Here are some interesting facts about Thai Massage training which you might find amusing, entertaining, or shocking. They will also give you a totally new perspective.
Just so that you know where I am coming from with this statement – here is my story in a nutshell.
I have spent 20 years living in Thailand, practicing and teaching Thai Massage.
As a westerner, during all this time I had one foot in both worlds – the western world and the eastern one.
I know about the requirements and methods of learning Thai Massage in both worlds – and there are massive differences.
What are they and why is that so? Here is the story.
Western massage training and it’s rules
In the western world, Thai Massage training is subject to lots of rules, depending on where you live. Here are some rules that might be involved.
- You might have to study a certain amount of hours in an accredited school in order to obtain a massage license
- You might need a criminal background check
- You might have to pass a rigorous test by a state board (US for example)
- You might need to have a certain type of insurance (UK for example)
- You might need to have extensive knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and ethics
- You might have to do a certain amount of practice hours
These are some of the rules which you might have to follow in the western world.
Standards are becoming stricter and often more difficult and even cumbersome.
If you don’t follow these rules and procedures, you will not get a massage license, or you might be breaking the law, and/or you might lose your massage license.
The rule-obsessed western world
I have run into some rules. For example, once I tried to submit a Thai Massage article to an American massage association.
I naively assumed that having learned Thai Massage from many of the best teachers in Thailand, having hundreds of articles and videos published all over the web, and having taught Thai Massage for two decades to thousands of students would give me credentials.
But no – they would not publish my article unless I qualified under their rules.
Those stipulated that I would have had to prove that I had studied with one of their instructors and could demonstrate that I had done a certain amount of Thai Massage practice hours.
This was quite bizarre since I had been teaching Thai Massage for several years before this association even existed, and some of their teachers might have actually learned from my courses.
But rules are rules, even if they don’t make any sense, and people love making and following rules in the western world. But, as you will see, this is not the case in Thailand.
The Thai way of learning and practicing 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” (for the Aussies).
Bottom line is that everything about Thai Massage is much more relaxed and easy-going there.
There are fewer rules and less requirements and less fees. That’s just how it is.
Western therapists apply different standards in Thailand
Here is an interesting phenomenon which I have observed: When Westerners come to Thailand to learn Thai Massage, suddenly everything changes and they are perfectly willing to throw their rules overboard.
They ask their favorite Thai massage therapist where she learned all her wonderful skills.
When she tells them that she learned it from her grandma, the westerner will nod appreciatively and admire grandma’s skills.
Sometimes they even seek out a village teacher who has never had any formal training, and they consider this a very unique, authentic, and meaningful education.
Unorthodox Thai Massage teachers even by Thai standards
When I first started my Thai Massage training in 1999, my most influential Thai Massage teacher was quite a genius.
He was intuitive, somewhat psychic, highly creative, and his technical skills were amazing. But he was also quite odd in some ways.
Officially class was supposed to start at 9 am, but might actually start at 9.30 or 10 am or whenever the teacher felt like it.
Then he would chant mantras for another half hour and then proceed to dispense his wisdom via lengthy talks.
When all was said and done, he took a cigarette break right in the classroom, and then finally demonstrated the Thai Massage therapy techniques.
He also kept smoking and even took naps right in the classroom whenever he felt like it.
But whatever you think, he was one of the best Thai Massage teachers, and many students came back year after year to study with him.
Well, admittedly there were a few who just couldn’t handle his style and left quickly.
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Family training versus official training in Thailand
He had indeed originally learned Thai Massage from a family member and had no formal training and certainly no massage license or certificate of any kind.
A few years later the Thai government made a law that Thai Massage schools had to be accredited and that teachers had to have a license.
After stalling for a couple of years, he finally did what he had to do to comply with those laws.
I am convinced that he was a much better therapist than whoever he got his required training from to get his license. I remember that he felt really weird about this change from the ancient tradition of learning Thai Massage in informal ways to a more formal and official method.
His Thai Massage school was quite famous, and many western therapists received their training from him. In fact, he had more students who kept studying with him year after year than any other school or teacher in Thailand. He was kind of a legend.
Outside the bigger cities, on the village level, the family-based training is still in place, and the official version has not caught on there.
As a matter of fact, I have had three such unorthodox Thai Massage teachers, and I am glad I did. 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
Thailand has a very different culture, it’s a different world. If you try to apply your standards of how you think things should be based on where you come from, you will be shocked or frustrated in Thailand.
Things are different here. It’s not about right or wrong, better or worse – just different.
So getting back to Thai Massage schools and training in Thailand. What I noticed is that 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).
When they are in Thailand they throw out their western standards and rules and learn Thai Massage the Thai way. Or at least they used to.
Nowadays many big schools are trying to resemble western schools more and more because that’s where all their students are from, and that’s what many of them expect. And they know which side their bread is buttered on.
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.
What 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 would legally set up a Thai Massage class in the West, 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 my reputation would be destroyed instantly.
At this point the same student who was happy to throw out the rules in Thailand would feel morally obliged to crucify me on the alter of western rules and standards.
As you can see, there is more than one standard in the Thai Massage world. What happens in Thailand doesn’t work in the western world, and vice versa.
My odd master teacher is revered as a genius in Thailand, but he wouldn’t stand a chance in the US, for example.
Thai Massage training by eastern and western standards
And all the rules and requirements of western Thai Massage schools could never be implemented in Thailand. Typically Thais are not very good at following rules.
Wherever you learn Thai Massage, whatever course you study, and whatever Thai Massage school you attend, make sure that the teacher’s heart is in it.
Make sure that he or she has passion for this art, and that you learn a holistic system and not just a mechanical set of techniques.
And then work with the rules – or the lack of them – and build a wonderful and exciting way of making a living and helping others.
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The author, Shama Kern, is the founder and director of Thai Healing Massage Academy. He has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for two decades, and he is the creator of 20 Thai Massage online training courses.