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Dit Da Jow Recipe

The Kung Fu Mediation blog has three groups of readers:  martial arts people, negotiation/dispute resolution people and those who do both.  This post is aimed at martial arts readers.

Woman throwing punch

I’ve received e-mails from all over the world in response to a post from a few months ago on How to Make and Use Dit Da Jow, which in turn was a follow-up to a post on Kung Fu Negotiation: The Iron Palm. People have been asking for more information on how to make Dit Da Jow, an herbal compound that is supposed to toughen the skin and reduce injury from repeated strikes.

My English handwriting is bad and Chinese handwriting is even worse. However, if you don’t mind squiggles, please click on the link for a PDF of a Dit Da Jow Recipe that you can print out and take to a Chinese herbalist. The herbs should cost less than $10. The prior post explains what to do once you’ve acquired the ingredients.

In addition to the disclaimers in the earlier post, please be aware that:

  • It takes at least 6 months of infusing in alcohol to get really powerful, but you can start using it after 3-4 months.
  • Dit Da Jow becomes a strong smelling potion. My wife complains when I use it.
  • This recipe creates a powerful vasoconstrictor. In other words, it causes the small blood vessels to contract to help control bruising. However, it also makes your hands cold. It’s really important to run your hands under hot water before applying, both to improve absorption and to keep your hands warm. The masters say that the warmth is important for qi development. I say it makes the training less uncomfortable.
  • Because of the smell, because the herbalists tell me some of the herbs are poisonous if ingested and because it feels better to limit the vasoconstriction, I always wash the stuff off in hot water after it sits for a few minutes.
  • The shelf life should be at least several years. I have received mixed messages on whether to strain the herbs out after a period of time.
  • The original source of this recipe was a commercial distributor that is now out of business. They told me that it is specifically designed for use on the hands, but I’ve used it on my arms and elbows too.

Finally, please, please remember that while Dit Da Jow helps, it’s not magic. It is easy to break your hand or wrist when you are trying to break too many boards (at higher levels, coconuts are a traditional target, too – but not for old guys like me). Train safely!

How to Make and Use Dit Da Jow

People have asked offline how to make and use the dit da jow referred to in the Iron Palm post.  In response to their requests, this post is pure martial arts, no negotiation.

There are many recipes for dit da jow.  After trying several commercial formulations, this one seemed to work best. Although I did some research about the individual herbs, I could not tell much about contraindications.

The way to use it is to apply it topically before training, then soak your hands in warm water after training, then re-apply. Some say to use the warm water and dit da jow treatment between sets for maximum effect. It is a powerful vasoconstrictor that seems to make bruises disappear and reputedly has mysterious powers like thickening the skin, strengthening bone and joint and preventing arthritis. Be sure to wash it off before touching food. You may need to wash it off sooner since it can make your hands cold, and because many people hate the smell. Incidentally, I have been told it works better on hands than elsewhere on the body, but I did use it to help bloody elbow strikes.

Chinese herbalist

Take about a fifth of cheap brandy or Chinese rice wine and in it soak the following herbs, available from your neighborhood Chinese herbalist – sorry I do not have the means to enter the Chinese characters, but if you contact me backchannel I can provide them:

Gu sui bu

Liu ji nu (also called liu yue xue)

Chuan xiong

Rou cong rong

Du zhong

Bu xiang

Mo yao

Xue jia

Fu ling

Luo shi tang

Xu duan

Hai feng teng

Wu jia pi

Yu jin (also called jiang huang)

Rou gui

Sheng jiang

Bai zhi

Niu xi

Wei ling xian (there are reports that prolonged use may be dangerous)

Dang gui

Xiang fuzi

Qin jiao

Cang zhu

Jiang huo

Ma gua

Use a glass or porcelain jug only, never metal or plastic. Soak for at least 6 months, swirling the bottle once a week.  It may take longer. For some reason, the standard advice is to stir in one direction only.

The herbs cost about $7, the brandy about $10 and the glass jug about $15. It has lasted a long time. I sometimes give out little bottles as Christmas presents.

Here are some disclaimers:

-The herbalist said that many of the herbs were poisonous if ingested, so one should use it externally only. Do not use on cuts or broken skin!

-There are many other formulations, most with fewer herbs.  This one worked better for me, but others may work better for you.

-I am not an herbalist or TCM expert. Please consider consulting with someone more knowledgeable before trying.

-This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or condition.

