Dit Da Jow : Traditional Chinese Medicine and Martial Arts

 


As a martial artist, I often face superficial injuries. Most often these are just bruises or hematomas. Sometimes some aches and pain in the joints but rarely more.

Practicing martial arts also means staying healthy. A good martial practice only makes sense if it enriches you in all areas, including, among other things, physical condition ; flexibility and muscle strengthening, improvement of cardiovascular endurance, balance management, good body posture, development of ambidexterity, awareness of the body in space … Some martial practices emphasize more than others on the development of physical condition, however, one must also be careful not to produce the opposite effect and damage one’s own body. I have met several practitionners of martial arts or combat sports who have suffered irreversible consequences as a result of their practice ; weakened lumbar for a judoka, eye trauma for a boxer… often competition is unfortunately responsible for this type of damage.

Martial discipline training should not harm the practitioner. It is nonsense from the perspective of a discipline that prepares for self-defense. How can you defend yourself and be effective on the street if you deteriorate in training ? If you have to take several days off regularly or visit hospitals after training, I think there is a problem with the way you train.

A good Kung Fu is a Kung Fu that keeps you healthy throughout your life. Deteriorating your body during training is counterproductive. On the contrary, it must be preserved and improved. Even if training often generates superficial injuries, however, serious injuries should be rare. Regarding these “small sores”, these superficial wounds, we use in the Chinese tradition the Dit Da Jow.

 

Dit Da Jow 跌打 酒, a Traditional Chinese Medicine cure for Martial Artists.

Dit Da Jow 跌打 酒 is a Cantonese term which literally translates into English as “Fall and Hit Medicine / Wine / Alcohol” [1].

Dit Da Jow is an oil or balm mainly composed of a mixture of therapeutic herbs which are macerated for a long time in alcohol. This preparation is effective for treating external wounds, such as bruising, or relieving painful muscles through exertion. There is no fixed formula in its composition. In the old days, the secrets of making Dit Da Jow were often kept jealously by families and passed down from generation to generation. As it was widely used in the martial arts, it happened that the Masters themselves prepared their own Dit Da Jow [2].

I have been advised by my Sifu to treat my training wounds. However, these are not secrets but rather “tips and tricks” that are passed down through martial arts schools. For my part, I discovered the Tiger Balm and the essential oils of Wintergreen and Helichrysum.

Dit Da Jow is one of the major fields of Traditional Chinese Medicine ; the use of the pharmacopoeia. In Europe, it is often mistaken for acupuncture alone to represent Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It is true that the practice of inserting needles into the skin of a patient to treat him can sometimes appear much more attractive than our modern western medicine governed by the prescription of drugs. However, TCM includes many other fields that are as interesting as they are complementary, such as digitopuncture, moxibustion, cupping therapy, tuina massage, joint manipulation, use of the pharmacopoeia, dietetics, health exercises (Daoyin or Qigong)…

In old times in China, the medicine known to be the most effective was the use of plants ; the pharmacopoeia. Buying herbal cure, potions, oils or ointments, which are sometimes rare, was much more expensive than the cost of a doctor practicing acupuncture and was therefore reserved for an affluent social elite. The use of the pharmacopoeia was also faster than acupuncture to treat patients. The term “pharmacist”, although anachronistic, is often used to refer to this type of doctor who mainly used herbs. I prefer the term herbalist which seems to me more suitable.

Dit Da Jow is part of this therapy based on the use of therapeutic plants and herbs with medicinal properties in the form of oil or liniment.

Assortment of Chinese Pharmacopoeia Jar. Source : pexels.com

In the martial arts tradition of southern China, and in particular Wing Chun, we find some great figures having been doctors. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, the Wing Chun community of Fatshan 佛山 (Foshan in Mandarin) was made up of wealthy people who could afford to use therapeutic preparations from the traditional pharmacopoeia [3]. In addition, some Wing Chun leaders, such as Leung Jan, Chan Wah Shun and Chan Yu Min were recognized herbalists and osteopaths.

