Arthur Makaris on Chi Kung, Kung Fu, and Chinese Medicine
Interview by Amy Shoko Brown, MRO
Featured in Mountain Record 25.4, Summer 2007
Arthur Makaris: Well, my parents are Greek, and as a young child, my father would often talk to me about the Greek philosophers. There was a spark that quickly grew inside of me. I grew up outside of Boston and when I was about 12 years old, I started riding my bike to Walden Pond with my friends. We used to go there swimming. I became very interested in Thoreau. When I was a teenager, one day I found a copy of the Tao Te Ching. I read that, and I said, “Oh! This is what Thoreau said —even a little clearer I think.” From that point on I was hooked on East Asian philosophy, mainly Taoism.
When I was 18, President Nixon formalized relations with the People’s Republic of China. It was big news. He traveled to China with an entourage of reporters, etc. While they were there, one of the reporters needed an emergency appendectomy, and that was partially done using acupuncture anesthesia. That was headline news for about a week. And I remember being fascinated by all those stories; I had never heard about acupuncture. And that’s it. I was very interested. However, I put it in the back of my mind.
Around that time I began studying martial arts with a Chinese teacher in Boston’s Chinatown. The school I studied in had its roots in a Buddhist monastery in China. Two years after the U.S. formalized relations with China, Dr. So came here. to start teaching Chinese medicine. Well, it just so happened that my martial arts teacher and Dr. So came from neighboring villages in the old country, and they were friends. And so, Dr. So would come by this Kung Fu studio and hang out. I got to know him. Dr. So tried to make inroads with the Western medical community at that time. However, nobody wanted to listen to him, so he started his own school. That was the New England School of Acupuncture, and I became a student there. At that time there were no acupuncturists and no doctors of Chinese medicine in the U.S. I studied acupuncture and Chinese medicine only to deepen my understanding and knowledge of Chinese philosophy; I never had any intention of being a doctor or practicing. But very quickly in the Boston area people’s desire for acupuncture and Chinese medicine grew. It kind of exploded! I finished studying with Dr. So when I was about 24 years old. I worked in a clinic in Harvard Square but when my Kung Fu teacher was moving to Florida, I wanted to continue learning from him so I moved to Florida.
I still had no real desire to practice Chinese medicine. However, because I had gone to school and people thought that I knew Chinese medicine, people kept asking me. In 1986 my wife and I moved to Vermont—solely to live a simple country lifestyle, to start a farm. I got a job on a vegetable farm to get more training. There was someone on the farm that summer who had hurt his back. One day I said, “I think I might be able to help you. You know, I know some acupuncture.” So, I did, I helped that person. Two days later someone else comes up to me on the farm, “You know, my shoulder’s been killing me. Can you help me?” From then on it was like an avalanche. And I guess from that moment on I’ve just been offering those services.