A Guide To Chinese Martial Arts Herbal Trauma
Part 1- Introduction and Categories of Herbal Medicines
By David Bock C.Ac. Dipl.Ac. Dipl.CH.
Editor’s Note: In this series of
articles the author discuses Chinese Herbal remedies useful for bruises,
sprains, strains, fractures, bleeding and other trauma. They are useful
for martial artists, weekend athletes, or anyone who exercises. Remedies,
however, are not always available at your local drug store. Those interested
should seek out a Chinese drug store or Chinese herbalist. For reader’s
convenience, FightingArts.com will soon be offering a variety of these
remedies in our e-store.
Martial Arts and Herbal Medicine have worked hand in hand for a long
time in what the Chinese call shang ke, or trauma medicine. This is often
referred to by the term Die Da, which means fall and strike or contusion.
When herbs were mixed into a formula to treat trauma, they were generally
referred to as Die da with the form of the medicine added to the end.
For example, Die da wan is known as a “hit pill”. If it is
a wine or alcohol based formula it would be called Die da jiu.
Throughout history most martial artists with herbal knowledge have made
their own secret formula to use on their students. Often these formulas
are variations of older formulas and just called die da yao, or “fall
and strike medicine”. Depending on the Romanization system used,
these formulas are now known as dit dat jow, tieh ta yao, Dee da jow,
and any number of other spellings. In this guide I will not stick to one
particular style of Romanization but rather use the spelling the manufacturer
has used to identify the product.
The important thing for the martial artist is to understand the strengths
and weaknesses of the various formulas. I will focus on the readily available
topical formulas. Chinese Herbal medicine is a vast topic that when properly
applied is customized to the situation at hand, with herbs selected based
not only on the type of trauma but the nature of the patient. In practice,
usually a patient is treated with general formulas first and more specific
herbal treatments later. In other words: stop the bleeding, reduce the
local pain, and worry about healing later when there is the luxury to
do so. If there is a skin reaction to a formula, it may be because it
is not matched well to the personal dynamics of the patient, in which
case an herbalist should be consulted or other comparable formulas tried
until a formula is found that does not cause a reaction.
Most of the die da formulas are interchangeable to some degree. They
all treat pain and most have herbs to help heal tissue. It is the particular
mix of herbs and their percentages that determines the specific characteristics
of the medicine. Even well known manufacturers publish very little information
about the specific amounts of ingredients. Many just list a few “active”
ingredients and list many of the important herbs as “inactive”.
We can make some educated guesses at the use of a formula based on what
seems to be the predominant dynamics of the herbs in the mix. The common
herbs in these formulas can be grouped in several categories. Note that
many of these herbs are useful because they cover more than one category.
However, I will only list the predominant function.
Herbal Medicine Categories
The Aromatics: These are the stronger “dispersant
blood moving” herbs that quickly reduce pain. Pain in herbal medicine
is technically the blockage of “blood” movement. These strong
herbs break up stasis to reduce pain but do not necessarily help heal
tissue. These herbs include Camphor (zhang nao), menthol and mint oils,
Borneol (bing pian), Carthamus (hong hua, safflower), turpentine (pine
oil, song jie), Clove (ding xiang) and Musk (she xiang). Methyl salicylate,
which is a natural form of aspirin derived from tree bark, moves energy
strongly and in many ways also works like an aromatic.
Blood Movers: These are herbs that also move energy
to reduce pain, but also have more effect in regards to long-term tissue
repair. Some blood movers are also the best herbs to stop bleeding because
they quickly spur the clotting response as part of the tissue repair functions.
The two most well known are the resins Frankincense (boswellia, olibanum,
ru xiang) and Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha,mo yao). Other important herbs
include Peony (bai shao), Angelica (dang gui), Dragon bone (long gu),
and Dragon’s Blood (xue jie). Herbs that also specifically stop
bleeding are catechu (betal husk, da fu pi), charred cattail (pu huang),
Uncaria (cutch, er cha), and the most important one, Panax Notoginseng
(psuedoginseng, tien chi, san qi).
Hot Herbs: These herbs are hot or warming in nature.
They also tend to have some pain relieving or tissue repair properties.
Many formulas mix warm and cold herbs together; the question is which
type is predominant in the formula. Warm and hot herbs are best on old
or re-injured tissue where there is no redness or swelling, and where
it feels good to add heat or tight bandages to the area. Quite often if
there is a red skin reaction to a topical formula, it is one of these
herbs that is the likely culprit. Finding a “cooler” formula
may be the answer to skin irritation. The real hot herbs are the aconites
(fu zi, wu tou, wolfsbane and many other names), and the capsicums (chili,
cayenne). Other warm/hot herbs include asarum (wild ginger, xi xin), cassiae
( cinnamon, rou gui, gui zhi) clove (ding xiang), drynaria (gu sui bu),
fennel (foeniculum, xiao hui xiang), and ginger (zingiberis, sheng jiang,
Cold Herbs: These herbs are best when there is redness,
swelling, and the tissue feels warm to the touch. I often use formulas
that are heavy in these herbs in place of ice for new trauma. I find I
get much greater pain relief and quicker patient recovery. The common
herbs in this category are mints /wintergreen (menthol, bo he), dandelion
(pu gong yin), rhubarb (rheum, da huang), lonicera (honeysuckle, jin yin
hua), polgonum cuspidatum (hu zhang), scutellaria (huang qin, skullcap),
tea tree oil, aloe vera (lu hui), eucalyptus (an ye), and tumeric (zedoary,
Other common herbs are Licorice (gan cao), which is classically used
to harmonize herbs in a formula. Some herbs like ligusticum (chuan xiong),
Lebedourillae (siler, fang feng), turpentine (pine oil, song jie) and
Angelica (bai zhi) protect the injured area while it heals.
Many formulas are simply variations on a theme, and can be arranged in
groups based on their particular herbal strengths. In Part 2 of this article
series I give my recommendations grouped by injury type. Remember that
they all reduce pain and help heal tissue, so in a pinch, use what is
available. There are some general safety precautions about topical herb
formulas. Unless the package says otherwise, it is not a good idea to
apply heat or any non-breathable covering (like plastic bandages) to an
herbal topical formula applied to the skin. Always read package cautions,
and make sure a formula is safe on broken tissue before a topical formula
is used on an open wound. Do not apply any of these formulas to the back
or abdomen of a pregnant woman.
Part 2 – Herbal Medicines Grouped By Type
About the Author:
David Bock, C.Ac. Dipl.Ac. Dipl.CH, is a teacher of Wadokai Aikido (under
Roy Suenaka Sensei), a Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist, NCCAOM National
Board Certified in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology, author of the online
column “The Practical Herbalist” at www.lakecountryonline.com.
He can be reached at www.hartlandorientalmed.com