What was your path to becoming an acupuncturist?
During my junior year as a material science engineering major at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign I took an elective course in Medicinal plants and Herbology that I had been eyeing since my freshman year.
When I stepped into that medicinal plants and herbology class it was like coming home; there was something about learning all the names and classes of the herbs that felt incredibly familiar and rewarding. It was something I had only ever experienced playing music, or writing poetry, or wandering through a forest. It was in that class that I had my first exposure to some of the basic theories of Chinese herbal medicine.
I asked the professor if this course was strictly informational, or if this were the sort of thing one could continue studying. He chuckled as he told me that I could go to grad school to study such things.
Not long after that conversation with my professor, I happened to be in Chicago visiting a friend, and while riding the Chicago “L” I happened to notice an advertising banner for the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine (PCOM) in Chicago. I was blown away by the idea that such a place even existed in the city of Chicago. After investigating this school and the courses they had to offer, I had firmly decided that what I really wanted to do was study Chinese medicine.
After a year and a half of studying Asian styles of bodywork and the fundamentals of Chinese medicine theory at PCOM, I transferred to the Seattle Institute of Oriental Medicine (SIOM), and graduated in August of 2014. I worked as a massage practitioner offering only tuina until I obtained my East Asian Medicine Practitioner license that October. As I converted my massage practice into a full Chinese medicine practice, I was also hired to work at one of the longest standing community style acupuncture clinics in the Capital Hill neighborhood of Seattle, The Pin Cushion.
Work at the Pin Cushion taught me more about myself as an acupuncturist and a care provider than I ever learned in school. I would often see up to eighteen or twenty patients within a four-hour shift. In that setting, there was no room for doubt, no room for questioning oneself and one’s abilities.
Why did you decide to study in Asia?
After I graduated from SIOM, I began to study Mandarin. We had classes in medical Chinese at SIOM, but no time to learn to speak and understand the modern language. I wanted to learn the language for a few reasons: I was fascinated by it--a love of the characters, the challenge of learning tones, the way you could say so much with so little; it was the native language in which the medicine I had learned was recorded over thousands of years. I felt that by learning the language, I would gain some unique access to aspects of the culture out of which my medicine had grown, and that that would somehow give me a greater understanding of the medicine and ultimately make me into a better practitioner. Beyond all that, the acupuncture teacher whose style I had gravitated to most at SIOM, Dr. Jason Robertson, had informed me that his teacher Dr. Wang Ju Yi was at his prime and still taking students in Beijing, China. However, Dr Wang didn’t speak a lick of English, and if I wanted to study with him it would require a translator, which could have been done, but I wanted to understand Dr. Wang myself.
With this desire to learn the language, combined with my wife’s newfound wanderlust, we decided in the March of 2015 that that summer we would move to Taiwan, where she would work as a full-time teacher in literature and writing at an American school, and I would study the language, thanks to a generous scholarship awarded to me by the Taiwanese government.
I remember the feeling of arriving in Taiwan like it was yesterday: barreling down that highway in the dark and seeing more lights of more colors in more places on vehicles than I could ever recall seeing before. Arrays of blinding purples, blues, greens, yellows, and reds, streaking through the night on all sides. The larger than life characters burning into the night from the faces of dark empty office buildings. In the middle of all the wonder and amazement, there was a moment of sheer terror and doubt: the thought of, “What have I done?! I can barely speak this language! What was I thinking?!?!” The single biggest challenge of living in Taiwan was communication. Every time I thought I was getting a good hold on the language, I would have an encounter where I floundered to understand even the most basic words coming out of someone’s mouth. It was by far the most humbling learning experience of my life.
I knew, that at the end of my travels I would be returning to the United States, and although I had plans to go to mainland China to study with Dr. Wang, knowing that I couldn’t stay in Asia and continue to deepen my connection to the culture and the people saddened me, and left me with an occasional feeling of empty aimlessness.
That changed when I moved to Beijing for two months in late 2017, while my wife returned to the States to look for work as a teacher. I lived with a wonderful Chinese family while I furthered my studies in Chinese medicine, qigong, and taiji quan. While my original plan was to study with Dr. Wang himself, he unfortunately passed away not a month before I arrived, and so I studied with two doctors that had been his close apprentices. Half my time was spent observing these doctors in their clinics, with some time for questions and instruction, and half was spent studying qigong and taiji quan at the Earth Temple Park with Master Chen Xiang, a man who instructed two of my qigong and taiji teachers from Seattle. While the language was sometimes a limiting factor, I quickly found my sea legs in both settings and began to relish every moment, absorbing everything like a sponge. One of the greatest takeaways from my experiences in the clinics was observing Chinese medicine in a setting where everything felt natural: neither the patients nor the practitioners seemed to be engaged in something foreign or exotic. Having steeped in so many of those moments, I now carry that feeling of natural fluidity in my heart and feel great joy in every new moment when I can share it with someone else.
What other interests do you have?
Besides Chinese medicine and the language, I’ve had many interests and hobbies over the years. At the moment, one of the things I find time for is playing the 古琴 gǔqín, a classical seven-stringed Chinese instrument that I bought from an instrument maker in Taiwan after taking lessons at his shop for six months.
I also have a great love of tea. The spirit of tea has carried me to many great gatherings and fostered many great conversations and friendships. I like to appreciate tea in its purest form without any additions, and those that have undergone traditional processes. My passion for tea can sometimes feel obsessive, looking for just the right vessel and type of tea for the weather, the time of day, the guest at the door, or the state of my heart, but it gives me such pleasure to see the faces of friends and acquaintances as they experience tea in its purest form, when they have the realization, “oh… this is what tea can be!” I continued learning about tea in Taiwan, informally in the shops of tea sellers, and formally in Taipei where I learned 功夫茶 gōngfū chá in preparation for volunteering as a tea master at the Dharma Drum Mountain World Center for Buddhist Education during the 2017 lunar new year festival.
I am an adventurer and a seeker of new experiences. I love making new friends and trying new things. It is because of this wanderer in me that I have come to be who I am today and will become in the future. I look forward to meeting and helping whoever walks through my door for whatever reason. I look forward not only to helping you, but to learning from you, my future patients, my greatest teachers.