By Bob Quinn, DAOM, LAc
Most of the practitioners at the Onkodo Clinic have studied with Iwashina Anryu. He is affectionately called Dr. Bear. It is a name of honor bestowed upon him by a leader in the Blackfeet Native American tribe in the 1980s. Like many acupuncturists in Japan, Dr. Bear is blind. Japan has about as many blind practitioners as we have sighted ones. It is a long-held tradition in Japan to train blind people for massage or acupuncture.
All the great acupuncture masters I have had the chance to study with have remarkable hands. They make a big deal of this in Japanese styles, and for good reason. But my point remains the same for the Chinese masters I have studied with as well: our hands are the most important tools of our trade. I used to think the needles were the most important, but I no longer believe that - it is our hands.
Whenever I have studied with Dr. Bear, he has taken the time to talk about how acupuncturists should care for their hands. He uses high quality hand-care products every day. He also insists his students NOT engage in activities that would toughen their skin, e.g., rock climbing, guitar playing, golfing, and so on. From the first time I studied with him I took this advice to heart and have cared for my hands just as he advised. And it is true, we do end up with much softer, much more perceptive hands. In addition, I have added some hand qigong exercises to my daily regimen and they have further softened my skin and increased my sensitivity.
When we study acupuncture, it is like we are joining an ancient craft guild. As in all guilds, the key to advancing one’s skills is refinement through long years of focused practice. One must make one’s hands like the hands of a jeweler, or a bookbinder, or a stone mason, or whatever the craft might be. Whatever our hands are like when we start to study acupuncture, we need to cultivate them into perceptive tools capable of refined assessment and treatment.
When Dr. Bear first treated me seven years ago, I had an uncomfortable sensation of heat locked in my chest. Some very good herbalists and acupuncturists took a shot at helping me, but the results were quite limited. In just 35 minutes Dr. Bear was able to eliminate this condition that had plagued me for some years, and it has not come back in the seven years since. Here is the surprising piece: he never put an acupuncture needle in my body. Not a single one. Instead, he carefully palpated my body to find “the presently alive points” that needed to be treated. Then he treated me with a tool that looks like a thick needle touching the skin at each of those points (we call these tools teishin---see our Onkodo Clinic store page for images). In that first treatment he touched perhaps 15 points in this manner. When he was working a point on my lower right leg the heat suddenly emptied out of my chest, never to return!
The success of this first treatment sold me on his approach to acupuncture, even though I did not yet understand much of it. Over the years my understanding of his way of working has slowly grown. Now, I often treat my patients without putting any needles in, just as he did when treating me seven years ago, in that first meeting in San Jose.
I look forward to welcoming Dr. Bear back to Portland in the spring of 2019. Anyone interested in Mr. Iwashina’s work can learn more at www.thebookofdrbear.com.
Photo by Elizabeth Meyers on Unsplash