During the study of Shiatsu, the Xi points (or Geki in Japanese) are among the great classics to be learned by heart. However, the deep meaning of these points often escapes the neophytes. The fault lies in the various translations that are given to this particularly effective family of points.
The Xi points are written 隙 (xì). This word designates “cleft, crack, crevice” but it is not commonly used in Chinese. They prefer to use the words 裂缝 (lièfèng) or 罅 (xià) which have exactly the same meaning. Why then use this term? Because it has a second meaning which means “opportunity” or rather “favorable opportunity”. This reveals the hidden potential of the caracter. The crevice is not only the place where one falls, but also the place where things (here Qi energy) accumulate to constitute a reserve that will prove to be a chance in case of a hard blow. In the deserts of our planet, everything is dry and life has long since faded away. Except in the crevices (I refer SF readers to Frank Herbet’s magnificent book “Dune”, they will understand). Wherever a crevasse remains, there is still hope for life and sometimes life-saving reserves of water.
The same goes for the points that are part of this family. Crevasse points are also known by other names such as herald points, accumulation points or emergency points. All these names are quite justified, even if they do not correspond to the literal translation, in view of the results that these points give. Indeed, they are used in cases of acute pathology, when the case is serious, hence the term “emergency”. Their effects are often very effective, they lead a first-rate fight against the symptoms, hence the term “herald”. In the Middle Ages, the herald was an armed officer who carried the orders of the Prince and officially declared war. In Japanese, the term “geki” refers to this urgency, since it also has the meaning of “acute”. It opposes and thus completes another family of points, the “Raku” which one uses in the cases of chronic pathologies.
Effects and uses
In energetic of the channels, we understand that the Xi points are therefore holes, cracks or openings to the depths. In these points the Qi and the Blood gather and accumulate in a bottleneck before plunging into the body. It is thus the last hope (the good opportunity) to perform a treatment, all the more effective as one acts on both Qi and Blood. Moreover, these points have the particularity of stopping bleeding. More precisely, the Xi points of the Yin channels are known to act on the Blood while those of the Yang channels suppress pain. They are therefore first-rate allies in many Shiatsu treatments.
The pressure on these points will release the accumulation of energy which will pour forcefully into the channel. This is the reason why Xi points are appreciated, because they quickly remove obstructions in the channels and calm the pain related to the affected channel or organ. As you can see, these points are mainly used during the acute phases of a disease, especially in the case of fullness.
One will also note that among the recurring effects of these points they calm the Shen, that is to say the Spirit. One might be surprised by this effect, but when a pathology is acute, the pain frightens the Spirit. This is why these points are also precious: they remove the pain while calming the patient.
Location of the Crevasse points
All the channels and all the Extraordinary Vessels, with the notable exception of the Governor (Du Mai) and Conception (Ren Mai) Vessels, have a point Xi, bringing their number to 16 in total. They are always located in deep parts of the anatomy. But beware! They should not be confused with Sea points (in the ancient 5 Shu system). They too are deep, but they are not related. This said, the combination between Sea and Crevasse points must be interesting, to be tested. Otherwise, all the Xi points are located between the extremities of the limbs and the knee or elbow, with the exception of the 34 Stomach which is a little bit above the knee. Let’s see this in detail.
Lung: Collection hole (LU6 – Kongzui – 孔最)
Infos: The word Kong refers to the Qi of air in Chinese physiology. We are thus well on the Lung channel. It is located 7 inches before the Source point (LU9) in the wrist fold. We can also start from LU5 in the bend of the elbow and count 5 inches.
Effects: It regulates the Qi of the Lung, disperses heat, treats Blood problems related to the lungs.
Large Intestine: Warm dwelling (LI7 – Wenliu – 溫溜)
Infos: If the word Wen is nowadays translated as “lukewarm”, its primary meaning is liquid food (soup) that one brings to a prisoner. As for Liu, it is the accumulated water that can flow again. In other words, it is a point that will feed the Qi of the Large Intestine and make this energy flow. It is located 5 inches from the LI5 point, better known as the “snuffbox hole”, on the radial edge of the dorsal side of the forearm. It is also known as the Snake Head, Thwarted Flow, Pond End, Deep Well or Extreme Hole.
Effects: It disperses heat, restores energy to the channel and treats acute problems of the Large Intestine.
Stomach: Beam hill (ST34 – Liangqu – 梁丘)
Infos: This is the only Xi point that is not located between one end and a knee (or an elbow). Its meaning is that of a bridge over a dividing valley. It is therefore necessary to look for a muscular protrusion and not a hollow as is often the case with points. One of its many names is “hill of grains”, which means that this place comes out when the stomach is thriving. To find it, you have to go up 2 inches from the super-external angle of the patella.
Effects: It treats the Stomach in case of emergency, reduces oedema, stimulates the Luo and regulates the Liver.
Spleen-Pancreas: Earth crux (SP8 – Diji – 地機)
Infos: You usually remember this point all your life if you had the bad idea to press it on a drunken evening. Also known as “sieve of the earth, home of the Spleen or Earth system”, Diji is a very sensitive point to overeating and overdrinking. It is located under the inner edge of the tibia, 5 cun below the bend of the knee.
Effects: it strengthens the Spleen and increases the Ying Qi, heals the uterus, drives out Moisture, regulates Blood, retains the Jing (in case of night pollution) and dissolves ovarian cysts. Special mention for its ability to stop bleeding (hemorrhagic menstruation).
Heart : Yin cleft (HT6 – Yinxi – 陰郄)
Infos: Well, with this point, it’s all in the name. It is the Shaoyin cleft point (Heart-Kidney), also known as “Yin dale, Stones palace, free movement pass”. Located 0.5 inches from the Shenmen point (C7) in the wrist crease, its action on the Heart is first-rate.
Effects: It supports and soothes the Heart, tones the Yin, calms the Shen and chases away depression.
Small Intestine: Nursing the aged (SI6 – Yangliao – 養老)
Infos: This point has a very revitalizing action on aging tissues, because it increases the Yang (hence its name). But the word Liao which means “old, aged”, also gives by extension the sense of “venerable, experienced, who knows a lot, who poured into”. By experience, one must take the time to listen and work on this point so that it gives all its fruits. It is found in the radial side hollow just above the styloid process of the wrist.
Effects: It disperses Heat, eliminates Moisture, revitalizes bones, tendons and muscles, improves vision, facilitates the circulation of Qi in the channel and calms the pain of the Small Intestine.
Urinary Bladder: Metal door (UB63 – Jin men – 金門)
Infos: Among the Gate/Door points (Men), the Precious Door or Metal Gate is also a cleft point, which gives us an idea of its importance. Also called “Golden Gate, Parade Bridge or Bridge-shaped Pass”, it is the starting point of the Yangwei Mai. For all its reasons, it is one of the great treatment points of such power that it is reputed to be the most effective point against epilepsy and convulsions, thus making it a “precious” gateway to healing. It is found on the outer edge of the foot, in a recess on the inner edge of the cuboid bone (between V62 and V64).
Effects: It disperses Heat, opens the orifices (in all senses of the word) and calms the Shen causing a general relief, finally it relieves cramps.
