Throughout the course of history, there has long been a connection between martial artists and medicine. Traditionally, it was not uncommon to find a martial arts master who was also a physician or, at the very least, a highly-skilled healer. The reason behind this is simple being that by understanding how to control the mind and body in either role, one can also understand how the mind and body control an individual.
Probably one of the most famous martial arts masters was Huang (Wong) Feihong who "developed a reputation as a peerless fighter and skilled physician". He also "founded a clinic known as Po Chi Lam, 'Precious Iris Woods', [which was] a reference to his skill with herbal medicine". Another notably skilled martial artist and physician was Hua Tuo, who was arguably the most famous doctor to have lived during the period of the Han Dynasty in China (206 BC-220 AD). As a physician, Hua Tuo would perform surgeries using anesthetics made for herbs. Additionally, he was renowned for his development of a series of health exercises that are based on the movements of animals and the principles found in martial arts traditions (Wu Qin Xi Qi Gong or Five Animal Play Qigong). Marshal Yue Fei, a famous military leader, is another perfect example of martial artist/physician who created the famous Eight Brocades Qigong Exercise.
Learn these two famous Qigong forms online via the Personal Mastery and Growth Academy (Contact me for purchase details)
Like most things over time, these arts transformed into new styles adapting to the changes of society and the invention of new types of weaponry, e.g. firearms. These transformations, together with the secrecy of familial styles of martial arts, the illiteracy of legendary masters, as well as the Cultural Revolution, slowly divorced these two arts that were once seen as inseparable.
In today's society, there is a clear disconnect between martial arts and medicine in both education and in practice. I can recall learning, as part of the curriculum, Tai Chi and Qigong when I attended Oriental Medicine school. At the time, with a background of over a decade of practice in these arts, I entered the classroom with a sense of humility together with an old phrase I heard repeatedly during my training, "Any three people walking, [at least] one of them is your teacher." Needless to say, I was ready and willing to learn. Much to my surprise, upon the completion of the first set of classes, I can still recall the speed at which my jaw hit the floor. I was absolutely dumbfounded by how superficial and dissociated the information was from medicine, let alone martial arts. What happened to the knowledge that had been so powerfully transmitted through the ages of military warfare and medicinal advancement? Given this experience, I unfortunately have anything but high hopes for the remaining programs across the country. Even if the programs are strong in terms of the quality of information being disseminated, there is still an absence of knowledgeable Oriental Medicine practitioners being produced who can utilize martial arts and its principles with a medicinal approach.
All disappointment aside, I do have faith that there still exists a strong connection between both martial arts and medicine. How? Simply because when people practice, they notice positive changes in their bodies and their minds. Additionally, the two arts themselves are based in theories and principles that align perfectly together. And personally, as an acupuncturist and a seasoned martial artist, I can see a clear connection between these two and apply them accordingly in my practice.
Simply put, martial arts is an exchange between two or more people when being applied, whether fighting or "playing". It is also an exchange between one's external environment and internal environment. Medicine is the art that facilitates these exchanges by correcting them when they cannot be completed innately on their own. The natural laws of these exchanges were discovered through the observation and understanding of nature's affect on the health of living beings. Therefore, by expanding upon this knowledge and applying it, martial artists and physicians can potentially marry these two art forms once again.
I suppose the title of this blog could also be reversed: Acupuncturists were also born to practice martial arts. For from the branches of the tree where martial arts and medicine coexist, they feed from the same root, bear the same fruit, and nourish all those who consume it. We as martial artists and Oriental Medicine practitioners are their gardeners as well as their guardians, and their survival depends solely upon us to keep them together.
If you would like to learn more about how to use martial arts together with Oriental Medicine, you can contact me anytime via email or social media.
You can also join our Tai Chi class on Saturdays or send you kids to our Martial Arts class on Sundays.
Reference: Bisio, Tom. A Tooth From the Tiger's Mouth. New York, NY: Fireside, 2004.
Our mentally and emotionally-induced unnatural resistance to adjust our basic routines together with the seasons causes a clash between our internal environment (our physiology) and the external environment.
Each morning for the past week, I have found myself to be a bit more tired than usual. There were nights when I went to bed a little late and nights I went to bed early, but it didn't make a difference. Some mornings I even felt a little tickle in my throat and others I noticed a slightly runny nose and little extra saliva in my mouth. Too much detail? Well there's a reason.
