© Angelika-M. Findgott
© Angelika-M. Findgott

Leon I. Hammer, MD

August 20th, 1924 – July 10th, 2023

An Obituary by Angelika-M. Findgott, Sybill Huessen and Scott Tower 


It was in 2010 when Leon sent an email to Angelika and wrote: „Yes, I recall now your meeting with Sybill and Scott in London a few years ago. The three of you make a wonderful combination.” And now the three of us paired up to write this obituary for Leon and to express our appreciation for him.  Each of us will take a turn in shining a light on his life.




Scott Tower

A giant has left us.  Leon Hammer, MD, passed away on July 10, 2023, just a month shy of his 99th birthday.  Throughout his long life, he touched many minds and hearts.


Born in New York in 1924, he was a graduate of Cornell University, Cornell Medical College, and the William A. White Institute of Psychoanalysis and Psychiatry.  

In the early 1970’s, he began a study of Chinese Medicine in England with Dr J.D. van Buren and later traveled to study in China.  Over a period of 27 years, he studied with Dr. J.F. Shen, and was particularly drawn to his pulse diagnostic skills which were internationally renowned.  In this, he was relentless, once even following Dr Shen into a movie theatre in pursuit of answers to his questions.

In the early 1990s, with a small group of us as enthusiastic guinea pigs, he began exploring how to effectively teach what he learned from Dr Shen about the pulse to modern practitioners.  This eventually evolved into what is now known as Shen-Hammer Pulse Diagnosis.  Starting in 2001, it was an honor, along with Sybill, to bring this remarkable diagnostic system to Europe.  Since then it has been incorporated into some of the leading European teaching institutions of Chinese Medicine. Leon Hammer’s legacy is broad and the world of Chinese Medicine is greatly indebted to him.  

Perhaps his most well-known and translated book, Dragon Rises Red Bird Flies (1990), was a major contribution to both Chinese Medicine and Psychology, as was his later book on the patient-practitioner relationship. He did not shy from controversy, including his forceful writing about the long-term effects of cannabis use.

In 2001, in his mid 70s, he founded Dragon Rises College of Oriental Medicine in Florida, where the breadth of his work was incorporated into the accredited curriculum.  He was also an avid conservationist and lover of nature, perhaps most at home in the remote Adirondack mountains in upstate New York.

His work was his overriding passion, and he was actively working on three new books up to his final months. Like most of the truly great people in the world, he could at times be challenging for those around and close to him, while also being an inspiration and dear friend to many. For over than 30 years, it was a blessing to have known and loved, and at times wrestled with, this great man who was both my mentor and friend. While his legacy lives on, he will be greatly missed.



Sybill Huessen

After graduating from one of the four Acupuncture Colleges in the San Francisco Bay Area in California in the mid to late 90’s, I had the fortune of being invited to a 6-Day-Introduction to Shen-Hammer Pulse Diagnosis with an esteemed senior colleague.

I was intrigued by the vastness of palpable information and also quite confused as I did not have the tools nor the experience to translate the information at my fingertips into a workable treatment strategy. Several months later, the opportunity came up to partake in an intermediate seminar with Leon. I had been hesitating to sign up and I was hesitating even more when Scott (the organizer) asked me to bring a patient. I felt insecure, I was sure that I did not know enough to study with the “Master” and I was convinced I would make a complete fool of myself. 

Nothing could be further from the unfolding truth: Here he was, a soft-spoken, kind and curious man of small statue in his early 70’s with a twinkle in his eye. He would patiently answer the same question as if he had never heard it before with the same keen interest toward the individual asking as to the previous person.

It was striking how much attention was given to each participant in the class – no matter if they had had months or decades of clinical experience. It truly seemed to matter to Leon that a student understood what he was trying to explain regardless of the time it took. 

The emphasis on “how” the material was conveyed as opposed to only “what” was shared has probably been the most influential aspect of my personal learning experience with Leon Hammer. In turn, this became the great unifying factor for both Scott and myself in our years of co-teaching as we both felt that didactics were central to sharing this extensive amount of information.

While staying true to the lineage, our attempts to streamline and prioritize content for the benefit of enhancing the learning trajectory of contemporary European students, have led to extensive discussions and conflict and at times to an intermission in our communication with Leon. In the last decade, he expressed great appreciation for the concerted effort and the invaluable input of an entire generation of gifted young European colleagues to keep re-evaluating and customizing the material for students from a number of different countries with a great variety of lingual, cultural and professional backgrounds.  


The week that Leon transitioned, coincided with the biannual European Dragon Rises Interface – a gathering that the Shen-Hammer instructors in Europe have been committed to since 2014. After the meetings, I would drop Leon an email about the country and the place we had met in, the topics we had covered and the people involved. He knew that the crowd consisted of a diverse mixture of international colleagues, as well as our partners and kids and a pack of dogs. He also knew that YangSheng was essential to us and that this took us all the way from daily Qi Gong to the pleasures of delicious food and wine. At first, he responded with polite interest and curiosity about the content, as the years passed, his interest shifted to the dogs (breed, age, character and silly traits). In quoting Leon: “They add the essential ingredient of intuition or “the nose knows”. I should have never omitted that sentence from the big (pulse) book…”. He confided that he would have greatly enjoyed being part of one of these events, mainly to watch the dogs and to eat the food…


The synchronicity of him preparing for his final “take off” during these first days of July, gave us the opportunity to be together and share memories, to express our gratitude and to join forces in our hearts and minds for a proper farewell.  



Angelika-M. Findgott

Leon and I got to know each other in 2006. At that time I did the program planning for the English language branch of Thieme Publishers and was in charge of the CAM book program. In the beginning there was his book The Patient-Practitioner-Relationship, which we later used to always call „our book“, and this initially professional connection turned into a very special friendship. He signed my personal copy of “our” book with the words: „I am endlessly grateful that a book can bring hearts together as this one has brought ours, my treasure.”

Ten years later, he had enriched my program sector at work by another publication in the meantime, it was another book which was special for both of us: my cookbook Five Elements in the Kitchen. Recipes from My Friends in Chinese Medicine.  Leon’s contribution is a recipe of Lemon Roasted Chicken which he said he had loved to cook when he was younger. I was his test cook, and his instructions for me were more than meticulous. When I sent him the PDF of his two pages for print approval he replied: “Wonderful! I can smell it roasting and taste it now.” and “I am very flattered to have my picture in your book”. I was so happy and proud about Leon being part of my book and about him rejoicing it so much.

We couldn’t meet in person very often but we phoned and we corresponded on a regular basis. We never ran out of topics: Chinese medicine, Qi, nature, sailing and kayaking, travel, people, cooking and food, philosophy. I was fascinated again and again about how much Leon knew, and how open and almost curious he was once he didn’t know something. 

Once he emailed me: “As a teacher my favorite words were by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:

If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

And a quote from Maya Angelou we both liked best is: I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Farewell, dear friend, we will never forget how you made us feel. You will stay in our hearts forever.


Very few people are blessed with this long a life and even fewer people have had the blessing of affecting so many lives in so many faraway places in so many different ways.

In his mild-mannered way, Leon left a huge ripple in the pond we call life and as ripples do, they keep resonating at a certain frequency…