MUSHROOMS, THE HWARANG & THE MARTIAL ARTS
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Martial arts, particularly those Asian in origin, sprung from cultures which held
medicinal plants in high esteem. Mushrooms proved to be a rich source of sustenance,
providing medicine, dyes and potent poisons. Popes and kings have been assassinated with
toxic mushrooms and according to legend, Buddha died from eating a mushroom. Wood conk
mushrooms (Inonotus obliquus and Fomes fomentarius) were some of the few
natural remedies for combating viral and bacterial diseases such as tuberculosis as well
as an agent for retarding a variety of cancers. In several native societies, mind-altering
mushrooms have traditionally been used by warrior priests for heightening awareness, for
vision quests and for foretelling the future. A few primatologists have even speculated
that magic mushrooms may have been the stimulus for the divergence of proto-hominids from
our ape-like ancestors into the lineage that led to Homo erectus, and then Homo
sapiens. As extraordinary as some of these claims may seem, the body of undeniable
evidence underscores the pivotal role mushrooms have played in the progression of human
history. Recent discoveries further validate what our ancestors have long understood:
mushrooms hold within them the very power of life and death.
In contrast to western traditions, Asian cultures give great significance to the
natural form. The shape of the medicinal plant symbolized its medicinal potency or
spiritual power. Ginseng is one example -- the forms most valued are those resembling the
shape of human body. To many native cultures, the cap and stem of of mushrooms symbolized
fertility, the union of male and female organs, the interface between the underworld and
heaven, and the harmony of the forces of nature.
Of all the organisms in the natural environment, mushrooms stood out as having the
greatest potential for use by elite warriors. Those who were familiar with their
properties included them as powerful tools to their survival arsenal. Although much of the
traditional knowledge has been lost, many of the claims made over the centuries are now
being validated by Western medicine. Mushrooms are now being systematically explored by
pharmaceutical companies in the desperate search for new medicines, especially
The Earth's Internet: Mushroom Mycelium
Most mushrooms form, grow and disappear in a few days. Their sudden appearance is brief
in contrast to the resident form, the mushroom mycelium. The mycelium is the cobwebby
stuff (actually composed of fine interwoven microscopic strands) that is seen when a
mushroom is picked in the woods. The mycelium can live for years, even centuries, and in
one case we know of, for more than a millennium. When the right weather conditions
prevail, mushrooms suddenly emerge from this mycelial net. The entire earth's land-mass,
with few exceptions, is connected by colonies of overlapping mycelial mats, all within the
first four inches of top soil. A cubic inch of soil can have up to one mile of mycelium
threaded through it. This mycelial network is the global ecological interface, an inherent
but natural Internet, which senses and is crucial to the health of the Earth's life
support systems. I believe mycelium is an innate form of intelligence for what the
mycelium does, and its ability to adapt, and the products it provides for repairing
ecosystems, suggests far more than a disinterested organism of casual importance. Mycelium
existed in the primordial sea when life first began. We share a closer ancestry with fungi
far more so than with bacteria. Our distant, yet common origin may be why fungally derived
antibiotics can be used to fight infections without harming human hosts.
Scanning electron micrograph of mushroom mycelium,
magnified approximately 500 times (Photo by Paul Stamets)
My own research initially centered on growing mycelium to produce gourmet and medicinal
mushrooms. The process of mycelial growth has given some surprising additional benefits.
We are well on the road to proving their usefulness in breaking down petroleum-based toxic
wastes, filtration of gray-water contamination of water sheds, immune-stimulation and as
anti-carcinogens, and initiating habitat recovery. No other organisms on this planet have
a greater potential for healing endangered environments within a relatively short
time.These interface organisms are the springboard for renewal of vast regions devastated
by catastrophes. Once the mycelium permeates the environment, moisture retention is
enhanced, nutrients are released, insects are attracted, birds come, seeds are
distributed, reforestation is initiated, and the ecosystem begins to recover. Fungi are
the keystone species which make these processes flourish.
