Travels in Tokyo – study

We got back this week from 2 1/2 weeks in Japan, part holiday part study work. While there I attended the Toyohari acupuncture society summer school, its a bi annual affair for both Japanese and foreign practitioners, this year was particularly special as it is the 60th anniversary of its founding. In the traditional chinese lunar solar colander 60 years marks the completion of a cycle, so it was a poignant moment to go back to the roots of the association and consider the cyclical nature of learning.

The association was founded by Kodo Fukushima and his close colleagues in 1959 after initially being encouraged to set up study groups for blind practitioners after the war by members of the acupuncture community. Fukushima was blind and there had always been a tradition of blind practitioners in Japan excelling in acupuncture and massage. The sense of touch being seen as paramount in this kind of work being developed to a degree that more than made up for the loss of visual experience. Even though today the association has probably almost as many sighted practitioners as visually impaired ones, the emphasis on touch as the medium for diagnosis and treatment is strong within Toyohari as well as being reflected in the Japanese acupuncture community. The primary modes of diagnosis in this system is palpation of the radial pulse, the abdomen and the meridians located in the limbs.

Another characteristic of study in this association is the need to study among peers. We cannot learn this on our own, we require the feedback of other practitioners to tell us when we have correctly located a point or when the technique is being applied correctly. This is not simply a matter of one more experience person enforcing their opinion but a consensus based feedback based on the real time changes of the person who is being practised on. To this end we try and meet up as often as we can, the Tokyo summer school might happen every two years but there are weekend seminars in Europe and informal study groups in each country.

This brings me to another aspect of this approach that can be described as a continual review of the basics. Perhaps its an aspect of Japanese culture that lends itself to people being willing to regularly turn up and practise what are more or less the same techniques month in month out seemingly without end. It runs counter to the prevailing trend of desiring continual novelty that exists in most aspects of life. We might not be chasing material stimulation but we still often look for a novelty of ideas or techniques to spice up our professional lives. In the UK practitioners graduate from basic colleges then drift around different weekend courses to create a mixed bag of theories and clinical applications. Of course we all like to keep an eye on what’s happening around us but the majority of our study time is really about refining our core skills.

Seeing some of these elderly acupuncturists in Tokyo it is inspiring for someone like me to consider the endless circular nature of study and practice, through repetition we are able to deepen our understanding and experience more novelty in the ordinary.

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