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Curious Double Standard in Thai Massage

Warning: If you do not have a sense of humor, STOP READING this Thai Massage article right now!! You have been warned! Read at your own risk.

Thai Massage signRecently I checked out the website of a major US Thai Massage association (I won’t name them here) to find out what it takes to publish an article on their site.

I enjoy writing articles about Thai Massage and have written over a hundred of them in the last 15 years or so.

I publish them on three of my own healing arts websites. They also have been republished by hundreds of other websites.

After practicing and teaching Thai Massage in Thailand and other countries for 16 years and running a large online Thai Massage training school, I have lots of interesting topics to share.

Western massage associations and their rules

But back to the website of the Thai Massage association. Their rules state that the article cannot appear anywhere else and that they have the rights to the article.

I have to submit proof who I have studied Thai Massage with, plus I have to submit evidence that I had a certain amount of study and practice hours, and at least one of my massage teachers has to be approved by them as a qualified teacher by their standards.

rules signWow, I almost fell off my chair when I read that and decided to pursue different venues. Too much trouble in my opinion.

But it is their site and their rules, and they can make up whatever rules they like. I have no issue with that at all.

You see, I live in Thailand, and we don’t have so many rules here. Even if there would be all kinds of complicated rules, nobody would bother to follow them anyway.

The Thai way of looking at Thai Massage

The Thais call it sabai sabai or maipenrai, roughly meaning “take it easy”, “it’s cool man”, everything is a-okay, or ”no worries mate” if you live in Australia. I find that much easier to live with, but that’s just my personal perspective.

Western therapists apply different standards in Thailand

But here is the funny thing: If those same rule-obsessed Westerners come to Thailand, suddenly everything changes. They ask their favorite Thai massage therapist where she learned all this good stuff.

When she tells them that she learned it from her grandma, the westerner will nod appreciatively  and admire grandma’s skills.

Unorthodox Thai Massage teachers even by Thai standards

My most influential Thai Massage teacher is quite a genius. He is intuitive, somewhat psychic, highly creative, and all around very good at what he does. But he is also quite odd, at least from the western perspective.

Class is supposed to start at 9 am, but might actually start at 9.30 or 10 am or whenever he feels like. Then the teacher will chant mantras for another half hour and then proceed to dispense his wisdom via extended talks.

When all is said and done, he will take a cigarette break right in the classroom, and then demonstrate the massage therapy techniques. He will keep smoking and even take naps right in the classroom whenever he feels like it.

But whatever you think, he is one of the best Thai Massage teachers and many students come back year after year to study with him. Well, there are a few who freak out and can’t handle it. Their loss.

As a matter of fact, I have had three such unorthodox Thai Massage teachers. That was before Thai Massage schools became a big business in Thailand and adapted to more western standards to accommodate their clientele.

Western rules cannot be applied in the rest of the world

This ain’t the US of A here, it’s a different world. If you try to apply your standards of how you think things should be, you will be in trouble. Things here are the way they are here and not how they are elsewhere.

What was that saying again? “When in Thailand do as the Thais“. But I think the Romans have a trademark on that saying.

So those rule obsessed Westerners have no problem with their grandma-taught therapist and their chain smoking and story telling master teacher in Thailand (and don’t get me wrong, he really is a master teacher).

The reverse scenario

But now let’s turn the tables. Let’s say I show up in the West and tell people that I can do a great Thai Massage because my grandma taught me well.

massage offenderWhat will happen next is that they will call the police on me and throw me in the prison cell block which is reserved for those who dare touch anyone without the proper documentation, licencing, training, CEUs, ethics courses, disclaimers, insurance, and various paid up professional association fees on the state and national level (did I forget anything?)

Even if I do manage to set up a Thai Massage class in the West (which of course I am well qualified to teach), and I show up an hour late, tell lots of wise stories (at the expense of teaching time), puff cigarettes in the classroom and nap once in a while, I would get thrown out of the facility, all students would demand their money back, and they would sue me for tactile malpractice (a serious offense).

So as you can see, there is a quite a double standard in the Thai Massage world. But variety is the spice of life, and I stay safely on my side of the fence here in Thailand. Maybe you should visit too. It’s actually quite fun!

