Chinese Thermal Diet explained: 4000 years of food classification

last update: 7-24-2016

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Diet: log what you eat, copy and print out. Monitor your energy levels.
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“The most important thing is Qi” – Dr. Amy Tseng

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Traditionally the Chinese way of eating is based on ‘Qi’ energy (force that maintains our vital signs). This is done to maximize the daily amount of qi that we are given. It is important to note that many indigenous cultures seem to have naturally figured out what is best suited for them. For instance- those in tropical regions tend to eat what naturally cools them down, while those in Polar Regions tend to eat what will keep them warm.

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The diet is based on some of the principles of the macrobiotic dietwhich is eating according to where you are. Currently I am living in a North American temperate zone that has four seasons- Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall, so I must adjust my diet to this climate. If I were to move to a polar or tropical temperate zone then I should change accordingly, but because I am a zone that has 4 seasons, I must not eat as if I were in any other zone. This means that tropical fruits and vegetables, imported fruits and vegetables from Europe, Asia, Africa, etc. are really of no use for me.

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If I were to live in the Tropical region then it is good to eat the local foods there, including the spicy which will make a person sweat to prevent heat exhaustion or heat stroke; however the tropical diet is not important for my current living zone. The best concentration of food sources are local and regional areas. Another good thing to consider in diet is organic food sources. Today our meats and vegetables are not fully raised properly. Livestock is often raised in factory type settings with steroids and anti-biotics, farms may be using toxic pesticides, and industry farming can deplete the minerals in the soil.

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University of Richmond lecture with Chinese Dietitian Dr. Amy

Interview with Chinese Doctor Amy: Wilson Pitts and Dr. Amy

Chinese Herbs I

Chinese Herbs II

Herbal Formulas using Chinese herbs

“Traditional Chinese Medicine and Diet both originate from the practice and experience in daily life”Old Chinese medicine phrase.

The Chinese diet is based on thousands of years of research in many Taoist monasteries. These places have researched the energies of the diet for health and medical benefits.

The food energies are based on 5 Thermal energy types:.
Cold food energy is a weak force that makes the person feels generally tired.
Cool food energy generally has a cooling effect on the persons system.
Warm food energy have a warming and nourishing effect on the human body.
Hot or Fire food energy is strong and has a heating effect that generally makes the person seem to have a lot of energy, but is the most dangerous of them all.
Neutral food energies do not change body temperature.

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The cold and hot foods are the ones to avoid because they throw the ‘qi’ off balance by being extremes. A combination of these cold and hot/excess extremes leads to ‘Empty Fire’ leading to serious imbalances.*

*some schools classify warm, cool, neutral, warm, and hot thermal properties differently so there will be some discrepancies between various Chinese dietary systems. Example: one school may list Avocado as hot (oils), while another list it as cooling (fruits and vegetable).

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Food, Taste, and the state of your Stomach and Spleen. (click on image for larger size)
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Cold energy foods are usually raw and uncooked vegetables, tropical fruits and vegetables, raw meats like cold cuts and sushi. Eat these very rarely if at all, if you are in cold weather regions. The raw and uncooked foods tend to make the stomach overwork thereby using much of the bodies ‘qi’ energy just to be able to break and digest it. We are not concerned with vitamins and minerals of the food, but how to maximize your daily energy. This diet is not based on calories, carbohydrates nor protein but solely the ‘qi’ energy. People with cold energy symptoms may be more timid or afraid, prone to feeling cold, have a hard time waking up, feel generally fatigued.

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Some of the cold foods include:
Sushi, Salads, Celery, cucumbers, pineapple, coconuts, mangos, cold cuts, cold drinks, cauliflower, Bok Choi, Mung bean sprouts, seaweed, turnip, tofu, Asian pear, banana, kiwi, rhubarb, watermelon, grapefruit, clams, crab, lobster, scallops, shrimp, veal, juices.

