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The link between Traditional Chinese Medicine and Classical Chinese martial arts is old and deep. Traditional Chinese medicine is said to have five branches: acupuncture, herbs, manual therapy (Tui Na), diet and exercise.  

Tui Na literally means “push pull” and designates the traditional manual therapies of China. Manual Therapy means using the hands to heal and this includes what we consider to be massage therapy, chiropractic or osteopathic therapy manipulating the skeletal system, and traumatology to treat injuries to the muscular skeletal system. Tui Na is field of considerable depth with a variety of styles and regional variations and specialties.  

Often experts in Tui Na are also martial artists or have pursued some martial arts training in their youth. Martial arts training is incredibly helpful for anyone pursuing training in massage therapy because martial arts training strengthens your body and teaches you how to us your body to develop force. Many Tui Na techniques require strength on the part of the practitioner, especially if the patient is larger, muscular or both.  

Being able to develop and use force with some precision can be helpful for many Tui Na techniques. Being able to develop a sudden precise force is necessary to set bones and realign the skeletal system in traumatology. Without a healthy body and sufficient strength doing many Tui Na techniques will strain the practitioner and have less than optimal effects on the patient.

Qigong – healthy breathing and stretching exercises are an integral part of Traditional Chinese Medicine and are one of the core elements of the exercise branch of Chinese Medicine. Martial Arts like Tai Chi Chuan, Northern Shaolin, Xing Yi Quan, Ba Gua Zhang, and Lan Shou Quan all contain elements of Traditional Chinese Medicine. All styles of classical Chinese martial arts cultivate “Qi” or life force energy through using breath, posture, and movement. Incorporating the Qigong practices, medical theory, meditation, and morality with martial techniques for self-defense defines a martial art. Training martial techniques without these other qualities is a military activity. It is the cultivation of the individuals health on mental, physical, and emotional levels to help them be better members of society that elevates training self-defense techniques to become a martial art.  

Learning the basics of Traditional Chinese Medical Theory and gaining familiarity with the basic techniques of Tui Na is part of the heart of all classical martial arts. Many classical Chinese martial arts had their own system of medicine.  

A great example of this is the system of Ba Gua Zhang inherited by Yin Fu from its founder Dong Haichuan. In this system everything revolves around the concepts of 8 Diagrams in the classic I – Ching or Book of Changes. The I Ching is one of the oldest books in the world and is a foundation of Chinese astrology, geomancy, fortune telling, and in this case medicine and martial arts. In Yin Fu style Ba Gua Zhang the system of medicine is detailed and includes diagnostics, manual therapies, acupuncture, qigong, and a unique system of martial training based on walking in a circle and using flanking attacks and twisting power with deadly penetrating palms.  

Xing Yi Quan or Form and Will Boxing has at its core the theory of Five Elements. The Elements Theory is an important foundational concept in Chinese thought and philosophy used in all aspects of Chinese science, especially medicine. Learning the theory of the Five Elements and how to apply them in diagnosis and treatment begins the first semester in all modern acupuncture schools and lasts until and after graduation. Five Element theory is also foundational to Chinese theories of diet.  

Xing Yi Quan foundation level is learning the Five Element Fists. These 5 simple, powerful strikes build the foundation of striking power and health in its practitioners. Xing Yi Quan is famous for the skill of its Tui Na practitioners and the usefulness of its power development training for use in Tui Na treatments. In Xing Yi Quan, the body conditioning methods, martial arts movements, and Tui Na techniques all share the same body mechanics and breathing methods. This means practicing one part of Xing Yi Quan improves one’s skills in all other parts. The Five Element Fists and main stance of Xing Yi Quan called San Ti Shir or Three Treasures Stance are all Qigong methods designed to build one’s inner energy or Qi and to strengthen one’s internal organs. 

Tai Chi Chuan has its core the Tai Chi Theory of Yin Yang expressed in the famous Tai Chi symbol. Even before learning about the Five Elements in acupuncture school new students will be introduced to the detailed theories of Yin and Yang symbolically depicted in the Tai Chi symbol. The entire art of Tai Chi is built on physically expressing these ideas in movement and using their principles as a guide to self-defense strategy. Every movement in Tai Chi is also said to be a Qigong movement or exercise and Tai Chi is renown worldwide for its longevity and health benefits. 

Learning a little Traditional Chinese Medicine gives classical martial artists great insight into the foundations and depths of their styles. Learning a little martial arts gives strength, energy, and a palpable felt sense of Qi to Doctors studying Traditional Chinese Medicine. In the end to master Traditional Chinese Medicine one cannot ignore four branches and only practice one. It is best if a practitioner has some skill in all five branches so they have all the tools needed to help their patients.  

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