Charles Chu, master calligrapher, painter and professor, explained to the crowd at the Yale School of Art the ‘secret’ of how to make one’s, art, work and life compelling: “You learn the Law and then you break it, according to your own taste and personality. Do it the way you do it. Freedom—this is the key word. Remember, you learn, you practice, then after you practice—create your own. That is the key.”
That is what we do as acupuncturists. We study for years the ancient theories and techniques to pass the National Boards to become certified. We go on to work in private practice, in clinics and hospitals. A colleague of mine who has been practicing for seven years announced she has just treated her 1000th patient! What happens during this time is exactly what Chu is describing: Acupuncturists learn many different techniques: the Japanese and Chinese styles, along with the American forms that have evolved in the last 30 years, such as Acupuncture Physical Medicine and Sports Medicine Acupuncture. Each acupuncturist uses them together or separately, in different ways on different people, until her own style evolves out of our unique experience. At some point, we have the freedom to move into our own.
In addition many Chinese Medical practitioners express them selves artistically in order to stay nimble both intellectually and intuitively. In ancient times it was expected that doctors would practice at least one art form such as calligraphy, write poetry, or perhaps play a musical instrument. A doctor would ALWAYS know and practice a martial art—either tai chi, or kung fu, or qigong.
I met Chu before I studied Chinese medicine. We collaborated on an art show in which he wrote calligraphy to go along with my photographic images. I am grateful for my friendship with him. To be gifted as an artist is one thing, but to be generous with that gift and with life is profound. I remember arriving at his home with my images. Before we began our work he insisted on cooking me scallion pancakes. While I ate with him and his wife, he laughed, inquired, and shared. I later learned he did this with almost everyone who came to his home. Eventually, after finishing the fine food and tea, we climbed the stairs to his work room (where his grandchildren slept when they visited). I watched as he brushed out small, precise and perfectly formed characters with ease while still carrying on a conversation.
I was lucky to have Charles Chu (1918-2008) as a friend and colleague. His spirit lives on in his art and the people he touched. It gives us the courage to “break the law…and make it into our own!” THE TAO OF CHARLES CHU, a collection of 24 original paintings from the private collection of his family, is showing from February 6 until March 1 in honor of the Chinese New Year 2014.