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P.S. If you want to see what I do here in Thailand, what my style of Thai Massage looks like, and if you want to get updates on all kinds of cool Thai Massage information, plus six free introductory Thai Massage videos, CLICK HERE

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author's pictureThe author, Shama Kern, is the founder and director of Thai Healing Massage Academy. He has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for 16 years. You can reach him at shama@thaihealingmassage.com  

 

24 thoughts on “Curious Double Standard in Thai Massage”

  1. Thanks so much for your interesting perspective from the other side of the world. I always enjoy reading your blogs. Congrats on not going with the rule-obsessed Thai site to publish your articles. Your descriptions of your teacher is quite fascinating! It’s a good lesson in releasing judgments and preconceived ideas. Keep up the good work, Shama.

  2. Thank you Ariana, I am always trying to present a different perspective from my vantage point of living on the other side of the world. I once read this saying that “a mind, once expanded, can never shrink back to its original dimensions”. So I try to expand my own mind and in the process help others expand theirs. Living in a totally different culture presents me with many opportunities to do so.

  3. Thanks Shama for the good humour. Yes, I can certainly relate to what you are saying as I have been there too. I guess that’s why I like to return to Thailand on a regular basis to get back into that relaxed attitude so I can come back home and maintain that attitude in my own work. So far it’s working GREAT for all concerned. Hugs

  4. Iwill try to visit thailand,I’m interested in
    taking thai massage classes
    Good report about the thai culture.
    Keep going writing about it!

  5. Its quite obvious that its Pichest Boonthumme that you studied under and he is totally not conventional even in Thai society. So its not even Thais that go to study with because they like things a bit more structured than he is. In fact its mainly eccentric foreigners who find him so fascinating because he is so unconventional yet exceptional.
    So I don’t think he is really a model of how to be for us because its almost like he comes from another planet and its a mystery where his inspiration comes from.

    • Quite true Graham. I have also studied with Poo and Chaiuth when he was still alive, and both of them gave Pichet a run for their money when it comes to eccentricity and being way out there. And they all had some very unique talents. Most regular massage schools in Thailand are more conventional than those three. It is an interesting combination that I have gotten some of my best education from some of the most eccentric people. None of them would make it in the US, for sure.

      I have been with Pichet for a few months when I started out. I don’t think that his students were eccentric, but there really aren’t many places to go after you got your basic Thai Massage education in one of the many schools, and you want to go deeper.

      Back then Pichet was a bit more organized and structured. I hear that nowadays he did away with all that completely. It is just all free flow, and must be hard to take for anyone who is expecting some kind of structure. Yes, Pichet is some kind of a cross between an enigma, a genius, an eccentric, a shaman, a healer. And you really have to drop all your ideas how a massage school should be run if you want to be able to put up with him. In either case he was my most influential teacher.

  6. On the other hand, most of the massage schools that Westerners do attend are very structured. Do this 3 times then up and down the leg and no suggestion of ever being creative. And I have the feeling that most Thais are also taught this way. So not many step out of the mold of the same conventional Thai Massage sequence that they deal out to all clients.

    It could be interesting to teach your Heavenly Head and Abdominal massages to Thai Masseuses. There are thousands of massage parlors all offering the same menu of treatments. They might make a killing offering something different to Tourists.

  7. You know Graham, this is a strange thing. You are absolutely correct that the therapists in Thailand would make a killing if they would step out of their mold and offer something different. But the vast majority of them are simply not interested in learning anything new. Their concept is that they know enough to do a session and make some money, so why bother with new information.

    I have offered to teach some of my styles to Thais, but I never had any takers, even if I would have taught it for free. Thais have a very different mentality from westerners who want to learn as much as possible and who are always interested in new information and new techniques in the massage world.

    That’s the reason why Thai massage is evolving and changing in the west, but staying the same without any changes or modifications in Thailand.

    There are many socio-economic reasons for that which become very obvious when you live here, and I have written about it in several articles on this website and on http://shamakern.com. It goes beyond the scope of this comment here, but there really is a big difference between east and west why people become therapists and how they see their work.