Kidney : Water spring (KD5 – Shui quan – 水泉)
Infos: Literally Shui Quan means “water” and “fountain”. But these two terms should be understood differently as the water that comes out (source) of the body (i.e. urine). Thus, we understand that it is a point for treating urinary disorders, hence its other name: “urinary syndrome”. In fact, the KD5 is known to deal with dribbling of urine. To have such strength, Shui Quan is also related to the Chong Mai and the Ren Mai. It is located on the medial side of the foot, against the heel bone, 1 inch below the famous Kidney (R3) source point in the hollow of the tendon.
Effects: Regulates the Chong Mai (Penetrating Vessel) and the Ren Mai (Conception Vessel), clears the lower focus, strengthens the Liver and Kidney, activates the Blood and regulates menstruation.
Pericardium: Xi cleft door (PC4 – Ximen – 郄門)
Infos: Here is another Door point which is also a cleft. Other names : Slit Door or Sharp Door. In other words, it is a door for problems in acute phase or in case of bleeding (like all Xi points of the Yin type). Placed on the central line of the forearm (inner side), it is found 5 inches from the wrist fold.
Effects: Calms the Heart and Shen, regulates Blood and Qi, eliminates stasis, stops bleeding, lifts obstructions in the channel and calms pain.
Triple Heater: Convergence and gathering (TH7 – Huizong – 會宗)
Infos: Litteraly “gathering of ancestors”. In Chinese culture, the cult of ancestors is one of the cardinal points of classical society. This is why this point has a very important symbolism and is nicknamed “fundamental diversion or essential meeting”. Slightly offset towards the outer edge of the arm (little finger side, outer face) in relation to the channel’s line, it is necessary to make a diversion to visit it, as when you go to the temple of the ancestors. At 3 inches from the outer fold of the wrist, it is thus offset by one inch with respect to the HR6.
Effects: it circulates the Qi of the channel, sharpens the hearing, opens the upper orifices of the body.
Gall Bladder: Outer Hill (GB36 – Wai qiu – 外丘)
Infos: Facing GB35 (1 inch forward), 7 inches from the lateral malleolus, located exactly in front of the fibula and between this bone and the anterior tibial muscle, VB36 is not one of the students’ favourite points because of the angle it forms in the channel. That being said, it provides sovereign relief for gall bladder injuries.
Effects: It circulates the Qi in the channel, invigorates the Luo and calms the Shen.
Liver : Middle capital (LI6 – Zhong du – 中都)
Infos: Zhongdu is the name of the capital of the Jin dynasty (1115-1234). But this is not a reference to Chinese history. Its name indicates the importance of its role, because the capital has always been the centre of power for China and the middle, the centre, represents the place of Man between Heaven and Earth, as well as the centre of the known world. It is not for nothing that China calls itself Zhong guo (the country or empire of the Middle). Here it must be understood that this “flourishing Centre” serves to “establish the connection between the top and the bottom”. Its location is a reflection of GB36, since it is also 7 inches above the malleolus (internal this time), on the edge of the tibia bone.
Effects: It regulates the Liver and releases its stagnation, thus makes Qi circulate, invigorates and nourishes the Blood, stops bleeding, calms pains.
Yang Heel Vessel: Instep Yang (UB59 – Fu yang – 跗陽)
Infos: Here we are now on the cleft points of the Extraordinary (or Curious) Vessels. This point is also translated as “Yang of the foot bone”, but the word Fu actually refers to the ankle, or rather the “neck of the foot” and Yang refers to the energy above it. Therefore, it is understood that it is anatomically located above the ankle, 3 inches above UB60, the point that is in the Achilles tendon hollow, on the external side.
Effects: Relieves tendons, promotes joints, disperses heat from the head, clarifies the Luo, treats paralysis.
Infos: Litteraly “Hand over the letter”. One other name for this item is “Cross the messenger”. It is therefore the messenger of the Kidney, responsible for supporting the muscle tone of the inner face of the muscles. Located on the inner side of the leg, 2 inches above the Source point (KD3) in the Achilles tendon hollow, and a little in front of KD7 (whose role is to send the Kidney Qi to the upper body). Jiao Xin is therefore a point that will put Yin energy back where it belongs.
Effects: Nourishes and regulates the Liver and the Kidney, enriches the feminine matrix, refreshes Heat and Humidity, regulates the Blood layer and therefore supports the menstruation.
Yang Link Vessel: Yang intersection (GB35 – Yang jiao – 陽交)
Infos: This point has many nicknames such as “bone hollow of the leg, distinct Yang channel or side gate”. Located 1 inch in front of GB36 (which is also a Xi point), note the importance of this area of the leg in emergency care. This point unites both the Yangwei Mai and the GB channel, hence its function as a “Yang junction”. It is located 7 cun above the external malleolus.
Effects: It circulates the Qi of the Yang channels, invigorates the Luo, calms the Shen, relieves pain and brings general relief.
Yin Link Vessel: Guest house (KD9 – Zhu bin – 築賓)
Infos: At 5 inches above KD3 (and only 3 inches from KD8 the Xi point of the Yinqiao Mai), his name indicates a “man who builds adobe walls”, combined with “a gift you give to a guest”. This point is therefore a shelter, a house, specially built for guests. But another meaning indicates “to submit oneself to…”. It must therefore be understood that the point is a real gift that submits the pain and supports the visitor (ourselves).
Effects: Tones and regulates Liver and Kidney, eliminates Heat and Humidity, clarifies the Heart and calms the Shen.
Simplistically, we can divide the history of Shiatsu in a few chapters and name them in correlation with major historical events. Although we may find the ancient traces of Shiatsu in the incipient forms of Japanese bodywork, the first chapter in the history of Shiatsu is actually the Prewar Chapter. This is the time when Shiatsu emerges as the name for a new therapy and it culminates in 1939 with the publishing of Shiatsu Ho, written by Tamai Tenpeki. The following chapter in the history of Shiatsu, the Postwar chapter, is dominated completely by Tokujiro Namikoshi. Abundant in impressive achievements performed by Tokujiro Namikoshi, such as astounding successful treating of the rich and the famous clientele, founding clinic and institute and peaking with the obtaining of the official recognition, it’s no surprise that this chapter outshines the Prewar chapter.
However, the Prewar Chapter is critical for understanding the history of Shiatsu. I feel that there is not enough awareness in the worldwide Shiatsu community of the importance of the developments from this chapter.First and most important thing: nothing from the Prewar chapter escaped outside Japan.Tokujiro Namikoshi was aware of the importance of spreading Shiatsu overseas. He dispatched masters to United States and taught himself classes in the United States. Shizuto Masunaga also taught classes outside Japan, both in the United States and in Europe. Both Namikoshi and Masunaga left behind them institutions that faithfully had been carrying on their legacies.Compared to Namikoshi and Masunaga,Tamai Tenpeki didn’t start an official school, didn’t obtain the official recognition, didn’t travel abroad to teach Shiatsu. But, he was the first to write a landmark book in the field of Shiatsu. His legacy is compressed in his book, Shiatsu Ho. Given the worldwide dissemination of Shiatsu today, for me, it’s still unbelievable that Tenpeki’s book was NEVER translated into English or in any other non-Japanese language. The book has been re-edited a few times but if you don’t read Old Japanese, you may never know what Shiatsu was like in its formative period.
