Types of Stagnant Blood
Stagnant blood, sounds sort of yucky doesn’t it? For martial artists, there are two types of stagnant blood: one is bruising, which is blood outside the vessels as a result of trauma. The other is blood that is not moving as well as it should but is still in the blood vessels. Let’s look at both.
Stagnant Blood: Bruising
Bruising is considered a minor injury in the West, but in China it is taken seriously. It’s believed that the pain from bad bruises can linger for a long time or become more serious problems years, even decades later. Bruising occurs when there is trauma from a fall or blow that breaks the blood vessels and releases blood into areas of the body where it normally shouldn’t be. With severe bruising from a bad fall or heavy blow you can have deep dark discoloration that gradually fades. Sometimes the bruising can be quite deep, even right next to the bone. Sometimes discoloration from the blood is not visible on the surface but is felt deep inside as a dull ache that is worse with pressure.
Depending on where the blood is, it may be reabsorbed quickly or more slowly. If the blood is in
the wrong spot it can linger for a long time or move to another area. Red blood cells are rather large and may not be broken down easily depending on your body’s health. Sometimes the blood will congeal into a thick dark mass that lingers and causes pain. Since occasional bruising is part of the traditional martial artist’s profession, martial artists in China have become skillful in treating it.
Treating Bruising: Di Dat Jiao
The main method is to use a herbal lineament called Di Dat Jiao. Directly translated this means “Iron Hit Rubbing Liquid.”
Di Dat Jiao is used in Iron Palm training. Iron Palm training strengthens the hands to withstand injury in a fight. It involves hitting a bag of iron filings with various hand positions and then soaking or rubbing Di Dat Jiao on the hands.
The recipe for this medicine is considered to be a secret by most Kung Fu people and is usually
closely guarded. Di Dat Jiao contains herbs that reduce swelling and pain, promote blood circulation and reduce stagnation, and heal damaged tissue. The herbs in a good formula are not cheap and it requires strong liquor like plum wine, whiskey or sake. Once the herbs are in the liquor it should be aged for a year or more. The longer it ages the stronger it gets. Di Dat Jiao does not go bad and only gets better. If you have a bottle you bought from me ten years ago you are lucky! That’s a precious liquid!
To use Di Dat Jiao, you basically rub it in. Keep applying and rub for five to ten minutes several times a day. The sooner you apply after the bruise the better. Good Di Dat Jiao will visibly reduce a fresh bruise while you are rubbing. If the bruise is large and very dark you may also want to slap it as you apply the Jiao. I know rubbing and slapping your fresh bruises is painful. You might prefer someone else to do it for you. The rubbing should be firm and deep. The idea is to disperse the blood rather than allow it to solidify. Even if you do not have Jiao you should rub out the bruise to the best of your ability.
Do not drink Di Dat Jiao or apply it over a cut. It is for external use only and will make cuts much worse if it is strong, and the stronger recipes have herbs that are toxic if ingested.
I keep a small bottle of Di Dat Jiao in my training bag and bring it with me to all workouts. I also have a private stash that’s over 20 years old and it works pretty well, I must say.
Treating Bruising: Di Dat Pian
However, there are versions that can be taken internally. For severe bruising, you can also take a Di Dat Pian. These nontoxic herbs are finely ground and mixed with honey and then formed into a ball. To use these, unwrap them (there are usually several layers starting with a wax or plastic outer shell) and then a piece of paper and chew well (that is the yucky part!) and swallow with tea or a shot of your favorite booze. You can take one or two a day for up to three days in the case of severe bruising. These herbs are very strong and they are not easy on the body, but they will quickly disperse the most massive bruises.
Treating Swelling: San Huang San
Do not apply ice. Ice is the worst thing you can do. When a liquid with suspended particles or minerals cools it the particles become crystallized. Take rock candy as an example. To make rock candy, water is boiled and lots of sugar is dissolved into it. As it cools the sugar forms large
crystals. It tastes great, very sweet. But try not to make it in your own body! Your body will not like the crystals!
Although ice will help you stop the swelling, it can make it harder to truly relieve the stagnation
and recover from the injury. Instead, use San Huang San or “Three Yellow Powders.” This is a finely ground combination of three herbs that can be mixed with green tea or water and applied as a paste to an injured area that is swelling. It feels great and it works quickly.
Stagnant Blood: Improper Blood Flow
The other type of stagnant blood occurs from cooling down too rapidly after training. When you are working out and your body is really hot and your blood is pumping, the muscles and capillaries become full and saturated. If you cool down slowly then the blood can be transported back to center of the body and cleansed and stored by the liver. If you cool down too quickly your blood can be trapped in the capillaries or muscles. This can cause stiffness and achy pain.
The area most prone to this is the back. The way it usually happens is you are working out hard
and sweating (good job!). Your sweat soaks through your shirt and maybe even your uniform jacket and underwear. As you slow down you generate less heat. The sweat cools quickly. But now you have cold wet clothes on. This chills your muscles and they contract rapidly trapping blood in the capillary vessels. If you have wet clothes and step outside into a cold wind, the effect can be even worse!
To avoid this bring extra shirts and change them as needed. During a good workout I will typically go through three to five shirts over two or three hours. Towel off when you change shirts. You can also get stagnant blood in the legs and feet during standing meditation or Qi Gong or long Tai Chi practice. During long standing sessions, 20 minutes to two hours, you’re not moving much and relaxing a lot. The blood goes down into the legs but there isn’t enough force from the heart alone to get it all back out of the legs. So some of it remains. Raising the heels off the ground and thus lifting the whole body a bit off the ground 40-50 times will help this. A long walk is also great for relieving this.
Treating Stagnant Blood:
To treat stagnant blood Chinese herbs can be taken and a method known as cupping can be used. Cupping uses a suction cup to draw stagnant blood to the surface where it can be treated more easily with Di Dat Jiao. Sometimes the skin may be pricked or cut and some stagnant blood drawn out with cups. This can relieve lingering aching pain in a single session.
I once saw a person with an old injury to leg have stagnant blood removed from the arch of the foot area that came out like dark ink. The injury had been high in the calf and the blood had pooled lower. His varicose veins were also greatly relieved by this process. Treatment in this case also involved acupuncture, herbs, and massage.