In May 2016, I attended the International Massage Therapy Research Conference (IMTRC) in Seattle, Washington.
On the second day of the conference, Brent Jackson (second from the left) said,
“You cannot be a part of something that you want to destroy.”
That quote hit me on many different levels from my personal interactions with people, my career path, my love of shiatsu and massage, and my patriotism for the United States of America.
In reflecting on my trip, I had the opportunity to present some data to the massage therapy research community. More importantly, the people I met and learned from helped me polish and sharpen myself a little more. Being in the martial arts and a shiatsu practitioner, I like to think of the process of learning like sharpening a blade on a whetstone. If I’m the blade, then those around me are my whetstone to help me polish and sharpen my craft of massage therapy and shiatsu.
Still image taken from: Sharpening Knife on a Whetstone with Master Sushi Chef Hiro Terada
There is always going to be some sort of in-fighting in the massage therapy profession and even disagreements with other disciplines such as Asian bodywork or other manual therapies (PT, OT, chiropractic, etc). It seems like the massage therapy field is riddled with fighting that ends up causing more division than unity in the field. Of course the main culprit is an overactive ego running amok and the failure of utilizing the whetstone.
At this meeting, I heard stories about how massage therapists want to “set the record straight” with doctors and other healthcare professionals. Although massage is one of the oldest methods of healing, modern medicine has endured the rigors of evidence based practices, epidemiological studies, meta analyses, pharmacological intervention, vaccines, etc. Only now has the massage therapy field started to gain more traction.
The truth is that the therapists who adhere to a strict sense of their own practice have stopped sharpening their minds and skills. There are many massage therapists out there who do different styles. For me, I specialize in Koho Shiatsu Igaku and Japanese Finger Pressure Therapy. The style has its roots in the Okuyama family tradition for over 75 years. However, I have friends and associates who are just as skilled in obtaining the desired outcomes their clients are seeking. The practitioner of massage therapy, whatever it may be, must always hone, practice, reexamine, and study the craft. All healthcare professionals do this. Why should massage therapy or any other bodywork be different?
At the conference, I watched Mr. Jay Randolph, a friend/colleague, massage and trade with other massage therapists at the conference. One therapist he traded with said, “You have good pressure, but you need to feel more from your client and how to use that pressure more effectively.” Mr. Randolph understood exactly what the feedback meant and said, “I will take what you told me to heart.” He is a massage therapy educator and is constantly honing his skills for his clients and students. One of the best ways seasoned massage therapists can affect others is to lead by example.
Meeting so many research inspired massage therapists and scientists, I found some things that I could work on as well. While there, I received a massage from one therapist who did an OK job. I make it point not to get into anyone else’s business; however, I failed to seize an opportunity as a massage therapy educator to help a fellow therapist grow. I gave no feedback.
In my regular job as an anatomy teacher, I regularly give feedback and constructive criticism to students (Some students would say I am a devil in disguise). Learning from a mistake, remedying it, and growing from it helps act as a good whetstone. Massage therapists give little pieces of themselves through their hands to clients. So it is up to our clients and peers to help educate us from time to time.
There is also another issue at play: Asking for help. Whether it be from pride, shame, or ignorance, students avoid asking for help when they really need it. During a Koho Shiatsu Igaku course training seminar in the 2014, one of my teachers, Kaiden Shihan Hachidan Joseph Miller, worked on an attendee with a migraine headache.
The attendee had been practicing Hakkoryu Jujutsu and Koho Shiatsu Igaku for years. After Shihan Miller applied Koho Shiatsu Igaku the following Q&A took place:
“My migraine is gone. What did you do?” asked the attendee.
“That was Koho Shiatsu,” replied Shihan Miller.
“That wasn’t the Koho Shiatsu I was taught.”
“There is much more than what you were originally shown.”
In each style, there is a level of depth and it is up to each practitioner of massage therapy and bodywork to continue to sharpen and maintain their knowledge and skills. This takes time, patience, and a humble heart. I always ask my teacher, Shihan Gil Adams, questions about how to get better than I am now.
One therapist who exemplifies everything that is positive in the massage therapy field is Arrid Hansell. Last year, I had lunch with Arrid and spoke with him about where the massage therapy field was going. We talked for about an hour. One of the topics of conversation was about how he constantly hones his craft by studying and taking more continue education courses than is required for his license. He travels regularly to learn from many teachers, even Thailand for training. All of his efforts have helped him develop his reputation in the Greater New Orleans Area for doing “Dat Work!” Out of every massage therapist I know, he is one of the most humble, proficient, soft spoken practitioners I have had the pleasure to meet. He has personalized his skills and education over the years for the benefit of his clients. He has even challenged my thinking about the science of massage which has changed how I practice and teach massage therapy. He moves forward and continues learning while inspiring many others along the way.
How each therapist hones his or her skills is irrelevant. What is important is that they continue to hone their skills through practice, education, and research with being unafraid of having a beginner’s mind. New outcomes, data, epidemiological stats, etc comes out every year in massage therapy. There is always information that is useful for client treatment/therapy plans.
I think the more massage therapists sharpen their minds, bodies, and spirits on several whetstones, the profession as a whole will have a more unified direction toward the future.
Delgado Community Massage Therapy Program – Jay Randolph
Hakkoryu Jujutsu & Koho Shiatsu Igaku – USA website, Joseph Miller
Pursue Purpose with a Passion – Arrid Hansell