“Stephen Brown was born and raised in Japan, and he graduated from the Japan Central Acupuncture College in Tokyo in 1983. After becoming licensed as a shiatsu practitioner and then an acupuncturist, he studied Zen Shiatsu at Masunaga Shizuto’s clinic in Tokyo. In 1984 he went to Beijing, China to attend the Advanced International Acupuncture Training Course at the Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine. After returning to Tokyo, he continue his studies with renowned teachers including Manaka Yoshio MD and Serizawa Katsusuke. He moved to Seattle in 1986 and opened his practice and began teaching shiatsu and acupuncture at the Northwest Institute of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Later he taught at the Seattle Institute of East Asian Medicine from 1997 to 2019. Being a native speaker of Japanese, he has translated many texts on Oriental medicine and has served as an interpreter in seminars of Japanese traditional medicine. Most notably he has translated Shudo Denmei’s text and promotes Shudo- style meridian therapy.” NAJOM, Volume 27, Number 79, published in July, 2020.
Stephen Brown accepted the challenge to translate “Shiatsu Ho” in English almost one year ago. Upon a quick look over the last edition of the book, he decided that almost half of the content of the book is quite dated and it’s not worth the hard work required for translation to English:“It would be quite an undertaking to translate this classic of shiatsu. At first I considered just writing an article about Tamai’s text for NAJOM. Looking at it closely, however, I discovered almost half of this text is about Western medicine. It goes into great detail describing Western anatomy, physiology and pathology of the early 20th century. Of course some of this is outdated and readers in the West don’t seek such information in a shiatsu text. Tamai’s Western medical orientation makes sense in the context of early modern Japan trying to legitimize itself to the world and catch up with Western science and technology. The readership at the time would have been impressed with Tamai’s modern perspective applied to his unique approach to bodywork.…I believe the real value of Tamai’s text for modern readers lies in the parts that explain his techniques and his unique perspective of the human body and healing work. So I will skip those sections about Western medicine and translate only those parts that relate specifically to shiatsu and share my view along side it.”Stephen Brown, NAJOM, Volume 27, Number 79, published in July, 2020
I took the liberty to post a few quotes from the first paragraphs translated for the first time in English by Stephen Brown. My goal is to raise awareness about the importance of the work that Stephen Brown is doing these days. This is our chance to get a glimpse of what shiatsu was in the vision of its founder. That’s why I encourage everyone of you to support Stephen Brown’s work by purchasing a PDF article from NAJOM. The current price is $1 per PDF article, it’s a total steal for the value you get. It’s very simple: just write an email to [email protected] and ask for the two PDF articles. You will receive the PDF articles by email and another email with PayPal payment instructions. Thank you!
Last year I launched a survey with the help of Fernando Cabo, on the perception of Shiatsu practitioners and schools of Shiatsu on a number of topics. We conducted the survey in French, English, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. Even if the number of answers is not as high as I had hoped, they do reflect the opinions commonly heard in courses, internships and exchanges on social networks. It is now high time to reveal the data from these surveys, starting with the first, and by no means least important topic: Shiatsu and cancer. To illustrate these answers, I asked two international Shiatsu experts for their comments on this subject: Dominique Chevalier, President of the French Federation of Traditional Shiatsu (FFST) and Tzvika Calisar, founder of Seiki Shiatsu. Both of them have extensive experience of giving Shiatsu treatments to cancer patients.
First of all, I would like to thank Messrs. Cabo, Chevalier and Calisar for their commitment to Shiatsu and their courage in participating in this article.
Origins of answers
We were fortunate to have137 participants answering from 23 countries around the world.
Breakdown by language and gender
Participants by country :
1st question: Do you think it is appropriate to give Shiatsu to patients with blood cancer (leukemia, myeloma, lymphoma)?
This question directly touches on one of the most widespread ideas in the world of Shiatsu: not to touch a person with blood cancer. The answers are classified by the language of the users, which allows us to evaluate how each language group perceives this question. It is interesting to note that the percentage is almost the same everywhere.
Here are the opinions of the respondents. These have deliberately been left untranslated to avoid any risk of altering their point of view. They are classified into four categories: Yes, No, Neutral and the opinions of people experienced in this field.
A condition que ce soit fait avec douceur
Le sang et la lymphe circulent de toutes façons quoi qu’on fasse
Les cancéreux souffrent de nombreux autres maux qu’il faut soulager (notamment la douleur, la dépression, la fatigue…)
Le Ki cherche à restaurer l’équilibre, il ne peut pas blesser
Avec l’accord du médecin
Chez ceux qui ont dit non, crainte que le sang et la lymphe circule plus vite et disperse les cellules cancéreuses
Dans certains pays le shiatsu pour les cancéreux est interdit
Pas de preuve scientifique que le Shiatsu diffuse le cancer du sang
On ne sait rien sur ce sujet
EXPERIENCED PEOPLE COMMENT
I worked in an oncology department in a major hospital in Israel for 2 years and have also worked in my private clinic with cancer patients, including blood cancer, and have seen great improvements in quality of life and physical condition.
Shiatsu is offered as an alternative treatment for cancer patients here in Scotland at Macmillan. It helps to address the emotional side of the illness
A Bruxelles nous travaillons dans un service d’oncologie avec le Shiatsu, et les médecins ne constatent que des bénéfices
Pratico shiatsu ai bambini del reparto oncoematologico, ottimi risultati sugli effetti collaterali da medicinali
Das habe ich schon gemacht und die KlientInnen fühlen sich sehr durch Shiatsu sehr gestärkt
Question 2: Do you think it is appropriate to give shiatsu to patients with cancers other than blood cancer?
The answers here are mostly positive. This is very interesting because again 10 years ago only a few pioneers dared to treat patients with any type of cancer. So here we see a radical change in perception. This is probably due to the very many oncology centres that have opened their doors to Shiatsu throughout the world, such as the Saint-Luc University Hospital in Brussels, to name just one example.
Shiatsu en casos de cáncer ayuda a paliar los efectos colaterales de las terapias convencionales, apoya emocionalmente al receptor y trabaja a favor del sistema inmune.
Cancer is an expression of the bodymind. Shiatsu is a holistic treatment and people can benefit from receiving it.
You can, but you need to learn about specific cancer strategies and do’s and don’ts.
le shiatsu n’y est pas contre indiqué. Cependant il est préférable que ce soit un praticien expérimenté pour accompagner les personnes atteintes de cancer. J’entends expérimenté par ayant terminé son cursus de formation et pouvant faire un diagnostic énergétique précis permettant de savoir que faire et que pas faire fonction du diagnostic énergétique.
It is against the law in our country (country unnamed).
Really, it depends… shiatsu moves a lot of things in the human body. Pressure might not be appropriate in some parts of the body in the case of cancer. For example, one of the three holistic systems of the body is the fascial connective tissue and this is very much stimulated by shiatsu pressure. What happens if the pressure boosts the migration of cancer cells around the body?
EXPERIENCED PEOPLE COMMENT
I have had very positive feedback from my cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy: the side-effects are easier to overcome, patients feel stronger and the poisonous pain disappears.
Je pratique sur cancers du poumon, les bienfaits sur la relaxation et amoindrissements des douleurs et fatigue est indéniable
Question 3: Do you think it is appropriate to give shiatsu to patients whose chemotherapy sessions have started and are scheduled to receive more?