If you are local, let me know if you would like to try some out!

Kung Fu Tactics: Overcommitment

Fight on Beach at Sunset

As often happens, I made a mistake during sparring practice. As my opponent’s speed increased, I became anxious, not so much that my reaction times slowed but enough that my vision started narrowing down – a normal response worsened by my the fact that my visual attention is subpar to start with. It meant that I was aware of a left punch coming in, but lost track of the right. I intercepted and redirected the left with my right arm, then thinking all was clear I fired off from my left. You can guess where this led. I had overcommitted to a high left punch and couldn’t get my arm down in time to stop my unprotected left ribs from getting slammed.

It may be surprising for those of you who have never studied martial arts, but preparing to fight is not the main reason I train. Most of us are much more likely to do battle with the forces of age and time than to get in a bar fight (at least by my age!). There is also a Zenlike quality about losing yourself in the sensations of your body while detaching your ego from the process (not surprising, since Zen migrated to Japan from Shaolin, where it is called “Chan”). Still, it can be instructive for interacting in other contexts. “Overcommitment” isn’t just a dating mistake.

At the first level, overcommitment is about disclosure. “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,” is what happens after we find out as much as possible about what “yours” is. Only very rarely will we want to say early on in a negotiation, “this is as far as I will go,” or, “here is everything behind my decision, and if it makes sense you can tell me everything behind your decision.”

The next level amplifies on the first. Don’t give up too much in discussion, if you are unsure whether you may need to hold some of it in reserve to trade for something else. That is like sticking your arm out too far and leaving your flank exposed.

A third level is not to commit while you’re losing focus. If you are sparring, that may mean disengaging for a moment before you strike. If you are in negotiation, it may mean taking a moment for a bathroom break to clear your head with a cold splash of water on your face. If your team is with you, it may mean taking a break to talk amongst yourselves, so you can make sure your perspective is accurate. Otherwise, you run the risk of reaching out before you see that hidden punch coming in.

The key to all this, the way to know if you are overcommitting, is to know where your counterparty is. Keep your vision broad. It may be helpful preparation to theorize about where you want to take a conversation, but ultimately your success in the negotiation depends on your ability to perceive as much as possible the full scope of what your counterparty is thinking. You have to focus on his tactic of the moment enough to respond – that would be the left hook in the story – but you should always keep everyone’s ultimate goals in mind, as much as you can figure them out, in order to see the big picture and not step too far into an untenable position.

Keep your focus, and don’t overcommit.

Trust: The Power Behind The Punch

PowerbehindthepunchNegotiation has two goals: convincing the other party to accept your position and convincing them that you will follow through. Many pixels have been spilled over persuasive technique, interest-based negotiation and the like. In most business negotiation, though, trust is also an issue. How do you convey the sincerity and trustworthiness that is needed to make any kind of agreement stick?  People generally will not enter into an agreement with someone they do not trust to live up to their end of the bargain, especially if the agreement is in settlement of an argument. The difficult part is finding a way that works for both parties.

In martial arts terms, the negotiating technique is like the way you wave around your hands and feet. It is the outer form of persuasion, which is important but not sufficient. Knowing how to make the persuasion meaningful is the equivalent of packing power in your punch. You can do it through brute strength (the equivalent of, “You will agree to my terms or else”) or through internal power moves that vary with the technique being applied (“I know this point is important to you”).

On the one hand, it means you have to listen to the other party to try to tell how to get the message through. That can be difficult enough, like looking for an opening to attack. Then you have to find a way to come across as sincere, and not just in the way of a con man that offers sincerity without substance. Some people are comfortable with overt emotional appeals. When other people try that, it seems phony and reduces credibility. Some people can express clear, logical, persuasive arguments. When other people try that, it sounds like a middle school debate team. Some people consciously modulate their facial expression, body language and even breathing. Others seem uncomfortable in their skin when they try that, especially if they try it in a cross-cultural setting in which each party uses different cues. Sometimes, conveying trust means setting up backstops, like escrows or penalties, so your counterparty believes you will follow through.

In martial arts, the rubber meets the road at the point of physical contact between you and your counterpart. After contact, if there’s no power, there’s no effect. In negotiation, the force of the impact is in the tone as much as the message. Most of the time, you will do well if you can find a way to convey a cooperative, trustworthy tone that works for you and connects with your counterparty.

Fists of Fury?

