Free Content

Training Formulas and Injury Prevention for Grapplers

This article is in response to several requests I have received from grapplers who are interested in preventing and treating common grappling injuries. In the 25+ years I ran a Chinese medicine clinic specializing in sports injuries, I saw many grapplers and became familiar with many the of injuries and health concerns common to practitioners of the grappling arts. In writing this article I have also consulted with my friend and colleague Wes Tasker who trains in Catch Wrestling.

Injury Prevention and Training Formulas

Obviously an intelligent training method with developmental exercises and proper conditioning is one important way to minimize injuries that interfere with training and competition. However, no matter how carefully one trains, there are bound to be “dents” and “dings” and even injuries from repetitively stressing the soft tissue and joints. One way to avoid this is to create a personal injury prevention program using a combination of martial arts training formulas that boost the body’s ability to resist injury and ameliorate the effects of hard training, and Die Da (trauma) herbal formulas that treat trauma. Lets start with training formulas.

There are two training formulas that are a no-brainer for grapplers. The first is a training formula traditionally used by Shuai Jiao (Chinese Wrestling) practitioners. This formula was used by wrestlers to prevent the small, but often cumulative injuries that are a by-product of hard training and competition. The Chinese Wrestling Formula tonifies Qi and Blood in order to nourish and protect the muscles, tendons and ligaments, while simultaneously strengthening and protecting the Kidney Essence, the vital substrate that is the foundation of the Body’s energy matrix. By strengthening the body’s basal energy, and providing a boost to the internal organs that nourish the muscles, tendons and ligaments, these structures are better able to adapt to increased stresses and repair damaged tissue. This allows one to train hard and experience less soreness and recovery time.

Chinese Wrestling Formula

龜板膠       Gui Ban Jiao                15 grams

阿膠           E Jiao                           15

當歸           Dang Gui                    12

覆盆子       Fu Pen Zi                    9

人參           Ren Shen                    9

熟地黃       Shu Di Huang            6

枸杞子       Gou Qi Zi                   6

海龍           Hai Long                    6

女貞子       Nu Zhen Zi                6

鎖陽           Suo Yang                    6

黃耆           Huang Qi                   6

蛤蚧           Ge Jie                         4.5

紫河車       Zi He Che                 2

冬蟲夏草    Dong Chong Xia Cao 4.5**

** I have included this herb as it is part of the original formula. However, it is prohibitively expensive. We have found that grapplers still get great results with the formula, even when this herb is left out.

Have the herbs ground to a fine powder. This is usually best done at a Chinese Herbal pharmacy which has industrial machines specially made for grinding herbs. The easiest way to take the formula is to have the powder put in capsules and take 3 size “OO“capsules before a tough training session or competition and three capsules afterward. If it is a long day of training, like a seminar or workshop, take one dose before and another mid-way through the day.

If you do not put the powder in capsules then take 1.5 teaspoons of the powder at a time with warm water.

Do not take if you are pregnant or nursing.

My friend Wes Tasker and a number of his students take this formula when they are attending all weekend Catch Wrestling workshops. His report: “We all expected to be sore after a day of hard wrestling training, but the next day we woke up and all felt loose and relaxed. Even when warming up we did not feel stiff or sore.” I have had similar reports from others who have used this formula.

Should you take this formula before and after every training session? Probably not. The body does adapt to herbal formulas over time, so it is better to save this formula for days when you are doing extra hard training, training longer hours than usual, or situations, like competition,  in which you will be forced to pull on your reserves.

The second training formula is used to prevent injuries to the hands from gripping. I notice a lot of grapplers have to tape up their hands and fingers, and many have permanently swollen finger joints with decreased range of motion. Aside from this being inconvenient for other life activities, damage to the soft tissue of the fingers through overuse can create a host of problems. According to traditional Chinese medicine, damage to the fingers can cause blockages in the meridians, that in turn can lead to damage to the internal organs. Traditionally it is thought that damage to the very tips of the fingers – the place where the yin and yang polarity of the meridians of the arms changes – can cause blindness which results from clots in the small blood vessels of the fingers. This kind of damage can lead to limited range of motion in the finger joints, as well as trigger finger, tendonitis, arthritis, and nerve damage to the hands. So why not use a training formula like Eagle Claw Hand Strengthening Liniment that both strengthens the fingers, and helps to prevent the accumulation of these minor injuries from impacting on the health of the hand, as well as the rest of the body?

