Dit Da What?

("Dit Da Jow")
If you have spent any amount of time studying the Chinese martial arts, at one time or another your teacher has probably produced, from some dark closet, a jar, jug, or bottle of soy-sauce-colored, aromatic liquid, perhaps populated by a number of sodden twigs, shreds, and other bits of now-unidentifiable vegetation. This is dit da jao. (Since the name is originally written in Chinese characters, there are a number of Roman spellings, all of which are simply phonetic renditions.)

Your teacher probably told you a number of things about this "dit da jao" as you rubbed it in. Teacher may have said it helps amplify 'chi', helps protect you from injuries, and even helps cure them. Perhaps you nodded politely, perhaps you concluded to yourself, "well, at least it smells kind of good." Or, perhaps, you have already had the sort of experience(s) I describe below.

A Testimonial

When I first tried my teacher's dit da jao, I indeed felt some 'chi' warmth in my hands, and could swear that I had smelled this pleasant aroma somewhere before. My formal introduction to the full nature of dit da jao, however, came later, when while practicing a throw, I dropped a 190-lb man on top of my knee. (Not a recommended training practice, by the way. :>) The knee in question was atop a vertically braced shin, and the man's weight drove the knee forward, thus effectively spraining my ankle. The pain immediately told me that I had a "4-week-limper" on my hands (or rather my foot). My teacher hastened to the closet and brought out a cloth, and the dit da jao.

Setting my foot on the cloth, he proceeded to rub the dit da jao into the ankle. Within a minute the pain had subsided, and continued application of the jao felt quite pleasant. After 5 minutes of rubbing the dit da jao into my ankle, it felt nearly normal, and I was able to walk on the foot with only a slight feeling of tenderness.

As this was the end of the class anyway, I left the school for the day and went on about my day's business. My teacher gave me a small bottle of the dit da jao to take home with me. I left my shoe unlaced for comfort, but otherwise carried on as usual. But by bedtime, the ankle was a little sore again. So, I rubbed in some more dit da jao for another 10 minutes or so and went to sleep.

The next morning, the foot felt and looked nearly normal! There was virtually no swelling around the ankle; only a little bit at the base of the shin. All the tendons and the little muscles on top of the foot were still clearly visible; something which I have never experienced with a sprain before. The ankle was a little tender to walk on, but after an hour or so of ordinary household moving-around, it felt OK again. So, I went back down to the school for the second class of that day.

It was a normal class period. (We study internal Kung Fu, so the movements do not involve a lot of strenuous jumping around). I had told the instructor that I had better pass on the day's self-defense drills, but by the time we started doing them, my foot felt pretty good so I joined into a few after all. I and my partner practiced throwing each other. I was careful not to fall on the ankle or drop him onto it, and I had no trouble.
After this experience, I was thoroughly convinced. I had gotten a sprain that, I am sure, would have laid me up for several weeks under normal circumstances.

A Little Bit About Dit Da Jao

Dit Da Jao is a family of herbal tinctures developed and used by Chinese martial arts masters over a period of many many years, some say 4,000 years. Each master and their family developed their own specific recipe, a closely guarded secret passed down over the generations. (So, do not publish your master's Dit Da Jao recipe on the Web without express permission. You know what your Great Aunt Tillie would do to you if you revealed her prize pickle recipe-- and she doesn't know martial arts. :>)

Anyway, dit da jao is basically an herbal mixture, soaked in an alcohol/water solution for some period of time in a darkened place. Alcohol solutions can be wine, vodka, gin, or such. The tincture is kept out of the light since light can break down some of the herbal biochemicals that work such magic. The longer it can be left to soak before use the better, as it becomes stronger over time.

These herbal formulations carry the full advantage of hundreds and thousands of years of Chinese apothecary experience. The herbs combined together probably have synergistic effects above and beyond what each herb could do itself. Therefore if you should obtain an authentic Chinese Dit Da Jao recipe, there is probably no point in you dinking with it unless, of course, you yourself are a certified Chinese herbalist. You probably cannot improve on what has taken hundreds of years to perfect. Just take it to a friendly Chinese herbalist/apothecary and ask them to fill the prescription for you. They will also be the best qualified to adjust the recipe for you if any of the ingredients are unavailable.

Others have published essays and discussions of Dit Da Jao. Links to them are provided below. Remember that these reflect the opinions of the writers, and opinions vary...:

Sifu John Crescione Describes and discusses Dit Da Jow, and provides recipes for it and for Tiger Balm.
American Style Dit Da Jow? Sifu John Crescione discusses the possibilities and reasons
A Two-Soak Method for making Dit Da Jow

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