When the seasons change, our bodies do the same. When the physical environment, and even the emotional environment, begin to change around us, our bodies, being the pros they are, automatically make an effort to change with them. If they didn't, we would enter an unfortunate state of dis-ease. Our mentally and emotionally-induced unnatural resistance to adjust our basic routines together with the seasons causes a clash between our internal environment (our physiology) and the external environment.
This is the reason I personally prescribe the art and exercise of Tai Chi during these times of the year. Although there are numerous styles of this exercise, its overall gentle movements and calming nature provide one important element in this time of seasonal transition; Movement.
A consistent Tai Chi practice during any seasonal transition, especially from summer to fall, will allow for a healthy experience of movement from one season to the next, no matter the type of climate. Whether you live in the northern or southern hemispheres, on the equator, or in Antarctica, there is always a transition in the environment, which has an inevitable effect on your body's physiology.
The main reason why practicing during the summer to fall transition is so important is due to the overall nature of the seasons. What I mean is, during summer exists the peak temperatures of the year in the external environment, which create physiological changes that lead to the release of heat (sweating) from our bodies. Or it can lead to something we refer to as warm diseases (think heat exhaustion) because our bodies are unable to release the heat inside of us leading to dangerous and sometimes life-threatening conditions. Additionally, as you may already be aware, there is a large amount of breathing occurring during the practice of Tai Chi. This breathing is a constant exchange of air and its contents between the external and internal environments which allow is to more rapidly create a level of balance between the two ultimately guided by a mindful approach to practice.
After summer, we transition towards the colder seasons, first moving through fall; a season of dryness, chilly temperatures, and less and less movement in the outdoors (e.g. the beginnings of hibernation). So as you can see, if we live in these environments, then our bodies are certainly affected by them, and we must take appropriate action to adjust in parallel with them.
What action is that? The action is Tai Chi. Which I believe, as a Licensed Acupuncturist, to be the single most effective form of exercise that offers and guarantees (with your consistent practice and close observation of your physiological changes) the opportunity for a healthy transition through any season change.
So, if you usually struggle during these times of year, particularly from summer into fall and then into winter, start your Tai Chi practice as soon as you notice the seasons beginning to change. Don't wait! Unless of course you prefer to catch a cold, get the flu, dine on throat lozengers, suffer from sinus infections, and yell at the top of your fluid-filled lungs "I hate this season!"
A Message from an Acupuncturist
It is 9 o’clock in the morning, and you are searching the internet for a doctor who can take a look at your ankle you rolled during an evening soccer match yesterday. The pain is bearable yet still throbbing, not to mention your ankle is now the size of a tennis ball. While searching, you come across several acupuncturists not far from where you live. This reminds you of your close friend's sports injury who told you was helped with acupuncture. Recalling this, you look further and notice some of these acupuncturists appear to have Asian names and some do not. Assuming your thoughts are correct, you choose to contact an Asian practitioner because, of course, they MUST know more about what they are doing since they are Asian. Plus, their methods are probably more authentic. Right?
This common assumption is incorrect and is damaging to the profession of Oriental Medicine. It spreads even further into the many fields of medicine serving the public today leading to further discrimination of minorities, ethnicities, and genders. Since when has it become so acceptable to discriminate against a trained, licensed, and well-qualified health professional whose only interest is helping you live your life with as little suffering as possible? Dare I insert the word “racism” into this message and invoke a conversation laced with hate? This is not my intention, but it seems the injection of such is nearly unavoidable. Sadness ensues me when I hear that simply because my race is different from others, I must “learn to accept the truth” that was etched by others into the foundation of medical history. A foundation seemingly built upon “should-bes” rather than “could-bes”.
Yes, I am not Asian. What’s your point?
Times change. Shouldn’t people do just the same? Sure, I am not fortunate enough to be a descendant of an ancient lineage of Asian doctors famous for serving the masses, developing world-renowned healing techniques, or safeguarding the health of a royal family. What I am, however, is inspired, motivated, and interested. Inspired by the history, literature, and origins of the medicine I practice; motivated by my mentors, teachers, students, and patients; and interested in the unique life stories of people like yourself. Healers are not formed or defined by their ethnic roots let alone by similar patterns repeated in society. They are also not defined by what they see in their patients (e.g. health conditions), but rather by what they help their patients to see in themselves and how they empower them to change and make wise choices for the sake of their own health. More personally, when I search for someone to provide me with care, I refrain from making assumptions about their abilities I have yet to experience firsthand. For these abilities may be exactly what I need on my road to recovery. Of course, one's experience is an acceptable form of measure when making the choice to have someone evaluate your health. Experience, though, is achieved no differently than the height and strength of an oak tree. The seed must be planted and nurtured well enough for it to sprout and begin its journey out into the world.