Eagle Claw Hand Strengthening Liniment

土蟞蟲       Tu Bie Chong              24 gms

膽南星       Dan Nan Xing             18 gms

青蒿          Qiang Huo                   9 gms

當歸           Dang Gui                    15 gms

血竭           Xue Jie                        15 gms

沒藥           Mo Yao                       24 gms

乳香           Ru Xiang                     30 gms

龍骨           Long Gu                     12 gms

白芷           Bai Zhi                        15 gms

石菖蒲       Shi Chang Pu            9 gms

紅花         Hong Hua                  15 gms

螃壳           Xie Ke (crab shell)      12 pieces   (螃蟹壳 pang xie ke).

防風           Fang Feng                   21 gms

升麻           Sheng Ma                   21 gms

川芎           Chuan Xiong             18 gms

川烏           Chuan Wu                 18 gms

桃仁           Tao Ren                     18 gms

桂枝           Gui Zhi                      18 gms

續斷          Xu Duan                     15 gms

Instructions for making the liniment:

Break the herbs up into small pieces and put them in a glass jar with 1.5 gallons of vodka or Chinese Bai Jiu (White Alcohol). The alcohol content should be between 40-60%. Seal the container and store it out of the light in a cool, dark place for at least 3 months. Shake the container as often as possible. Pour some of the liquid out into a smaller glass container for regular use and let the rest brew for another few months or even up to two years. Do not store this liniment in plastic containers except for short periods of time.


This unique formulation warms the meridians, dispels stasis and promotes the free flow of Qi and blood in the forearms, hands and fingers. This liniment also contains ingredients that are said to strengthen the sinews (tendons and ligaments) and bones of the hands, such as Xie Ke (crab shell), Long Gu (fossilized bone) and Xu Duan (Whose name literally means: “reconnect what is broken “).

Directions for Use:

Take a small amount of the liniment and massage it into the joints of the hands and wrist as well as the tendon attachments of the flexor and extensor muscles of the hands located at the medial and lateral epicondyles of the humerus. The liniment should be applied before and after any activity which stresses the sinews and joints of the hands, wrists, and forearms – Grappling! Eagle Claw Hand Strengthening Liniment can and should be used before and after each training session. Be careful if you wear a white gi, as the liniment can easily  stain the gi. You might want to rub the liniment into your hands and forearms thoroughly before putting on the gi top.


  • External Use Only!
  • Do Not apply over open wounds.
  • Apply with caution if you are pregnant.
  • This liniment is not for acute trauma – jammed, or smashed fingers, broken fingers, torn ligaments in the hand, etc. It is a training formula that directed toward lessening the likelihood of injury from repetitive use of the hands, and therefore is preventative.

If you have had an acute traumatic injury to the hand, see a physician and follow up with traditional Chinese medical treatments if appropriate. These may include the use of liniments and poultices that are specifically for trauma.

Eagle Claw Hand Strengthening Liniment was traditionally used for training the seizing power of the hands in Eagle Claw Gong Fu and Qin Na (capturing and seizing techniques). This description might lead one to think that this liniment is only useful for a small number of martial artists who practice these very specific skills. To the contrary, I have found this liniment to be one of the most useful and versatile of the many martial arts training formulas. It is an extremely important liniment for protecting the tendons and ligaments of the hands when they are regularly being physically taxed or systematically trained. Some examples of its wide application are listed below

  • Eagle Claw and Qin Na training
  • Grapping arts: Judo, Jiu Jitsu, Sambo, Wrestling
  • Rock climbing
  • Any hand or grip strengthening regimen
  • Working with your hands in construction or home improvement
  • Farming
  • Body workers – particularly those who do deep tissue work.

Eagle Claw Hand Strengthening Liniment is available from Kamwo Meridian Herbs in NYC:

Treating Grapping Injuries

We talked about prevention, now lets talk about injuries. So you took the Chinese Wrestling Formula and used the Eagle Claw Hand Strengthening Liniment, but you still injured your finger, caught your toe on the mat and jammed it, or wrenched your shoulder or elbow. Now you need to treat this injury. If your injury is serious you might want to see a qualified practitioner of Traditional Chinese medicine. However, many of the minor injuries that you regularly shrug off can have a cumulative effect. All those minor strains of the elbow joints, can add up to an elbow that you can’t straighten or a finger joint that won’t bend all the way. Treating every small injury, right away, the evening after the class, seminar, or tournament, can prevent these seemingly “small” injuries from becoming big ones that are chronic and interfere with training. Your friends might tease you for being a hypochondriac, but they will come around to your way of thinking when they see you not getting injured as frequently and bouncing back from training injuries more quickly.