The Hwarang and the Mudang
Mushrooms can also empower martial artists. In ancient Korea, the Hwarang (the
") were a warrior elite, trained in the warring arts as well as
philosophy, mathematics, astronomy and herbology. After the unification of the Korean
peninsula, during the period known as the Yi Dynasty (1392-1910), the warring arts of the
Hwarang retreated into Buddhist sanctuaries where they were preserved. Prominent within
many Buddhist temples are representations of medicinal mushrooms, particularly Ganoderma
lucidum, also known as Ling Chi, the Mushroom of Immortality, and the Tree of Life
A carved wooden Ganoderma lucidum, several hundred years old,
residing in a Buddhist Lama temple near Beijing, China
(Photograph courtesy of Jeff Chilton)
Hermit warrior-priests become legenday, living in solitude, often in mountainous
regions where many of these mushrooms flourished. When the Japanese invaded the Korean
peninsula in the 16th century, two warrior priests San Dae Sa and Sam Yung Dang, organized
a Buddhist-based Hwarang army which successfully repelled the Japanese invaders. The
Hwarang again disbanded and was preserved only through traditions established within the
A natural alliance was forged between the Korean mudang, shamans who were more often
women than men, with the Buddhist Hwarang. The mudang also chose to live a life of
solitude in harmony with the natural world. When invading armies would attack Korean
villages, the summary execution of officials, and especially the medicine women, upon whom
the villagers so depended, was a pre-requisite for the forcible enslavement of the local
population. The Buddhist Hwarang warrior could protect the mudang, and the knowledge of
the use of medicinal plants amassed over the centuries, essential for the culture's
survival, could be preserved. We know very little about the dynamics of these
relationships - there are only vague hints buried in historical texts.
Forest Fungi: Potent Allies to the Martial Artist
I am listing a few of the more prominent mushroom species which can greatly help the
martial artist on their path to perfection. Most of these species are further discussed in
Growing Gourmet & Medicinal Mushrooms. (1993, Ten Speed Press,
Berkeley). Another book I recommend is Christopher Hobbs' Medicinal Mushrooms
(1995, Botanica Press, Santa Cruz). For the visionary mushrooms, I recommend my latest
book, Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World: An Identification Guide. (1996, Ten
Speed Press). Probably the best general guide to identifying the widest range of mushrooms
is David Arora's Mushrooms Demystified (1986, Ten Speed Press.) For more
details on these books, jump to our home page.
For the purposes described here, I am describing just 5 of the more important mushroom
species, selected for the properties most valuable to the martial artist community. Some
of the more prominent species are wood conks or polypores. Wood conks are also called
shelf mushrooms because of their appearance. Their underbellies have thousands of pores
rather than the gills you see on the underside of store-bought button mushrooms. Yet
another group of mushrooms have teeth. These mushrooms are widely distributed throughout
the world. Most field guides have pictures of them. (Now, here is the forever repeating:
Never eat a mushroom unless it has been positively identified.) Since hunting
mushrooms can be hit-or-miss, I enjoy cultivating them which gives me a constant supply.
In either case, armed with some basic mycological knowledge, the martial artist will come
to know mushrooms as powerful allies. For many, mushrooms also seem to satisfy a hunger of
the spirit. They embody and reflect the beauty of nature, time, and for some a window into
the dimensions of immortality.
Polypore mushrooms are usually hard and are attached to trees. Amazingly, all polypores
-- as far as we know thus far -- are edible. That is, if you could chew them. They are
typically tough and even wood-like. However, they can be boiled and made into a rich soup.
The 5300 yr. old Ice Man who was discovered in the fall of 1991 on the border of Austria
and Italy, packed three polypore species with him, inferring that he considered them
essential to his trek over the Alps. When dried, they are excellent as punk for the
starting fires and for keeping embers alive over long distances. The smoke from burning
polypores is exceptional at driving away biting insects. Although some shamans in
Amazonian Ecuador smoke polypores for religious experiences, we have no idea what the
causal compounds may be. Polypores as a group are comparatively benign compared to their
gilled cousins, many of whom are poisonous.
Polypores are also resplendent with antibacterial compounds and are good for making
into a poultice should you get cut and/or get an infection. These same antibiotics make
mushrooms resistant to rot. Recent research has shown that powdered Ganoderma
mushrooms can help correct a variety of skin disorders. In a similar application, a
chemist has recently discovered that the brown staining mushrooms are particularly good at
curing rashes from poison oak and poison ivy.
Reishi or Ling Chi
"Mushroom of Immortality
Range: Distributed throughout the southern United States, Japan, Korea and vast
region of China. Ganodermas seem ubiquitous, thriving wherever trees grow. They
often have a shiny, lacquered surface which is especially shiny when wet.
Medicinal Properties: Anti-arthritic, increases absorption of oxygen, increases
stamina, anti-tumor, and recent research in Seoul by Dr. Byong Kak Kim (college of
Pharmacy, Seoul National University) shows that extracts of this mushroom prevents the
death of lymphocytes from HIV and inhibits the replication of this virus.Triterpenoids --
steroid-like compounds -- have also been detected in extracts of this mushroom. Ganoderma
lucidum has also shown promise in fighting Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)
Method of Preparation: Dried, powdered and used in tea form, usually 2-5 grams
per serving, two to three times per day. (Do not drink more than two cups 4 hours or
sooner prior to desired sleep time as they seem to have a stimulating effect.)
