The Doctor as Warrior

art_narryehead1The Viewpoint: Chinese Medicine: There are aspects of practicing that are truly an “inner art.” Here we deal with some of these …

Chinese medicine and martial arts have much in common. My own fascination with medicine emerged as a natural development of my Tai Chi practice, which I had taken up 30 years ago after fleeing the New York dance world. I was looking for a physical discipline that made sense and supported my health. In Tai Chi I found a garden of infinite beauty. Along one pathway was a sophisticated physical discipline that promoted longevity and saw the body at play in the Universe. Along another path lay a philosophical and spiritual exploration that gracefully intersected the physical path. I was at home in this garden. It didn’t take me long to discover in my ramblings an enchanting nook called Chinese medicine which I have explored with love and fascination for many years.

Though medicine has always been my primary area of study, it’s really no different from the other essentially Taoist arts that live in this garden—like calligraphy, poetry, tea, astrology, and yes, martial arts. In both medicine and martial arts we find a lifelong dedication to skill development, and a shared Taoist cosmology.

Whether we are inserting a needle, selecting an herb, practicing an application, or working on a difficult and complicated move, we are aware of the immediacy of the situation. It’s of no use to go home and mull things over in a comfy armchair, imagining how we might have done something differently. We are required to take an action in the moment, based on our training and beliefs, and we must do our best. This one thing—taking appropriate action based on a clear reading of the situation—sets both martial artists and doctors apart. It is what we train for.

In martial arts we are given physical techniques to train our awareness, and ability to respond in the moment. In medicine we are given written instructions from the Classics. The Yellow Emperor’s Internal Classic consists of two books, the Su Wen and the Ling Shu. The Su Wen is more of a technical and theoretical manual; the Ling Shu addresses the spiritual aspects of medicine. Interestingly, it is in the Su Wen that we are given instruction on how to have a clear and centered attitude with a patient so that we can read the situation accurately and respond correctly.

The directions are found in Chapter 54: “Be as if looking into a deep abyss: take care not to fall. Make your hand like one that would seize a tiger: do not lack strength. Do not allow your spirits to be disconcerted by anything: with a quiet will, consider your patient without shifting your gaze to the left or right. Do not allow your movement to deviate, since your own uprightness will allow for rectification.”

Substitute the word opponent for patient and the instruction might just as well be for the martial artist. Both doctor and warrior share this responsibility: to be firmly rooted in ourselves, to stand in right relationship between Heaven and Earth, unwavering. As we practice daily, keeping this intention, we cultivate an integration of Spirit and Will. Then our actions become an expression of this clarity; we can respond harmoniously to every situation. It takes a lifetime of work and practice, yet requires no effort at all.

Narrye Caldwell L.Ac.

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