The hands that hurt can be the hands that heal.

Maryville resident Jim Lindsay has walked a winding path in life that has led him to a vocation of healing even while cultivating the devastating power of the martial arts.

Co-owner of Twisted Roots Bodywork, Lindsay makes his living as a massage therapist, using the skill of his hands to help relieve his clients of chronic pain. He is also a practitioner of a martial art known as Yin Style Baguazhang.

Linsday is one of about a dozen people in the nation hand-picked by the grandmaster of this particular lineage, He Jinbao of Beijing, to represent it in the U.S. He teaches the martial art free of charge.

There is no contradiction between the disciplines of massage and martial arts, Lindsay said. “I see them as being deeply complementary. My teacher’s teacher has information out about how you can use the principles of the martial art to heal. It’s old school Chinese stuff.”

Baguazhang is a taxing style to practice, he said. “It’s just a matter of focus and determination. This is not an easy art to start. It’s very grown up. We like to describe it as the graduate school of martial arts.”

pain opens path

The path that led to massage as a vocation started with Lindsay’s own suffering after injuring his back in 2002. For seven years, back pain was a nearly constant presence in his life. A string of orthopedic doctors, physical therapists and chiropractors could not provide lasting relief.

“The doctors couldn’t really do much,” he said. “They’d prescribe painkillers. ... It turns out at that martial arts is how I met the guy who started me fixing my back.”

While practicing in a local park, Lindsay struck up a conversation with an interested passerby and began showing him some of the basics of Baguazhang. The man decided to return the courtesy by offering his own help.

“He could immediately see that my back hurt because of the way I held myself,” Lindsay said. “He saw that I was giving him something for free, so he put me on a picnic table down in Sandy Springs Park, jammed his thumbs into some muscles, and I got off the picnic table like a miracle happened.”

With the guidance of a book recommended by his new friend, Lindsay applied the knowledge provided by the hands-on treatment and found lasting relief. “I was able to rid myself of low back pain that had crippled me for seven to eight years.”

Still, Lindsay did not think about becoming a massage therapist until receiving a doctorate in mathematics from the University of Tennessee. His field of study was enumerative combinatorics.

“It’s a glorified way to say bean-counting. It ties mathematics back to its real foundational roots. Numbers were invented to count things. It comes down to solving puzzles, and it’s fun.”

Although mathematics continued to fascinate Lindsay, he felt burned out after the grueling years of study and teaching and decided not to seek a teaching job right away. So, his wife, Heather, made a timely suggestion.

“The massage had already done a lot for me. I couldn’t find another therapist. My wife suggested, ‘Why don’t you go to school, get a license, and do what you do to other people.’”

As a massage therapist, Lindsay specializes in what is called trigger-point therapy. “I really could probably credit magic powers for how I do this, if I was less scrupulous, he said. “The thing is it’s better than magic: it’s science.”

The new path complemented Lindsay’s martial art studies. “What really appealed to me was now I would be doing something that tied into the martial art training,” he said. “Traditionally, this art is a complete system — meaning it is an art that has an healing aspect to it and an internal aspect.”

Each of the disciplines has provided its own physical benefits. “Since I started working in this art, I’ve gained about 30 pounds, but I’m less fat,” he said. “It’s definitely built me up physically. ... I have to be careful because they tell me my grip is bone crushing because I squeeze people all day long.”

In the end, Lindsay is especially pleased by one benefit of his current career. “There is a big, big change where people are happy to see me instead of my being a math teacher and people not happy to see me,” he said. “I really like helping people not hurt.”

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