Traditional Herbs for the Modern Fighter

In this modern day, martial artists engaging in intense training are aided by a myriad of advantages from the warriors of old.  An entirely new era has evolved, whereby a trainer must be familiar enough with their athlete to recommend a customized regimen of supplements. However, while modern times have greatly enhanced supplements for the serious athlete or martial artist, they have almost entirely neglected the area of traumatology, and, instead, have used cortisone shots, archaic ice treatment, and intense acts such as surgery to solve problems that unfortunately, can (and usually do) cause as much harm as good. At first glance, herbalism seems an old and outdated form of therapy. But looking through the magnifying glass, we see that herbalism has grown and evolved over the centuries as well, and it is the job of each individual who works with herbs to do their part by continuing to research, verify, create, and most of all in today’s world, dispel theories and ideas that are bogus.


Your body operates and regenerates at its maximum potential when it has an abundance of the proper nutrients for the task. Just as high quality protein is necessary for muscle development, or glucosamine to maintain good joint health, there are a number of plants that house thousands of important ingredients for overall body health. “Tonic” formulas from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) such as Four Gentlemans Herbs offer a well-rounded battery of compounds necessary for peak performance.
These simple recipes, usually made into teas and taken internally, are loaded with vitamins and anti-oxidants and countless phytochemicals that help to keep your energy high throughout the year, and keep your body operating the way it was intended.
Traditionally, these recipes were only indulged in once every couple of months. This is a good time frame to go by. However, listening to your body is the best way to determine whether that time frame is correct or not.


It’s so common today for people to ice an injury that you will get funny looks if you tell people it’s not a very good idea. People grew up with so much acceptance of ice that nobody ever took the time to question it and examine if it was really a good idea or not. Let’s do so now. Ice has the following advantages:

  • It is FREE.
  • It lowers inflammation.
  • It can help reduce pain.

However, there are many great disadvantages to using ice for injuries, such as:

  • Extremely low temperature: Ice causes the entire injury to become very cold. This causes fluids to become more viscous, causing sinew to not glide properly. Furthermore, in an injury, a priority is to move out waste such as blood, from the site of the injury. Icing causes all this waste to become hard and stagnant, drastically slowing the healing process
  • Lack of blood flow: Due to the low temperatures obtained, there is very little blood flow to the injury. Blood flow is the single most important aspect of healing an injury, to supply oxygen and important nutrients to cells so that they can perform their job.
  • Future problems: According to traditional Chinese medicine, repeated use of ice on a specific area over time can cause tightness and sensitivity later in life due to the severely stagnating nature of icing.
  • Skin damage: With over-icing, skin damage can result.

Those advocating ice will claim that ice is better than nothing. While, in my opinion, this is probably not true, I wouldn’t leave you hanging without offering a far superior alternative to ice. Its not free, but almost…San Huang San, or Three Yellow Powder, is a simple combination of three ground herbs that are mixed with water or oil and applied topically to a swollen injury. The herbs have a cooling nature, which helps to reduce the swelling and inflammation, but they also have herbs that increase local blood circulation to help heal the injury. The result is night and day.

Anyone can make a basic version of Three Yellow Powder. All the herbs for a basic version can be obtained inexpensively from We also sell a premade version of this formula and we have added an extra “yellow” for even greater potency.

The basic recipe contains:
*Rhubarb Root (Da Huang)
*Scutellaria (Huang Qin)
Phellodendron Bark (Huang Bai)

Use equal parts of each herb. Mix ground herbs with water, green tea, egg whites, or a carrier oil. Use just enough liquid to turn the herbs into a thick paste. Apply to your injury as soon as possible. Cover with a small piece of saran wrap, and wrap loosely with an ace bandage or similar wrapping bandage. Leave in place for up to 2 hours. Remove and observe change in inflammation. Exclaim out loud, “Ill never use ice again!”