With regard to chemotherapy, the idea was to find out whether Shiatsu can help patients overcome the side effects of this treatment. The hundreds of practitioners with whom I have been able to talk over the past 20 years have all confirmed to me the effectiveness of Shiatsu in greatly reducing the period of pain and fatigue associated with taking chemotherapy drugs, as well as the feeling of muscle heaviness, headaches and nausea. A large majority of positive opinions in the data confirms this.
Oui et dans les limites définies par la maladie, en évitant de stimuler la zone affectée. Quoi qu’il en soit, il peut être utile d’accompagner ce type de problématique dans le cadre de leur traitement pour tenter de diminuer les effets secondaires. Je réponds à cette question par expérience. L’accompagnement des chimiothérapies par le Shiatsu est salutaire une séance 2 jours avant et une séance 2 jours après
Le shiatsu est excellent pour diminuer les effets secondaires de la chimiothérapie, notamment la fatigue, les maux de tête et les nausées, voire dans certains cas, la perte de cheveux.
Traggono benefici, allevia il dolore e gli effetti collaterali della chemio. Aiuta a riprendere forza più velocemente dopo chemio e radio. Sveglia una maggiore consapevolezza nella persona e incoraggia a prendersi cura di se.
Ayuda con efectos secundarios y psicologicamente
La chimie fatigue beaucoup, et donc – à moins d’une demande expresse de la personne – il vaut mieux s’abstenir
Always in close consultation with the oncologist. Only start shiatsu when the chemo seems to have started working and the cancer is in remission.
Non ho sufficienti informazioni per trattare persone affette da cancro. Non vorrei nuocere al ricevente.
EXPERIENCED PEOPLE COMMENT
Yes! Influence over nausea, sleeping patterns and to instill a positive body image to promote healing is achieved with Shiatsu
Shiatsu is fantastic at helping with the side-effects of chemotherapy. Nausea, fatigue, neuropathy, blood-pressure issues, heat and sweating (in my opinion) have all responded better to Shiatsu than to the medications given alongside the Chemo.
Testato che da benefici su nausee, mal di testa ecc
Question 4: Do you think it is appropriate to give shiatsu to patients who have recently received radiotherapy?
This final question asked whether respondents sensed any difference in their willingness to treat patients undergoing chemotherapy with those undergoing radiation therapy. The answers are almost identical to those in the previous question, revealing a consistency of reasoning.
Comments are not given here, since the only interesting – and highly logical – one is not to press on the area burned by the radiotherapy rays. The other responses all refer to the previous question.
From this part of the survey regarding Shiatsu treatment for cancer, it appears that the opinions of practitioners and teachers are increasingly positive. The prevailing opinion 10 years ago, without any proof but as a precautionary principle, was not to touch people with cancer. Thanks to practitioners who responded to their patients’ requests, more and more positive opinions began to emerge. Thanks to the courage and openness of the hospitals there are also more and more experiences and convincing results.
Finally, thanks to the fundraising, promotion and collection work of the Shiatsu Research Network for scientific research in Shiatsu, we can already read 3 studies on the effects of Shiatsu on cancer :
Obviously, this is not enough and if Shiatsu is to continue its progress as a complementary therapy and with its recognition by national health authorities, more will be needed. This is a courageous beginning, however, and we can only salute the authors of these 3 studies for being pioneers in this field. May this encourage current practitioners to commit to entering the doors of oncology services to carry out new studies that will benefit the entire profession. I now give the floor to one of these pioneers, author of one of the three studies: Dominique Chevalier.
Comments by Dominique Chevalier
Masseur – Physiotherapist DE Practitioner – Shiatsu Trainer President of the French Federation of Traditional Shiatsu (FFST)
Allow me introduce myself in a few words. Physiotherapist since 1984, I worked in private practice for about ten years. I also worked with children with multiple disabilities. Then I joined a hospital team in follow-up care and rehabilitation for six years. At that time, I became aware of my own shortcomings in pain management, so I did a University diploma in Pain Management at the Bordeaux University Hospital in 2000. Then I joined a palliative care team at the Saintonge Hospital Center. At that time, I was in my 3rd year of Shiatsu training and had the opportunity to practice Shiatsu with about 150 patients undergoing chemotherapy. The objective of this treatment was to see whether Shiatsu could have an influence on the side effects of chemotherapy. The results were quite convincing, since 64% of the side effects were significantly reduced or even completely disappeared. Since 2006, I have been working with children with motor disabilities. Parallel to this I work as a Shiatsu Practitioner. I am also a Shiatsu instructor and for the past four years I have been President of the French Federation for Traditional Shiatsu (FFST), having previously been a member of the pedagogical committee of this same federation for four years. Since September 2020, I am once again a student at the Bordeaux Faculty of Medicine for a University diploma in Medical Hypnosis.
First of all, I would like to express my gratitude to Ivan Bel for this study on a subject as serious as cancer.
Many young practitioners are very nervous about treating cancer patients. In their defence, let it be said that they are taught early on that cancer is contraindicated in the practice of Shiatsu.
Let’s take a purely pragmatic look at the situation.
When I began my studies in Kinesiotherapy, we were taught that we should never massage cancer patients, because increasing blood circulation through massage would cause cancer cells to migrate to healthy areas and thus promote the development of metastases… This has never been proven. Nowadays, cancer patients are advised to receive massage and to move around, which increases the flow of blood circulation!
The same argument was used in Shiatsu. Increasing the circulation of Qi could promote the migration of cancer cells… Maybe… Again, nothing has been proven! This remains an open question.
I gave myself this choice:
Accept the standard hypothesis, which implies that we could perhaps have an influence on the migration of cancer cells and do nothing… or
Play the “rebel” and try something – a much more enticing hypothesis!
The question that each practitioner must ask himself is: Should I take the “risk” of giving Shiatsu to a cancer patient, knowing that I may perhaps contribute to reducing the quantity of life, or should I consider the quality of life and try to reduce the side effects of the various cancer treatments? I asked myself this exact question and the answer came to me very clearly. But it’s up to each person to evaluate the pros and cons and decide for themselves.
Let us remember the great principle that prevails in any therapeutic act “Primum non Nocere” – “First of all, do no harm”. This must remain our guiding principle. It is Blackburn’s law of double effect, concerning medical ethics – always weigh the positive and the deleterious effects of a treatment.
Having answered this question, one rule must be respected:
The deal must be perfectly clear. We cannot “cure cancer with Shiatsu”. Our art is a complementary technique, which in no way replaces medical treatment. Let’s hold our space and above all put the patient at the center of their own treatment. This attitude of responsibility involves the patient, of course, but also the entire health care team.
Concerning the Shiatsu session itself:
Always find out if an implantable chamber (infusion directly into the chamber, which avoids peripheral puncture) has been placed under one of the two clavicles, and above all, do not exert any pressure on this area.
There is no defined protocol. We work according to the energy balance we find. However, there are a few constants. The meridian of the Liver is almost always very strong, because the elimination of drugs is mainly done through the liver. Stomach is often weak, hence the problems of nausea and vomiting. Kidney is also weak, which explains hair loss – it would be very interesting to work on it beforehand to reduce this side effect.
To conclude, remember Alain Bashung’s song “Dare, dare, Josephine”. I invite you to DARE. You risk nothing, on the contrary, you can only gain beautiful things!