Comments: Himalayan guides use this mushroom to combat altitude sickness. Sages
believed the mind and body were fortified with regular ingestion's of this mushroom,
bestowing the name
"Mushroom of Immortality
nearly two thousand years, Ganoderma lucidum has been the object of adulation, and
is reflected in hundreds of paintings. Buddhists had a particular affection for Ling Chi,
embellishing their temples with various forms of this highly variable fungus.
I cultivate many varieties of Ganoderma lucidum. Their beauty and forms are
timeless, striking a deep chord in many who are awestruck by the fruitings in my growing
rooms. They can be grown indoors or outdoors, and generally prefer warm, sub-tropical
climates. They are primarily hardwood saprophytes. Some species grow on conifers. Although
Ganoderma lucidum is the most well known, many other relatives have medicinal
properties, but they are less studied.
As a martial artist, I find that this mushroom increases endurance, especially
respiration, and relieves pain in the joints. Many people suffering from arthritis have
been emphatic in their belief this mushroom helps. A study at the Texas Health Science
Center in San Antonio, Texas found that Ganoderma lucidum extracts favorably
compared to the commonly prescribed drugs for alleviating arthritis. But the added
advantage with this mushroom was that there were no side effects, while the associated
side effects from prescription drugs is a well known problem.
Grifola frondosa Maitake
") or Hen of the Woods
Range: Grifola frondosa grows in the temperate mountainous regions of
Japan, in northeastern North America through the Midwest. Preferring exclusively
hardwoods, especially oaks and elms, this mushroom appears in the late summer through
early fall. Favorite places to collect this mushroom include colonial graveyards where
stately oaks reside.
Medicinal Properties: Anti-viral, anti-tumor, anti-diabetic and also the subject
of research against HIV, this mushroom is a delicious, soft-fleshed polypore with
excellent nutritional properties. Of all the polypores currently being studied, Grifola
frondosa is attracting considerable attention from the pharmaceutical industry,
especially in Korea and Japan. Several causal compounds appear to be at play.
When I started eating Maitake three times a week, I did not fall sick for three years.
I got a lot mileage out of this statement, but, then I got a cold, although mild and
short-lasting. Now I am approaching the beginning of my 5th year....that's in stark
contrast to getting ill several times a year, my previous pattern. My body hungers for the
taste of this mushroom, which I think is a reflection of its inherent beneficial
properties. I like combining Maitake, Shiitake and Reishi to triple stimulate the immune
Method of Preparation: 5 grams (dry weight; 40 grams wet weight) tea, soups, or
dehydrated and stir-fried in olive oil, with onion, garlic, chives, and tamari.
Comments: Maitake is one of my very favorite mushrooms. The transformations it
undergoes from gray mounds, labyrinthine folds, petals, and leaflets is a one of nature's
great displays of grace and being. This mushroom is a great candidate for growing on the
thousands of hardwood stumps spread across the midwest. We grow Maitake indoors and have
developed several good fruiting strains from mushrooms collected in the wild.
Range: Widespread throughout the hardwood forests of the world, including eastern
and mid-western North America, and vast regions of central Europe and Asia. This mushroom
is also called Bear's Head, and looks like a tuft of snow-white cascading icicles on
downed trees or stumps.
Medicinal Properties: Commonly prescribed for stomach ailments and for cancer
prevention, this mushroom was once reserved only for the palates of the royal families.
Recently a group of Japanese researchers have patented an extraction process which
isolates a NGSF (Nerve Growth Stimulant Factor). They found a compound in Hericium
erinaceus which causes brain neurons to regrow, a feat of great significance in
potentially helping senility, repairing neurological degradation, increasing intelligence
and improving reflexes.
Method of Preparation: 8 grams dried or 100 grams fresh. Deliciously edible,
imparting a lobster-like flavor, this mushroom is formed of cascading icicle-like teeth.
Also, high in protein and vitamins. I typically stir fry these mushrooms, or slice and dry
them, adding the slices to a soup base later.
Comments: This mushroom is easy to identify and can sometimes be found in huge
quantities. Closely related and equally edible species include Hericium coralloides
and Hericium abietis. Most field guides have good photographs of these species. A
soft, delicate and often water-soaked mushroom, it's best to cook them fresh. . If drying,
slice the mushrooms into dials and dry. Seal in a plastic bag until use. If thoroughly
dry, these dials are also flammable.
Photo courtesy of Luiz Amaro Paschoa da Silva,
Range: Native to Asia (China, Malaysia and Japan) on hardwoods. The cultivation of
Shiitake is central to Japanese and Asian culture. Even today, thousands of villagers and
farmers grow Shiitake on hardwood logs.
Medicinal Properties: A derivative of a cell wall sugar, called lentinan, has been
licensed by the Japanese National Cancer Institute as an injectable anti-cancer drug. It
also has been extensively studied for its cholesterol reducing, and anti-viral properties.
