By: Yoshiaki Omura
Its Historical and Clinical Background
by Yoshiaki Omura, ScD, MD
(Japan Publications, Inc., 1982, 288 pages)
Review by Christopher Dow
Any serious student of the internal martial arts—maybe any martial art—needs a good reference book on the meridian system. I realized this early on in my Tai Chi practice, and just out at that time was Acupuncture Medicine by Yoshiaki Omura. This large-format hardback is, essentially, a textbook on the meridian system, and the information is relatively technical, but it is a useful reference for the layman, as well.
The book opens with a historical background of acupuncture and Chinese medicine. This includes a fairly detailed account of the foundational texts of traditional Chinese medicine, the oldest of which is purported to have been written by China’s Yellow Emperor, Huang Ti, as long ago as four thousand years. Next, the author reviews several historical concepts of Oriental medicine from a linguistic standpoint, such as “medicine,” “acupuncture,” “moxibustion,” “disease,” and “chi.” This material would be most relevant to those with an interest in the Chinese language and the development of these concepts.
Chapter two covers the anatomical and pathophysiological concepts of Oriental medicine. The discussion begins with a description of the six “solid/yang” organs and the six “hollow/yin” organs, which make up the basis for the twelve meridians of the Macrocosmic Orbit. Each one is described and linked with corresponding organs as defined by Western medicine. A number of historical illustrations accompany the descriptions to give a sense of how an understanding of the meridian system developed over time.
This leads into a discussion of the meridian system itself, and the acupuncture points through which the system can be affected and the chi flow manipulated. An extensive chart details how acupuncture points have been understood over time, giving their names in Chinese, Japanese, and English and their locations on particular meridians. Another chart shows the sequence of chi movement from one meridian to another during the course of the day, including times when it most powerfully present in a given meridian/organ. Another extensive chart summarizes the pathways of the twelve main meridians and the diseases of the associated organs that can be treated.
Following that are twelve subchapters that discuss each of the twelve meridians in great detail, showing the pathways of each meridian, the organs affected by that meridian, and all the acupuncture points along the meridian. Included is a description of the illnesses or diseases that can be treated by stimulating given points. Each meridian is illustrated by two drawings: one old, historical version and one modern rendering.
The Microcosmic Orbit—the circuit composed of the Conception Vessel and the Governing Vessel—is similarly described before the author moves on to detail eight extra meridians and their key acupuncture points. Diseases of these ancillary meridians appear in a three-page list.
Chapter three deals with the classical pathophysiological concepts of Oriental medicine. It begins with the method that classical Oriental medicine classifies disease, which is divided into three factors: external factors, internal factors, and those factors that cannot be defined as either external or internal. The six external factors, sometimes referred to as “evil chi,” are: wind, cold, heat, moisture, dryness, and fire. The five internal factors are considered to be excessive expressions of five emotions, and each is linked to a particular organ, to a particular element from the Chinese theory of five elements, and to a particular color. They are:
Anger/liver/green or dark blue/wood
Following this is a discussion of clinical diagnosis of “fullness” and “emptiness” from the patient’s symptoms, and a detailed section on the five-element theory and its application in classical Oriental medicine.
Diagnostic methods in Oriental medicine are the subject of chapter four, which occupies more than one hundred pages. The individual topics include diagnosis by visual inspection of the eyes and skin, examination of the tongue, and analysis of the hands and feet, including fingers/toes, nails, palm/sole, and joints. Readers with a background in Reflexology will find much of interest here. Diagnosis by hearing comes next, and this is followed by a section on the importance of questioning the patient and assessing the patient’s emotional and mental states. A six-page chart lays out many of the more important symptoms that can be determined by questioning the patient.
Analyzing the pulse is described next, and the text provides extensive information on an incredible great number of pulse points and how the physician can determine a patient’s condition through them and their internal relationships. This is followed by methods to diagnose by palpitation and abdominal examination. Diagnosis by examination of the ear and its “topography” winds up the chapter, and the book’s conclusion comes next.
Acupuncture Medicine isn’t the sort of book you just read. It’s best thought of as a text for intensive study or as a reference work. Much of the material is probably too detailed for the layman, but much of it is useful to anyone interested in the meridian system. You won’t learn how to become a traditional Chinese physician from this book, but it’s easy to see that practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine might use this book or one similar to it as part of their training. Over the years, I have gone back to it time and again as I’ve striven to understand, from a practical standpoint, the meridian system and its operation, and it has served me well.