Kinésithérapie la Revue – Feb. 2007 – p 27 to 31. www.masson.fr/revues/kin Shiatsu Society News – Autumn 2007 – issue 103 – p 14-16. www.shiatsusociety.org Swiss Shiatsu Association – edition 5/2010 p 26 to 29. www.association-shiatsu.ch Same in German version www.shiatsuverband.ch Ian Olver and Monika Robotin – Perspectives on Complementary and alternative medicines – p 373 to 379. Imperial College Press 2012 www.icpress.co.uk Pierre Blackburn – L’Éthique – Édition du Renouveau Pédagogique – 1996
Comments by Tzvika Calisar
Does Shiatsu treatment help patients who are suffering from cancer?
Can Shiatsu damage and “spread” the cancer metastases all over the body?
These are the two main questions I have been asked during my 35 years of practising & teaching Shiatsu in Japan and all over the world.
In this article I will try to answer these questions and many more.
First of all, I will introduce myself briefly. My name is Tzvika Calisar. I started my way in Shiatsu at the Japan Shiatsu School in Tokyo (with Tokujiro Namikoshi sensei) in 1985, and then at Iokai Shiatsu Centre in Tokyo (the school of Masunaga sensei) and continued to study with a few other Shiatsu methods in Japan. From 2001-2007 I taught shiatsu in Tokyo to Japanese students in a Shiatsu school and treated patients from all over Japan.
During those years I also travelled around the world teaching shiatsu to Shiatsu teachers, therapist & students. So, my experience of treating patients with cancer for 35 years (of course not only with Cancer) are not limited to one or two people, countries, traditions or religions.
I will start with the second question – can Shiatsu damage and “spread” cancer metastases all over the body?
The answer is NO!
30 years ago, many Shiatsu schools around the world taught their students that they SHOULD NOT treat people suffering from Cancer precisely because it can spread metastases all over the body.
I completely disagree with this opinion. On several occasions I have consulted with friends of mine who are Doctors about this and their answer is: “Cancer metastases spread through the blood and physical stimulation will neither speed it up nor slowit down”.
In Shiatsu we do not treat on the physical level but on the Meridian and Ki level. (Massage works on the physical level).
The only problem my Doctor friends mentioned is the following: what if a patient is coming for a treatment with a symptom and didn’t check it beforehand with a Doctor? In that case the patient might feel much better in the moment but the cancer will not have been treated.
The solution to this subject is very simple.
Most patients have already been to their Doctor to check why they have the specific symptoms and if not, you can advise them to go and check it from the Western medical perspective with their doctor.
Now for the first question – does Shiatsu treatment help patients who are suffering from cancer?
The answer is YES!
In the last 10-15 years, Shiatsu treatment for patients diagnosed with cancer is increasingly common in many hospitals around the world. For example, in Israel every public & private hospital now offers Shiatsu in its Oncology department.
There are 3 main types of patients with cancer (any type of cancer) who come for Shiatsu treatments:
1- The first type are patients at different stages of Cancer who are in the beginning or middle of the conventional Western medicine treatment (Chemotherapy, Radiation or Biologic treatments). The main reason and intention for the Shiatsu treatment is to awaken their internal Seiki (meaning Internal healing energy & power) which helps them successfully overcome the hard and difficult treatments. The results are great but I can’t say whether it’s because of the Shiatsu treatments, the conventional treatments or the combination.
We should always recommend them to continue with conventional treatment and not take the risk that they will stop it and receive only Shiatsu or any other Oriental medical method.
A while ago I was treating an American woman suffering from liver cancer and she could not even get up from her bed due to weakness and pain all over her body. After a few Seiki Shiatsu treatments, she almost returned to a normal life without pain (but still with cancer). One day she asked me “If I should recover completely from the cancer, how I will know if it’s because of your Shiatsu treatments or because of the chemotherapy?” I smiled and answered her “Never mind why. The most important thing is that you recover, get healthy and live normally”.
2- The 2nd type of patients coming for Shiatsu treatments are seeking help with reactions to Chemotherapy & Biologic treatments, for example: abdominal pain, diarrhea, muscle cramps, nausea and various other reactions. In these cases, the results are very fast and effective and it is clear that the reason for the improvement is the Shiatsu treatments.
3- The 3rd type of cancer patients who are coming for Shiatsu treatment are those who are in the last few months of their lives, when the doctors in the hospital have given up and told the patient and her/his family that there are only a few months left. In that case, there are basically two kinds of reactions: either starting the process of parting from life & family or trying to fight until the end. For most people “this is the end”, while for others it’s only “one part of a long journey”. In both situations our Shiatsu treatments should focus on helping the patient to depart this life peacefully.
A few years ago, I flew from Japan to Vienna to give a Shiatsu workshop. A student came to pick me up from the airport and in his car on the way to my hotel he began to tell me that his friend who he was treating was in hospital, dying of cancer. His whole family were telling him to fight and that he would be ok. My student asked me advise him how to treat his friend.
I asked him to drive me to the hospital to meet his friend. When we arrived at his room, I looked into his eyes and they showed a great sadness. I talked to him but he could not talk back. His family were pushing me to tell him he would survive but I could not say anything like that. In the car on the way to my hotel, I said to my student “When you treat your friend, do it with the intention that he will pass away peacefully and that his family will support him”. After a few weeks, my student called me and told me that his friend had passed away peacefully.
As a Shiatsu therapist, you should not be afraid to treat patients with cancer. We can treat them at any stage and in any condition because Shiatsu treatment helps them so much.
Just be clear what the purpose of your treatment is:
Fighting the cancer?
Balancing Kyo & Jitsu?
Releasing Jaki (negative energy or stagnation)?
The purpose of Seiki Shiatsu is to awaken the patient’s Internal Healing force/energy – the internal Seiki. In my Shiatsu method, we diagnose and treat the “Seiki Meridian”, meaning one of the 14 meridians (apart from the Kyo & Jitsu meridians) that connects directly to the internal Seiki of the patient. The awakened internal healing force of the patient can do its work very well.
I have been practicing martial arts for 33 years now and 20 years just for Shiatsu. For years I have been obsessed with studying and learning, which is still the case, but to a lesser extent. I have sought and am still seeking approaches and techniques that allow me to be effective in the face of the problems I encounter. But following this path I have locked myself into the technique (jutsu) doing -if you want- a kind of Shiatsu-jutsu. Of course, the martial experience allowed me to distinguish quite early on the fundamental principles of Shiatsu. For the record, the principles underlie the technique and not the other way around. While working on the principles, I gradually left the techniques to let myself go more to the inspiration of the hands and the body. Finally, like in a game of Tetris, I saw the pieces of the puzzle forming a larger and deeper picture of Shiatsu and it’s not over yet. When I left to live in Africa, I had to slow down my pace of work, which allowed me to immerse myself more in reading and meditation. As I resumed treatments in France over the last 8 months, I realized that my technique had changed. At first I was surprised and spent some time analyzing how it had evolved, in what register. As in sports, the variations in the intensity of the work, the breaks, but also all the other contributions come to nourish the practice. This is why Shiatsu is a Way (Do). The years being added to the years, we always discover more layers to what we already knew, but in a superficial way. After 20 years of intensive work and study, it is barely possible to feel the directions in which Shiatsu pushes us, but it is impossible to know where it takes us. This is what walking on the Path is all about. And the most wonderful thing is to understand: there is no end to this journey.