Method of Preparation: 2-4 ounces fresh; 5-11 grams dried, then rehydrated for use.
A mushroom commonly available in most major cities, Shiitake are one of the best tasting
of all medicinal mushrooms. When well cooked, the mushrooms impart a meaty flavor. Simple
method is to stir-fry with olive oil, onions, sliced almonds served over rice or fish.
Fresh thinly sliced Shiitake is traditionally served with miso in soups.
Comments: To be Japanese is to grow Shiitake. This mushroom is so central to the
Japanese cultural identity that its cultivation is largely funded by their government to
keep the industry alive, while wood supplies have diminished to precarious levels and
consumption has soared. China, the first to cultivate shiitake, has rapidly become the
largest exporter in the world. Shiitake can be grown indoors or outdoors. Outdoor
cultivation traditionally uses hardwood logs which are impregnated with spawn. Hardwood
logs with dense barks are preferred. One to two years after inoculation, fruitings begin
and continue for several years thereafter.
Insect Parasitizing Mushrooms
Photo courtesy of Takeshi Nakazawa
Range: Grows throughout China and southeast Asia. Also a favorite diet of the yaks,
villagers and farmers collect the infected larvae at dawn, when, at a particular angle of
sunlight causes dew drops forming on the heads of the infected larvae to become
iridescent. The particular characteristic refractive sparkle from each dew drop allows
each larva to be picked from the mosaic of tall grasses. Many Cordyceps species
parasitize insects and are widespread throughout the temperate regions of the world, of
which Cordyceps capitata is a prominent member.
Medicinal Properties: Used to treat lymphoma, and variety of other cancers. Hot
water extracts of this fungus have compounds which relax the bronchial passages, enhancing
respiration. At a recent mycological conference, a group of Japanese researchers showed
that water extracts of this mushroom dilated the right aorta by 40% under stress. The
increase in blood flow would benefit muscles pushed to their maximum, and greatly add to
endurance. A clinical study with sexually dysfunctional men found that 64% improved in
performance from ingesting a gram per day.
This mushroom has made sports headlines. At the Chinese National Games in 1993, a team
of nine Chinese women runners shattered 9 world records, with the 10,000 meter run broken
by an unprecedented 42 seconds. Recently a marathon
called me to report that he was able to cut 25 minutes off the Boston Marathon in one
month using this mushroom in a tea.
Method of Preparation: 2-5 grams of Caterpillar fungus (10-25 larvae) boiled in
water for 1-3 minutes, allow to cool, steep, divide into thirds and drink total every 4-6
hours. (If allowing to sit overnight, refrigerate, then re-boil for 1 minute before use.)
One should drink the tea the day of expected strenuous activity, at least 1-2 hours before
the event begins. Those using monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors or suffering from heart
disease should consult a physician before using this fungus.
Comments: Cordyceps sinensis is parasitic on insect larvae. Its spores
infect the larvae, the mycelium invades throughout its body, kills it, and then out-pops a
dark club-like mushroom from the back of its head. The flavor is good and despite the
appearance of dead larvae with a black club sticking out of it, you can grow quite fond of
this bizarre fungus. Caution is advised as the long term effects of this fungus has not
been fully studied.
I recommend ingesting medicinal mushrooms 3 times a week as a regimen. For endurance
training, Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) and Caterpillar Fungus (Cordyceps sinensis)
are the best candidates and should be used for no more than 3 days in a row. For
competition, I recommend preparing a tea made of these mushrooms and ingesting it one to
two hours prior to the event. Presently, none of these mushrooms are listed as
disqualifying performance-enhancing drugs, nor are they illegal. We sell many of these
mushrooms, both in dried form and in our customized tea. For more infomation on these
products, consult our catalog of Dried Mushrooms and Mycomedicinal
For disease treatment and prevention, Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) and Maitake (Grifola
frondosa) combine well and can be eaten daily. Lion's Mane (Hericium erinaceus)
is a delicacy and should be enjoyed at every possible opportunity. These mushrooms are but
a few of the approximately one hundred species presently being surveyed for their
These mushrooms are discussed in Growing Gourmet and
Medicinal Mushrooms. This will be one in a series of articles oriented to
martial artists. The next one will center on
Visualization, the Martial Artist & Shamanism
". My next book is:
Gardening with Gourmet & Medicinal Mushrooms: The Zen and Art of Mycological
Landscaping, due out in late 1997.
Downward strikng hatchet kick
Black Belt, 1st degree Taekwon Do
Half-Black, Hwarang Do
Instructor under Erik Remmen, Northwest Hwarang Do Association
Olympia, Washington, USA
28th june 1996
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