Dit Da: Herbalism and Physiotherapy
Original HE Publication
By Josh Walker
Injury or illness: This is what it always boils down to. Why do you need to see a doctor? The answer, inevitably, is injury or illness. Yes, of course, there is preventative medicine, the concept of tonifying, or supplementation. And if you live in Beverly Hills, there is also plastic surgery. But let's not get caught up in complexities. Injury and illness are what the need for doctors and healthcare professionals arose from. And we have illness covered grandly from East to West; general practitioners and pediatrics, to massage therapists and brain surgeons; then of course there are oriental acupuncturists and herbalists who treat many illnesses, other alternative healers, specialists, and so on and so forth. And then there is dit da...
Dit da is the field of Chinese herbalism that deals with the healing and management of injury, a field that is relatively lacking in Western medicine. It is the concentration of addressing physical trauma. Dit da is very important to herbalists concerned with sports and martial arts injuries, and especially to the athletes and martial artists that receive those injuries.
Herbs used in dit da are processed and extracted in a number of ways. While many clinical herbs are cooked and consumed internally, dit da is often applied topically. And often, these externally applied herbs have somewhat differing uses than when taken internally. Dit da jow, meaning "fall-hit wine", is generally an alcohol-based liniment produced by aging herbs in an ethanol solution. This is by far the most common use of herbs in dit da and so in this article, we will cover 2 dit da jow recipes that can be made easily and used with a great deal of effectiveness.
QI LI SAN
Qi Li San, meaning "7 taels powder", is an old classical dit da jow recipe. The original formula, as published in Bensky & Gamble, is illustrated below, with slight modifications:
Xue Jie 30 g
Er Cha 9 g
Hong Hua 6 g
Ru Xiang 6 g
Mo Yao 6 g
Zhu Sha 3 g
Bing Pian 1 g
She Xiang 1g
As we can see, most of this formula is composed of blood invigorators used to dispel blood stasis, relieve pain, engender new flesh, and reduce inflammation. However, Zhu Sha is no longer available, and She Xiang is incredibly expensive and of low quality. Xue Jie is also becoming expensive so we will make some changes to the formula:
Xue Jie 30 g
Xu Duan 30 g
Er Cha 9 g
Mu Xiang 9 g
Hong Hua 6 g
Ru Xiang 6 g
Mo Yao 6 g
Zhi Zi 6 g
Bing Pian 3 g
In this modified version, we have added Xu Duan, which is a good blood invigorator and as a yang tonic, also heals and strengthens bone and sinew. Mu Xiang will help regulate the flow and is also a warm pain killer. Bing Pian has been increased to make up for the missing She Xiang, and Zhu Sha has been dropped. Zhi Zi was added to help clear heat and address inflammation. In stronger formulas, Tao Ren is added to compliment Hong Hua for which it works synergistically with. We will see this in the next formula.
Xue Jie, Xu Duan, Er Cha, Hong Hua, Ru Xiang, and Mo Yao all have varying capacity to invigorate blood circulation while covering other important functions, such as generating new flesh, relaxing sinew, or reducing inflammation and pain. The rest of the herbs in the formula tend to back up these functions.
As is, this is a very basic formula. There are no profoundly strong herbs but the formula works quite well when applied topical for the treatment of bruising and other basic traumatic injuries.
To make this dit da jow, the herbs can be coarsely ground and aged in ½ gallon of alcohol for a minimum of 60 days before use. Alternatively, the herbs can be finely ground and mixed with small amounts of alcohol until a paste is made. The paste can then be applied directly to injuries.
This formula is actually safe to take internally (certainly safer than it was with Zhu Sha!) but is meant for external application and should be used in that way.
The next formula we will discuss is more useful for more serious injuries and will use a stronger battery of herbs.
Many martial arts schools hold their dit da jow formulas very closely and provide the written prescription only to close students who have shown their loyalty over the years. While each formula has its unique structure and ingredients list, most of these formulas are very similar and contain a majority of the same herbs throughout, with some variation due to origin, time period, etc.
The below formula was used in a small handful of southern Chinese Kung Fu schools and is quite useful for muscular and bone bruises, sprains and strains, and more serious injuries:
Zi Ran Tong 24 g
Su Mu 24 g
Jiang Huang 24 g
Hong Hua 24 g
Tao Ren 24 g
Dang Gui Wei 24 g
Fu Zi 15 g
San Qi 15 g
Chen Xiang 15 g
Ru Xiang 15 g
Mo Yao 15 g
Qiang Huo 15 g
Xu Duan 15 g
Gu Sui Bu 15 g
Da Huang 15 g
Zhi Zi 12 g
Sheng Di 12 g
Hou Po 12 g
This formula was chosen for several reasons. First, it uses some stronger herbs that the previous formula, marking its utility for more severe situations. Second, it uses three synergistic combinations of herbs that don´t appear in the above formula.