Because technique is an end in itself, and it always leads to a dead end once it is acquired. At that point you go around in circles, you get bored and finally you run out of breath, you lose the passion. This is what I have often seen in physiotherapists and osteopaths after 20 or 30 years of work. On the other hand, a Way is a path that leads to discover the human being that we are, a path towards the inward.
The truth is, to get there we have to make a double journey: the one that makes us walk on the surface of the world to find masters and learn new things and the one that makes us enter into ourselves to make our art resonate with all the layers of our being. And there are so many strata, with so many nuances and evolutions according to age, place, climate, food, emotions, encounters that we feel it is endless. This allows us to walk without limits, always further and, above all, always deeper. As a result, we progress, we are never bored and we increase our inner breath more and more.
Shu, Ha, Ri
I have already addressed these themes on various occasions, but let’s review again the three stages of learning any art as the Japanese have cleverly defined it.
Shu: At the beginning, we imitate our teacher, trying to copy the movements and decode the theories. This lasts as many years as it is necessary for each one, more for those who follow several schools, until they feel worthy to assume the role of shiatsushi and dare to start practicing.
Ha: This is the stage where we try, where we test ourselves and where we start to sort out the techniques by using them on the tatami mat. This is the phase of integration through practice. One could compare it to the “black work” in alchemy. These are years of work with no other goal than to practice and experiment with what has been learned. It is also the beginning of the polishing of technique and personality, passing little by little from student to practitioner.
Ri: Finally, a beginning of maturity is emerging and we can start teaching. The concepts become clearer and the technique has been tried and tested a thousand times. We have rejected that which is not useful to us, that which is superficial or has too many details to start simplifying and moving towards the essence of his art. The continuation of the inner journey consists in polishing the gesture, the spirit, the soul, to blend and become one with the immemorial principles of oriental medicine.
These three stages are well known to martial arts practitioners, but much less so to the Shiatsu public. Of course, there are no clear boundaries in Shu Ha Ri, and often they overlap, cross, and intertwine. Sometimes one has the impression of starting from scratch when one meets a new master, even if this is never quite true. Moreover, each of these three stages of understanding is not similar from one individual to another. It all depends on the involvement and the amount of work done. But Shu Ha Ri are steps common to all those who understand that they are not studying or practicing a technique, but following a Path.
Kotaï, Jutaï, Ryutaï et Kitaï
Within the three previous steps, one can begin to enter into the depths by distinguishing other equally exciting concepts to go through. These new steps represent the way to approach the technique.
Kotai: literally translated as “hard body”. It is hard work where one tends to either over-press or over-use the muscles of the body. This is what you do when you start and you don’t yet know your limits in terms of strength, endurance over time, energy and mental expenditure. Kotai can also be a very useful work choice when facing certain types of actions or problems that we encounter. Finally, it is the choice of certain schools to work in this way. However, make no mistake: working hard does not mean a lack of flexibility. It is like the bones that holds the human frame. They are solid, powerful, but fortunately they have a certain flexibility that prevents them from breaking with each shock. Therefore, hard work has a roundness that allows it to pass without ever being felt hard. This work is typical of the martial Shiatsu’ schools.
Jutai: litt. “flexible body”. Flexible work requires a different approach to the technique, making it softer and rounder. By default it is often the work of the person who lacks confidence at the beginning, who does not dare to press hard, which is often the case with very strong students who are afraid of hurting or with weak ones. But later on, those who master flexible work understand that it must be incisive, without compromise. To return to the previous image of the human body, it could be the muscles. Muscles are soft in relation to bones, but the movements they create are unstoppable, clear, well-directed, and they can become hard at any time. The mistake is to work flexibly, but without power, otherwise you get a soft technique without energy and above all, without result. This is typically the work of Masunaga, who with gentleness presses deeply and without embellishment to avoid pain. It was necessary to go to the heart of the pain.
Ryutai: litt. “free body”. This time the work is free, the techniques go from hard to soft, but also from deep to surface, from fast to slow, mixes stops and restarts, becomes staccato to pass to pianissimo. The practitioner plays with all the technical registers he knows, invents new ones, truly composes a symphony guided by the heart and played by the hands without even thinking about it. The advantage of this step is that he can choose what he wants to do. For the practitioner it is a stage of pleasure, almost of playing, which is counterbalanced by listening and knowing the effects of each movement, depth of pressure, rhythm. This is the beginning of mastery. To stay in the metaphor of the body, once the bones and muscles work together, one can play, dance, do acrobatics and joy arises.
Kitai : litt. ” body energy “. This time the practitioner’s body is one with his energy. And through this energy, it reaches the depths of the receiver. It is a kind of second time where the practitioner no longer does what he wants, but where he realizes what the body of the receiver expects. For this, the technique is guided by an intense listening at all times, which offers an instantaneous reactivity to what he feels in the other person. This connection of energy from one to the other blurs the boundaries of the body. All advanced practitioners are familiar with this feeling where the two are one, where one can work in the other while working within oneself, while remaining each independent of the other. To finish the metaphor of the body, this is the moment when one knows the other so well that it is no longer necessary to move or speak. One look is enough to understand each other and to know what the other needs.
Of course, once again, the boundaries between the different types of work are neither clear nor absolute and there is always a way to get back to one or the other. But as the years go by, each step becomes more and more obvious.
In my experience, we go through Shu Ha Ri all the time and in each of these three levels we experience hard, soft, free and energetic work. Even if each step of our progression is not always clear as to its beginning or end, I am convinced that we must go through them all. As a beginner, I am familiar with work ranging from hard to energetic, an experience I had while I was still at school. As a practitioner, I have experienced these same four types of work, during the tens of thousands of hours of service to people. And while teaching, I do the same in every course, in every internship. To be clearer, one can teach at the beginning, being carried away by enthusiasm and forcing students to go fast. Over time, you soften the teaching, and then you start playing with your audience. Finally, you don’t say anything, you show while being able to take the students where you want them.
Some preliminary conclusions
It is important to understand or infer several things from this. First of all, we are only talking here about a first degree of deepening the art of Shiatsu and its Path promises us many more. Secondly, when one has the impression of no longer succeeding and returning to a more basic or harder form, this is not necessarily a sign of regression, but that it may be the crossing of one of the Shu Ha Ri stages. Therefore, one should not torture one’s mind too much and blame oneself. You must continue, again and again, to practice, to put your fingers down, to take back the basics, to work on yourself and on others.
Then, when you find a technique that works well, you can be satisfied with it, but under no circumstances should you stop there, because that would be an end to its progress. Do not cling to this technique and continue to walk in the wonder and joy of the Shiatsu Path, there lies the strength of the practitioner.
It is also necessary to be aware of the moments when one practices by choosing the art and the way, which is completely different than when one works in a certain way due to lack of choice, lack of tools or lack of knowledge.
And still, I have not yet spoken about the time it takes to go from one level to another, the challenges that life and patients bring us to help us progress, the trays without progression that are like so many desert crossings; there is something for all practitioners and for all levels.
Thus, the apprentice is always a practitioner, the practitioner is always a teacher, and the teacher is always an eternal beginner. Shoshin.
