Dit Ta: The Chinese Art Of Healing Injuries
by Peter Lim Tian Tek


Chinese Martial Arts are very capable in causing injury to an opponent. In fact, causing injury is the major means employed by a majority of the Chinese Martial Arts to gain victory. Quite often as well, injury occurs during training in them. This is mainly due to the difficulty of the techniques, accidents during two man training instances and hardening anatomical weapons.

Out of this need to heal these injuries and to prevent them from occuring again by strengthening the body, traditional Chinese Medicine was incorporated in to the Chinese Martial Arts. This branch of Chinese Medicine was much dedicated to osteopathy and traumatology and employed the theories and herbs of Traditional Chinese Medicine in these areas.

Many boxers earned their keep buy selling injury healing medication and treating such injuries. The poorer ones selling their wares in the street and demonstrating their effectiveness by causing injury to themselves and then applying the medication to show how fast it healed the injury.

They also demonstrated feats of great strength and skill to convince the crowds of their credability. A common demonstration was to take an iron chain or bar and hit it against the arm or body to cause injury and then applying the medication to show the boxer's confidence in its healing powers. Out of this kinds of demonstrations came the common name of this branch of Chinese Medicince: 'Dit Ta' in Cantonese, 'Tieh Ta' in Mandarin and 'Iron Hitting' in English. Those who were physicians and did not ply their healing art in the streets by giving demonstrations adopted a similar sounding name for their art which has the meaning 'Fall and Hit' but they are actually one and the same healing art.

Dit Ta Medicine comprised of methods of healing injuries sustained and methods of using medication to prevent injuries during training in Chinese Martial Arts. One of the famous techniques that came out of this science is the Iron Palm. The science of Dit Ta Medicine is usually kept quite secret by Chinese Martial Arts exponents and they do not reveal their recipes and techniques easily or willingly. Dit Ta Medicine also has in its repetoire knowledge of poisons and how to use them to heal and kill.

In recent years, many such Dit Ta medications are now produced commercially and can be bought from the local Chinese Medicine Shop or from pharmacists. Examples of these commercially available medicines (which saves time since they can be bought off the shelf) and traditional recipes will be given in this article. As far as possible the western names of the herbs have been given. Dit Ta Medication consists of two major areas: Internal Medicine (Nei Ke) and External Medicine (Wai Ke).

These medications should not be used on pregnant women and women during menstruation. For these two cases, please consult a professional Chinese Physician or Dit Ta doctor for specific prescriptions if you wish to use Chinese methods of healing.

Internal Medicine

These medications are taken internally to strengthen the body, improve the circulation, break up blood clots, stop internal bleeding and heal the musculature and bones of injury. They usually come in the form of decoctions, powders, pills and wines.

This kind of medication is often taken as a complement to externally applied medication on the site of the injury. Some of the herbs used in these two kinds medications are often the same but the quantity used for external application is often more. Some medicated wines can often be used both internally and externally.

There are several types of internal Dit Ta medication available commercially. One of the most famous is the Yunnan Bai Yao or Yunnan White Medication. It is excellent for injuries and can be used both internally and externally. It is available both in powder and capsule form. Another is the Shaolin Tieh Da Huo Xue Dan or Shaolin Iron Hitting Blood Invigourating Pill, it is taken for injuries resulting from falls and contusions.

The use of internal medication often requires a clear understanding of the internal condition of the patient. Traditional formulas are often 'tailored' for the specific individual to suite their body make-up. So no traditional formulas are presented here because of this consideration.

External Medicine

This is where Dit Ta Medication is most well known. External Dit Ta Medication comes usually as powders, plasters, pastes, balms and liniments. The liniments being the most famous of the lot often being referred to as Dit Ta Jow (Iron Hitting Wine) or Dit Ta Yow (Iron Hitting Oil). External medication is often toxic and should not be consumed, they should be kept out of reach of children. Some of these medications also open up the pores and circulation and so for the duration of the effect of the medication, the wound should be kept away from water, cold air or wind or rheumatism might set in.

These are applied directly to the injury and acts through the skin (some medication is only suitable for injury that does not break the skin and cannot be used in open wound situations) to reach the damaged tissue and bone. They are also good for cases of rheumatism and arthritis. Liniments are rubbed onto the skin and often if the injury involves a joint or major muscle or is a sprain, the area is manipulated to straighten the tendons and bones and to increase the blood circulation to the area. Such manipulations are a science unto themselves and form an essential part of the science of Dit Ta Medicine. As they are many and varied, they will not be discussed here.

Powders are usually used for open wounds and if mixed with wine into a paste, as a compress or poultice. These are most often used=7F when there has been a severe injury with crushed muscles or broken bones. These pastes are often referred to as bone setting pastes (Jie Gu Gao) and because of their effectiveness, Dit Ta Physcians are also often referred to as Bone Setting Doctors.

