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  • Ben McCrary

Where Medicine and Martial Arts Meet



I am often asked how I can spend so much time devoting to the practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine, which is concerned with healing, and so much time to the practice of Martial Arts, which on the surface is concerned with hurting. At a first glance, these two disciplines seem to be on opposite ends of the spectrum, but Chinese medicine and martial arts are but two sides to the same coin!


In the world today, the popularity of sport martial arts is at its peak. The main focus of these types of martial arts are fighting and most importantly winning. These have their purposes but these purposes don’t share much in common with healing except for promoting good physical fitness. However, if you look at the plethora of martial arts that have survived antiquity until now, they have a wealth of powerful uses far beyond fighting and winning a fight.


Why is it that in acupuncture school you’re likely to find countless of students, like I was, who were also students of martial arts? Why do so many people find their way into Chinese Medicine from martial arts? The answer is simple: there are few activities that can get one in tune with their own bodies and minds quite like martial arts. Many traditional martial arts are more concerned with the cultivation of the mind, body, and spirit, and allow the student to nurture all aspects of themselves to handle any situation that comes their way, whether physical, mental, or spiritual.


Learning Chinese Tuina, which is a manual therapy like a massage, it is imperative to learn to use your bodyweight, leverage, and positioning to get the best results and to protect your own body from an overuse injury. Likewise, you must develop sensitivity to the patient’s body in order to find their imbalances and to not hurt or injure them. These are all things you learn very well in martial arts. As a practitioner of both medicine and martial arts I have learned that Sthe practice of both disciplines have a positive effect on one another.


In Ving Tsun (pronounced Wing Chun), the primary martial art that I practice, you spend a great deal of time working with a partner, learning to relax under pressure, learning to read their force, and learning to move in the most efficient way possible. The skills developed, through this kind of training, have made me a much more confident and better Chinese Medicine practitioner.


Another aspect of martial arts, joint locks, can be excruciatingly painful. However, as I have also learned through my study, there is a fine line of manipulating a joint to where it is therapeutic and to where it is damaging. Many joint locks used in martial arts, applied slowly and gently, can be some of the most effective joint stretches you can find. Learning this kind of training can make you more flexible, aware of your body’s natural limitations, and proper body movement that could help you avoid injury in everyday life.


Chinese herbal medicine also has a close link with Chinese martial arts. Obviously through rigorous training most practitioners underwent in the past, it would be necessary to handle traumatic injury and ensure optimum health for training. In this, there is a wealth of medical knowledge found in the martial traditions of China. In many circles, being an effective martial artist meant that you would also be an effective herbalist. Many stories abound of a new Chinese medical practitioner having to prove himself in martial arts before being accepted as an herbal medicine practitioner in a community. Two of the martial arts that I have studied both have well known herbalists in their lineages. Kannbun Uechi founder of Uechi-Ryu Karate went to China from Okinawa to study martial arts and herbal medicine. Likewise, one of the great masters in the Wing Chun tradition, Leung Jan, also worked as an herbalist while teaching Wing Chun at night. During my trip to the Shaolin temple, the supposed birthplace of Kung Fu, they have an herbal pharmacy where they sell unique formulas used exclusively in the temple.


Most importantly, martial arts teach you to pay attention to your body, as it relates to itself, to your opponent, and to your surroundings. Many causes of ill health in human beings today stem from not knowing on an experiential level how their body moves naturally and efficiently. There are not many activities that require such intense focus, that integrate your body and mind, and that train you to move as naturally as possible like martial arts. These are some of the same ideals of a healthy individual seen in Chinese medicine. I personally believe that practicing martial arts is one of the best things that you can do for your health.

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