Tung’s Acupuncture and the Martial Arts

For centuries in China there has been an intimate link between the martial arts and traditional medicine. Part of this was practical. In a day and age where hospitals were not around every corner, people who had higher likelihood of physical injury needed to learn at least the rudiments of medicine. Martial artists, because of the very nature of their practice, have a higher potential than many for injury. Furthermore, in China many serious martial arts practitioners made livings as bodyguards or armed escorts, thereby putting themselves in conditions that might have lead to frequent physical injury. It is no surprise then that expert martial artists were often trained in medicine.

Theories of how the body works were shared by the martial and medical arts. In the internal martial arts (such as Taijiquan) there is a concept called the theory of the Three Sections (San Jie 三節) (Wang, 2005). The Three Sections of the body are the arms (the upper section), the torso (the middle section), and the legs (the lower section). Because of their relative locations and relationships in martial arts practice, the legs are called the ‘root’ (gen 根), the torso the ‘center’ (zhong 中), and the arms the ‘tip’ (i.e., tip end of a twig, shao 梢).

Each of these Sections can be further divided into their own root, center and tip. On the arm, the shoulder is the root, the elbow is the center and the hand is the tip. On the trunk, the lower trunk (the Dan Tian 丹田) is the root, the chest or abdomen is the center, and the head is the tip. On the leg, the hip is the root, the knee is the middle, and the foot is the tip. The most important aspect of this concept is that these structures are interrelated – they are in resonance (ying 應). When Qi and Intention (yi 意) move in one area, the related structures also experience Qi movement. Thus, the hand-head-foot are a resonance, the chest/abdomen-elbow-knee are a resonance, and the shoulder-lower abdomen-hip are a resonance. 

The classics of martial arts and movement therapies (dao yin 導引) are some of the earliest origins of this theory. Later they were applied to the practice of medicine, and in particular, acupuncture. Since each of the three areas of the Three Sections resonate with each other, applying a therapeutic stimulus in one area effects disease in the related area(s). For example, for a disease in the hand we can needle the feet for treatment. For a disease of the elbow we can needle the knee. For a disease in the head we can choose the foot or the hand. This is the basic clinical application of the theory of the Three Sections, and numerous authors have discussed this approach to acupuncture (for examples see: Li, 2011; McCann and Ross, 2014; Tan, 2007; Zhou, 1995).

There is a basic premise in medicine that holograms of therapeutic resonance are located all over the body. These are called Taiji Holograms (taiji quanxi 太極全息); here the word Taiji refers to a complete image of the entire body (Taiji is a symbol of Yin and Yang in completeness) (Yang, 1999). This idea is used frequently in Tung’s acupuncture, a system of needling based almost exclusively on distant point needling. For example, points such as Ling Gu 22.05 located on the hand are important points for both problems of the head, and problems of the feet (these are all the ‘tips’ of the Three Sections). Points on the shoulder such as Yun Bai 44.11 and Li Bai 44.12 are important points for the treatment of female genital disorders (i.e., the shoulder and lower abdomen are both the ‘roots’ of the Three Sections). Pain in the thumb is treated by needling the big toe at Hai Bao 66.01. In fact, most of Tung’s points have some therapeutic indication that can be explained by the theory of the Three Sections.



Li GZ. 台灣董氏針灸手足對應針法 [Hand-Foot Correspondence Needling Method of Taiwan’s Tung Style Acupuncture]. Taipei: Zhi Yuan Bookstore, 2011.

McCann H, Ross H-G. Practical Atlas of Tung’s Acupuncture, 3rd Edition. Munich: Müller and Steinicke, 2014.

Tan RTF. Acupuncture 1, 2, 3. San Diego: Self Published, 2007.

Wang FM. 太极推手技击传真 [Essentials of Taiji Push Hands and Fighting Technique]. World Chen Style Hunyuan Taiji Association, 2007.

Yang L. 周易与中医学 [The Zhou Changes and Chinese Medicine]. Beijing: Beijing Science Technology Publishing House, 1999.

Zhou YY. The crossing method of point selection. J Chin Med, 49 Sept 1995; pp 17-19.