If only we could learn to listen to someone’s story without writing the end before it was told.
Sadly, during my years of exploring the Asian medicinal and martial arts, I have been a victim of subliminal discrimination, false assumptions, and impossible expectations. I have been viewed as an outcast, thought of as “the unique one in the family”, and doubted repeatedly to the point where others give up and change their career altogether. I have been called in Chinese a "waiguoren", or literally "outside country person", which is ironic because I'm fairly sure I was born in this country where I am also licensed to practice this medicine. Wouldn't that technically make you, the name-caller, the outsider? This is beside the point of this message though, and while I endured this constant bombardment of negativity and bullying, I studied rigorously, forged my mind, and trained my body. Not so that I could defend myself, but rather so that I could learn to open my eyes and heart for the sake of every patient that enters my treatment room. And to this day, I still repeat these previously painful words in my mind so that I may remind myself they are not definitions of who I am or who I have become. For the people who have uttered them do not have permission to define my existence or evaluate my abilities with false pretense. If only we could learn to listen to someone’s story without writing the end before it was told.
Your healing has nothing to do with who I am, only who you will become.
So again, yes, I am not Asian. Who am I then, you ask? I am someone who cares. I am someone with hope. I am someone worth reaching out to who will care for your well-being, no matter your race, gender, appearance, or societal status. I am someone whose hope is for you to create memories laughing and playing with your children while they are still young and innocent; to remember what it was like to open your heart to your beloved mother and father before they took their last breath; to never forget the feeling of the soft breeze grazing across your skin as you stand in your hometown hundreds or thousands of miles away. True healing comes from within ourselves and will take you anywhere you wish to go. Besides, your healing has nothing to do with who I am, only who you will become.
So, I ask you. The next time you search for a care provider, will you choose based on their name, their ethnicity, their gender, or their ivy-league education, or lack thereof? Will you close the fable-filled storybook modern society has been reading to you over the years and begin writing your own story of how you see the world of healthcare and how you wish to be cared for? Have you even asked yourself HOW you wished to be cared for? It is certainly a conversation worth having with yourself.
After all, you may not be Asian either. But there is certainly no one else like you. Never forget that.
It’s 2016, the year of the Fire Monkey, and I have taken on the task of teaching a university course to the next generation of Oriental Medicine practitioners. The course is on the subject of Qigong; a highly researched, highly practiced, and highly misunderstood art in today’s society.
Qigong, (also known as Qi Gong, Chi Kung, and Chi Gung) is a distinguished art form aging into youthfulness leaving no material trace within its immaterial footsteps. Defined as "any training or study dealing with Qi which takes a long time and a lot of effort" (Yang, 1997), Qigong is one of the oldest healing art forms ever written about dating as far back as the discovery of written word in China. (Tang, 2013) It has drawn from the well of wisdom filled by some of the world's most respected scholars, Lao Zi and Confucius; it has spawned the healing practices of Oriental Medicine that has now become a trustworthy and competitive form of healthcare; it has survived acts of discrimination, countless wars, and even the Cultural Revolution in China; and now, it is prescribed by medical practitioners who decades ago never dared to sit in the shadows of the Oriental Medicine healing tree. Throughout this journey, Qigong has humbly proven time and time again to be a rich and promising daily practice that can yield results you can actually feel, even if you don't understand why.
So what is holding Qigong back? Well, a few possible answers might be the following:
- (Human) Qi can be felt but not seen.
- Scientific researchers know Qigong works but are not sure how.
- There is a severe lack of training and understanding by those prescribing Qigong.
Being a licensed Oriental Medicine practitioner myself, this last point really hits the mark. Surprisingly, in the majority of Oriental Medicine schools today, students are only required to complete one course during their three to four years of study. In total, that is roughly 30 hours in a program comprised of over 3,000 hours of intense training and study. Does this sound like a program designed to bring well-rounded healers into mainstream medicine? Well, if you did the math, you will see that this is less than 1 percent devoted to an entire branch of Oriental Medicine. (Pulse Holistic Health, 2012) One that was traditionally prescribed to patients before acupuncture and herbal medicine were even considered. Furthermore, Qigong, as well as Tai Chi (more accurately know as Tai Ji), are typically taught as physical education-type courses in these medical programs with little to no focus on theory and application. On a similar note, think of how much Qigong training western medicine physicians receive during their own education; probably none, or close to it. In my opinion, this is a huge, gaping hole in the medical field which has been filled with nothing more than lost potential; especially for patients. An even bigger problem is that this is unfortunately happening across the country and, perhaps, across the globe.