Elisa Carpiaux is a passionate and exciting Shiatsu teacher in the French-speaking part of Belgium. When I met her for the first time 10 years ago it was in a small Mexican restaurant, to introduce myself and tell her about my plans to open my first school. She was from the beginning not only a friendly support to this project, but since then a person with whom I have always been able to exchange on many subjects. Because what I didn’t tell you is that she is not just a Shiatsu teacher, but the 1st Shiatsu teacher in Wallonia. If today there are about ten schools in this part of Belgium, she remains this “first lady” that all Belgian practitioners should meet at least once in their life.
Ivan Bel: Hello Elisa. It’s really nice to see you again for this interview. The first time we met was 10 years ago. Already… But for the readers who don’t have the chance to know you, could you introduce yourself and tell me a little bit about your youth and your awakening to natural health, very early in life.
Elisa Carpiaux: Hello Ivan, thank you very much. I was born January 2, 1970. I am the eldest of 4 children born in the space of 5 years! A father who is a teacher and director of secondary schools, and a mother who is also a teacher. As far as I can remember, my mother has always taken care of us in a natural way, and I experienced macrobiotics very early in my life. She regularly took us to see osteopaths and alternative therapists of all kinds.
My maternal grandfather, who was also a career soldier, had trained himself in homeopathy (early 1950’s) and he treated us with passion at the slightest sneeze. So I have been bathed in the soup since my first steps… In addition, all my family on my mother’s side worked in alternative medicine, my mother was a therapist, my aunt a homeopath and my uncle an osteopath.
So you grew up in a family environment conducive to awakening your natural health side. Then you go to university, but you don’t get too excited about it and finally you go to Canada. Why did you decide to go to Canada? What are you going to do there?
I decided that I didn’t know what to do when I graduated from the humanities and decided to go to law school. After two years of hard work, I decided to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Social Communications at UCL. Communication already speaks to me a lot more, but it is towards another way of communicating that I am going to go without knowing it. Indeed, with my diploma in my pocket, I don’t see myself launching into active life in Belgium, and I decide to make a jump to Quebec with a friend from university, Quebec where part of my family lives, to find an internship in the field of Communication. I landed in a ‘Clownerie’ where I sold the services of actors, singers, jugglers… to companies and shopping malls in Montreal.
During this stay in Canada you will meet Shiatsu, but here is an incredible story that I let you tell.
I decide to leave for 6 months with 3 other friends to South America to travel through Chile, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. After 3 months of traveling, the decisive meeting with shiatsu will take place in an unusual place. Arriving in the center of Bolivia amid luxuriant nature, I landed in a small inn called ‘Sol y Luna’ run by a German woman who provides shiatsu sessions to her guests. I let myself be tempted by the experience and there it is love at first sight. The one you meet only once in a lifetime. I am still moved when I think back on it today. At this very moment, I know what I want to do with my life: to learn and practice this technique. I hesitate to stop my trip to return to Montreal to start a training course, but my friends convince me to finish the trip with them.
“Sol y luna” is not something that can be invented. You might as well write roughly “Yin and Yang”, it’s unbelievable! What a wink of fate! When you come back after this trip, what are you going to do to learn Shiatsu?
It’s 1995, and as soon as I get back, I find out about shiatsu schools in Montreal. I was lucky to be living in Canada at the time, because shiatsu was already well established in this country, and was part of my studies in massage therapy. Schools were legion at that time, unlike in Belgium where shiatsu and massage therapy in general were in their infancy. I visited a few schools and I chose the Hito Center, a school of the heart that has kept a very human side, compared to other schools with more impersonal dimensions that included physiotherapy and massage therapy.
Shiatsu training in Canada is quite reputable, even in Europe. Do you know why?
Some Japanese masters such as Ohashi who migrated to the United States have been developing Shiatsu for years and Canada benefits directly from this. This is why this practice is much more renowned and developed in this part of America than in Europe.
You will work right away with Shiatsu and massages. But if I understand correctly, you start in the street?! Explain to me precisely how it happened.
Yes, one day while walking down St-Denis Street, one of the busiest streets in Montreal, I see a herbalist shop renting space for the practice of massages. I went straight to it and rented two days a week. To make myself known, I don’t hesitate to take my massage chair down to the street, and I offer Anma sitting sessions for a dollar a minute. Some people only have 5 minutes of their time, but that’s how I develop my practice of longer shiatsu sessions. And very quickly my two days are full!
Great! 20 years ago, in 2000, you return to Belgium. You were then just 30 years old. You already have a good experience of Shiatsu, but you decide not to stop there and go back to school.
In fact, it was already a little before the year 2000, during shorter stays in Belgium, that I looked at what was being done on the training side in Europe, and I was told about IMI Kiental, the International Shiatsu School in Switzerland, in the Bernese Oberland. An extraordinary school, in a magical place, mountains at 360 degrees around the center. I spend extraordinary moments there, suspended in time: 3 weeks of intensive training (10 hours of shiatsu per day) with 50 students from all over Europe. The courses are given in German and translated into all languages. The healthy macrobiotic food is delicious. I have been there several times. I remember, I came home in an incredible shape, a real rejuvenation…
Indeed this school is clearly at the heart of many things that have subsequently developed in the european Shiatsu world. In Namur, you open your practice successfully and quickly start your first initiations. How did your beginnings as a teacher go?
Well, as soon as I came back to Belgium in 2000, I opened a shiatsu practice which started quite quickly. I feel people are very open to discover the practice of shiatsu. A friend who was seduced by this practice and who worked at the “Maison de l’écologie” in Namur, a center that offered all kinds of training in the field of well-being and health, suggested that I give a small introduction to shiatsu. I am a little hesitant and very quickly the trainings follow one another and shiatsu still unknown seduces more and more people.
Personally yes, teaching was a challenge for me. I would never have imagined one day that I would teach, as I didn’t have a very positive image of the school. Coming from a family of teachers, I had a model in mind that had to be desacralized and reincarnated by my singularity. This was done quite naturally, and I loved to pass it on very quickly. Seeing the real pleasure, the little stars in the eyes of the participants during the workshops is a real gift.
At that time there were not many schools in Belgium. Can you describe the situation in Wallonia at that time?
The only notorious school was that of Master Kawada in Brussels. There was also the Iokaï school. And then some therapists were giving some training on a more private basis. In the end, there was very little choice. People didn’t even know the word ‘shiatsu’, few had ever heard of it.
Finally, you will meet our friend Frans Copers, who is then the president of the Belgian Shiatsu Federation (BSF) that he created a few years before. Under what circumstances and what was the result?
Yes, another beautiful and decisive meeting that destiny put on my way! I see in the program of my fetish school in Switzerland (Kiental) that a master called Master Kishi comes to give a Seiki-Soho workshop. Reading the description of the course, I feel a little bit the same feeling as when I met shiatsu, a call of the soul, I dare to say.
Mr. Kishi’s assistant is Frans Copers. Surprised to know that I reside in Belgium and that I give some introductory courses, he shares with me his wish for a long time to enlarge the Belgian Shiatsu Federation in Wallonia and his despair to have little or no answer in this part of Belgium. Flanders was already gathering many shiatsu schools at that time.
we quickly connect and it is quite naturally that he pushes me to be recognized as the first school in Wallonia approved by the Federation. He generously shares with me his great expertise as a teacher and a school. I am enormously grateful to him for having placed such trust in me.
