You probably thought acupuncture was just acupuncture, and that it was all Chinese. It is certainly accurate to say that ultimately all acupuncture derives from Chinese sources over 2000 years ago. But when a system of medicine has travelled all around the globe and through 20 centuries of time, it is going to spin off into many different interpretations. Styles and interpretations are going to come and go as the cultural and social contexts shift and change. Even within China, prior to the communist revolution, there were a myriad of distinct regional and ‘family’ styles of acupuncture. The revolution put acupuncture and Chinese Medicine through an intense process of ‘state sponsored’ standardisation to arrive at what is today known as TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). TCM acupuncture is a fairly recent version of a medical paradigm with a very rich and varied history. In the TCM standardization process, many classical principles of Chinese Medicine were abandoned, for all kinds of reasons. Now that China is starting to open up, things are getting stirred up a lot and there is a growing awareness of important things that got lost in the establishment of TCM.
Over the past century, outside of China, many different ‘styles’ of acupuncture have flowered and developed. These include classically based Japanese, Vietnamese, and Korean approaches. Anyone who has been to a modern day acupuncture school has learned the TCM approach (because that is what the ‘Board Exams’ are always based upon).
I have been fortunate to have studied and learned a number of styles within the category of ‘Japanese acupuncture’. Even under the ‘Japanese umbrella’, there are a number of different approaches. But they all share a few things in common. In contrast to TCM acupuncture where a very strong emphasis is placed on the patient’s answers to a number of questions (a very cerebral exercise), all Japanese acupuncture approaches greatly emphasise palpating the patient to determine what is going on and what needs to be done about it. This enables the practitioner to provide treatment even if you can’t fully explain what is going on or if the picture is very complex and difficult to convey.
Another thing common to all Japanese approaches I have studied is the use of prompt feedback from the patient via their pulse and the responses of palpable reflexes. This leaves the guess work out of things and helps to focus me on the correctness of my chosen treatment. It is also tremendously reinforcing for you, the patient, to see active reflexes on your body respond in real time during the treatment. It brings the channel systems of acupuncture very much alive for both of us. It serves to shift the whole process from the abstract to the palpable embodied level. I can make up all kinds of interesting stories for you. And you can make up all kinds of interesting stories for me. But our bodies don’t do that. They speak the truth.
I have found the Japanese approach to acupuncture, and in particular, the style developed and taught by Kiiko Matsumoto (and her teachers who include Kiyoshi Nagano and Yoshio Manaka) to be highly effective and particularly well suited to many modern-day health problems – many of which derive from nervous system imbalances brought on by modern lifestyles. The ‘Nagano/Matsumoto’ style represents an ingenious fusion of classical acupuncture with modern physiological understandings of endocrinology, immunology and stress-induced nervous system imbalances. As such, it dovetails nicely with the growing recognition in modern medicine that systems once thought to be separate are, in fact, connected . . . with emerging fields such as psychoneuroimmunology and neuroendocrinology.