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Hot or Fire foods Should be avoided, or very rarely. These are foods cooked under direct fire like barbecued, grilled, baked, and cooked in oil, spicy, fried, roasted, melted cheese. These are also foods with high amount of toxins and sugars.
Some of these Hot/fire foods include: caffeine, coffee, chocolate, deep fried foods, baked foods like pizza, black pepper, curry, MSG, poppy seeds, sesame, spicy, candy, soda, avocado, chili, chips and fries, eggplant, raw onion, red pepper, roasted nuts, lychee, tangerine, eel, lamb, venison, hot chocolate, alcohol, cigarettes, and other stimulant drugs.

Cool foods are good for the human body on summer days, warmer days of spring and fall. These foods are geared towards stabilizing the negative effects of fire foods.
Some Cool foods are: apples, oranges, lemons, blueberries, pears, peppermint, strawberries, grapes, alfalfa sprouts, Brussel sprouts, dill, lettuce, mushroom, mint, parsley, snow peas, white corn, cantaloupe, cranberry, honeydew, lime, nectarine, red banana, starfruit, cabbage, salt, honey, sugar, vinegar.

Warm foods are ideal all year around and are more important in winter as well. These are foods that are cooked by way of simmering, stews, soups, wok, etc. Staple foods like grains, pasta, bread, and rice are also very ideal in all cultures and are considered warm foods. Teas are also considered warm as well.
Warm foods include- beef, chicken, fish, pork, eggs, duck, cheese, ham, rabbit, milk, wines, bread, rice, soups, stews, teas. black beans, adzuki beans, broccoli, carrots, kale, lentils, peas, potatoes, soybeans, pumpkin, squash, string beans, zucchini, ginger, garlic, onion, tomato, apricot, currants, blackberry, cherry, guava, papaya, plum, raisin, almond, date, peach, raspberry, basil, bay, chives, paprika, sage, thyme, white pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, butter, artichoke, bell pepper, cous cous, oatmeal, small bok choi.

The Charts below share: Food| Thermal property| Flavor| Organ it influences and Medicinal action
Key: LU- Lungs, LI- large Intestines, ST- Stomach, SP- Spleen, HT- Heart, SI- Small intestines, BL/UB Urinary Bladder, KI/KD- Kidney, PC- Pericardium, TW- Triple Warmer, GB- Gall Bladder, LV- Liver.

Click on image for larger view of: Grains
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Click on image for larger view of: Meats
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Click on image for larger view of: Vegetables
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Click on image for larger view of: Legumes
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Click on image for larger view of: Fruits
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Click on image for larger view of: Herbs and Spices
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Click on image for larger view of: Nuts and Seeds
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Click on image for larger view of: Seafood
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The Chinese diet is a varied diet designed to help alleviate symptoms of illness often produced by the wrong foods. Acute and chronic conditions can be heighten by eating the wrong types of foods, and alleviated by eating the correct foods. The wrong foods for example can cause lung issues like asthma, phlegm, and chronic colds. PMS, cramps, infertility, and heavy or scanty periods are affected by wrong foods. High blood pressure and diabetes are affected by foods.

Food flavor categories:
Sweet: enters the Stomach and Spleen, helps to boost deficiency.
Pungent: enters the Lungs and large intestines, promote distribution and circulation.
Sour: enters the Liver and Gall bladder, helps to arrest the abnormal discharge of fluids.
Bitter: enters the heart and Small Intestines, it helps to clear heat and dry dampness.
Salty: enters the Kidney and Bladder, helps to dissipate accumulations and nourish blood.

Warm and hot energy foods, pungent and sweet will have a tendency to make the Qi energy rise upwards and float out, while the cooler and cold, sour, bitter and salty, will lower down and sink deep into the body.
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Many of the foods in the grocery store are not even good for the body. The foods that are hot in nature really need to be removed since they cause inflammation. The alkaline and glycemic index diets are naturally already in the Chinese diet. Most vegetables are alkaline in nature so to get 6 cups of veggies, just eat 2 cups of veggies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Many foods are high in acidic properties thus a rise in acidic health issues like acid re-flux.