Qigong is a distinguished art form aging into youthfulness leaving no material trace within its immaterial footsteps.
It appears the research-driven approach has become the guiding principle for the creation and acceptance of acupuncture and herbal medicine programs in today's society. The intense focus on these two branches of medicine has unfortunately starved the remaining branches of this supposedly wholistic medicine tree leaving them to become bare, brittle, and malnourished.
Is it not hypocritical that we call our medicine wholistic in nature when we are in fact devoting such a large amount of time towards studying such a small part of its whole? The unfortunate truth in this dilemma is that we, wholistic medicine practitioners as we often consider ourselves, have dissected our own medicine in the same judgmental way that many wholistic practitioners discriminate against western medicine practitioners as supposedly dissecting the human body in a disgraceful manner by refusing to treat it as one whole living organism.
How is it that we have traveled so far down this rabbit hole? Are we truly following in the footsteps of our ancestors by nourishing the roots of this ancestral healing tree in this ignorant manner? Are we instead cutting down the entire forest and planting only the seeds we believe will be the most fruitful? Coincidentally, the latter seems to be the theme for Qigong as we tread through modern times.
On a more positive note, Qigong and Tai Chi have both been saviors in keeping Oriental Medicine alive. Don't believe me? Search the internet for a research study on one of these two art forms and you are guaranteed to find something. In fact, frequent studies have shown positive results comparable to that of or far-reaching general exercise benefits (Rendant, 2011). Still not convinced? Check your local hospitals and compare how many Qigong and Tai Chi instructors regularly provide services versus Acupuncturists and Herbalists. Even the First Lady was caught practicing (and plugging) Tai Chi in China during one of her visits. (Bloomberg Business, 2014) The art forms of Qigong and Tai Chi are large pieces of the foundation, as well as the history, of Oriental Medicine which many practitioners have never fully acknowledged.
Now, do not assume I am persuading you to think that Qigong is the missing piece that we all need to focus on and study more. I am not pretending to be a salesman. Rather, I am directing you to examine the fullness of yourself as either a healer or a patient, and I urge you to never stop questioning the quality of care you provide, as well as receive, and the training it took to get you there. And above all, never assume that what you are doing is the ultimate answer to all of your questions, or worse yet, all of your "problems".
There is stillmuch to be learned about the art of Qigong, including its purpose in today's society. First steps first though, we must teach it in a way that draws upon its past and builds upon its future. There are very few scholars and teachers in the field of Qigong (and Tai Chi) that are way ahead of the crowd in this regard. So, as was done for many centuries, we must seek them out and absorb their wisdom with our roots for the branches of Oriental Medicine depend on it.
Study and live well,
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Justin is a licensed and board-certified Acupuncturist, a professor of Oriental Medicine, including Tai Chi and Qigong, as well as the owner of My Metro Medicine. He has been working in the healthcare industry for nearly 20 years. He has two beautiful children and a lovely wife to which he is forever grateful. For more information about Justin, click here.
Bloomberg Business. "First Lady Michelle Obama Learns Tai Chi". Bloomberg video, 2:37. March 25, 2014. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/videos/b/841afa55-b758-44ef-944e-a598d868c2f6.
"Eight Branches of TCM", Pulse Holistic Health, last modified in 2012, http://www.pulseholistichealth.com/resources/eightbranchesoftcm/.
Rendant D, Pach D, Lüdtke R, Reisshauer A, Mietzner A, Willich SN, Witt CM. "Qigong versus exercise versus no therapy for patients with chronic neck pain: a randomized controlled trial." Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2011 Mar 15;36(6):419-27. doi: 10.1097/BRS.0b013e3181d51fca. PubMed PMID: 21178832.
Tang, Didi, "China Discovers Some Of The World's Oldest Writing," Associate Press, July 10, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/10/china-oldest-writing_n_3574624.html.
Yang, Jwing-Ming, The Root of Chinese Qigong (Wolfeboro, NH: YMAA Publication Center, 1997), 7.
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inspirational ideas on healthy living through eastern medicine, optimism, and possibility through empowerment.