Everyone knows how to make a fist, right? It’s instinctive. When you get mad, your hand balls up. Even so, there is some skill to ye olde fist that they teach in basic kung fu class. Clasp your fingers tightly to protect them; keep your thumb on the outside, wrapped tightly around your second knuckle; and angle your hand downward and outward so that there is a straight line between your first two knuckles and your elbow.

It turns out I can’t make a good fist. My fingers are attached to the knuckles in such a way that my index finger sticks out too far. Even after years of martial arts training, I am likely to hurt my hand if I give a good strong punch. I have to be careful. It is not a major problem, though. As my studies progressed, I learned that there are dozens if not hundreds of different ways to hold your hand to strike or grab, with names that sound like they come from bad action movies: hammer fist, tiger claw, dragon claw, crane’s beak, snake punch, unicorn strike.  “Fist like an arrow,” or the straight punch, is only one of them.  Some of them work for me, like the styles they come from.  Others do not.

The same is true of negotiation. Some people take the first instinctive course that comes to mind, acting directly and with instant escalation of the argument. It can be easier to lash out at provocation than to step back and ask yourself, “How can I get what I need from this interaction?” How many times have you seen someone try to push his position across by force regardless of his relative bargaining power rather than appeal to whatever reason, emotion or externality will convince his counterparty?  It is like using a regular fist against a wall, or using your strength to try to block a linebacker.  Maybe you can do pull it off, maybe it is a legitimate response to the circumstances, but it does not always make sense.  It can be a strategic error.

The flip side is that many people fall back when faced with aggression. That can be a legitimate response, too, but is it the right one at the right time?

In a real physical interaction, you would respond to provocation with an appropriate level of reaction.  If you are under threat of horrible injury, your goal may be instant savage incapacitation. Most of us are better off crossing the street to avoid the threat. If you have to engage, then you may be best off with a quick incapacitating blow rather than the limb shattering moves of most kung fu street fighting forms.  Otherwise, you may be the one who ends up in jail.  In a verbal argument, there are also levels of response.  Consider an argument with your spouse.  “Another way to look at it might be …” may be a better way to make your point than, “Stop acting like your mother!” Take a step back.  Pause.  Then decide:  maybe deflect, maybe engage in a surgical strike, maybe walk away.  Think about the range of what you can do.

Negotiating With a Dragon


The Chinese Dragon is not like the European fire-breather.

Negotiating with a dragon, whose element is water, can be a rare and trying experience.

The Chinese dragon is not the fire-breathing creature that St. George killed: it is the bringer of rain. The mythical dragon has aspects of all the other animals, and is comfortable everywhere: beneath the seas, slithering like a snake, striking quickly like the leopard, leaping powerfully like a tiger, flying through the air like a crane. Its body moves like a wave, rolling in then falling back, appearing then moving quickly to disappear and reappear. The dragon’s kung fu power comes from everywhere the other animal forms get power, but especially from a twisting motion of the spine. Imagine how the dragon in the photo would move.

The organ system associated with the dragon in traditional Chinese medicine is the kidneys. A major function of this system is energy storage. People who channel their inner dragon are rarely lethargic, unless they are ill. Once the energy is drained, it may take time to refill. While a discussion of energy is off point, keep the general idea in mind.

How do we identify a dragon? A dragon can appear as a willful person who is hard to pin down (in negative aspect) or a sagacious trickster with a strong presence (mixed) or someone who seems powerful, understated and capable (all positive; think Bruce Lee’s screen image). The dragon, like water, is always moving, so if you see someone who moves flexibly and circularly in all directions, that person may have dragon aspects. One thing you should be careful of is that many people have learned some basic taiji, which is from a different Shaolin-derived system but still associated with water. I don’t know much aikido, but I have known practicioners who have airlike or waterlike movements.

Once you’ve found your dragon, what do you do with him? As in movement, the dragon can do anything any of the other types can do, plus some. Take notes! The thing about water is that it always wants to flow downhill. Cut the roots, eliminate or redirect the flow, and you have defeated your dragon. That can be difficult, though, and you’re likely to get hit along the way.

In order to keep yourself safe, consider how your own personal type interacts with the dragon. In one example from the five element theory, water extinguishes fire. Dragons are tough for tigers to deal with, because they’re evasive like the snake or crane but aggressive and relentless like the tiger herself. Tigery force with no place to land gets frustrated.