In this formula we have a large battery of herbs that invigorate the Blood, both moderately and strongly. Dang Gui Wei, Zi Ran Tong, Su Mu, Jiang Huang, Hong Hua, Tao Ren, San Qi, Ru Xiang, Mo Yao, Xu Duan, Gu Sui Bu, and Da Huang all have varying degrees of strength for moving blood to dispel stasis.
Additionally, Zi Ran Tong, Xu Duan, and Gu Sui Bu work to heal and strengthen bone and sinew through their ability to tonify the kidney meridian. Su Mu, Jiang Huang, and Hong Hua all have additional ability on top of their blood moving properties to open the channels. Both Tao Ren and Mo Yao are neutral and help reduce inflammation and relieve pain due to injury. San Qi is chiefly a stop-bleeding herb, making it useful for fresh injuries that are painful due to blood stasis. However, it is also a strong blood invigorator and is an important herb in any injury formula. It is certainly one of the most common herbs used in stronger injury formulas. Da Huang, being a purgative when used internally, is actually a very strong blood invigorator when combined with other blood invigorators and used externally. Because it is also very cold and bitter, it is useful in reducing the heat from swelling and inflammation. And lastly, we have Dang Gui Wei. This herb serves little additional benefit except to moderately invigorate blood circulation to reduce stasis. For use on individuals with reduced constitution, the head or whole body of Dang Gui can be used instead.
Fu Zi here is used for its pure yang strength and ability to warm the channels and reduce pain, as well as an uncanny action to treat Bi syndrome that cause joint and muscle pain, and weakness. Additionally, Qiang Huo, helps address Bi syndrome as well, dealing with damaged joints that have soreness and aches. Principally a wind-cold releasing herb, Qiang Huo is used externally most often for its ability to address the joints through its interaction with the kidney.
Zhi Zi and Sheng Di are heat-clearing herbs used for their strong anti-inflammatory properties. While herbs like Zhi Zi are used internally for its strong antibiotic properties (among other things), its external application is primarily to reduce inflammation, reduce pain, and stop bleeding. It is a common herb in many dit da jow formulas for its affinity in aiding in the healing process. Sheng Di, also a blood cooling herb, contributes additional functionality to reduce inflammation. It is also useful when applied topically for skin rashes and other types of heat.
Lastly, we have Chen Xiang and Hou Po. Both of these herbs are very penetrating aromatic woods that are drying and moving in nature. They both have action to move and regulate Qi and dry dampness. In this case, dampness is in the form of congealed fluids at the site of injury.
Having discussed the herbs, we should go back and look at the three synergistic combinations:
* Hong Hua and Tao Ren work synergistically to invigorate blood circulation. These 2 herbs when combined form a rather strong pair and add significantly to the strength of this formula over Qi Li San, where Tao Ren was absent.
* Xu Duan and Gu Sui Bu synergistically tonify the kidney and liver to heal and strengthen bone and sinew. Their blood moving capability is also increased.
* Fu Zi and Qiang Huo are often combined for their synergistic action to dispel wind-damp conditions in the joints and muscles.
To make this liniment, the herbs can be coarsely ground (except the Zi Ran Tong), broken up or added whole to a 1 gallon glass contained and filled with vodka. The San Qi absolutely must be ground or crushed thoroughly to reap its benefits and the Zi Ran Tong must be processed by calcining-large raw chunks of pyrite will not provide any benefit for your liniment. Additionally, Tao Ren should be crushed up to expose its oils to the solvent. Age the liniment for 3 months prior use.
This formula should provide the necessary strength for nearly all situations you might encounter. If not, it can be easily modified to a higher level of potency. However, this is not necessary for most situations.
As we can see, dit da formulas are often composed in large part with blood invigorators that help heal and dispel stasis. These herbs are then backed up by other herbs which serve secondary functions such as clearing heat, drying dampness, or dispelling Bi syndrome from the joints. As we also have noted, some of these herbs are used for different reasons when they are applied externally. In this way, dit da has grown into a rich subfield of herbalism all its own, with a myriad of formulas and herbs that are common to all these formulas. If you´ve enjoyed this trek into the world of addressing injury, perhaps it may be a welcome addition to addressing illness!
Josh Walker is a martial artist and professional personal trainer, and owns PlumDragon Herbs, a small business specializing in production of dit da jow and tonics geared towards martial artists and athletes. Josh has also completed advanced degree work in the field of engineering. As a student and teacher of martial arts, and personal trainer, Josh has a vested interest in encouraging health and performance to other martial artists and active individuals. He has trained in several types of Chinese and Filipino martial arts spanning across many years; he teaches privately and visits the Philippines annually to train with his teachers. Josh has worked with herbs to make dit da jow and tonic wines since 2001 and continues ongoing education in martial arts, herbalism, and health topics as a passion and lifestyle.