A Die Da Jiu or “Trauma Liniment” is the one indispensable component of your martial arts first aid kit. Die Da Jiu has so many uses that I used to keep gallons of it at my clinic and martial arts school. It is invaluable in treating the wide variety of contusions, sprains, and strains so common to sports activities. Contusions of the shin are a very common martial arts injury where the effectiveness of Die Da Jiu is unanimously appreciated. Kicks to the shin or accidental shin-to-shin contact can be extremely painful often causing the formation of large lumps on the shin. Rather than using ice to reduce swelling, massage trauma liniment into the contused area. Gently flatten the lumps thereby dispersing the stagnant Qi and blood. Re-apply every few hours or soak cotton balls or gauze pads   in the liniment and put them over the bruised area. Then cover with rolled gauze or an elastic bandage to hold the soaked material against the skin. Do not wrap too tightly. Often by the next day the lumps and much of the pain will have disappeared. This method also works well for trauma due to shin locks or locks against the Achilles tendon.

Injuries to the fingers and toes can be treated similarly. First massaging the liniment into the injured area. Then soak cotton balls in the liniment and tape them over the joints while you sleep. Die Da Jiu will stain the sheets, so wear a cotton glove or a sock if you are going to do this!

Die Da Jiu (Trauma Liniment)

大黄          Da Huang                   4 qian (12 Grams)

栀 子          Zhi Zi                          4 qian (12 Grams)

红 花          Hong Hua                   4 qian (12 Grams)

黄柏           Huang Bai                   4 qian (12 Grams)

乳香           Ru Xiang                     4 qian (12 Grams)

没药           Mo Yao                       4 qian (12 Grams)

血竭           Xue Jie                        4 qian (12 Grams)

路路通       Lu Lu Tong                4 qian (12 Grams)

當歸尾       Dang Gui Wei (tail)     4 qian (12 Grams)

Instructions for making the liniment:

Break the herbs up into small pieces and put them in a glass jar with 1.5 gallons of vodka or Chinese Bai Jiu (White Alcohol). The alcohol content should be between 40-60%. Seal the container and store it out of the light in a cool, dark place for at least 3 months. Shake the container as often as possible. Pour some of the liquid out into a smaller glass container for regular use and let the rest brew for another few months or even up to two years. Again, do not store this liniment in plastic bottles.

How To Apply Trauma Liniment


Put a small amount of Trauma Liniment in your palm and pat it gently into the injured area. This helps it penetrate. Then use your thumb or three fingers to massage sore spots and break up lumps or accumulations. Start lightly and gradually work the liniment in deeper as the pain subsides.

Muscle Pulls

Massage the liniment into knots in the muscle. Try to break up knots by following the direction of the muscle fibers (i.e. longitudinally). Also massage the liniment into the muscle attachments. For example for a pulled hamstring:

  1. Pat the liniment into the painful area.
  2. Then use the thumb or 3 fingers to massage in circles around the sore area.
  3. Use the thumb to break up knots by massaging upwards toward the head and downwards toward the feet, following the direction of the muscle fibers.
  4. Finally massage the liniment deep into the crease below the buttocks, and the area behind the knee as the hamstrings have tendon attachments to bone in both of these areas.

Sprains & Strains

  1. Massage Trauma Liniment gently into the injured area. If there is swelling, put some liniment on the tip of your thumb or fingertips. Start at the edge of the swelling and rub in small circles around the edge with your thumb or fingertips.
  2. Add a little more of the liniment to your fingertips and lighten your pressure as you move inward, slowly and gently working the liniment into the center of the swollen area.
  3. Apply more liniment to your fingertips and direct your circles outward from the center, gently pushing stagnant fluids and blood away from the swollen area so they can be re-absorbed.

For more advice on treating injuries to the sinews and joints:

  • Take one of our Gong Fu Sports Medicine classes coming up in 2018
  • Read A Tooth From the Tiger’s Mouth: How to Treat Your Injuries with Powerful Healing Secrets of the Great Chinese Warriors by Tom Bisio. Available on
  • Also look for our upcoming three-part article: Treating Overstretched Ligaments & Tendons with Chinese Medicine. This will be posted on the website in 2017