The Master’s Way: Become more Rounded with Hobbies and Interests

Woman taking down notes in diary

A few years ago, I was hugely into 9 ball pool. I went to a pool club on days off and would play or practice for 3 hours straight. Sometimes I’d do it for 6. This was in Japan and pool halls in Japan are great value. It cost me 1000 Yen for 3 hours, playtime (about £8). 

My pool hall was in Kamata, in a kind of downtown area of Tokyo. On the way to the pool hall I would walk through a somewhat seedy district full of pachinko parlours, Chinese restaurants and hostess clubs. It was great.

I still sucked at pool, but over the weeks and months, I started to improve and made some good friends at my hall.

Be more interesting

The point of this article is that hobbies and interests have benefits to our mind and bodies. They make us more rounded as people, but also as practitioners. I think we learn things through hobbies that can help us achieve mastery in other things. Especially in my case, something like acupuncture. I believe that having interests in life, makes us more interesting as people. It gives us a perceptible glow that others can pick up on. A kind of internal passion that is attractive.


Though, I spent hours in a darkened, smoky hall, away from fresh air and sunlight, playing pool provided me with certain health benefits, not least being temporarily shaded from all those other hard-nose-to-the-mill salaryman, rushing, careering, cramming the rush hour trains on their way to offices, meetings and oppressive workplaces. I suppose I was a slacker, but it was fun. My pool partner Kikumaru-San was an accountant, though he seemed to spend more time playing pool than working.

All the bending, stretching to reach shots and moving around the table keeps you thin. You may notice that most snooker players are usually quite lean. There is actually a lot of energy expenditure and movement in pool. It helped keep me relatively flexible.

Pool is  a game of concentration and emotional balance. You have to focus on the shot. You also need to develop patience and focus to practice shot after shot, over and over again.

Emotional training

And you have to learn not to get too emotionally upset when losing to someone, as happened often. One thing I learnt is that you can occasionally beat a superior player to yourself, if they lose their composure but you keep yours. Hint: Don’t drink alcohol.

When people lose their composure, no matter how good they are, they start making mistakes, which then turns into frustration and tension, even anger. This causes them to miss shots they would normally pot 10 times out of 10. And if you keep your composure and can pot, then you can win games, when ordinarily they would destroy you in minutes.

This is not to say, I was a high level player. I was mediocre. But I did have my moments.


And pool hall usually have bars. Bars sell Guinness, which contains minerals and b vitamins, which are good for you. Case closed.

Some pool halls in Japan even allow smoking (banned in the UK). So if you are reminiscent for the past, with its smoke-filled cafes and pubs, then go to Japan. 

Rounded interests

I think that hobbies are things that therapists, in fact anybody, can and should do – whether it be dance, yoga, martial arts, drawing, painting, writing, playing a musical instrument, singing, deep-sea diving, acting, flower arranging… the choices are many. 

All of these hobbies and interests make a person broader and well rounded. They also give a person balance. 

Martial Arts

I think in Japan, acupuncturists are quite balanced in their interests. My colleague in London, Eitaro, a Japanese acupuncturist is a black belt in Aikido.

One of my earlier acupuncture teachers, Mr Honda also has a black belt in aikido. He taught three classes a week in Yokohama.

One of his acupuncture students – Ishimaru, was a karate guy and came from Osaka.  He could be cheeky and made fun of me at the beginning, basically because I didn’t understand Japanese and didn’t have a clue what the teacher or anyone was talking about (nothing has changed since), although I later became friends with him. 

I have met many acupuncturists over the years, but these two stood out. I think it was their interests and hobbies, which made these particular individuals stand out more for me. 

Another good example of this is Mr Taniuchi.

Mr Taniuchi

In 2016, I visited Japan and went to Mr Taniuchi’s acupuncture clinic. Mr Taniuchi is a blind acupuncturist and member of the Toyohari association. I interviewed him for my book – The Tradition of Blind Acupuncturists in Japan.

Blind Acupuncture in Japan

What really stood out for me is that despite being blind, Mr Taniuchi had a huge interest in building strength and physical fitness. Before he went blind as a young man, he was into judo. He had to give it up when he lost his eyesight. However, this did not stop his love of exercise.

Mr Taniuchi teaching at the 2016 Toyohari Workshop in Tokyo

Exercising at Work

Before meeting Mr Taniuchi, I had heard from another Toyohari member that during breaks, Mr Taniuchi would lift weights in one of his treatment rooms.

Mr Taniuchi came to London, to teach in the European acupuncture seminar. During the group meal afterwards, Mr Taniuchi initiated an arm-wrestling match with all of the Toyohari members, and subsequently beat everyone. He easily dispatched all his opponents with a cheeky grin on his face.

His interest in arm-wrestling had begun when he beat one of his patients at an arm wrestling fight. This patient then invited him to his arm wrestling group. Mr Taniuchi went along and got really into it. 

Mr Taniuchi is not a big person but he showed me how you can build real strength and bone and muscle density with regular weight training.

Though, I don’t think any of us pasty-faced, limp-wristed acupuncturists provided him with any real competition. 

