SF Chronicle: Acupuncturist Applies Needles – and Compassion

by Edward Guthmann, Special to The Chronicle

Halé Tokay is an acupuncturist, poet and amateur boxer. Born in Ankara to a Turkish father and Swedish American mother, she grew up in Chicago from age 3, studied poetry and city planning at the University of Chicago and moved to Los Angeles in 1971. She became a licensed acupuncturist in 1982 at the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in San Francisco.

Tokay massages her patients prior to applying the acupuncture needles. It’s her way of locating the pressure points, diagnosing the problem and relaxing them so they receive the full benefit of the needles. She also prescribes several hundred Chinese herbs.

Tokay lives in the Laurel district of Oakland and practices in both Oakland and San Francisco. Her first name is pronounced “Hah-LAY.”

“I discovered martial arts in 1967 when I joined one of the first feminist political groups in the country at the University of Chicago. We thought women should be able to defend themselves and we began to study self-defense techniques in someone’s backyard, without a teacher. Nobody knew how to do it, but we read instructions.

I thought it was a bunch of hooey. But then Bob Duggan, who was the first North American black belt in Hwa Rang Do, this beautiful Korean martial art, came to Chicago. And the first time I saw a jumping spin kick I said, ‘That’s the second most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen next to ballet, but I think I can do it.’

I moved to Los Angeles in 1971 to study Hwa Rang Do with two masters who’d just come from Korea, Lee Joo Sang and Lee Joo Bang. They were both acupuncture doctors. In Korean martial arts, pressure point techniques are used all the time. When the points are pressed you can clearly feel and perceive the internal energy systems.

I wrote poetry from the time I was a little girl. When you’re a poet, it’s all internal. You aren’t painting; you aren’t making sculpture. It’s just inspiration. A journey from the inside to the outside: being inspired by an external source, then actually writing a poem.

So as a poet, acupuncture made total sense to me. It was like opening up the heavenly constellations inside – but from a different point of view. It was thrilling. I was already in love with martial arts and I became doubly in love with acupuncture and acupuncture points.

Lee Joo Sang was very kind. He only spoke English a little bit but he advised me to memorize the pressure points and said that he would help me find them. Then I fell in love and moved to Guatemala, where I lived for three years. I came back in 1976, went to acupuncture seminars, took classes in science at Cal. Finally, in 1980, the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine opened in San Francisco. I was in the first graduating class.

I treat chronic disorders, autoimmune disorders, HIV. Chronic pain that has not been resolved. Work-related disorders. Sports injuries. Acupuncture works very well in combination with Western medicine.

My job is to diagnose the problem, find the pressure points and apply the needles after an hour of massage. But there’s more. In practicing medicine, a major issue is kindness – from the doctor’s point of view. It’s basic selflessness in the most old-fashioned sense of the word. That’s really what the spirit of traditional medicine is.

My mother and grandmother died when I was 9. My father remarried when I was 12 to a woman who hated me. I’d seen a lot of death and unhappiness, and a lot of survival and perseverance as a child.

I was always very serious about my practice. When I started in 1982, I began to treat AIDS just as it was being acknowledged, as they were figuring out what it was. I started counting one day: I had over 100 people in my practice die. And I just cried and I’ve never looked at the list again.

I would see one sick man after another and what the men said to me was, ‘We are so glad that you actually listen to us, that you take the time with us. It means more than almost anything else. Please don’t stop listening.’ And something like that is always cemented in your heart.”

This article appeared on page E – 5 of the San Francisco Chronicle.

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About American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine
American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine (ACTCM) has provided affordable, quality health care to the public and trained professionals in acupuncture, massage and Chinese medicine since 1980. In addition to its graduate curriculum, ACTCM offers continuing education, public education, community outreach and clinical services in acupuncture and herbal medicine. ACTCM has been the recipient of many awards for its curriculum, faculty and clinic, and has been voted “Best of the Bay” by both the San Francisco Weekly and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. ACTCM is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine and is a private, nonprofit, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization.