When I was in grad school for Chinese Medicine, I’d often see students hanging around campus engaged in related ancient Chinese arts, such as tai chi, qi gong, calligraphy, studying Chinese astrology or feng shui. It was also common to see a group of students hitting themselves and each other.
They were training in the toughening exercises of martial arts, which I had never witnessed before. This entailed repeatedly knocking the edges of their shins or forearms against each other, or whacking their bodies with a thick bundle of metal wires (called an “iron bundle” or tetsutaba). As I tentatively tried hitting myself with this implement, one of them told me, “You really want to feel your bones rattle when you do it.” Needless to say, they had lots of bruises.
They finished every session by taking out a jug of some pungent brown liquid and rubbing it all over the impacted parts of their bodies. As an herbalist, this was the most interesting part for me. Each guy actually had his own jug of brown stuff, and they often argued about whose was the best.
The brown stuff was called dit da jow (AKA die da jiu) which means something like “hit fall wine” and it’s sometimes just called a hit formula or training formula by martial artists. The purpose of the stuff is to help one recover faster after taking a bunch of kicks and punches. It’s made from a variety of herbs, resins, and minerals that have been soaked in alcohol for about a month. Famous teachers and martial arts schools often have their own recipes, many of which have been in continuous use for centuries and are often held in great secrecy.
Over years of begging and pleading with my fighter friends and hunting down obscure texts, I managed to procure about a dozen different recipes, then proceeded to spend more years studying them. I had hundreds of jars of my own “brown liquids,” made out of countless combinations and permutations of these formulas. Since most of my patients weren’t fighters I expanded the application to include the various ways we’re battered by modern life – athletics, poor posture, sitting for way too long at a desk, carrying kids around, using backpacks, sleeping on a crappy bed, standing on hard floors, wearing heels, etc.
By tracking people’s responses, I gradually moved toward what would eventually be our Muscle Melt liniment. It features a gigantic number of ingredients, but every one is in there for a reason. My high-performance athlete patients regularly tell me that it makes it possible for them to do a super intense workout and be back in action the next day with minimal downtime. If you’re feeling beat up by life, give it a try and tell me what you think.
Dr. Peter Borten