Sure, the pulse expert is methodical. You must have a clear, quiet mind. The patient must be in a peaceful state. You must start with less pressure before pressing to the deepest level.
Yes, there are a dozen common pulses that may appear with or without force, that may be combined with other pulses for more complex diagnoses, that all indicate certain herbal formulas that are familiar to us from all of our formula classes.
But come on, people. Let’s talk about the four pulses he included at the end of lecture. The “flying fish” pulse? The “shrimp crawling” pulse? Had he just eaten seafood that day? Came back from a vacay in Hainan? And what about the “leaky roof” pulse? Was there a passing storm that afternoon and Hey, Wang, come look at this! You feel that? It’s a leaky roof, right?
Oh sure, he gave us some diagnoses for each. You know, qi and blood exhaustion, Spleen and Heart exhaustion, Kidney essence deficiency, etc. The overall story was that this doctor worked in a serious ward, probably some kind of oncology / terminal illness department. He saw patients in the most critical of conditions. He read their charts. He asked them diagnostic questions. He felt their pulses.
And then what? Then we get these funky names to death-knocking-on-the-door conditions that oh, you’ll never see, so don’t worry about how they actually feel or what treatment would be appropriate.
I mean, honestly, this is just the blackest of Chinese black humor. They get a patient with yin yang separation and there’s nothing they can do, so they go through the routine and feel the pulse and, hey, it’s like a shrimp! Feel that? No, a fish! A flying fish! Get a load of this – I’ll have to tell the foreigners when they visit the next week. They’ll get a kick out of that! It’s like a fish jumping out of the water!
Meanwhile, some dude is dying. Yikes.
On a lighter note: the other character I met yesterday was another Mr Fu. This Fu had studied herbal medicine at the college but was now “a free man” who didn’t practice medicine. No, instead he was the TCM equivalent to a pharmaceutical rep. He goes from hospital to hospital selling herbal medication in bulk.
We met at the ping pong tables and – like so many of these pro players – he was kind and patient enough to give me a full lesson in the sport. Eventually we got to talking about yin and yang – all in the context of ping pong of course. A slam is yang. A soft tap is yin. An upward spin is yang. A downward swipe is yin.
Then the Shang Han Lun jokes started to come out. Oh Taiyang! he’d say after a whipping his paddle up in the air. Yangming! I’d say, adding to the geekery and slamming the ball.
Afterward, we got to talking about herbs and medicine and my most recent questions regarding the Yi Jing – also known as The Book of Changes.
(Briefly, the Yi Jing is the foundational, fundamental text of Chinese civilization, philosophy, language and just about everything else. Some think of it as a fortune teller’s tool but it’s much more than that. From what I know – and I’m just starting to enter the rabbit hole – it’s all about plurality and being able to hold many different ideas together at the same time. There is also a lot of natural philosophy and basic concepts about the nature of change.)
Anyway, I asked this Mr Fu about the Yi Jing and if he knew anything about it.
“It’s easy,” he told me.
“This stuff is hard!” I told him.
“You want to know about the Yi Jing? Look at stocks.” (He said stocks in English).
“What’s stocks?” I asked him – thinking, this guy has to have the wrong word or I’m just not hearing him right.
But no, he pulls out his phone and shows me his stock market app. Line’s going up. Line’s going down. Numbers in red and green.
“You’re kidding,” I told him.
“It’s all Yi Jing,” he told me and made little wavy motions with his pointer finger.
This guy is using the principles from the Yi Jing to play the stock market! What goes up must come down. What goes down must come up. He tells me that it’s all like ping pong. Your opponent slams the ball and you return softly. Your opponent hits it to the left and you send it to the right. Return top spin with bottom spin. Yin and yang.
I told him that he should write a book and he said no way. If he wrote a book, everyone would know his secret and then his whole system would be off.
This is the second or third time I’ve heard ping pong philosophy. Before, another pro was teaching me about proper posture and form, and it was the same things I heard from a tai ji quan course. Stay loose. Don’t overextend. Don’t be too far back. Let the power from your legs. Move from your hips. Don’t be too tight. Breathe naturally.
For some, I can see this as being some crazy Chinese babble or some old stuff that Mao tried to wipe away. But it’s all here – especially at the TCM school. And what is it but an entire world view, a frame work that can hold everything – ping pong, stocks, medicine, art, cooking, you name it.
I think I’ll start digging into this whole Yi Jing thing and see where it all takes me. Don’t worry, I’ll keep the readers along for the ride.