In the course of my training, I’ve been exposed to a number of different things that may relate to the martial arts but aren’t always directly connected. Traditional forms of medicine being one of them. For those who may not be “in the know” or are unclear, traditional medicine refers to the practice of diagnosing, preventing and healing ailments before the time of modern medicine, which is where we are now. Despite its arcane and older origins, many people aren’t familiar with the various aspects of traditional medicine and many doubt its effectiveness or worth.
At the risk of sounding opinionated (because I never do THAT), traditional Chinese medicine has been around for over 2,000 years, with modern medicine as we know it only existing for the past few hundred years. Even though older doesn’t always mean better, it stands to reason that having had this form of medicine around for this long has got to mean that there’s some inherent value to it. Of course, I think bloodletting is the stupidest thing in the world but it’s been around forever and is still used in some parts of the world, today. So, there’s that, I guess. But I digress…
I recently helped an old friend of mine with some writing he was doing for some schooling and it reminded me of some of the materials I’ll talk about today. An Acupuncturist from back home in New Brunswick, he’s made a successful life of maintaining a traditional medicine practice and helping to heal others. I’m thinking I may have written about this before, but at this point I think y’all should expect that some of my material will start to repeat itself. M y mind isn’t a bottomless pit, after all. Here are the three forms of traditional medicine I’ve been exposed to the most, in recent decades:
I think just about everyone is familiar with acupuncture in some way, shape or form, even if they’ve never experienced it. Rather than try and define it myself, I’m leaning on an article posted by the Mayo Clinic, which states, “Acupuncture involves the insertion of very thin needles through your skin at strategic points on your body. a key component of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is most commonly used to treat pain. Increasingly, it is being used for overall wellness, including stress management.”
Although traditional practitioners of acupuncture believe that the insertion of needles helps to rebalance one’s flow of energy, western medicine tends to attribute the effects to the stimulation of nerve endings and muscles, which boosts your body’s natural painkillers. No matter what the thought process, acupuncture is no different than any other form of medicine. It works for some but not for others. One of the biggest problems with traditional medicine is that it often takes several treatments to see any measurable results and in today’s society of immediate gratification, most people prefer popping a pill that takes immediate effect.
The jury is out on how effective modern-day acupuncture may be. I know that I experienced it, back in 2007. I was travelling from northern New Brunswick to Ottawa and decided to stop in at my friend’s place for the night, the same friend mentioned in the third paragraph. He had just started his acupuncture studies and asked if he could practice some insertions on me. I agreed and he had me lie down on a mat and proceeded to insert a couple of needles near and in the elbow joint of my arm. He manipulated the needles a couple of times and it was slightly uncomfortable but not painful.
When he was done, I asked him what the needles were supposed to do, to which he replied that he had “stimulated my digestion.” Assuming nothing worse, I got back on the road for the short, 2-hour drive to Ottawa. Within an hour, my stomach made a gurgling sound the likes of which I had never heard before. I was suddenly struck by bad stomach cramps and before I knew it, I was struggling to find a public washroom as I felt the onslaught of an expulsion I would be powerless to stop, coming my way. I purged my gut for what seemed like forever. “Stimulated my digestion,” indeed. Asshole. He could have warned me. The point is, that shit works.
Acupressure is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that’s based on acupuncture but uses applied pressure from the hands and fingers as opposed to needles. it functions on the basis of increased blood flow, better circulation and shares the concepts of increased energy flow with acupuncture. This is the form of traditional medicine that my Sensei practices and it should be noted that acupressure is almost ALWAYS combined with some other form of naturopathic or traditional medicine, such as herbology, reflexology, massage or acupuncture.
The jury is out on acupressure, with various studies advocating its effectiveness in helping to alleviate certain pains and ailments in the body and even more studies arguing that there’s a significant amount of bias involved and that there really isn’t any viable evidence that acupressure is effective. In my opinion, massages do a great deal to alleviate pain. So does a chiropractor. And through my study of the martial arts, I’m aware of the existence and use of pressure points in certain aspects of combat arts. When you combine all of those factors together, you more or less get acupressure.
This is always a sticky one for people, because most of the population fall under one of two categories: those who think herbs work and those who don’t. The ones who don’t are usually bound by the western logic that modern medicine alternatives are faster, safer and more effective than their-herb-based counterparts. The ones who solely adhere to herbs believe that modern medications are al chemical-based and do more harm than good. The reality is that there’s some truth to both. Modern medications are a combination of things that are found in nature anyway.
Chemicals are nothing more than the combining of naturally-occurring substances through artificial means. The difference between using these artificial compounds or herbs simply involves speed or immediate effectiveness. Once again, this is where that mindset of immediate gratification or results comes in. Some herbs can be very effective at helping certain ailments but they can take a lot longer than their modern counterparts. A really good example are the various teas that are sold just about anywhere that can help with digestion, headaches, stomach aches, menstrual pains and vast array of other conditions. I’ve used tea in a lot of instances, minus menstrual pains, of course. They work, but one could easily argue that it doesn’t kick in or show a measurable or noticeable effect like taking an artificial counterpart.
The important thing is to be wary of starting anything new or different without consulting your doctor or medical practitioner AND ensuring that you do your research before trying any new form of treatment. You want to be certain that you’re dealing with someone trained and certified to practice the form of traditional medicine they profess to be knowledgeable on. Although I can’t speak for other countries, any and all of the different forms of traditional medicine I listed above requires years of study to become proficient. Don’t be afraid to ask to see their certification; if they’re on the level, they should have no issues letting you see it.
And don’t be disappointed if you try something and it doesn’t work. Out of ten people with a headache, maybe only half will be able to treat it with a pill. For the others, a pill won’t work. It’s the same for traditional medicine. It’ll work for some and not for others. So even if your best friend claims that acupuncture changed their life and got rid of all their aches and pains, be aware that it may not work quite as well for you. Food for thought… ☯️