if community acupuncture were a martial art…(chuckle accordingly)

I recently watched a documentary on the fighting method called Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do, literal translation: “Bruce Lee’s way of the intercepting fist”. Midway through the snippets of interviews by the martial arts film star that brought kung fu to America, I noticed that I was comparing his Jeet Kune Do (JKD) philosophy with CA. Why?

A context based fighting method:


Bruce developed JKD in 1967 following his training in martial arts styles from the east, west, and even Europe. The basic fighting methods of JKD are a combination of three main fighting arts; Wing Chun style Kung fu (blocks, sparring techniques), French fencing (footwork and speed), and American boxing (footwork, speed, and punching).


This fighting approach is not quite just a new martial arts fighting system. In fact, it is more a way of thinking about fighting in general, and that’s where it holds its power. In JKD, you learn the basics of a variety of fighting methods and are encouraged to choose one or more of the methods that you resonate with personally to mature your skills in. The essential tenant of JKD is to use what works—and only what works—in any fighting situation. Don’t think about what fighting style you are using when your in the thick of it, instead use what appears to be your best option in the context you are in, period.

The three main parts of the JKD martial art system:

1- Efficiency: an attack that reaches its mark2- Directness: doing what comes naturally in a learned way 3- Simplicity: thinking in an uncomplicated manner, without ornamentation

One more overarching concept in JKD is Combat Realism. This is the idea that techniques in JKD should only be incorporated based upon effectiveness in real combat situations. This refers back to the method of keeping thing simple, or “without ornamentation”. The Chinese characters circling the JKD emblem translate as: “using no way as way” and “having no limitation as limitation”. Pretty much sums up Bruce Lee’s fighting philosophy.


A context based acupuncture method:


This practical and simplistic fighting philosophy worked for Bruce lee in his impressive fighting career and it may help us reconsider the simplicity and power of CA by a small stretch in thinking. From my clinical experience thus far, I have observed that I work best and most effectively when I drop any need to adhere strictly to any one particular acupuncture tradition. I find that mixing and matching acupuncture methods as I go, in the moment of diagnosing the channels that I feel need to be needled based on a quick assessment, works for me.


This general acupuncture approach is context based. Any way of treating people with acupuncture in the clinic requires clear answers to some basic questions about what our priorities are in our acupuncture practice in general. In CA some of these questions are as follows: Why charge 15-40 per treatment? Why treat many people in short interactions and then allow them to rest while I treat other patients? Why treat people in one large room instead of individuals cubicles? What is my intention here? What factors are contributing to my choices of how to needle my patients?


My approach in CA thus far: I am thinking through what needle patterns/ groups will give me an efficient and effective treatment (without over thinking acu theories), which of these effective acupoints I can reach in a recliner, and what can be needled quickly.


For example; for a patient coming to see me because of general work stress and medial knee pain on the left side I could proceed as follows: I may use a base of Mirrium Lee’s 10 points for general qi movement and calming, add in a su jok hand area to target the medial knee pain on the same side as the pain, use Dr. Tan’s balance and image methods to find a couple of appropriate distal ashi points and finish with a few generally calming points for stress, like Yin Tang and Ear-Shenmen. I use what ever methods I know that seem to match the current needs of the patient in front of me.


When I was observing in China at teaching hospitals, the acupuncture methods were fast, efficient and effective, and noticeably without extra “ornamentation”, as Bruce Lee puts it. This efficient acupuncture approach makes sense in China because it reflects the intent of serving a high volume of patients effectively in a short period of time. Sound familiar?


I think the philosophy of JKD is surprisingly in harmony with the philosophy of CA as I understand it. Kind of funny huh! Here’s to “using no way as way” and “having no limitation as limitation” in our CA practices.

Moses Cooper
Author: Moses Cooper

hello POCA family, I found community acupuncture in the early days of Working Class Acupuncture. I was lucky enough to be the first trial employee at WCA in 2005 after Lisa and Skip survived a string of uncomfortable independent contractor acupuncturists. I remember showing up during a clinic expansion painting moment and grabbing a brush. I was feeling grateful to be working with folks that were so obviously helping people of all kinds afford pokes. That was a very attractive bottom line at the time, and still is! I consider my family roots working poor where I come from, so I was both familiar with and willing to 'walk through the fire' to figure out how to punk. I was a well-meaning, yet slow and mentally mired punk in the early days. I made all the communication mistakes you can make as a newbie poker... It took all of my energy to develop a punk mindset and clinic awareness. I often felt like I was on trial both from my employers and my patients as I figured out the basics of being a real punk. Having solid boundaries instead of being over-comforting; connecting with subtle body language as much as...

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  1. What a great comparison, on more than one level!

    When I was in acu-school in 1990, I went through a Bruce Lee phase.  With a friend, I watched as many of his movies as possible, and studied his JKD book.  It must have had some deep effect on me, because here I am today, a CANer! and I think Skip and Lisa would agree with Bruce’s admonitions to his JKD students to refrain from adhering slavishly to his methods taught.  He always told them that the JKD we would see in later years should not resemble what he had taught, but would be of their own devising, and perhaps be even better.

    I think your blog goes hand-in-hand with Justine’s, because it’s about improvisation from a foundation of certain principles.  And the analogy of combat and acupuncture is apt, as it addresses the common opponent of some kind of obstacle: a block, a kick, a strike, a clunky chair that is uncomfortable for this patient, a fresh wind invasion, an auto-immune disorder, anxiety, tendonitis.  No small things to a real warrior.

  2. have to remind myself not to

    have to remind myself not to be a smartass to you next time you treat me.  yikes.  “um, yes moses, every..thing… is .., um, fine, today… thank you sir, may i have another needle”

  3. did I say context based

    did I say context based acupuncture? I’m pretty sure I meant combat based acupuncture. It has such a health giving ring to it…