Finding the Path
Biography of Dr. Yuri Belopolsky
 by Alla Lipetsker


Yuri Belopolsky captured snakes.  That was his specialty in the USSR’s Young Zoologist squad.  From fifth grade until the beginning of veterinary school, Yuri found himself on ceaseless expeditions.  With packs full of tents and a month’s provisions, his squad navigated Russia’s severe terrain, hiking through mountains and trekking in deserts.  It was exhilarating, alive.
Until he could not move.

One morning in his senior year of veterinary studies, Yuri awoke to discover that a long nagging backache morphed overnight into a debilitating condition.  After a decade of mountaineering, he could not sit up unassisted.  After sixteen hours carrying a backpack, he could not lift a pot of soup.  After fighting his way into veterinary school, he could not attend classes.

Spinal injury.  Frightening words.  The specialists disagreed on how it happened, but they agreed on what it was, and on its poor prognosis.  Perhaps, some said, Yuri would walk again.  Perhaps, in a few years, he’d lift groceries.  Perhaps.  Perhaps not.  Perhaps surgery.

When back surgery emerged as Western medicine’s only offering, Yuri’s grandmother – herself a surgeon - vetoed the option.  If the procedure failed, and sooner or later it usually did, the pain would return, this time without chance of relief.  Possible respite now at the risk of permanent disability later was too great a cost, Grandma said.  Unfortunately, Grandma didn’t have a better solution.  And, all the meanwhile, twenty five year old Yuri still couldn’t pick up his infant daughter.  Too heavy.   

The next few years brought minimal improvements.  Yuri and his daughter both learned to walk, she better than he.   He conquered school.  He got a job.  But he could never lift the baby stroller or change diapers.  At the end, Yuri’s young marriage could not survive his handicap.  The family broke up.  

Then, one day, the cure found him, or rather a coworker did. 

Since Yuri’s disability left the hospital shorthanded, his colleagues rallied for action.  If Yuri was adamant against surgery, would he be willing to try acupuncture?  He would.  And did.   Enter Mr. Vasily Ivanovich, a talented acupuncturist and the boss’s personal physician.  The treatment began.  Ten days later, Yuri stood up straight, smiled a pain free smile and announced his plans of returning to work.

Hell, no, said Vasily Ivanovich.  Yuri smiled again, thanked him and did as he pleased.  For all of forty-eight hours, after which an ambulance brought him to the emergency room.  Here, Yuri would spend the next week under sedation to awake to the sight of Vasily Ivanovich sitting at his bedside.  “I told you so,” said the acupuncturist mournfully.  That he had.  They tried again.

Over the next year, Yuri reclaimed his body.  For a final test, he strapped on a backpack and fell in step with his mountaineering friends for a three-day hike toward a renowned beer alley.  He made it, pack and all, and drank in celebration. 

Time passed.  Yuri read books and consulted with colleagues on techniques of holistic medicine.  His daughter, now in Israel, started first grade.  Yuri left the hospital to run a clinic, researching acupuncture as he worked.  He published in journals.  He left the clinic to immigrate to the United States.

The United States.  New country, new language, new medical practices.  And, in those years, an abyss between Western and Eastern healing traditions.  Pick one or the other, America told Yuri, and drew a line in the sand.  He did, boldly stepping on the side of holistic healing and promptly looking around in bewilderment.  What now?  The problem with ancient traditions is that they require ancient teachers - and Mr. Miagi does not advertise in the yellow pages. 

A friend of a friend offered to introduce Yuri to Dr. Ling Chin Yi, an elderly descendent of the Ling Dynasty, which preserved and passed the art of acupuncture through five hundred years of political turmoil and scientific revolution.  Like Yuri, Dr. Ling also escaped the Soviet regime for a new life in the United States; a connection Yuri hoped would lay groundwork for a relationship.  It didn’t. 

Dr. Ling was retired.  He was writing a book.  He was 76.  He was not taking apprentices.  And no, he did not wish to meet that nice boy Yuri.

Rejected by the master, Yuri sought out new avenues.  He examined homeopathy and other holistic medicine options before deciding to submit papers to the New England School of Acupuncture (NESA) in Massachusetts.  It wasn’t the traditional, true way of studying the art, but NESA wasn’t retired and it accepted applications.

Prior to starting classes, Yuri did get to meet Dr. Ling, not as a potential student but as a patient.  When deteriorating health forced Yuri to seek serious medical care, Dr. Ling agreed to perform a consultation and, eventually, to offer treatment.  The two bonded during the course of acupuncture and, as it drew to a close, Yuri asked that should Dr. Ling ever decide to take students, Yuri would be honored to be considered.

“Goodness, no!” said Dr. Ling.  He was retired!  He was writing a book!  He was 76!  He was not taking apprentices!

Yuri did not revisit the subject, but on their last appointment Dr. Ling inquired about Yuri’s upcoming studies.  “Three years?” Dr. Ling said, shaking his head, “what are they going to teach you in that school of yours?”  Yuri didn’t know for certain, but the brochure promised acupuncture.  Dr. Ling shook his head again.  “You come back and see me in three years,” he told Yuri.  “I’ll show you one thing.” 

Yuri came back much earlier, and came back again each school break.  The gateway to the path had opened.  Upon graduating NESA with a MastersDegree in Acupuncture, Dr. Yuri Belopolski became Dr. Ling’s twenty-ninth and last apprentice.  Today, ten years later and now under the guidance of Dr. Ling’s son, Dr. Ling Zhi Sheng, Yuri continues the path of the 500-year-old school of Classical Five Element Acupuncture.