Leung Jan 梁贊 (1826-1901) is certainly the oldest historically recognized Wing Chun practitioner to date. He was a famous Fatshan herbalist. His pharmacy was located on Fang Jee Street and is called Jan Sang Tong (M. Jan’s Hall). Other sources say the pharmacy is called Hang Chai Tong [4].

Chan Wah Shun 陳華順 (1836-1909) was known to be a good osteopath. After Leung Jan retired and moved to Ku Lo village, his hometown, Chan Wah Shun both took over the management of a pharmacy and taught Wing Chun. He was a contemporary of Wong Fei Hung in Fatshan [5]. His son, Chan Yu Min, pursued the same professional career as his father, he was both Wing Chun teacher and doctor.

Wong Fei Hung 黃飛鴻 (1847-1924) was a renowned doctor and martial artist from Fatshan, as did Leung Jan [6]. After a military career in Canton, he retired to open a pharmacy in Renan street, named Po Chi Lam Clinic. Po Chi Lam also became a martial arts school where Wong Fei Hung taught his Hung Gar. His medical services were mainly pharmacopoeia and osteopathy [7].

In the 19th century, the city of Fatshan found itself in full economic growth. With industrialization, Fatshan set up several factories in different activities such as textiles, ceramics and steel industry. These factories employed workers who suffered a large number of accidents while working near dangerous equipment. To treat workers who have suffered burns and broken limbs, there has been a high demand for medical specialists in trauma, such as osteopaths [7].

The term osteopath may seem anachronistic here, I agree, however it is often used to designate the medicine of manipulation that used Leung Jan or Chan Wah Shun at that time (see Roots and Branches of Wing Tsun by Leung Ting, link bottom, which translates “bone-setter” and “ostheopath” by the term Dit Da Yee Sang 跌打 醫生, literally “the doctor of falls and blows”). I prefer it to the word bone-setter (“rebouteux” in French), often used in the History of Wing Chun, which has a more obscure and pejorative connotation in France.

In the 19th century, there was a large wave of emigration to southern China, particularly from the Guangdong and Fujian regions. The Chinese settled in Southeast Asian colonies, as well as in America, and founded the Chinatowns. For instance, we find in San Francisco’s Chinatown (the oldest American Chinatown created in 1848) the use and marketing of Dit Da Jow.

Sung Chi Liang demonstrates Kung Fu on the street to sell his Dit Da Jow. Source : picture of Arnold Genthe, San Francisco’s Chinatown, circa 1900.

In this picture, Sung Chi Liang, nicknamed the Big Ox, a street martial art expert, demonstrated Kung Fu with double knives (Hu Die Dao 蝴蝶 刀, literally “butterfly knife”) in San Francisco’s Chinatown, to sell his Dit Da Jow [8].

The fact that experts in martial arts are also practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine is also maintained in popular culture. For instance in the excellent remake of “Karate Kid” produced by Harald Zwart in 2010, which by the way should be called “Kung Fu Kid”, we can see Mr. Han (played by Jackie Chan) expert in Kung Fu, use cupping to treat young Dre having been beaten up by thugs.

Mr. Han uses cupping to treat young Dre. Source : Karate Kid, 2010.

The injuries

With regard to injuries likely to occur during the practice of the marital arts or combat sports, I would like to state here a precise vocabulary, from the most superficial damage to the most serious injuries :