If you think back to all the people you have known, personally and professionally, you can probably picture many of the major animal archetypes. It is said that true dragons are the rarest. However, most of us have “watery” aspects. Even if you see just a hint of dragon in someone with an otherwise wooden personality, flag the observation. It may help.

Negotiating With A Crane


Negotiating with a crane, whose element is air, requires taking care not to fall into a trap.

If you ever see cranes or herons fighting, they flap their wings a lot. They have thin, hollow bones, so much of the flapping is to deflect anything coming in from their opponent. They evade.

So, too, with crane kung fu forms.  In martial arts theory, there are two kinds of blocks, yin blocks and yang blocks.  A yang block is force on force, using your strength to counter a blow.  A yin block is not being there when the punch is ready to make contact. Crane forms certainly have yang elements, but do rely heavily on yin blocks. Evading and redirecting other people’s force is one of the things the crane is known for. A good crane’s effortless redirection makes one feel like one is punching at air.

When I was first learning a crane form, I was told to (i) take everything about the tiger form that makes it a tiger and (ii) take it out. The rote memorization of the tigery forms I know were harder to learn, but the crane has been much harder to master. Crane forms done well look light, airy and graceful. For many of us, I’m reminded of a Chinese saying about efforts undertaken in vain: “A tiger drawn badly looks like a dog, and a heron drawn badly looks like a duck!”

A crane’s evasiveness can come across as passive-aggressive or conflict avoidant. There are some people with whom it is hard to carry on a difficult conversation because they just won’t engage.That is a valid strategy. If you encounter it, the best thing to do is to decide whether the non-engagement is based on fear of conflict or on calculation. If it is the latter, the goal, conscious or unconscious, may be to draw you into a position in which you are subject to attack. You can respond in kind, but then the negotiation can consist of wing flapping without getting much done. Conversations between two crane types can be difficult even for the best mediators, since issues become hard to resolve if neither of the parties will pin themselves down to a concrete conversation about the issues. The aggressive tiger may find himself caught in a trap the crane set as she withdrew or become so frustrated that he makes mistakes. A better response might snakelike: be calculating back.

Crane tendencies are hard to spot in the way that people carry themselves. Many people who do crane forms well have thin bodies and long limbs, although some bulked-up middle-aged men are excellent at it – it’s a question of body control. Look for people who hold their spines stiffly, like the leopard, but move fluidly. Still, gracefulness is a rare commodity. Sometimes the essence of redirection is to redirect our attention.

The theorists among you may see shades of the Thomas-Kilmann conflict modes, but that’s for another discussion.

Paper Tigers


The Fearsome Tiger

Tiger kung fu forms can be fun to practice. They often have big, athletic movements with leaps and yells. The outer layer of applications is easy to see (although each form still has layer upon layer of hidden applications).

Not every movement is a useful application for everyone, though. Many tiger movements work best for big, athletic people, but not so much for smaller folks. After all, in the wild, the tiger is a large and powerful predator.

On the flip side, not every big, athletic person moves like a tiger. The physiology of the tiger has certain requirements, but a person must have the right neurology, too. Some people are more lumbering than aggressive, or don’t have the coordination to do well with some of the more circular movements.

In a negotiation, some people use their positions within their organizations to let loose their aggressions. We see this often in lawyers: in their personal lives they may be meek, but when they are arguing on behalf of someone else they can be aggressive to the point of being offensive. Like people who just go through the motions of being a tiger, it is not what they really are, and to many of their counterparties the inauthenticity is more annoying than effective. One tactic you can take with the fake tiger is to follow the classic Art of War:  “If you know your enemy has a bad temper, seek to irritate him!” Then he will make mistakes. Alternatively, you can also appeal to his vanity or insecurity.

If you negotiate from a point of inauthenticity, your counterparty can take advantage of your weakness. The fake tiger isn’t really passionate, just a loudmouth. The fake snake isn’t really cunning, just transparently sneaky. Learn your own natural negotiating style! As the Art of War also advises, “If you know your enemy and know yourself, you will face a hundred battles without danger.”

Next post, we will go back to the big-picture discussion with the Shaolin Crane, but first I wanted to give you a sense of how these academic-sounding themes can play out in the real world.

Negotiating With a Tiger


Negotiating with a tiger, whose element is fire, requires the fortitude to be on the receiving end of aggression. Or Teflon-coated skin.

