A.C.T. In practice
Applied Channel Theory (經絡醫學 jīng luò yī xué) is an approach to acupuncture rooted in the dual research threads of classical texts and modern clinical application. Developed by Dr. Wang Ju–yi over 50 years in Beijing clinics, hospitals and research institutes, it involves the rigorous combination of theory and diagnostic technique. More precisely, Applied Channel Theory requires that examination of acupuncture channels be considered in the broader context of other diagnostic tools. In addition to channel examination, Applied Channel Theory is a comprehensive system that includes channel theory (channel qi transformation), channel differentiation, channel selection, the nature of acupuncture points, point selection and location, and various methods of channel regulation (like acupuncture, moxibustion, hand techniques, cupping and so on).
Central to this system is a deep understanding of channels. From Dr. Wang’s recent article, “Respect our Ancestors and Search for our Roots: The Source for the Cultivation and Establishment of Applied Channel Theory,” he writes:
“Channels are not only central to acupuncture, but also an important fundamental theory of Chinese Medicine. As a result of many historical factors, Applied Channel Theory was pushed to the fringes and largely forgotten. Medical practitioners only had to master the location, functions and hand manipulations of a few acupuncture points to be considered an acupuncturist! If he were to learn family secrets, special points, or magical methods, he would achieve fame. Over a long period of time, the absence of acupuncture theory in clinical practice and education led to its stagnation and decline, which created an obstacle to the development of scholarly research related to acupuncture.
In the past few hundred years, many scholars in the Chinese medical community adopted theories from modern Western medicine and science to provide a new explanation of the mechanisms of acupuncture, and to replace the classical theories of Applied Channel Theory.
In recent decades, the author compiled and compared a variety of modern research on channels. For example, there was extensive research on the physical-anatomical substance of channels, which included research on electrical resistance, electric potential and the Kim Bong Han’s small-bodies. Some research saw channels from the perspective of being composites of specific tissue structures (mast cells), like the lymphatic system, blood vessels or nerves.
I conscientiously researched, meditated upon, and compared all of these articles that attempted to explain channels, with the unfailing quest of finding the true nature of acupuncture theory. In the end, it was from classical channel theory that I deciphered the truth and essence of acupuncture theory.
The treatment methods of acupuncture derived from clinical practice. While the ancient physicians gradually accumulated clinical experience over a long period of time, philosophical thought of the era was also assimilated to explain their understanding of phenomena in the clinic. Over time the merging of meticulous clinical experience and philosophical thought led to the genesis of channel theory. Continuous clinical practice led to its further refinement, resulting in the formation of Applied Channel Theory, which, in turn, stimulated the development of Chinese Medicine and acupuncture.
When we search for the roots of our medical art and trace back to its source, we discover that acupuncture was not concocted in a laboratory or from anatomical studies. Instead, it was developed by our ancestors and recorded in the classic, the Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor, which contains scholarly thought on Applied Channel Theory. My understanding of channel theory spanned a 50 years process, which was a hefty sacrifice. I believe that many of our acupuncture colleagues can relate to my personal experiences, and share a similar learning curve. We do not refute the contributions of modern medical science, but when searching for the theoretical foundations of acupuncture, it is imperative to respect the achievements of our ancestors and to dutifully return to the classics. It is our responsibility to decipher traditional and classical theories in order to discover the true nature of channels.
I believe, as an analogy, that if the zang-fu are seen as the coal mines, steel factories, oilfields, mechanical factories, farms and ranches of a country, then the channels are likened to its transportation networks, such as the railways, public roads and airways. Channel qi transformation is involved in the important task of physical distribution, management, and planning of the transportation of products. Without the regulation from the channels, the zang-fu become solitary viscera. If channel qi transformation is devoid of the functions of the zang-fu, then they become a body of water without its source, a tree without its roots. Only when the zang-fu and channel system are coordinated and unified, can life exist and be maintained. As a unified whole, life is able to rhythmically follow its complete course from birth, youth to old age. Modern life sciences already verify Chinese Medicine’s unique understanding of life, and will continue to confirm its “theories” as time passes.
Therefore, I summarize the relationship between the channels and zang-fu in two sentences: the five zang foster essence, thus govern destiny; the channels permeate, thus govern life. Only when the zang-fu and channels are mutually in harmony and working together can there be life, and an effortless completion of its entire life course.
Channels are the guiding principle in the entire Chinese medical theoretical system, occupying 70% of the content in the Nei Jing. Failure to systematically study and apply Chinese medical theories makes it extremely difficult to pass on and learn this knowledge. We are only at the forefront of our understanding and research of channels. To correctly understand and master the profound concepts of channel theory, we must search for the original understanding of channels. From within classical Chinese medical theory, excavate the ancient physicians’ entire process of understanding the functions of channel qi transformation and the anatomy of channels. The solid foundation and source of establishing theories for Applied Channel Theory is through “respecting our ancestors, and searching for the roots.” I believe that as channel theory and the structures of channels is researched in depth, the result will be not only the development of theories for acupuncture and the rest of Chinese medicine, but will also make profound and long-lasting contributions to the development of all human sciences.”
Original publishing: Wang Ju-yi. Respect our Ancestors and Search for our Roots: The Source for the Cultivation and Establishment of Applied Channel Theory. Beijing Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine, October 2013, Vol. 23, No.10.