The lesson was actually quite straightforward and very relevant to people who work with energy. As we focus on the energetic aspects of life, Don’t neglect to focus on the physical. We need a balance of yin and yang.

Hobbies add to us

Perhaps, Mr Tanuichi’s armwrestling is not directly related to his acupuncture or healthcare in general. But it does make Mr Taniuchi a more interesting person. It also means that he can relate more wider to people. Especially young men who feel that strength and fitness are important, would be especially inspired by his interest in arm wrestling. 

Also, I am sure there are crossovers. There will be things about his arm-wrestling that would make him a better practitioner. Not withstanding, the general health benefits that regular weight exercises has the body.

Miro and Diving

Another example is my friend Miro Baricic. He is an acupuncturist with an interest in diving.  This is one of the most physically demanding activities that a person can do. Swimming into the depths of a lake or body of water requires strong muscles, stamina and lung capacity. There is no doubt, that this will have positive effects on his health in years to come. 

Additionally, he found an ancient sword in a deep lake Norway and made the news!


Miro sword

What has 9-ball pool got to do with acupuncture?

To finish, I will answer – how does a hobby like 9 ball pool make you a better acupuncturist? Or any hobby?

The answer is that there are skills we develop which can be transferred to our acupuncture practice. Or any practice we take on. 

Here’s how:

Precision and Intention

9 ball pool is about precision and intention.

Before you even go into the stance, you must decide what shot you are going for. And you must decide where you want to position yourself for the next shot after.

Acupuncture is also about precision and intention, (especially in a system like Toyohari).

Before treating a patient, you must position yourself in the best way to reach your patient and that allows a better flow of Ki in your wrist and arm.


In pool, you pay special attention on your stance, measuring the shot and taking aim.  Even the pause before you strike has great significance.

This is because you must hit the cue ball at a very specific point on the ball. If you hit over centre, the cue ball follows after the target ball. If you hit under centre, the cue ball will spin backwards after hitting the cue ball. If you hit dead centre, the cue ball stuns and can stop dead on a straight shot. Hitting to the right or left of the cue ball also causes it to follow a different trajectory. Hence why precision is so necessary. You want to aim to position your cue ball in an area ready for the shot after. If you don’t do this, the cue ball will end up somewhere you don’t want it.

Like the cue ball, when needling the acupuncture point, you must find the correct location of the acupuncture point or you can miss it and not get the desired effect. 

Here is an extract from Shudo Denmei discussing his teacher’s accuracy when locating the correct acupuncture point:

Some practitioners locate points by rote and thereby fail to take the time to examine the area around the points carefully. My teacher practiced the Sawada style of acupuncture which puts great emphasis on locating acupuncture points where there is some palpable reaction. He was very particular about point location, and at certain points would press the skin with the head of a match or the end of a blunt pencil to find the tender spot. When he examined an acupuncture point carefully, he literally looked for reactions one square millimetre at a time. As a result, I learned to locate points with special care. When I am looking for a point, my fingertips are constantly on the move feeling for differences…

Generally speaking, the skin surfaces at acupuncture points on meridians with imbalances is less resilient than the surrounding area. Sometimes a tight band of tension of a knot-like induration can be palpated in the subcutaneous tissues with the fingertips. In other cases, the patient may feel tenderness when these points are pressed.

Shudo Denmei – Japanese Classical Acupuncture, p168

Delivery and Action

In pool, the drawing back of the cue, the pause and then striking the cue ball is the crucial moment. 

Your aim must be correct or you may miss the shot. You mind must be calm and focused. Your breathing as calm as you can make it no matter how pressured you feel. You learn to maintain calm though hours of practice. It is like a form of mental training or meditation.

When taking a shot, you must let go of tension, breathe normally and avoid holding your breath. If you feel any tension or worry, you can miss even easy shots. Likewise you must not feed any negative feelings like anger, frustration or fear. This can occur easily if you are losing to someone.

All of the above applies to acupuncture needling (again especially in Meridian Therapy).

Needling focus and intention

With the needle, you advance to the skin and insert it with intention. Your needling technique must be correct or you can miss the spot. You learn to do this through years of regular practice. To be calm and focused on feeling and connecting with the point and the patient. You must be relaxed and yet alert. Your touch must be soft. Holding the needle firmly, but not gripping with force.

The Chinese acupuncture bible, the Huangdi Neijing places importance on the sensitivity of needling with this quote:

In order to reinforce the deficient activity of the organs, it is advisable to insert the needle as carefully as a blind person handles things, inducing the vital energy, and then withdraw the needle as swiftly as a mosquito or a horsefly flies off as soon as it has landed, and as a taut string of a lute is broken suddenly.

HuangTi Nei Ching Ling Shu, The Cannon of Acupuncture – Ki Sunu. Page 33

Needling is not something you just do, like slapping paint on a wall or slopping a few bricks down in a hurry. A painted wall or brick wall can be created with beauty and care and be appreciated for it. Or it can look like a bodge job and noted as one.

