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Reflections on Dr. Richard Teh-Fu Tan


...five years later, from one of his graduated disciples and “First 16” senior students

It has been five long years since the passing of our beloved Shifu. I think of him often. I think he speaks to me often. Most of all, I am happy to pass on the legacy through teaching. This road travelled has been a windy one, with ups and down, laughs and cries, but most of all, filled with love. Love for Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, love for inspiring others, love for the Balance System/Method Acupuncture, love of helping others—practitioners and patients. I decided to have a look back at what I had said four years ago for Medicinal Roots Magazine. Come with me on this ride down memory lane...

Picture this. You are in a large room of 100-plus colleagues and at the front on a stage is a short Chinese man with grey and white hair, a coarse voice, expressive energy and humour. You smile with enjoyment. You've already heard from many great teachers thus far, but this one is especially fun. There’s more: He then blows you away with the explanation of the use of acupuncture and its connection to the Yi Jing (I Ching), a topic you have studied before in your bachelor’s degree! You decide to sit in on his afternoon session. Further blowing your mind, he does a “dog and pony show” of how to treat pain using a distal balancing approach—with instant results!

You decide to take a full weekend course. Your mind hurts from the conceptual change from the way you were taught in the contemporary TCM schools. You want to do as he says, integrate it into your practice for at least two weeks. Trouble is, you’re still a student, so you have to put all that information into your pocket to pull out later, after your licensing exams and start of your practice.

That was me in 2004, when I first met my Shifu, Dr. Richard Teh-Fu Tan. I say Shifu with permission—while also a respectful way to address your teacher, as per tradition, the teacher also would choose who he/she would like as a student. In the case of Dr. Richard Teh-Fu Tan, he stated at a small group dinner I was attending, that he actually only wanted his regular and senior students to address him as this. I had been following him around North America for nine years, in small senior classes on “The Three Essentials”, one of his most advanced classes, and so I felt a closeness and appreciation for him like a grandfather. One day he told me that he was ok with me calling him Shifu— and so I felt equally honoured.

Once I was licensed in 2006 and began to pull the Balance Method out of my pocket, I was thrilled by its efficacy, and kept diving in deeper with more courses and more practice. I love TCM and the 8 principles method, and I love the Balance Method’s effectiveness even more.

Meeting and deeply learning from Shifu was an extraordinary journey. Not only because of the incredible depths of learning in the Balance Method and Ba Zi, but also because of the opportunity to know the human side of Shifu—his charisma, hopes and dreams, accomplishments and disappointments, strengths and faults, laughter and passion, and love for karaoke and Latin dancing.

Dr. Richard Teh-fu Tan was an extraordinary man. While not without his faults, like all of us, Shifu genuinely wanted to help acupuncturists become better, more efficient and have strong practices with better patient healing outcomes. Shifu laughed, cried, joked, got angry, kept quiet, smiled and always enjoyed a good martini.

One of my fondest memories is when the group of us senior students met in Chicago for the Three Essentials Level III (Ba Zi–Chinese Astrology). After class, we went downtown for some Latin food and dancing. We danced, laughed and laughed some more until the wee hours of the morning. We were impressed that while we dragged our feet to class the next morning, Shifu bounced into the classroom. Surely, he must have done some secret Qi Gong trick to prevent a hangover!

The desire to speak to you straight, down to earth and to the point was one of the appeals of continuing to learn from Shifu—he was real and entertaining. Not afraid to show the occasional (or not so occasional) expression of disgust in his classes (which always made for a good laugh), he would also always make sure to keep you laughing at the end of his class with a joke (good or bad depending on your tastes!). The senior students would get to know his jokes and either groan or smile!

Beyond the classroom, celebrating and socializing was always a part of him. The most special celebration was his 60th birthday party in Las Vegas. Not just one, but two parties there! Think on a ranch, band, dancing, good food, fire show, then the next night, a formal dinner and ceremony for his Ba Zi, and Gold and Silver level certified practitioners (myself included in the Ba Zi, and later Gold level), with more dancing and good times!

When I began to bring him to Vancouver to teach, I knew in my heart that his teaching days would sometime end. I was thrilled he agreed because of our relationship, and thrilled to solely host him again in February 2015. Little did I know at that time, that would be the last time I saw him. In September of 2015, when he could not make it last minute before the Advanced Track series, I was fearful in my heart, that there may not be another time. The sadness with the passing of Shifu is not just the loss of a great teacher, but also that he had so much left in him to give and teach. There are so many more things I could say about him, his teachings, and his significance, however there simply is not enough paper or time. I will close by saying this: Dr. Richard Teh-Fu Tan refined the Balance Method into a systematic and logical fashion of understanding and applying it in practice. Originally from the Classics and discovered by Chao Chen, Dr. Richard Tan’s contribution to the acupuncture community was significant in popularizing this method—and this was by his systematic and charismatic teaching style. The only way we can keep this method alive is to continue learning the method, using the method and ensuring appropriate people keep teaching it.

Remember that with all things, we all see further because of the Giants that stood before us.

Rest in peace, Shifu.

With love, Sonia

The world may be different now, however acupuncture is not. Moreover, Balance Method/System Acupuncture still amazes me to this day, even after practicing it now for over 15 years. It doesn’t get old and can still be mind-blowing with its quick results beyond pain. I invite you to not just join me, but journey with me. Go the distance and see the beauty of this style of Acupuncture in its full world of possibilities. Get your feet wet with the Foundations of Balance Acupuncture, and then travel further, whether literally to take live courses with me (the best way), or figuratively online.

Immerse, understand well, apply with ease and hone your skills to become a champion at this special style of Acupuncture. Elevate your practice to the next level and rock this! 

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