past, using posture, breathing, movement and arcane technique empowered by a focused and vigilant mind.

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