The single most common injury in Mixed Martial Arts competition is bleeding. Wounds or cuts that bleed comprise over 50% of the injuries today. There is one simple herbal formula that can stop cuts and lacerations from bleeding and has even been successfully tested in laboratory settings for its ability to stop internal bleeding. Yunnan Baiyao is a proprietary formula used to stop bleeding of all kinds.  It is cheap and unbelievably effective. This is a product that should be in every family’s home first aid kit, and at the side of the mats in every martial arts school in the world.


We don’t usually look at bruising as a big deal other than a bit of minimal pain; instead we generally shrug them off as a temporary battle mark. However, repeated bruising of an area on the body (such as from thigh kicks) can lead to many problems later on, ranging from muscle/joint tightness to accumulated scar tissue resulting in limited mobility, and possibly even to serious effects such as blood clots that break off and travel towards the heart.

Fortunately, there are many herbs that can be applied topically to remove the swelling and pain of minor and serious bruises, as well as drastically increase the natural healing rate of the body. We sell an herbal bruise liniment named Bruise Juice and various other injury liniments that are externally and topically applied called Dit Da Jow at PlumDragonHerbs that help to reduce pain and inflammation as well as increase the circulation in the area so that cells have a larger blood supply to repair damaged tissue.


In the world of grappling, the more common injuries are not from blunt trauma, but come from repetitive punishment on tendons and joints when training to bring your submissions to the tap countless times, or from accidentally pulling something a bit too far when rolling or competing. There are herbal combinations that have been proven to relax, heal, and strengthen sinew and bone, as well as fight off achy arthritic joint pain and stretched damaged tendons. Grapplers who put daily strain on the joints, train in submission work, or who have strains or sprains should consider the JKD Dit Da Jow, which heals bruises but works much more deeply than a basic bruise liniment.

This particular liniment is used and endorsed by a number of martial artists and training facilities, including the Jeet Kune Do group in the Southern US, which has direct lineage with Dan Inosanto and Larry Hartsell where the curriculum is heavy with grappling on the mats. Using products like this is part of the conditioning process and because of this these liniments are often referred to as “training liniments.” Grapplers should build a habit of applying liniments such as JKD to any tendons or joints that are especially stressed, directly after training sessions.

This will allow these areas of the body to maintain a fantastic conditioning later in life and allow the grappler to push himself a bit farther in submissions without being forced to tap out. (Of course, it will always be the other guy that has to tap out, right?)

A popular item that is commonly used in tandem with JKD jow in grappling is the Flexibility Pack. This simple recipe is used in Yoga circles to enhance flexibility and is composed of herbs that warm the joints, relax the tendons, and give a small increase in cardiovascular blood flow. When used in conjunction with a rigorous and CONSISTENT stretching routine, many people notice a significant improvement in flexibility over the course of 2-4 weeks.


There are a number of fantastical claims in the world today, and there is no shortage of this in the realm of martial arts, where it is perhaps the most prominent. With that in mind, the herbal products above *will* help you with injuries and in making advances in your training. But, they are not wonder cures. They promote the basic functions of the body much like any other training aid or supplement, however, in many ways, they are superior to the majority of other products available today for injury; they are also much less expensive. So, we think they are a pretty darn good deal.

 When you choose a herbal product, however, do so with an open but questioning and analytical mind.  Also, realize that there are limits to what can be achieved by the nutritional impact of herbal medicine, and know that it is unrealistic to expect unnatural results. No herbal remedy, even the most potent one, can help provide healing if you are not giving your injuries enough rest and recovery time and no herbal remedy alone can provide enhanced conditioning in the absence of hard work and training.  These herbs WILL work with you, they will not work for you!

Most importantly, nobody can tell you what effect a given substance has or will have on your body better than you! So don’t be afraid to try something for yourself and test the results in your training. Try experimenting with different usage times (before or after a workout, morning or night) or with using different application methods. Be creative and enjoy the experience of learning more about your body and the use of herbs to better your training!  Happy training to everyone!
-Josh Walker and Lisa Ball, Jowmasters