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Since the diet is Qi based, by correcting the Qi, the body can work towards homeostasis and weight management. A weak and skinny body will being to fill out to normal “original” weight and stomach becomes balanced, a over-weight person Qi will balance allowing them to make better food choices and naturally shed off the pounds towards “original” weight. That is entirely up the the individual to make the right choices and will power to put the correct things in their body. Health is in your hands.

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Try to eliminate wheat, corn, and quinoa grains from the diet since they are “hot” in nature. This excess heat burns off the positive blood and fluids and is just a fake energy in the beginning. They will leave you dry and inflamed in the end. Coffee should be moderated as it is excessive heat, it has a 6 hour half-life. Have it for breakfast if you must, but we suggest green tea as a healthier alternative to coffee “fire”.

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Reduce dairy as it can cause phlegm, reduce sugar as it causes a spleen imbalance. Sugar has a false sense of yin energy, then you crave more and it becomes a cycle.
Peanuts are acidic and inflammatory and cause phlegm.

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Dietary therapy is a lifestyle change to help alleviate the symptoms of your imbalance, illness, and pain much easier. It is to train you to eat to feel the best you can. Feel full of energy and calm, have enough energy for work and to enjoy life. Energy for the things you like to do like hobbies, sports, and family time. Energy to not feel down, lethargic, stressed, and worried. This diet is based on treating phlegm, cough, chronic conditions, frequent colds, sugar cravings, menstrual issues, arthritic pain, depressed, anxiety, and digestive problems. Make small goals that you can do.

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Raw foods are “cold” on the thermal scale and extinguish the digestive system. The Stomach is strongest at 9am to 11am, and only people with a lot of heat, excessive heat, and strong digestion can eat them.
Steaming cooked veggies is the best way. Especially watery veggies like squash, winter melon, bitter melon, zucchini. It is always important to use a cup of water when simmering veggies in a pan. Cook to softness or less for a slight crunch. It is always a good idea to when steaming, stir-fry or simmering to use warm herbs like ginger, garlic, and onion.

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Starchy vegetables are best baked like a sweet potato, butternut squash, or pumpkin. Adding thyme, or a sweet herb like cinnamon and nutmeg will help.
Fish– the lighter fish like halibut is best to steam with ginger and scallion. Trout, mackerel, and salmon are best in a broiler. Heartier fish like swordfish “steaks” are best in a skillet with a little oil.
Fruits are have natural sugars so they should be regulated. Wash them good. Some have a higher amount of sugars like watermelons, dates, bananas, mangoes and can spike up blood sugar. Fruits are best after dinner before bed to help sugar cravings.
Water- drink plenty of water daily, not flavored water. Yin Yang Tang (decotion) half hot water add half cold water to cup- drink. Drinking hot/warm water is very good for qi. Avoid ice cold drinks.

Grains and starches:
Rice is sweet and neutral; it is good for LU, ST, SP, boosts qi. Really good on congee. Brown rice is dryer and has more nutrients and fiber. Black rice nourishes both liver and kidneys.
Buckwheat is cold, toasting it makes it alkaline, it is good for phlegm and masses.
Millet is gluten free, sweet, salty, cool, it boosts spleen/ST/KD.
Amaranth has more calcium, iron, and protein. It is sweet, bitter, and cool. It enters the LU, Sp and helps drain dampness and inflammation.
Wheat, corn, and Quinoa all obstruct qi and cause damp heat which is a sticky, dry, irritable feeling along with qi stagnation. They torch the body of fluids, blood, and balance.