  • Bruise [9] : it is a stagnation of blood in the thickness of the skin following a subcutaneous hemorrhage. Often small, it is blue, black or purple, it disappears most of the time quite quickly.
  • Hematoma [10] : bleeding that occurs deeper under the skin due to subcutaneous hemorrhage. It is larger than the bruise, disappears more slowly, may not be accompanied by swelling (edema), more commonly called “bump”, more or less significant, it is dark blue, then green and finally yellow.
  • Muscle aches [11] : following intense and excessive physical effort, there are 3 types of muscle pain :
    • Cramp : intense, brutal and involuntary muscle contraction.
    • DOMS (Delayed onset muscle soreness) : diffuse muscle pain.
    • Contracture : intense and involuntary muscle contraction that lasts over time, unlike the cramp, which is brief.
  • Tendinitis [12] : inflammation of a tendon following a trauma. The tendon is the end of a muscle that connects the muscle to the bone.
  • Sprain [13] : it is excessive stretching or tearing of the ligaments caused by excessive mobilization of a joint (ankle, knee, wrist). The ligament is a very resistant fibrous tissue binding the bones of a joint or cartilage between them. The joint is difficult to function and there is the presence of swelling with a possible hematoma.
  • Muscle tear or Strain [15] : it is a lesion of a muscle, or even of a tendon, linked to a trauma occurring during a shock or significant effort.
  • Bone fracture [16] : it’s a broken bone. It can be of several types complete or incomplete, open or closed…

Dit Da Jow, or any other medical or paramedical product, use substances with therapeutic properties to help heal the damage caused. Here I would like to make a point on the vocabulary linked to these therapeutic properties :

  • Analgesic [17] : substance capable of reducing or eliminating the sensation of pain.
  • Anti-inflammatory [18] : substance capable of reducing or eliminating the symptoms linked to an inflammatory phenomenon.
  • Antispasmodic [19] : substance capable of reducing or eliminating muscle spasms.

For my part, I mainly use 4 drugs to treat my injuries ; 2 balms/ointments (Arnica and Tiger Balm) and 2 essential oils (Helicrysum and Wintergreen).

My favorite Dit Da Jow formula for hematomas : Tiger Balm + Helichrysum. Source: personal picture.

Arnica [20]

It comes from the mountainous regions of America, Europe and Russia.

These analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties are effective for treating bruises and hematomas with swelling. Arnica is easily found in gel form or ointment in pharmacy. In homeopathy, it can be used for prevention to anticipate intense physical exertion or after exercise to limit cramps and aches.

 

Tiger Balm [21]

Tiger Balm is certainly one of the best known and used ointments by martial artists around the world. According to the Singapore-based Haw Par Corporation, which markets the balm, its origin dates back to the 19th century. Aw Chu Kin, the son of an Xiamen herbalist in Fujian, China, decided to settle in Rangoon, in southern Burma. He created a pharmacy there and founded a family. Later, the sons of Aw Chu Kin, Boon Haw and Boon Par, developed a balm called Ban Kim Ewe (Ten Thousand Golden Oils), with their father’s old Chinese recipes and their own knowledge. They made a fortune. In 1920, Boon Haw created the Tiger Balm brand and became the richest Chinese in Yangon. The firm later moved to Singapore in 1926.

Tiger Balm is composed of camphor (antiseptic and analgesic), menthol (analgesic, antipruritic, decongestant, disinfectant), cajeput (antimicrobial, antiradical, insect repellent, antiviral, analgesic, venous decongestant), Chinese cinnamon (tonic, antimicrobial) and cloves (antiseptic and analgesic).

 

Tiger Balm is actually a Dit Da Jow on its own. It is a mixture of plants with powerful therapeutic properties. I sometimes use it by coupling it with certain essential oils which gives a powerful and fast healing cocktail. Sincerely, I don’t know if this use is recommended or not by health professionals, but I note that in practice on my body, the healing is effective and that there are no unpleasant side effects. . Make it your own experience !

 

Helichrysum [22] or Immortelle in French (helichrysum italicum), from the Greek helios (sun) and chrysos (gold), coming from the color of the yellow flowers of the plant. It is present all around the Mediterranean, especially in Spain, Corsica and Italy.

It is particularly effective for physical trauma following violent blows or contacts, causing bruises and hematomas, with or without swelling. It circulates the blood and also resolves the problems of phlebitis and varicose veins.

I was injured in a rough contact on the forearm of one of my students. He too had a nice bump in return. Sorry Darius 😉 Using Tiger Balm and Helichrysum, this painful hematoma resolved in just a few days. Source: personal picture.