  8. Hi Shama. Many thanks for your really interesting articles. I have not yet been to Thailand but am saving up to visit. I really like your approach and wonder if you do any direct teaching over there?

  9. Hi Shama,
    Very much enjoyed reading your article.It is soo true,unfortunately,that massage in the States is so regulated.Also enjoyed watching your video of the Mala festival.What stood out to me the most was the sheer JOY that people expressed on their faces and in their body movements! I feel that is sadly missing in “mainstream culture” in the U.S. many clients I work with sensor their body movements so much that there is no flow or joy left!Just finished downloading my last Heavenly Head Massage video.Great information and teaching! thank you

    • Hi Heidi, you are right – there was a lot of joy and fun at this festival, and a real free flow in the healing arts. Luckily we don’t have to contend with much regulation here in Thailand.

      I am glad that you like the Heavenly Head Massage course. I hope I can continue to provide more inspiration and education to you and all my clients and students.

  10. Great comments. That is why inThailand everyone is laid back and appreciates life daily. Here in the western world its rules..rules..rules,(HE WHO MUST OBEYED!!) fail to follow them and BIG trouble. I am a firm believer in slow down and see what is around us ENJOY LIFE! Not so here must be busy busy or you are useless

    Regards

    Terry

  11. Hi Shama, it is nice to read your articles(this one is very funny) and being part of your courses. I think as a student in Asia (China, Thailand..) people have to be patient, emphatic and humble, or they will be upset. 🙂 I think China is even more strict somehow than Thailand, but in the end it is better that they do not praise you all the time. It makes you work more harder. The difference with us foreigners is, that we ask so many questions, want certifications, levels, ranks for everything and forgetting work hard. For lot of teachers in Thailand or China is also important , if you already have basics, if you do not have they do not want to teach you much. But for people who want to grow, it is ok.

    • Martin, I am glad you like my article. You are right, in Asia you need patience. In the western world you can get away without it, but especially here in Thailand, if you exhibit impatience, you don’t get anywhere.
      Most of the bigger Thai Massage schools here in Thailand have adapted their style to the foreigners by now. They have figured out what they expect, and since this is a big business, they provide it. Now some of the big schools offer CEUs for the US and Canada, or even England. They do Thai Massage on the table and all kinds of other stuff that did no exist 15 years ago at all.

      If you study at a small school or with an individual, it is still mostly old style. I am quite glad that I still caught the generation of teachers who were really unique and had their own styles, and little structure but lots of great knowledge.

      This helped me a lot in developing my own unique style, or actually several styles. A lot of what I teach is not being taught anywhere else in Thailand, like the Thai Rocking massage or the Heavenly Head Massage. All those unique teachers inspired me to grow way beyond the basic traditional style of Thai Massage.

  12. Thank you Shama,

    I think I worked for those people you speak of before. Not in Thai massage but, in other fitness avenues at 5 Star Spas. I did it for 6 years. I said good morning and greeted them by name every day and always tried to be pleasant. Many never spoke back to me or even knew my name for that matter, which is fine. But, I felt part of me died before I opened my own studio.
    Honestly I have found that the best services do not come from such establishments. We sometimes get wrapped up in exclusivity here to the point we exclude the best of the best to claim we are best.
    Believe me you made a good choice by not writing for them. So glad you made that decision so we commoners have the pleasure of reading your articles.

    • I know, I have worked in 5 star destination spas as well and got caught up in bureaucracy and rules. I am glad that I have my own business where I can set standards that I feel comfortable with.

      It is often difficult to really express our best intuitive and creative ideas in big business environments (and that includes massage). I am happy I found a niche where I can fill a need, to provide high quality massage video training to people and places who would otherwise have no access to it, or who really prefer the home study model.

      And yes, I love writing my articles, and I am so glad that people like you appreciate them!

  13. You always so funny and entertaining Shama! I agree too many freaking rules in the USA! I like simple and relaxed. . Whatever happened to that? Maybe that’s why everyone goes to Thailand to learn. . Less stress÷! Keep posting your Awesome videos! 🙂

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