Have you ever heard of Dr. Richard Yennie? I bet many of you have, and those of you who haven’t may be surprised to find major parts of your acupuncture lineage traced back through this amazing man.
Dr. Yennie was a friend, mentor, and teacher to thousands in the acupuncture profession and a benefactor and ardent supporter of acupuncture in America. He was also my friend. He passed away October 11, 2013 at age 85.
Who was Richard Yennie?
Richard was a typical American kid, who became fascinated with all things asian as a young man. He learned Japanese as a teenager and ended up serving as a military translator in Japan in the aftermath of World War II. While there, he also studied Judo, and was injured in a Judo match. After weeks in a military hospital with no improvement, Richard’s Judo instructor brought in an acupuncturist to treat Richard. (Because acupuncture had been outlawed by General McArthur, the acupuncturist smuggled the needles in the sleeve of his kimono.) Richard responded to the acupuncture treatment and was out of the hospital in a few days.
This experience planted the seed that would ultimately change acupuncture in America forever.
After his military service, Richard taught and practiced martial arts, opening several schools. But he felt his true calling was in healthcare. Because there were no acupuncture schools in America in those days, he enrolled in chiropractic school, it being the closest related field he could find. He opened his private practice in 1961.
In 1968, Dr. Yennie founded the Acupuncture Society of America, which was the first professional acupuncture association in the USA (NCCAOM was founded in 1982.) During the 1960s and 1970s Dr. Yennie brought in the best teachers and healers from China, Japan, and Korea to teach acupuncture classes to healthcare professionals in the chiropractic, medical, osteopathic and veterinary fields. This was before there were any professional acupuncture laws or licensing in any U.S. state.
In 1974, Dr. Yennie testified before the Nevada state legislature as an expert consultant to help establish the first acupuncture practice law in the U.S. Many other states followed, and many consulted with Dr. Yennie in crafting their laws.
As you might imagine, Dr. Yennie also treated numerous celebrities and government officials (including a U.S. president) at his Kansas City clinic. His fame spread far and wide, and he received every award imaginable, including Acupuncturist of the year and Chiropractor of the year from his colleagues in professional associations. Fluent in Japanese and Mandarin, he led numerous study trips to China to help practitioners enrich their acupuncture understanding.
He actively taught acupuncture classes for nearly 40 years, blessing the lives of thousands of practitioners, and likely millions of patients. He also continued to practice acupuncture and chiropractic all the way to the end. “Retire?” he would say, “NO, re-FIRE!” He never lost the fire and love of helping others and teaching acupuncture.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Dr. Yennie, almost singlehandedly, introduced professional acupuncture into the U.S. and ensured its growth and survival. His efforts and classes predate every acupuncture school in this country. He truly is the Father of Acupuncture in the U.S.
How my Friend Richard Saved AcuGraph
But beyond his professional achievements, Dr. Yennie was a friend. He is also largely responsible for the survival and success of my company, the growth of AcuGraph, and ultimately, the fact that you are reading this.
When I first developed AcuGraph in 2002, and began sales in 2003, it was very difficult to get much attention for the product. I was a one-man operation, funding everything myself and still in school as well. My goal was to sell 10 AcuGraph systems. Total. Ever. If I did that, I figured I would at least be able to pay back what I borrowed to get started and I could walk away from the experiment.
I had reached out to a big name in the acupuncture industry, but was harshly rebuffed and left quite despondent. Then someone recommended I reach out to Dr. Yennie.
He was teaching a class in my area, so I attended the class and told him what I was doing. Immediately he insisted that I demonstrate AcuGraph to the class, and he gave his endorsement. He also invited me to Kansas City to present to his other classes, where he again heartily endorsed AcuGraph.
Because of his support and encouragement, as well as his recommendation, I was able to keep going and surpass that 10 AcuGraph milestones I had so prematurely set. He made all the difference for me, and if you’re a customer, he made the difference for you as well because he gave me the hope to keep going and building AcuGraph to where it is today.
But that was just Richard. He had the unique ability to make everyone feel important. He didn’t care that I was a student and he was the master. And he was an example of respect and kindness to all.
Because of how Dr. Yennie treated me when I was still a student, I made a vow that I would always treat students with respect and consideration. If you are or were a student and you got special treatment from my company, you can thank Richard Yennie, as do I.
I mourn his passing. I miss my friend. His classes were amazing, his wisdom was legendary, and his love touched thousands upon thousands of people.
I had the privilege of speaking at his life celebration on Friday. It was attended by several hundred grateful colleagues, students, friends and loved ones. I was awed by the sheer number of lives he had touched in a personal way as a healer, mentor, advocate and teacher. His legacy is incredible and still grows. If you are reading this, you are one of the direct beneficiaries of his legacy as well.
Words simply cannot express my appreciation of and gratitude for Dr. Richard Yennie, nor am I capable of expressing a fitting tribute. But I have to try, so I’ll close with the final words from my address at his service.
“Richard, for believing in me when few did, for giving me the hope to keep trying, and for teaching me one of life’s most valuable lessons, I will forever be in your debt. Godspeed on your journey, my friend.”