The history of Chinese medicine covers 2500 years. It began in antiquity with a book called the Yellow Emporer’s Classic of Internal Medicine, or the Huang Di Nei Jing. This book lays out the fundamental theories and techniques of traditional Chinese medicine, and while over the course of time there have been many different expressions of this medical art, they have all relied on the foundations laid here.
In the West, acupuncture is the best known modality of Chinese medicine, however, traditionally in China, herbal medicine has played a larger role. This is because acupuncture requires specialized instruments and technologies while herbal medicine is easy to access in an agrarian society. In addition bodywork therapy, called tuina, and physical therapy, called gongfu and/or qigong, have also played important roles.
The Nei Jing is a deep and complicated work that requires many years of study in conjunction with clinical training to fathom, however, many of its basic theories have become part of general Chinese culture. In fact one of the great strengths of the Nei Jing is in taking much that is universally common nd systematizing it in a way that makes our instinctive understanding of the world more practical.
With the basic theories forming a foundation Chinese medicine has developed over the centuries into a large body of knowledge encompassing many different specialties and schools of thought. The key feature of this variety has been a reliance on clinical medicine and a willingness to accept new theories and methods deemed effective through clinical observation. There is as much variety in the Chinese medical world as there is in the Western medical world, with the same history of debate, argument, and politics.
In the past one hundred years especially, Chinese medicine has faced many pressures and challenges. Many of the old “family styles” have been suppressed in favor of state sanctioned models. There have been many reasons for this: the clinical success of Western biomedicine against infectious diseases, the Communist government’s need for affordable and simply taught methods to supply health care to its people, and its need to disassociate itself from perceived magical and spiritual aspects of traditional medicine. The term Traditional Chinese Medicine was itself coined by the Chinese government to describe its new synthesis of medical ideas and techniques in the 1950s.
This perception that the subtler aspects of Chinese Medicine are magical and archaic rather than scientific and empirical has been a major stumbling block to the acceptance of Chinese Medicine in the West, and to the survival of old “family styles” in China. In fact, it is the focus on subtleties and on the detection of imbalances before the onset of clinically identifiable “disease” that is one of the great strengths of Chinese Medicine. Chinese Medicine tends to identify problems much earlier than Western medicine and therefore, interventions are both less invasive and less expensive. When skill at early detection and intervention is carried to a high level it can begin to appear magical, and when a practitioner attempts to describe or record such a subtle intervention the language may make very little sense to those with out the experience to understand it.
Today with the growing awareness of the short comings of Western biomedicine, and with a willingness to examine traditional medicine without cultural prejudice, Chinese Medicine is growing into an important component of modern medical systems. As a clinical art however, the highest expressions of Chinese Medicine are ephemeral and elusive; most of the art cannot be learnt from a book or in a class room, it must be absorbed through practice under the guidance of a personal teacher. Because the traditional apprenticeship is politically out of favor in the West the system of Chinese Medicine most often encountered is still Communist TCM.
Chinese medicine research and training with in the North American Tang Shou Tao is focused on the medical skills and ideas that grew alongside our martial traditions. Our gongfu ancestors particularly specialized in manual therapy and in the treatment of trauma — what today would be called sports medicine, physiotherapy, osteopathic treatment and massage. In Chinese these are encompassed by the term Tuina, meaning bodywork, literally push grasp, and Di Da , literally Hit Medicine. The expertise and skill in these branches of medicine were developed to a high level in response to the dangerous times in which many of our ancestors found themselves. For example, eighty to one hundred years ago xingyiquan practitioners such as Li Cunyi and Wang Jiwu ran security services that provided guards for homes, caravans, and persons. They had a vested economic interest in training their fighters well and in treating them well when they were injured in the line of duty.
This focus on tuina and Di Da medicine allows our Instructors to teach internal martial arts with a minimum of risk and with a greater ability to help their students progress in understanding and skill. Skills developed in tuina and Di Da medicine are very effective in treating many common complaints both acute and chronic and also lay an excellent foundation for those who go on to pursue other specialties within Chinese Medicine.
Internal martial arts are based on training the body and mind in accordance with the understanding of health and physiology laid down in the Nei Jing. Because the Nei Jing encourages a preventative medical strategy, it has been natural for traditional doctors to devote a lot of attention to systems of exercise and training. Because these systems are very effective at both promoting health and developing very high levels of physical conditioning and skill, it has also been natural for boxers to devote attention to the study of medicine. Over the course of centuries many brilliant practitioners have devoted themselves to this combined study so that today Chinese martial arts are considered one of the highest expressions of Chinese culture.
As with traditional martial training, we believe it is very important to keep traditional methods of medical training alive. Although apprenticeship method of learning has fallen out of favor with the modern research based medical establishment, many aspects of Chinese Medicine are best learnt in the clinic, over time, under a mentor’s watchful eye. Our Association is working to develop viable apprenticeship models which we hope will help to preserve the traditional teachings and aid in cultivating a high level of Chinese medical skill in North America.
Although gaining a high level of skill at medicine is obviously a great and serious endeavor of its own, the basic theories of Chinese Medicine are, in fact, very simple and may be easily understood by one and all. Applying those theories with basic techniques is also within the grasp of most interested lay people. To understand the methods of internal boxing, some ideas concerning health which are taken for granted by Chinese people must be taught and made real to Western students. We feel it is important to demystify as much as possible, the methods we are teaching. The concept of Qi, for example, is practical and pragmatic when understood in context and needs be neither magical nor esoteric.
While training boxing, a grasp of the fundamental theories of TCM gives the practitioners a better understanding of the method they are following and deeper appreciation of what they are doing. For this reason everyone is encouraged to take an interest in traditional Chinese medicine and North American Tang Shou Tao training includes medicine at all levels and for people of all levels of interest.
Numerous Instructors and Assistant Instructors within our Association are licensed and/or certified practitioners of one or more of the modalities of Chinese medicine. Please refer to the list of certified instructors and assistant instructors to find the licensed and qualified practitioners in your area.