Starchy Vegetable:
Mountain yam: Technically an herb, LU, ST, KD, sweet, neutral. Helps jing, loose stools, swelling, coughs. Avoid if you have an excess condition.
Sweet Potato- good for swelling, constipation, skin conditions, it is sweet and warm. People with dampness should avoid.
Taro: sweet pungent, helps build spleen qi, detox, dissolve masses. Eat cooked.
Asian pumpkin: sweet neutral, LU, SP, ST, detox, diuretic to reduce swelling especially for men with prostate issues, for lung inflammation, asthma, good for poisonings from bee stings, plants, etc.
Carrot: sweet pungent, neutral (does not make body hot or cold), SP, Lu, LV, moisture liver and eyes, dissolves dampness, clears heat.
Daikon: pungent, cool, soups-sweet, SP, ST, LI, LU, helps qi go down, dissolves phlegm, urination, stops bleeding. The seeds are an herb.
Lotus root: sweet cold, HT, LV,SP, ST. Cooling blood. Good for women with spotty or heavy periods.
Burdock root: bitter, pungent, cool. Clears heat, wind, sore throat, excess dampness, skin conditions, eczema.
Beat- good for phlegm, excess water, Liver blood.
Dry parsnip: pungent, warm. BL, LU, SP, LV, skin conditions, itchiness, wind. Clears dampness, joint pain

Vegetables:
Daily-intake
Watery vegetables help to moisten and hydrate the body. Leafy greens help dry the body. Neutral veggies are broccoli, Okra, green beans. Eat 6 cups if possible. 2 cups breakfast/lunch/dinner. Make smoothies, stir-fry or grill.
Winter melon– cooling, sweet, helps excess swelling, LU, LI, SI, BL clears lung heat, phlegm, cough, dry mouth, ST heat, thirst, diabetes.

Silk gourd- two varieties: smooth and ridged. It is sweet, cold, LV,LU,LI, ST, clears LI heat, cooling to blood, good for heavy period, UTI (urinary tract infections), clears skin, good for lactating women, LU dampness, coughs.
Cucumbers- sweet, cold, LU, SP, ST, relieves hot, dry, and swelling.
Celery- cooling, hydrating, LU, LV, LI, moistening, excess inflammation, detoxifying, stops bleeding, cold sores, masses and shingles.
Long Squash- fights parasites, sweet, cold, ST, SI, clears heat, must cook!
Fuzzy squash, zucchini, Yellow squash– sweet, neutral, helps excessive inflammation, UTI, dissolves masses, jaundice, diabetes, sores and wounds.
Chiota- ST, LV, moves ST qi, stops cough, aids digestion, good for stress and tight chest.

Cooking Veggies:
Winter melon- cook with pork and ginger, rosemary as a soup/stew.
Silk gourd- peel, stir-fry, do not over cook.
Cucumber- add it to smoothies.
Celery- use as a dip.
Long squash- add to red lentils with a dash of curry.
Zucchini- make baked zucchini fries.
Chiota- seering it with sea salt.

Neutral water veggies:
Green Beans: sweet, warm, SP, ST, KD.
Bitter melon: bitter, cold, HT, SP, LU, diabetics, controls sugar, flushed out heat, good for eyes, HT fire, detoxifying, Not good for weak constitution folks.
Eggplant- cool, sweet, SP, ST, LI. Circulates blood, pregnant women should limit/avoid and women with unusual periods. Use warming spices with it.
Water bamboo– sweet, cold, LV, SP, LU, detox, helps thirst, urination and bowel movement, UTI, jaundice, helps lactation.
Mushroom: shitakee LV, ST. Qi, central Qi, appetite, SP strengthening, digestive system, wind clearing, moves qi to clear damp, anti-cancer food, weak and fatigued, builds blood, helps blood pressure and cholesterol, chronic liver issues and swelling.
Wood ear fungus: sweet, LU, SP, LI, LV, boosts blood, Qi, nourish Yin. Add to soup.
Okra- diuretic, KD, BL, sore throat (slime helps) , digestive issues, ulcers, cooling, healing, increase breast milk, period regulation, if you have loose stools, do not eat Okra.
Broccoli and cauliflower– cool, pungent, bitter, diuretic, eyes, clears summer heat, vitamin c. Cream of broccoli soup, cauliflower “mashed potatoes” with almond milk, olive oil, salt and pepper.
Bell peppers- Red and Green. Red is higher in value. HT, SP, helps pain, digestion, elevated triglycerides, eye conditions, ST inflammation, Skin conditions.
Avocado- sweet, cooling, KD, LV, nourish yin, thirst, HT and cardiovascular system, transform phlegm, chronic LV conditions.
Seaweed: several types. Salty, cold, ST, SP, KD, helps dissolve masses, phlegm, eliminate water, excessive vaginal discharge, counter indicated if you have dampness.
Seaweed salads, or add to stews- ite in knots add carrot, chicken, soy sauce, miso, fish stew.