Wintergreen [23] (Gaultheria fragrantissima), the name Gaultheria derived from the 18th century physician-botanist Jean-François Gaulthier, who discovered the soothing properties of this plant with the use made of it by Inuïts and Indians of Canada. The plant is found in North America and Asia (Nepal and China).

It is an anti-inflammatory and analgesic, it is particularly effective for muscle pain related to intense physical effort. It also fights frequent rheumatism in the cold and humid climates where this plant comes from elsewhere.

I also use Wintergreen with Tiger Balm after intensive work on injuries such as muscle pain.

 

Other essential oils have properties that can be used to heal injuries caused by the practice of martial arts and combat sports. For instance :

Tarragon [24] (Artemisia dracunculus), native to the steppes of Central Asia. Known to be a digestive tonic and to fight respiratory allergies. It is also a powerful antispasmodic, it is highly useful against muscle cramps.

Peppermint [25] (Mentha x piperita), which is found worldwide. Known for its digestive and refreshing properties, it is also a powerful antispasmodic and analgesic. It fights against pain of all types. It is also useful against itchy skin of any origin.

 

The use of the pharmacopoeia is an effective aid in treating injuries related to the practice of martial arts and combat sports. In addition, it goes without saying that the hygiene of life in general is important to have a good health and thus to allow an efficient recovery and a cure. Even if the body has the capacity to heal itself, it must be given the means to do.


Sources

[1] Traditional ‘Fall and Hit Liniment’ KitsDit Da Jow 跌打酒, Dr. Henry McCann

[2] https://chine.in/guide/dit-jow_4471.html

[3] https://chinesemartialstudies.com/2012/10/26/traditional-chinese-medicine-and-qi-cultivation-in-wing-chun-community/

[4] Roots and Branches of Wing Tsun, p60, LEUNG Ting, ed. Leung Ting Co. 2000 et Complete Wing Chun : The Definitive Guide to Wing Chun’s History and Traditions, p6, CHU Robert, RITCHIE Rene, ed. Tuttle Publishing, 1998.

[5] The Creation of Wing Chun, p77, JUDKINS Benjamin, NIELSON Jon, ed. State University of New York Press, 2015

[6] Ibid, p58

[7] Ibid, p75-76

[8] Genthe’s Photographs of San Francisco’s Old Chinatown, p29, TCHEN John Kuo Wei, GENTHE Arnold, ed. Dover Publications, INC., 1984

[9] https://www.ameli.fr/assure/sante/urgence/accidents-domestiques/ecchymose-bleu-hematome-cutane

[10] https://www.ameli.fr/assure/sante/urgence/accidents-domestiques/ecchymose-bleu-hematome-cutane

[11] https://www.ameli.fr/assure/sante/themes/dechirure-musculaire/definition-symptomes-causes-facteurs-risque

[12] http://dictionnaire.academie-medecine.fr/index.php?q=tendinite

[13] https://www.ameli.fr/assure/sante/themes/entorse-cheville/reconnaitre-entorse-cheville

[15] https://www.ameli.fr/assure/sante/themes/dechirure-musculaire/definition-symptomes-causes-facteurs-risque

[16] http://dictionnaire.academie-medecine.fr/index.php?q=fracture

[17] http://dictionnaire.academie-medecine.fr/index.php?q=antalgique

[18] https://www.ameli.fr/assure/sante/utiliser-medicaments/utiliser-anti-inflammatoires

[19] http://dictionnaire.academie-medecine.fr/index.php?q=antispasmodique

[20] https://www.fleurancenature.fr/blog/tout-savoir-sur-larnica

[21] https://www.hawpar.com/about-us/heritage.html

[22] https://fr.puressentiel.com/helichryse

[23] https://fr.puressentiel.com/gaultherie

[24] https://fr.puressentiel.com/estragon

[25] https://fr.puressentiel.com/menthe-poivree-2


 

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