How do you even judge a massage?
Not only is this the general response from others, it was mine as well when I was asked to compete in the 2018 World Massage Championships. I am not a competitive individual per se, I hardly enter raffles and contests. I will often tell people that I am not the best massage therapist out there, I get uncomfortable with compliments, I am a champion for others in the industry. However, I truly do what I do from my heart and if that is something others want to see, then I am happy to share. I was asked by my teacher/mentor to join his team of awe inspiring therapist, people I look up to as the best. It took 5 months of encouragement by those people for me to commit to the team.
So the question is still “ how do you judge a massage?”. Although the methods are not perfect, the International Massage Association has tried to create an objective standard in a very subjective profession. Competitors, usually in teams, from across the globe pay an entry fee and travel to Denmark where they spend two days performing, receiving and watching massages in specific massage styles. Each category has 7 or more expert judges from the industry who watch, take notes and ask questions. And just like any competition, 3 winners are chosen and then a few lucky competitors show off their massage in the finals. This is where 8-10 finalist are being watched, at the same time, buy all the competitors and judges who then vote. The massage is usually performed on a judge who is an expert in the specific styles.
The competition was not what I expected.
I thought it would be a congregation of people like me, as in: massage loving non competitive who just want to show true passion not for bragging rights. I mean, massage is such a beautiful experience why wouldn’t the competition? Because I’m a weirdo thats why. Massage therapists can be the craziest competitive people you will ever meet and its because we all love what we do, because our patients love what we do and we have to believe to some extent that we are mind blowingly awesome at massage. When someone else tells us that someone else is better, it doesn’t make sense, especially when the judges aren’t on the table itself. The devotion many have to their own style, their craft, is a fierce one and a deeply emotional one as well. For many of us, massage is our gift, it is what our body and soul were made to do. Once you have poured your everything into a massage it is very difficult to receive criticism or rejection maybe more so in a competition, where you may feel like you let your patients down by not winning. That Rawness makes people act in very interesting ways. It makes some kind and easy going massage therapist turn into smack talking NFL players.
The greatest thing about seeing the antithesis of my expectations was a beautiful chance for my own personal growth and opened me up to be a better massage therapist. I was a bit overwhelmed by the scale of the event, the number of different and strong personalities, the expectations and my own doubts. Round one I was given an impossible challenge, round two was acceptable but neither was my shinning moment. Especially since the competitors on either side of me were those amazing teammates of mine. One took home a category medal, the other an overall competition medal.
I spend my days in a dark room with one person at a time, I don’t get to watch other therapists, the competition allowed me to actually see, the magnificent artistry of others, and for me to feel more bolstered with selfless pride for my teammates who blow me away. The competition gave me the opportunity to see passionate practitioners from the world, to learn about how cultural differences and opinions influence massage and even the attitudes others have of massage. It made me see how many different ways people find healing. And even though there were rumbles of malcontent and controversy, it did not change the fact that I was in an auditorium full of greatness, full of good people doing good things for other people; and that we all continue to choose to give of our selves for the benefit of our patients.
Three of the six on our team took home medals.
And I couldn’t be more proud of all the competition therapists who won. I love following their new journeys on social media, learning from everyones experiences and being encouragement for those who feel lost for a moment in the profession or world. I cherish the many meals, drinks stories and laughter shared with many of the competitors over our 3 days in Copenhagen. I feel more confident in my gift, more attuned to my patients, more open and content.
Will I compete again? Yes, I feel more driven to achieve greater things for my patients, maybe that includes a medal. As long as I am allowed to compete and as long as I can muster up the time and money, I will be there. Not just for a medal around my neck, but rather the continued chance to show my passion and learn from others. Maybe, just maybe I caught a smidge of competitive spirit.