The technique itself is a part of the treatment, not just the end result

In the West, Medical doctors, nurses and allied health professionals can learn acupuncture in a few weekends, learning point prescriptions for specific conditions like knee pain, back pain, stopping smoking or nausea. Acupuncture becomes a kind of Oriental painkiller. Ki does not exist. It is explained with endorphins and so on.

With such an attitude, the delicacies of technique are discounted.  All that matters is sticking the needle in without connection, without care. The famous Japanese acupuncturist Shudo Denmei writes this:

According to Yanagiya Sorei, forcing the needle is akin to rape, and if all we do is stick the needles in people, we are nothing but needle stickers. These words are really to the point. The secrets of acupuncture are no different from those of life itself. We need to pay attention to all we do. Qi is gathered around the point by stroking, brushing, and pressing the point. When the preparation is good, the area becomes slightly reddened. When the skin is ready to receive the needle, all one has to do is place the needle tip on the point and the needle practically goes in by itself. 

Introduction to Meridian Therapy, Shudo Denmei. Page171


My overall message here is to cultivate other interests and hobbies. It will make you more rounded and there is a crossover. No matter what you do, you can find parallels with your profession. Like with my example of 9 ball pool. 

Taking the time to learn something new will help you develop discipline, patience and an appreciation of the small details. Such things can help you in other fields of work. 

Improving by Observing Nature (& art, sports and movies)

Traditional Chinese medicine is based on Taoism, which is based on the observation of nature. Observing nature does not just mean observing animals, seasons or the cycles of the sun and moon. It is also about observing the daily activities that humans do. Yes, 9 ball pool falls into this category.

It may be the reason, why the Japanese put so much emphasis on perfecting the art of flower arranging (Ikebana) or Calligraphy, or even perfecting the air conditioning unit in a car.

Take a look at their electronic toilets to see how precision and beauty can be applied even to something like a toilet. If you can’t get to Japan to see it, you can always try and visit the Japanese embassy in London to see one. There seems to be an innate desire for perfection in all areas of life and work. And yes, even things like going to the toilet. A philosophy where the minute details are just as important as the overall outcome. 

The act of doing is as important as the final result

Even the process of learning a new hobby is part of this process. As a beginner you suck. But as you practice more, you gradually develop your ability until you become fairly capable.  You start to get recognition from others. As you improve further, you become more experienced and may even be able to guide others. There is beauty in this full process. We always admire the final product, but what of the full journey?

Another example can be felt when walking up a mountain. Why do people want to walk up mountains? It is extremely tiring and your legs ache for days afterwards. It is so much easier to go the gym, instead of getting bitten by bugs and overtaken by elderly Japanese walkers wearing their hats and fanny-packs.

When I have walked up mountains, I remember feeling satisfied when I got to the top , but then I would suddenly feel at a loss.

‘Oh, Ok, I’m here, now what should I do?’ I’d think. And then as soon as I felt rested enough, I would start descending again.

I realised that it is really the journey that gave me the pleasure. Not being at the top. The top is just for taking Instagram selfies with my selfie stick.

The act itself is as important as the result

This is the real application of being in the now. Every weave of the flower stem in Ikebana, or stroke of the quill as in Calligraphy is important in its own right. Every moment, every act is a frame in time. It all leads to the end result, which when that point comes, could be said to be dead, because it is finished. It is a metaphor for life.

It is not the final result, but the journey that gives life meaning. Which is why, when people have accomplished something great, they then start to seek the next challenge. This is because they recognise that life is about motion. To sit back and enjoy your successes leads to stagnation.

The famous Japanese aikido teacher and author Koichi Tohei in his ‘Book of Ki‘ talks about ‘always extending your Ki (energy)’ to be healthy. Once you relax your Ki, you can grow stagnant, slow down, old, even get sick. Here is an extract from when he returned from fighting in the War in 1946:

The day I returned, I began farming. My mother recommended I take a month’s rest at a hot spring resort. I said, “No, mother. I could endure hardships like sleeping on the ground because I did not relax my Ki. If I slack my Ki now, I’ll be in trouble. I’ll start farming in order to keep my Ki strong. I’ll visit friends and relatives after I get used to it.” After a week, I began visiting. I did not get sick at all. I heard later that some returning soldiers went to the spring and died since their Ki weakened. I again realised the importance of filling myself with Ki.

Book of Ki: Co-ordinating Mind and Body in Daily Life. Page 86

Perhaps it is the same way, a person who retires after working hard for many years, looking forward to a life of afternoon pub, daytime TV, cruises and general relaxation -finds himself losing his energy, becoming bored, dull and gets really sick for the first time in his life. It is because he is no longer projecting his Ki.

So always project your Ki. Keep on moving until you truly reach a time, when you feel ‘it’s enough‘; Now is the time to sit back and observe the others on the mouse-wheel.

Practicing a different hobby may even give you a new perspective on your other work. Having wider interests in other things that are different to what you do for a living can make you a broader and more rounded individual. It will make you more interesting as a person. Life is short, just a few decades at best. Just enough time to master one single act. 


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