One of the most unique features of Master Tung’s Acupuncture is the use of synergistic needling, which he called Dao Ma. What Master Tung found through his clinical experience is that using one or even two needles to treat most conditions is not enough. This is especially true in cases of chronic disease, since he thought that long-standing conditions cause bi zheng (痺症), and that this type of obstruction requires a stronger stimulus to unblock it. As a result, he started using three needles for a synergistic effect, needled either continuously, transversely, or triangularly, and the Dao Ma needling method was created. Through extensive research and clinical experience, he organized about 60% of the approximately 700 points in the Tung lineage system of acupuncture into Dao Ma groups, which is in itself a testament to the clinical importance of this approach.
Aside from clearing the bi zheng caused by chronic disease, there are six distinguishing reasons why Master Tung used Dao Ma needling:
Master Tung discovered that needling points in groups of three opens all three burners and can thus affect all of the zang fu organs at the same time. In contrast, other methods of acupuncture use only one or two needles to treat one organ at a time. By using three needles at a time to open the San Jiao, the regulatory effect of acupuncture is maximized.
Due to the interconnected relationship between all of the zang and fu organs, it is sometimes difficult to attribute a pathological pattern to any one organ. Yet Dao Ma needling, because of its influence on the San Jiao, is able to regulate all major physiological systems of the body at the same time. These include the circulatory, respiratory, digestive, urogenital, and excretory systems. As a result of this global regulation, the effect of this kind of acupuncture treatment is greater than if single needles are used.
Through his clinical experience, Master Tung realized that if three needles are used, it is easier to achieve a strong sensation of de qi. He considered this an essential part of effective acupuncture treatment, and a harbinger of quick therapeutic results.
In the Tung lineage style of acupuncture, instead of organizing points into groups by channels, they are organized by regions of the body (see Master Tung’s Map of Locations 1-10). Each of these regions can be used separately as a microsystem, in the same way that auricular acupuncture maps the whole body onto the ear. All of these 10 regions have Dao Ma groups, which effectively use the Tung lineage points and their correspondences to different organs and body areas for a strong therapeutic effect.
Throughout the history of Chinese medicine, one of the more confusing aspects of acupuncture is the topic of needling technique. While there are many different opinions as to how to tonify or drain a point, or whether flicking, pulling, rotating, or pecking a needle is best, Master Tung has simplified this conversation. He emphasized the twisting of needles to achieve and strengthen the needle sensation, also known as de qi. Beyond this, he thought that it was too difficult to assess whether specific techniques truly had a significant clinical impact.
Even though the therapeutic effect of the needles used in Master Tung’s style of needling is strong, this is achieved with very low risk. All of the points that are needled are located on the head and extremities. Since the back, chest, and abdomen are not needled, systemic effects can be achieved without risk of injury to the internal organs.
As for the name of this technique, there are a couple of theories on why Master Tung called it “Dao Ma.” Master Tung was very fond of horses, hence the prevalence of point names with the word “horse” (馬 mǎ) in it: Zhisima (T 11.07), Majinshui (T 1010.13), Makuaishui (T 1010.14), to name a few. Naming points after his favorite animal invokes the swiftness of the horse, which reflects the quick results these points achieve when needled.
The Dao (倒 dǎo) part of Dao Ma means “fallen” or “inverted.” What does a fallen horse have to do with acupuncture? When a horse is missing one leg, it loses its coordination and falls down. The three remaining legs of the horse are symbolic of the three needles used to treat. Just as a three-legged horse falls down, the three needles “fall” into the patient when they are inserted. And while a three-legged horse is not by any means swift, this picture helps remind the practitioner of how many needles are used when using Master Tung’s Dao Ma technique.