Long beans- sweet, salty, neutral- ST, SP, KD, strengthen SP, dampness removal, build up KD, watery vaginal discharge, KD essence, bone marrow, ears, brain, diabetes.
Heart of Palm: bitter, neutral, HT, SP, nourish HT, calming. Stops bleeding, prolapsed organ, qi deficiency, qi rising, fertility issues. Add to salads.
Artichoke- sweet, neutral, LV, GB, KD, clears LV and GB, stress. LV qi stagnation, GB issues, jaundice, LV inflammation, stream it with lemon and salt, eat leaves. Artichoke heart is good with spinach dip.
Peas- sweet, neutral, ST, Sp, ST issues, HT issues.

Seeds and nuts:
These can be moistening to the large intestines.
Black sesame seeds: ground up is best. Sprinkle on rice. Sweet and neutral, LV, SP, KD, good for women reproductive health, builds LV, KD, blood. LI, lower back, tinnitus, include on cereal. Helps lactation. Contra indicated for loose stools and excessive discharge.
Lotus seed: SP, KD, HT, clams spirit, pregnant women, sleeping issues, elderly incontinence, heavy periods. Counter indicated: dampness.
Ginko nut: sweet, bitter, dry, neutral. Mild toxicity eat little. LU, KD, cough, asthma, frequent urination. 3-9 grams.
Foxnut/Gorgon nut– sweet, dry, neutral, SP, LI. Contra indication: loose stools.
Pine nuts: sweet, warming, LU, LV, LI, builds blood, wind elimination, spasms, stroke, moisture body, dry cough. Bi syndromes: painful joints, wind, traveling pain.
Pumpkin seeds: raw, punded, baked. Sweet, bitter, kills parasites, lacting women, swelling, edema. Soak them.
Almonds- cough . asthma, phlegm, counter indicated- dry cough.
Pecans– boost kidney, middle jiao, mental stress, counter indicated: hot, loose stools.
Walnut- warming, dry. KD, LV, LU.
Cashew- sweet, neutral, thirst, diabetes, cough w/phlegm. HT fire calming.
Pistachios- “happy nut” sweet bitter, sour, neutral, LV, KD, good for stress. Build LV and KD, good for blood.
Flax seed- sweet, neutral, ST, LI. Itchy skin, constipation, oil can be circulating.
Hemp seed- high in protein, sweet, neutral, elimination, builds blood, iron, .
Sunflower seeds– ST, SP
Gobo seeds: skin conditions, cold, sore throat.
Apricot kernel- women period- clots, hard to have period.

