Snakes in Hit Medicine
Written by: Thomas Richard Joiner
In recent months we have seen a noticeable increase in customer interest in hand conditioning/iron palm formulas that contain snakes as their main ingredient. This sudden wave of interest prompted me to share what I know about the subject with this brief commentary, and in the coming months by showcasing some of the most highly acclaimed hand conditioning/iron palm prescriptions that contain different species of serpents.
Some of these “imperial hand conditioning jows” that we will discuss may be familiar to some of you, while others in spite of their documented history may not. Although the therapeutic goals of these ancient prescriptions are similar, each one has subtle but significant differences. The common feature that they do share is the use of the snake or viper as the main ingredient.
The use of the sloughed snake skin (She Tui) for treating various skin conditions and infections, according to Chinese historians, was first recorded in the medical classic Ben Cao Jing written by Chinese Herbology’s founder the Emperor Shen Nong approximately 3,000 years ago. Even though that might be true, based on documented references to serpents and their use in mythology and mysticism, both ceremonially as well as for utilitarian purposes, it’s very likely that their use as a medicinal substance dates back even further.
In subsequent years, snake skin became an important ingredient in Chinese Herbology and its medicinal value had been well established. Further experimentation and research led to the discovery that in addition to the snake’s skin, other parts of the viper such as the gallbladder, bile and meat, could also be used to produce some of Chinese medicine’s most powerful medicinal substances.
Today (in modern times) although its use is far more limited in Western medicine (the venom, bile, etc. used in) formulas that contain serpents or their related parts are routinely used in traditional Chinese medicine for treating skin conditions, as well as for treating numbness, blood clots, spasms, pain and arthritis. These symptoms not coincidentally, are identical to those that far too often are an unfortunate result of faulty hand conditioning and iron palm training.
It’s the unique ability of snake-based dit da jows to heal—as well as prevent these injuries—that is the reason that dit da jows containing serpents are held in such high esteem for advanced hand conditioning in martial arts training.
With few exceptions the prescriptions containing snakes that are used for hand conditioning in most internal and external styles of Chinese Kung Fu are a derivative of formulas handed down from traditional Chinese medicine. It’s the modifications that have been made to the original formula to satisfy the needs of a particular style based on the systems training methods that makes one formula different from another.
Some common varieties of serpents used in what many claim are the most potent iron palm prescriptions are: rat snake, pit viper, rattlesnake and the white flower snake known in Chinese as Bai Hua She.
Of the above, due to the large number of white flower snakes found in China, it’s the species most frequently used. An important point that bears mentioning, is when using the whole snake, due to its mild toxicity, removal of the head is usually recommended! Normally, the serpent is gutted and beheaded before use, although the use of live snakes is not unheard of. Potency is determined by the size and/or number of serpents used in the prescription’s preparation.
I’ve found that the best results as far as experiencing the power of these formulas can be realized when the raw materials are aged in spirits (alcohol) for the recommended length of time or longer, which is well known to increase the medicine’s efficacy. Despite some unresolved issues as far as the legal status of importing snakes into the U.S. from China, serpents continue to be sold under the counter to “trusted patrons” in Chinatown herb shops mainly on the east and west coasts. Based on their designation as a “precious ingredient” in Chinese Herbology, dit da jows that contain snakes are generally speaking slightly more expensive than hand conditioning prescriptions made entirely from botanical ingredients.
Tougher FDA regulations on the importation of all zoological ingredients and uncertainty as far as future availability are factors that more than likely will result in further price increases. It is not uncommon among Chinese herbalists to substitute an ingredient (in a formula) with one that has similar or identical functions when an ingredient is in short supply because of crop failure, the ingredient’s cost is prohibitive, or it is an endangered species. Unfortunately, Chinese Herbology has been unable to find a viable substitute for the incomparable qualities of the legendary imperial serpentine prescriptions. Dit da jows that are prepared with substitute ingredients are in no way representative of their power.
Over the years as a collector of jows I have been fortunate to sample many fine examples of serpentine jows, such as: Feeman Ong’s Big Hand Jow, Gene Chicoine’s Iron Palm Jow, Grandmaster Wei Hsiao’s 8-Step Praying Mantis Jow, Ho Chun’s Advanced Hand Conditioning Jow, Ku Yu Cheong also known as Ku’s Iron Palm Jow, and Tit Jeung Hung Gar Jow to name a few. Some of these jows will be featured in the coming months.
Snakes have been the subject of myths and legends throughout the history of mankind, and are not only known for their medicinal qualities, but also well known for their extensive use in esoteric occult procedures. This leads some to believe that beyond their physical healing capabilities, hand conditioning and iron palm jows that contain serpents—also possess supernatural power or energy of an esoteric nature—that makes them inherently more powerful, which further enhances their reputation as some of the most potent iron palm hand conditioning liniments.
If you’d like more information on anything discussed here, please get in touch with me.
Thomas Richard Joiner, Kyoshi
Chinese Goju Martial Arts
Copyright © 2016 by Thomas Richard Joiner
Thomas Richard Joiner, author of the Warrior as Healer, Blending Botany and Budo, and Chinese Herbal Medicine Made Easy, Kung Fu Medicine, Martial Esoterica, and Slaying the Dragon is a Kyoshi sixth-degree black belt in Chinese Goju Martial Arts and has received certification in Tien Tao Chi Kung, as well as being a graduate of the Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine New York City. He has conducted advanced study in traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture at the Academy of Chinese Culture and Health Sciences in Oakland, CA, trained in Chinese Herbology under Dr. Lai Fu Cai as well as studying at the Institute of Chinese Herbology in Berkeley, CA. Thomas’s martial arts education includes training in Wing Chun Gung Fu with Sifu Ralph Rodriquez, Sifu Lee Moy Shan and the late Grandmaster Moy Yat. In addition he has studied Taoist Esoteric Yoga Micro-cosmic orbit meditation, Iron shirt Chi Kung and Seminal Ovarian Kung Fu with Mantak Chia, as well as training in Chinese Goju Martial Arts under Grandmaster/Shidoshi Ron Van Clief.
Sensei Joiner’s books provide extensive insights into the centuries-old practice of incorporating herbs into your martial arts training as well as making available prescriptions for many of the legendary and most highly regarded formulas used in Asian Martial Arts for treating injuries as well as enhancing one’s training.
Sensei Joiner has been a practicing Chinese Herbalist for nearly two decades, and is the founder of an online mail order company Treasures From the Sea of Chi which specializes in traditional Chinese herbal formulas used in martial arts training. If you would like more information on herbal practices in the martial arts, Sensei Joiner can be reached at his company email: firstname.lastname@example.org.