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Making a difference, finding your path in the western acupuncture world – A martial acupuncturist’s perspective
How do you leave your mark on the ever-growing western TCM world? How do you distinguish yourself from the so many other acupuncturists that seem to know every technique and Asian healing approach under the sun?
Before moving to Beijing, I studied TCM in London for 5 years. Back in those days, the TCM literature available to us westerners was so limited, that it only filled a couple of shelves in the basement of the Dillons Bookshop (later Waterstones) on Gower Street. Those who had access to the “Wellcome Institute” Library “on the nearby Euston Rd, could access a larger collection of TCM and Sinology books going back to the colonial years. However, there were still limits to what was accessible to researchers and western students.
Being discontent with this situation, I decided to eventually travel to China and learn at the source. When I finally came to Beijing in the early 00’s, besides joining the BUCM, I also started taking private Yiquan lessons from master Cui Fushan.
Although I first picked up “Mind Boxing” in the late 90’s, my repertoire up to that point only included a series of various Zhan Zhuang postures, a few Shi Li in the health and martial positions and some limited Fa Li and Tuishou. My encounter with Master Cui changed all of my earlier training perceptions. From the very beginning he stressed about exploring various families of exercises with similar shenfa (身法), combining many training elements together, internalizing external exercises, and finally deriving to zhengti xietiao (整体协调) - whole body coordination.
Most of his teachings came along with imagery and rhymes to allow for ideas to sink in easier.
Yiquan movement summary in 8 characters:
松活圆整 relaxation, agility, roundness, whole body [movement]
旋摇摆荡 [moving in] circles, shaking [rocking] and swinging
…or the classic:
吞吐沉浮 swallow, spit, sink and rise
After a while, I started living in my teacher’s house with his family, where I had the chance to meet several of Bu Enfu’s shuaijiao and western boxing students and also the late Yang Shaogen, a student of Wang Xiangzhai. Their vivid discussions allowed me to get a rare insight of how the old-timers used to train.
Around that time, Master Cui told me that the best of my abilities would come not only from training hard, but also from reading the boxing classics, reflecting on the insights of others, and most importantly, forming my own ideas.
These words resonated deep within me, and eventually transcended the realm of martial arts to enrich my TCM approaches too.
These days, many of my acupuncture ideas and also the way I currently practice derive from a very personalized synthesis of Yiquan philosophy with Chinese medical theory.
In Yiquan, we often say that we should “practice large, but perform small”, or “think big and do small”. In training this translates as mentally performing each exercise very large in our minds, while the external movement is tiny. When this attitude is applied to Yiquan pole, or Bu Enfu’s Yiquan long ruler (da bangzi), then it is hard to miss the direct link between these tools with the acupuncture needle. Although the mental demands for training martial and medical tools have their obvious differences, the similarities are also overwhelming.
Over the years, I have developed various exercises that take advantage of numerous Yiquan pole theories, while trying to enhance my acupuncture skills. In my new book “Developing Internal Energy for Effective Acupuncture Practice”, I managed to almost methodically put together some of my notes and ideas, and anthologize the best of the Yiquan theories as I apply them towards my acupuncture needling.
Now, back to the first question, “How do you leave your mark?” – In my experience, I believe that the best approach is by developing your own understanding and analysis of the theory, based on personal experiences, investigation, and creative interpretation of the acupuncture classics, while keeping faithful to the tradition.
Or, as Master Cui summarized it:
“To succeed in this art, you must develop the ability to discover and apply your own fresh ideas, through meticulously reflecting upon the classic theories.”