When I finished my Western medical training with an M.D. and a Ph.D. degree in physiology in 1972 (New York University), I had never heard of acupuncture - certainly not from any of my professors. I moved to San Francisco for my year of medical internship, which can be likened to a "trial by fire", in that it so immersed me in the daily routine of hospital based medicine that I continued to have no exposure to any form of alternative or complementary medical practice, despite the more favorable environment of the Bay Area. That all changed when I decided to take a long overdue vacation instead of applying for a residency program in one of the medical specialties. I knew a career in conventional medical practice was not my life's calling, but I needed to create some space in order to discover the path I have followed ever since.
The turning point in my professional career came when I was offered a job as a staff physician in an acupuncture clinic in Los Angeles in 1973. Although I still knew nothing about acupuncture at the time, nor did any of my acquaintances, I thought it would be an interesting educational experience, as it came with on the job training from a group of Korean practitioners. The Koreans served as teachers, since by law they were not allowed to treat patients themselves. (This was before Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation in California establishing the profession of acupuncture as a separate and independent healing art from Western medicine.) My initial crash course in acupuncture left me thirsty for more information and training, since from the very first day of working in the clinic, I saw people improving from conditions that, although common, had no effective treatments in the Western medical approach. I began to read the available literature on acupuncture in English, which at that time was rather limited. My thirst for knowledge therefore pushed me in two directions: on the one hand, to find teachers and training courses that could expand my understanding of acupuncture, and on the other hand, to educate myself in the wider field of alternative medicine which had been entirely missing from my prior medical studies. In effect, I created a "residency" in alternative and complementary therapies, with courses that exposed me to such practices as homeopathy, herbal medicine (both Eastern and Western approaches), manipulative medicine and humanistic medicine, to cite a few examples. As for acupuncture itself, I began a search for the best teachers of what at that time was a little known healing art.
One of my Korean teachers, Chae Woo Lew, agreed to accept me as an informal apprentice, and I spent over ten years working and studying with him in a shared clinical practice, supplemented by classroom didactic sessions. Through him I was fortunate to have met many of the leading practitioners of Korean acupuncture, who later became important teachers for me in their own right. These included Tae Woo Yoo, the originator of Korean Hand Acupuncture, who asked me to edit the English translation of his textbook, and Kuon Dowon, the originator of Korean Constitutional Acupuncture, a less well known style of practice, but quite extraordinary, as Kuon has an almost legendary reputation in Korea. He has yet to publish a textbook himself, but currently heads a cancer research institute that has made remarkable discoveries concerning the potential of acupuncture to treat cancer, which have been published in Western medical journals in Korea. I consider myself fortunate indeed to be one of just a few English speaking students that Kuon has invited to study with him in his clinic in Seoul. Although I learned an immense amount from these Korean teachers, and what they taught me I still use in my daily clinical practice, I was still frustrated by the limitations of language in studying with these Korean mentors. Thus, in 1974 I traveled to England to begin over ten years of periodic study with the late Professor J. R. Worsley, founder of the College of Traditional Acupuncture. Worsley's style, commonly referred to as "Five Element Acupuncture" is noted for its strong emphasis on the spiritual and psychoemotional aspects of acupuncture, and I recognized that this was a big part of what had been missing from my prior training. I also realized that while there was a large degree of similarity in the various Oriental acupuncture traditions, I was surely missing something by not having had access to Chinese or Japanese teachers, so I arranged for study trips to Kunming in Yunnan Province and Chengdu in Sichuan Province, with additional trips to Korea and Japan.
Most acupuncturists are trained in a single style of practice, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM as it is commonly called. That has never appealed to me, as I have seen the amazing potential in many different acupuncture styles, and so have continued my "eclectic" studies with teachers from around the world. These have included Paul Nogier, the originator of auriculotherapy, Maurice Mussat, one of the leaders of the French school of medical acupuncture, who taught in the U.S. under the auspices of my friend and colleague Joseph Helms (founder of the UCLA post-graduate acupuncture training course for physicians), Sorimachi Taiichi,, founder of the Japanese style known as "structural acupuncture, Jeffrey Yuen, a brilliant inheritor of a familial Daoist acupuncture tradition, Truong Thin, a Master practitioner from Vietnam, Hong Liu, a medical Qi Gong Master from China, and Esther Su, a teacher of the Tong family style of acupuncture from Taiwan. Since 2003 I have also been studying Ayurvedic (traditional Indian) medicine with Mary Jo Cravatta, a gifted pulse diagnostician.
In addition to my studies, my professional life has included four other components. I have maintained a full time acupuncture practice since 1974 in San Francisco and Palo Alto, California, which are ongoing. I have also served both the profession and the government in various professional and administrative capacities, including an appointment by the Governor to the California Acupuncture Examining Committee, where I helped design standards for both licensure and academic institutions that train acupuncturists. On the national level, I was a member of the Blueprint Committee that developed the standards for certifying acupuncturists in the US via the NCCAOM (National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine). Although I have not accepted a permanent faculty position at any educational institution, I have been invited to teach at many, including the New England School of Acupuncture, the Traditional Acupuncture Institute, the American College of TCM, the San Francisco College of Acupuncture, and overseas in England, New Zealand and Argentina. A highlight of my teaching career was the collaboration I developed with the late Claude Larre, principal architect of the Ricci Dictionary of the Chinese Language, and a brilliant interpreter of the classical Chinese medical texts. Closest to my heart, however, has been my "literary" career. I have long been fascinated by the differences in the various acupuncture traditions, and the obscurity of their lineage histories. In 1996 I published "In the Footsteps of the Yellow Emperor; Tracing the History of Traditional Acupuncture" which is the only book I know that traces the migration of acupuncture from its birthplace in the Orient to its widespread dissemination in the West, and elucidates the origins of the Worsley tradition. The first edition is now a collector's item, but an updated paperback edition has been back in print since 2008. Other publications have included "Closing the Circle; Lectures on the Unity of Traditional Oriental Medicine" in collaboration with Stuart Kutchins (I believe it to be the earliest attempt to find common ground between proponents of the Five Element (Worsley) and Eight Principle (TCM) groups of practitioners), and editor of both "Koryo Hand Acupuncture" by Tae Woo Yoo, and "The Essential Book of Traditional Chinese Medicine" by Liu Yan-chi. My most recent book, "The Compleat Acupuncturist", will be available starting in February 2014. It is the first text to examine traditional pulse diagnosis as the common root of Chinese, Korean, Indian and other versions of Oriental medicine, and focuses on the use of Yin/Yang, Five Element and Tri Dosha theory as the "scientific" guides to effective acupuncture practice, integrating theory with over 30 case histories.