Other foods: grains, fruits, vegges, etc.
Chinese Sorgum– warm, sweet, SP, ST, Middle Jiao to strengthen spleen, excrete dampness, arrest dysentery.
Yellow soy– Neutral Sweet, SP, LI, Strengthen Spleen, relieve epigastric distention, and moisten dryness.
Mung Bean– cool, sweet, HT, ST, clear pathogenic heat, induce diuresis.
Apple- cool, sweet, LU/ST, promotes body fluids, moisten lungs, relieves restlessness, removes heat, dispels alcohol.
Banana- cold, sweet, LU, LI, clears pathogenic heat, moistens intestines, removes poisons and toxicity.
Pear- cool, sweet, LU and ST, promotes body fluids, moisten dryness, clears heat, and resolves phlegm.
Peach- warm, sweet, sour, LU, ST, promote body fluids, moisten intestines, promote blood circulation, remove food stagnation.
Tangerine- swet, sour, cool, LU, ST, promote stomach and Qi, helps thirst and moisten lungs.
Hawthorne fruit- sour, sweet, warm, SP, ST, LU promotes digestion, blood circulation, blood stasis.
Spinach– sweet , cool, LI, ST, nourish blood, astring yin, moisten dryness.
Coriander- pungent, warm LU, SP- induce diuresis, digestion.
Garlic- acrid, warm SP, ST, LU, promotes circulation of Qi, wams SP/ST, removes masses in abdomen.
Alcohol/spirits/wine- bitter, sweet, toxic, HT, LV, LU, SI, blood circulation, pathogenic cold, enliven spleen, warm middle jiao, helps medicine take effect sooner, muscle spasm, obstructions in chest.
Table salt- salty, cold, ST, SP, KD, SI, LI- induces vomit, removes phlegm, cools blood, removes fire.
Vinegar- sour, bitter, warming, LV, ST dissipates blood stasis, arrests bleeding, clear toxic materials.
Peanut oil- sweet, neutral SP, LU, LI, tonify spleen, moisten lungs, loosen bowels.
Pepper- pungent, hot, warms middle jiao, ST, LI, clear phlegm and toxic materials.
Honey- sweet, neutral, LU, SP, LI, strength middle jiao, moisten dryness, clear toxins.
Crystal sugar- sweet, neutral, LU, SP, middle jiao, replenish Qi.
Ginger- pungent, warming, SP, ST, LU relieve exterior syndrome, disperse cold.
Turtle- sweet, neutral, LV, nourish yin, cool blod, restore vital energy.
Bean curd- sweet, cool, SP, ST, LI, invigorates Qi, acts on SP, ST, promotes body fluids.
Quail eggs- sweet, neutral, invigorates Qi, replenish blood, strength and muscle and bones.
Milk- sweet, neutral, HT, LV, SP, treats consumptive diseases, reinforce LU and SP.

Rotate foods as much as you can. Too much ginger is not good as it can build up heat. Too much cold and cool creates a weakness. Understand that veggies are the most alkalizing foods.

In Clinical practice and living:for illness and health related issues.
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References:

“Healing with Whole Foods”- Paul Pitchford.

“Chinese Nutrition Therapy”- Joerg Kastner.

Journal of the Tao Experience Foundation: Wilson Pitts with Dr. Amy Tseng
Qi magazine issue 1, vol. 1.

Chinese Medicated Diet, Publishing house of Shanghai College of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Traditional Chinese Medicine Youtube: Christina Kapothanasis, L. Ac., Dipl. O.M.
Shennong website

Historical Classics:
Zhou dynasty: Yellow Emperor Classic on Internal Medicine.
Han Dynasty: Shennong’s Herbal Classic.
Treatise on Febrile and Misc. Diseases– Zhang Zhongjing.
Tang Dynasty- Prescriptions Worth 1000 Gold for Emergencies– Sun Simiao.
Yuan Dynasty- Principles of Correct Diet– Hu Sihui.
Qing dynastyRecipes of Sui Xiju– Wang Shixiong.
Analysis of Food and Drink for Treatment of Diseases.- Zhang Mu.

About Administrator

Coach Matt Stampe is a Database Administrator and I.T. professional. In the world of Bodywork, he has been a Massage Therapist, and is currently a student at Virginia University of Oriental Medicine (VUOM.edu). He has taught hundreds of people Authentic Tai Chi Kung fu for over 25 years at places including: Kung fu schools, Parks and Recreation centers, Chinese schools, Martial arts clubs, MMA/Boxing gyms, and Acupuncture Universities. He has positively impacted peoples lives whether for health, sport, strength, and spirit. As a true combat athlete and fighter, he teaches realistic methods so people can be confident to defend themselves. (without all the woo-woo mystical BS.)
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