What Can Martial Arts Teach Us About Acupuncture and Ourselves

25th March 2013

By Adam Cantor, MS LAc

Guest Writer for Wake Up World

Every acupuncturist has a story; a tale of how this ancient medicine benefited them or a loved one.   Personally, I found acupuncture through the martial arts.  I was always drawn to the excitement of it all but never would have dreamt it would some day influence my chosen career path.  It didn’t matter how many movies I saw or books I read about the ability to influence qi, nothing could have prepared me for what would transpire the day I had my first acupuncture treatment, and what was to follow.

While training in martial arts one day I was kneed in the ribs, tearing some costal cartilage.  I had endured countless training injuries over the years but this one was particularly frustrating as it made it difficult to breathe, and a sneeze was absolutely excruciating!

My doctor was no help, suggesting prolonged bed rest and NSAIDs.  Fortunately, one of the gentlemen I trained with was an acupuncturist who suggested I pay him a visit. Hesitant but still intrigued, I agreed.  What followed was an acupuncture session that involved needles, gua sha, and the application of herbal liniments. The experience left me astounded—I was almost entirely back to normal! I knew immediately that whatever I just experienced, it was for me.

Soon after I was enrolled in acupuncture school.

To many, the concepts of warfare and medicine might seem at odds with one another, yet the two have been intimately linked for thousands of years in China.  In fact, several components of Chinese medicine, such as bone setting and topical herbal remedies, were actually refined during times of combat.  It stands to reason that the army that could treat and heal their soldiers more effectively than their opponent would have more men on the battlefield. However, the relationship between medicine and warfare extends far beyond the treatment of acute traumatic injuries.

Training in martial arts offers a deeper look inside, an opportunity to establish new neural pathways that create a heightened sense of self-awareness and self-control.  Acupuncturists utilize their body in every treatment they perform, particularly during medical massage (tui na).  As such, we must learn to become sufficiently insightful about the way the human body moves and functions in order to ensure the most effective treatment possible while still safeguarding our own physical well being.

A superior clinician of any variety (MD, ND, DO, LAc, etc) is acutely in tune with his/her own body and uses that knowledge to better understand, diagnose and treat others. A lack of self-awareness puts the practitioner at risk for postural or repetitive strain injuries as well as obviously stifling their ability to understand their patients.  However, the very same can be said of anyone—the new mother who injures herself picking up her child all day long or the man who pulls his back out shoveling the walkway.  While we are all prone to pulls and strains, those of us that have a greater understanding of proper human mechanics are better equipped to deal with those situations, decreasing and possibly even mitigating such risks.

Further, the tactile sensitivity and kinesthetic awareness one develops from the practice of martial arts (particularly the internal arts) nurtures attributes directly translatable to the practice of medicine. This helps enable the practitioner to sense and intuit through their instrument (such as an acupuncture needle) and into the patient’s body, further aiding differentiation between type and quality of tissue as well as making it easier to get in touch with the patient’s energy or qi response. This same sensitivity applies equally if not more to palpation (examination via touching) of the body.

Some other benefits of training in martial arts include increased body unity and looseness, important for the subtle muscle control required for the manipulation of tools and instruments as well as proper technique during medical massage.  Less obvious attributes include but aren’t limited to mental focus and discipline, traits directly applicable to any field of study but particularly important for attention to detail and the ability to decipher information quickly, such as the often complex array of symptoms patients present.

The study of martial arts is a life long pursuit, one with endless levels of self-discovery and introspection, but even a beginner can experience vast benefits from their study. Understandably however, martial arts simply aren’t for everyone and it is important to note that there are several other fields of study that can provide similar, albeit not equal, insight into ones self: qigong, yoga, gymnastics and dance are some excellent examples.

Although my body is different from yours and yours from everyone else’s, the human body can only move in so many ways and develop attributes but so far.  That being said, the better you understand the dynamics of human motion, the deeper you are able to understand your own body in time and space.  Mind, body and spirit coalesce in the superior clinician but also in the more intuitive individual, and martial arts are a classical and timeless means to reaching this union.

“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power” ~  Lao-tzu from  the Tao Te Ching

Also by Adam

About the author

Adam Cantor is an NCCAOM nationally certified acupuncturist who has studied in the United States, as well as China, at some of the most prestigious colleges of Asian and Oriental medicine.  He combines various modalities of Chinese medicine with a modern understanding of human anatomy and physiology to help his patients achieve health and wellness. Adam’s philosophy stems from his appreciation of the beauty of Chinese medicine and its inherent ability to treat the whole person–mind, body and spirit, together.

Adam owns and operates Mind Body Medicine Acupuncture in Glen Head, NY, and is also currently associated with NYU Langone Medical Center’s Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine in Manhattan, NY.  To learn more please visit: www.mbm-acupuncture.com

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