Saturday, October 15, 2016


by Phillip Starr

In days long since past, the village kung-fu teacher also frequently served as the village doctor. He might not have had much knowledge regarding the treatment of many ailments but he was usually quite skilled in dealing with various injuries. Many teachers were highly skilled in one of the fields of traditional Chinese medicine; acupuncture, tui-na (remedial massage), herbal medicine, and of course, qigong. This was a tradition that continued for many generations until fairly recently.

In his well-known book, Iron and Silk. author Mark Salzman tells the story of what happened when he went into a local park (in China) to practice. In a short time, he was surrounded by many people who asked if he would treat their injuries and/or illnesses. He knew nothing about Chinese medicine but the people would have none of it; tradition held that anyone who possessed skill in martial arts was also trained in traditional medicine!

As karate developed in Okinawa, various aspects of Chinese medical therapy were taught along with it. The herbal preparations were often mixed with local herbal mixtures and techniques to produce therapies that were uniquely Okinawan.

In my first book, The Making Of A Butterfly (those of you who haven t read it should pick up a copy!), I relate the story of watching my teacher perform acupuncture on his lovely wife. Scared me to death! Remember - I was just a young American who had never even HEARD of shoving needles into people like that! But my teacher assured me that this was a very common form of Chinese medicine and over the years, he taught me as best he could. I would later construct a small clinic within my martial arts school and treat many, many patients.

It is terribly unfortunate that the tradition of teaching healing techniques along with martial arts techniques and forms has, for the most part, been lost. I require all of my senior students to learn certain aspects of Chinese medicine as well as first-aid and CPR. It is important for them to understand what Mei (my teacher s beautiful wife) once told me& that healing and hurting are two sides of the same coin. To truly understand and acquire real martial skill, one must understand both sides of the coin. And, my teacher added, as we move down the path of life we all have more opportunities to apply healing skills than destructive, fighting skills.

Moreover, the principles of Chinese and old, traditional Okinawan martial arts are based upon the principles that are found in their traditional healing arts. To gain a true and full understanding of these principles, one must study the healing arts. And, I would add, to truly understand the essence and spirit of martial arts, one must acquire some measure of skill in the arts of healing.

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