These powders and pastes are usually not commercially available and are kept rather secret. A good powder that is used for bruises and fractures is the Shaolin Chi Li San. The ingrediants are crushed into powder form and then mixed with white rice wine into a paste which is used over the injured area (no broken skin) and wrapped with gauze and bandaged into place. It is left overnight and removed the next day and the medication is continued until the injury is healed.

Recipe For Chi Li San:

Defatted Croton Seed Powder             5g
Frankincense                            5g
Myrrh                                   5g
Resina Draconis                         5g
Natural Copper (crushed)                5g
Sodium Borate                           5g
Tuber of Pinellia                       5g
Radix Angelica Sinensis                10g
Plasters are used not only to heal the injury but to draw out the 'damp' from the wound and so prevent rheumatism. Many such medicated plasters are now available commercially and are used mainly for rheumatic pain. The older form of the plaster was just a round dab of thickened medicinal paste in the centre of a piece of paper or thick cloth which was administered to the desired area of skin. Its quite troublesome to make in small quantities and so commercial preparations are prefereable.

By far the most noted medication from the repetoire of Dit Ta Medication are the liniments. These have long been used to heal and prevent injuries due to martial arts training. So much so that they are often an indespensible companion to the martial artist. The recipes for these liniments are always a closely kept secret and often are very old. There are basically four types of liniment in Dit Ta Medicine. Wine based liniment, oil based liniment, vinegar based liniment and water based liniment.

Of the four types of liniment, each having its own advantages, wine or alcohol based liniment is the most preferred. This is because alcohol based liniments penetrate quickly to deliver the herbal medication and evaporate quickly leaving the herbs to do their work. It also achieves a higher concentration of the herbal essenses since alcohol is a good solvent. The herbs are soaked in the wine for a period of time until their essence becomes dissolved in the wine. In the old days, it was not uncommon for the medicated wine to be buried underground for months, burying keeps the mixture at quite a cool constant temperature.

Iron Hitting Wine Recipe

Camphor (crushed)                               10g
Raw Fruit of Cape Jasmine                       5g
Raw Root of Kusenoff Monkshood                  25g
Raw Aconite Root                                25g
Raw Tuber Of Jackinthepulpit                    25g
Raw Pinellia Tuber                              25g
Cattail Pollen                                  25g
Raw Chinese Quince                              200g
Raw Rhubarb                                     150g
Root-Bark of slenderstyle acanthopanax          100g
Rhizome of incised notopterygium                200g
Root of double teeth pubescent angelica         200g
Root of Red Peony                               150g
Place in a sealed jar with white wine (Gao Liang Wine or any other high alcohol content wine) for 7-15 days. It can be used for all injuries that don't break the skin.

Oil based liniments are prepared in much the same way with the herbs soaking in vegetable based oil like olive oil. At times the herbs are simmered with oil in a non-metal pan (metal pans may cause chemical changes in the herbal mix) to draw out the essences. Oil based liniment penetrate relatively slowly compared to wine liniments and they remain there for a longer period of time. Whilst useful for certain types of injuries such as crushed musclature without swelling, it is best not to use it in cases where there is swelling as it might aggrevate the swelling.

Water based liniments usually need to be warmed before use, this is to aid the penetration of the medication through the skin. It is the cheapest to produce this kind of liniment. Since it can made in large quantities at relatively low costs it is often used in training to harden anatomical weapons.

It has a disadvantage that water when retained in the hand and subject to cold air or wind can result in poor circulation and 'damp' leading to rheumatism. So in using such liniment in training, it is important to let the hand dry by itself thoroughly without cold air or wind. The liniment is usually used before and after such hardening training. A simple hand washing liniment for the Iron Palm is as follows:

Iron Palm Water Based Liniment (Yi Jin Jing Recipe)

Equal quantities of Chinese Wolf Berry and table salt in a large pot of water. Simmer the mixture for about 30 minutes. Warm the mixture to about 40 degrees Celcius before using and wash the hands, massaging them in the mixture, before and after training. Make sure you take the precautions state above.

Vinegar based liniments are good to reduce swelling and inflammation but prolonged use makes the bones brittle and so they should not be used for sustained training like Iron Palm. They are also prepared by soaking herbs in the base.

Commercial preparations are now available for such liniments, some like Zhen Gu Shui are excellent. There are many such liniments available off the shelf and many share common herbal elements. Some of these liniments have also been mixed with thinkener or a cream base and sold as balms. Tiger Balm is an example of such a balm. The advantages of a balm over a liquid is that it won't spill and can be carried around in a small container safely everywhere you go.


Commercial preparations make it convenient to use these age old recipes for healing injuries and for training purposes. Some may still prefer to prepare them in the traditional fashion as this may result in a higher concentration.

There are thousands of such traditional recipes and many of them are kept secret by the different masters and schools of Chinese Martial Arts. Some of these recipes are highly effective. Perhaps in the future, such recipes will be commercially available or recorded down and made available for the benefit of all. The science of Dit Ta Medication still holds treasures and fascination for many martial artists. It has done so for many centuries and may very well go on doing so for many centuries to come.

All comments are most welcome.

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