In the wild, a tiger on the attack uses big swipes of its paws to bash its prey as it leaps, ripping chunks of flesh as it knocks down its dinner. Its teeth are not the only danger. Shaolin tiger forms are often leaping, crushing, ripping, screaming, multi-level displays of naked aggression. The famous kung fu tiger claw starts with a bone-crunching strike with the heel of the palm, followed by the claws digging into an opponent’s flesh. People who interact like the Shaolin tiger can be aggressive and energetic, using expansive gestures or language and having the potential to become remarkably vicious when aroused.

Tiger people can be blustery and need to throw their weight around. Sometimes, they are large people who grew up that way.  Sometimes, they are angry to the core, for reasons that we can’t even guess. If they are able to channel and control these tendencies, they can be effective. It can be difficult to avoid being engulfed by their passion for the subject matter of the negotiation or their apparent fury at the dispute. However, they may have a hard time seeing how aggression is not always the best first-line approach to interpersonal relations. Some used car salesmen are tigers.

The negotiator has to be careful to distinguish between tigers and leopards. Both come out swinging, but actual tigers are bigger animals. In the Hung Gar Tiger-Crane form, many tiger movements are larger and more circular, with heavy involvement of the pectorals, while  leopard movements tend to be shorter, straighter and choppier. Sometimes one can pick up subtleties in the way agitated counterparties gesticulate, but more often one has to gather clues from the subtle energy each brings to the room. Tigers give a sense of a larger, fiery presence filling the room. When they get going, they may burn out, like the leopard, but more likely they will appreciate an appeal to the emotions to calm them down (water extinguishes fire, in the elemental system). Techniques used by mediators to validate and normalize emotions are often particularly effective.

Be aware that tiger types, consistent with the elemental theme, may engage in scorched earth tactics. In my experience, they do have a tendency to see the world as a zero sum game if they feel cornered. Try to make use of their passions to turn the discussion positive.

I have much more to say about tigers. Check back again soon.

Negotiating With A Snake

King Cobra Snake

Negotiating with the snake, whose element is earth, takes careful concentration.

The snake has no hands.  It slithers on its stomach.  The snake rears up, then waits patiently to strike and quickly coils back.  In some kung fu systems, it may even squeeze its prey.  The organ systems associated with the earth element are the stomach and spleen, and practitioners of snake forms must have strong and strangely flexible abdomens.  They withdraw from a punch by coiling in their stomachs and explode outward in a precise attack driven by those coiled muscles.  As the abdomen is where their power lies, so it is where tension is stored.

Snakes in the wild elicit primal fear. In Western society, the snake has negative connotations associated with the eviction from the Garden of Eden.  In the Bible, Jacob develops sciatica after a victorious wrestling match with archetypal overtones, and to this day kosher-keepers don’t eat cuts of meat containing the gid nahash, or snake nerve.  In India, the kundalini energy climbing the spine is pictured as a snake.   In China, the snake is treated with such respect that its archetype gets used not only in martial arts but also in astrology.

Snake people are grounded and patient.  Patience can come across as sneakiness or, if they let you into their game, quiet planning.   In the real world, these skills can pay off, so one should not be surprised to find ambitious snake people in leadership positions.   In the negative aspect of the archetype, you may not know quite where you stand with them.

How can you identify them walking into your office?  They often seem impassive, like a Japanese sarariman standing behind his boss.  They may have economy of movement, but since most people tense up under stress that’s hard to pick out.  The hand on the knotted stomach may be a sign, but it’s common enough not to be dispositive.  Rarely, I have seen people move unconsciously with subtle juts and retreats of the stomach, but that’s really hard to pick out since people in negotiations are generally clothed!  My kung fu teachers have told me that it’s even hard for them as practiced observers to see if students are moving properly, since “the snake is the most internal of the animal forms.”  Usually we have to rely on other clues.

One deals with a snake by recognizing that, as someone who prefers being grounded, details matter.  He will happily lose himself in them and avoid abstracting to the larger situation.  He may even get so distracted by them he cannot reach a conclusion without help.  You must start with details but work on getting him to see the big picture.  Opening with talk of big principles will bore him; he will not hear them, like a colorblind person being asked to pick out the big red block.

There comes a moment in many negotiations and mediations where one side suddenly sees the other’s perspective.  There may not be agreement on whether it’s valid, but that transformation brings down a certain barrier of “otherness” and lets the disputants either begin to build a common story or let go of their own story and the need to prove it so they can focus on the bottom line.  It’s tough to get there with a true snake, but it can be done if you chip away slowly.