Common Herbs and a Recipe for "Trauma Wine"
By Robert Chu, LAc
A lifelong practice of the martial arts is what led me to the study of traditional Chinese medicine. In martial arts, aside from the artistic perfection of strikes, kicks, joint locking, throwing, and ground fighting, the health-giving benefits of opening up the channels and collaterals for qi flow, and learning meditation to calm the mind, we specialize in trauma (both healing it and inflicting it).
My sifu told me, "It's easy to learn how to injure someone, but it is difficult to learn how to heal someone." How correct he was. A punch to Ren 17 can have devastating effects; a kick to UB 40 can bring an attacker to his knees in practice. As a consequence, in order to survive the training, many martial arts teachers specialize in die da shang ke - literally, "fall and strike traumatology", which are overlapped by TCM's wai ke (external diseases) and gu shang ke (orthopedics and traumatology).
I was fortunate to be able to study the rudiments of die da shang ke under my Wing Chun sifu, Kwan Jong Yuen, and my Hung Ga sifu, Yee Chi Wai. Through the years I also met other famous martial artists and TCM doctors like Kenny Gong, Lui Yon Sang, Chan Tai Shan, and others. My study of martial arts was interspersed with the study of traditional formulas for traumatology, including powders, wines, pastes, decoctions, and pills, along with their applications, modifications and processing. Many martial artists are also known for their specialty in tuina, as basic exercises to develop the body in tuina like Shaolin neigong or yi jin jing are part of the traditional martial arts. These exercises develop the limbs so that a martial artist trained in tuina can produce better results, and a martial artist would probably know the body better than a non-martial artist in movement and cause of injury.
In this article, I would like to introduce how to create a basic die da jiu (fall or strike wine), which can be used as a topical liniment for common contusions and bruises. Here is a list of herbs you will need:
ru xiang, 12 grams
mo yao, 12 grams
chi shao, 12 grams
mu xiang, 12 grams
hong hua, 9 grams
tao ren, 9 grams
dang gui wei, 12 grams
pu huang, 12 grams
da huang tan, 9 grams
tian qi, 12 grams
xue ji, 9 grams
ding xiang, 9 grams
Those of you who know your Bensky formulas might recognize this recipe as very similar to qi li san (seven thousandths of a tael powder) from Liang Fang Ji Ye (Small Collection of Fine Recipes) or even the die da wan from Quan Guo Cheng Yao Chu Fang Ji (Collection of Country's Prepared Herbals), but it addresses pain, blood movement and stops more bleeding. The measurements of the herbs are also different, because this liniment is used externally. This recipe is fine for bruises, minor contusions and sprains, but to make it better, we should modify the recipe according to our uses. For example, if there are broken bones, we should add xu duan, wei ling xian, and tu bie chong. If our focus is pain, add chuan xiong, yan hu suo, yu jin, jiang huang, ji xue teng, san leng,mu tong, dilong, su mu, or wu ling zhi, according to your needs. If there is pain in a certain area, we should add qiang huo (for the upper back), du huo (for the lower back), bai zhi (for the front of the head), tan xiang (for the chest), niu xi (to guide to the lower extremities), or xuan fu hua (to guide upwards). We can even get more specific to use guiding herbs to enter particular channels by choosing herbs that go to that channel. For internal bleeding, add di yu, da ji and xiao ji. To make the recipe more fragrant, add bing pian, she xiang, and su he xiang. To address wind, cold or damp bi, you can also modify it with herbs that expel wind damp, such as fang feng, gui zhi, bai hua she, hu gu, lou shi teng, hai feng teng, wu jia pi, and kuan jin teng. For more traumatic swellings, add ban xia, chuan wu, cao wu, and tian nan xing.
I caution the person who is not knowledgeable in herbology to not put all the ingredients together to form one "super die da jiu." I'm not sure what you would create! Look up the proper dosage of the herbs to use, and choose what you need (and what specific use you have in mind). As background information, sometimes herbs are substituted for one another based on local availability and financial reasons. Be wise in choosing what you need. For example, hu gu (os tigris) may not be available because it is illegal. Wu shao she and bai hua she make fine substitutes (and no, you don't need both), and whichever is less expensive will work fine. Pregnant women should not touch or use this medicine.
All in all, one small recipe can turn into literally thousands of variations from one functional base of herbs. When others boast their secret die da recipe is the original or more secret, they're simply blowing smoke. It depends on the function of the formula. I have a saying: "Let application be your guide; let function rule over form." It is applicable to medicine or martial arts.
You will also need a clean glass gallon bottle or jar, and enough gin or vodka to fill a gallon. You can parch the herbs by pan-frying them (no oil) in a wok or simply toasting all the herbs in a toaster oven to enhance the blood moving effect. There is no need to char them excessively, lest you lose all the active ingredients. Place the herbs in the container and pour the alcohol over the herbs. The alcohol used should always be of good drinking quality (ethyl alcohol), in cases where traumatic injury may be also internal. Beware of going the cheap route with isopropyl alcohol; you are simply making a poison batch of die da jiu. Traditionally, we never use isopropyl alcohol.
Seal the container so that it is airtight, then date and mark the bottle, and store in a dark place. Shake the bottle occasionally. In 3 to 4 months, your die da jiu will be ready and will be superior to any on the market, because you made it and you know specifically what you designed it for.
The herbal wine you created can be used simply by massaging it into the affected area, or for use with tuina. You can also use the wine in the technique of fire cupping (hou guan) by placing a small amount in a cup - just enough to wet the bottom, spread evenly and lit, then applied to the affected area. In doing this, I would caution that practice and common sense be your guide, lest you burn and scar your patient, and have a nice liability lawsuit on your hands.
This is a brief introduction to die da shang ke and the common herbs used. In future articles, I will focus on plasters, pills, decoctions, their applications and modifications, and how to create them.
Robert Chu, LAc
The only constant is change, the only absolute is vodka.