Today you are the headmaster of the Kajudo Shiatsu School. By the way, can you explain this name to me, because it’s not common.
Kajudo was born in 2009, it’s the continuation of “Massotherapie.be” which existed since my return from Quebec in 2000. I was officially recognized by the BSF in 2007. So it’s been 13 years now. So, Kajudo literally means ‘the way of the fruit tree’, it is my friend and aikido sensei Stéphane Crommelynck who inspired this name. Kaju means fruit tree in Japanese. I love the symbolism of the tree which is so important in our practice of linking Heaven and Earth and which also bears fruit. I like the idea of sowing seeds that one day will create fruits that will bear future seeds…
You have learned several massage techniques in your life. Why did you finally specialize in Shiatsu? Do you think that learning massage is a plus to being a good shiatsushi?
Shiatsu has always been my favorite, as I explained, but when I was in Montreal Swedish massage was very well known and in demand, so I learned it as well to diversify my practice. But the practice of this technique was more of a dietary one for me. I quickly chose to stop practicing it and to devote myself solely to shiatsu, whose knowledge seemed limitless and passionate about it. I don’t think that learning massage is really a plus for learning shiatsu, except maybe the fact that all these techniques allow us to develop and deepen our feelings.
You now have 20 years of experience as a teacher and I guess the way you teach is different from your beginning. In your Shiatsu teaching, what do you insist on? What is important to you?
It’s true that in 20 years, we inevitably evolve. What seems important to me to transmit first of all is a return to the body, our vehicle, our temple. We came to incarnate ourselves in a body to make this earthly experience. In our modern society unfortunately the body is completely forgotten in favor of the mind which has become the master. Shiatsu allows us to find the right master, that of our hara, our anchorage, our instinct of life and to re-appropriate it. Putting one’s head in one’s hara is my leitmotiv.
Then the breathing, the comfortable posture, the right intention and the open heart are important concepts for me to transmit.
I also insist a lot on taking care of oneself. When we engage in this Way of Shiatsu, the tendency I sometimes observe with my students who are very excited by this discovery is to put the other before oneself. You can’t help someone without starting with yourself. And it’s a great way to learn about yourself.
What is your vision of Shiatsu as a manual art?
Shiatsu is a tribute to the life that flows within us. Shiatsu is for me a therapeutic art that brings us back to simplicity. That of being simply and offering to the other through our hands, our listening, our benevolent presence and our pure intention a greater freedom to be oneself and to know oneself. Through this fabulous natural process of self-healing of the body, shiatsu brings a little more peace and harmony in the body and mind of the person who benefits from it. It is each time a journey to the heart of oneself. I am always amazed at what can emerge from a shiatsu session that little by little, layer by layer, brings us back to our essence, the core of our deep being.
With you I am starting (at last!) a series of portraits where I give the floor to women Shiatsu practitioners and teachers. So, I take this opportunity to ask you a question that may be a little complicated: according to you, is there a different way to practice Shiatsu when you are a woman?
It’s not easy to answer this question, given the lack of a point of comparison from the inside of course. I would say that the woman may have an easier time connecting with her pelvis, because the power of a woman lies in her womb, the life she is going to transmit originates there and passes through the hara. And in that sense, she is more connected to her instincts directly through the hara and in a natural way. The man will gain by anchoring himself in his pelvis where the raw energy resides to let it rise towards the heart. For it is said that man’s strength lies in the heart.
I like to end my interviews with one or more pieces of advice that could be given. I would like you to give advice to practitioners who are starting out on this path, those who are already facing the difficulties of managing pain, human drama, etc. I would like you to give advice to those who are starting out on this path. How do you manage to get through, year after year?
There would be so much to say…
I will say first of all, to reconnect with nature, our greatest master, as often as possible, trees can give us great support to unload what does not belong to us and to put down roots.
Remain humble and consider each person who arrives with his or her problems as a facet of yourself that still needs to be transformed, improved… I like to see the person as a mirror that gives me the gift of reflecting my condition of the moment. It is never by chance that a person has come to my office.
Another aspect of humility is also to realize that even though I am the one working with my hands, my body and my knowledge, I am only a channel of universal energy at the service of the greater whole.
Also along this path, as I was saying earlier, it is important to be attentive to one’s limits, to give to oneself what I like to give to others. Know how to balance giving and receiving.
I think it is also necessary to dare to ask the question which part of me I come to repair or save when I engage in this work of accompanying others. Because if this search to help the other fills a void in me, then I am not in the real gift. I can only truly give to the other if I am first nourished and filled by the love and caring that I give to myself. It is a very important personal work of introspection to accomplish on oneself.
Here are some advice in the form of sharing that have been my milestones throughout this exciting life journey.
Thank you very much for this exchange and we look forward to seeing you again soon.
Most Shiatsu practitioners know their meridians to their fingertips. But is this really the case? How many know that each of 12 the meridians follow pathways that can run either on the surface or deeper? The study of their deep paths greatly improves our understanding. Lets’ take this journey using the Lung meridian as an example.
For some time now, I am privileged to be in contact with more and more shiatsushis, notably thanks to the courses I give and to social networks. People from different background and Shiatsu style come and ask me questions. These questions are essentials to the teacher as it pushes him as well to question himself, thus progressing. During this summer intensive bootcamp, I often spoke about the deep pathways of the meridians as I was realizing that seldom was it taught to the students during their courses. And yet, it is for a good reason that they are mentioned: their existence tells us stories that complete our understanding of the meridians.
Since it is the first meridian taught to students and well know both to them and practitioners, we will use the Lung as an example. Everybody knows where the Lung’s first point starts (6 cun lateral to the anterior midline, level with the 1st ICS) which marks the beginning of the meridian, and even more where is the second point which is even easier to locate (6 cun lateral to the anterior midline, below the clavicle in a depression medial to the coracoid process). But to my great surprise, few knew that LU 2 is in fact the start of the surface meridian, i.e. the segment where one can act directly on the meridian outer energy, in other words the points or tsubos.
But there are other paths which are usually represented in Shiatsu’s related charts as dotted lines, and which form the deepest part of the meridian. It is like icebergs; you have the tip and the immersed part. This submerged part gives a lot of information about the role or roles of the meridian, its connections and link with the organ, in this case the lungs. This is exactly what is meant by the Biao/Li relationship, the connection between the depth and the surface. In the case of the Lung meridian, the deep path makes a sort of hook above the navel, thus passing largely into the intestine zone of the transverse Large Intestine and a section of the Small Intestine.
In other representations it is found crooked around the navel. Whatever the case, it continues through the pylorus (lower gate of the stomach) … the stomach pouch ..the diaphragm’s centre… divides itself right and left around the heart passing over the lungs… merges again under the manubrium (the broad upper part of the sternum) …. head straight up into the larynx to finally go asides towards point LU 1.
Next to this, a second internal branch leaves from point LU 7 and joins LI 1 directly.
But what does this mean?
Study of the mini-path of the hand
You do not need to be a big shot in Chinese medicine to understand the meaning of these deep paths.
As for the small branch on the hand, it is simply to illustrate the relationship between the Lung and Large Intestine meridians which form the well-known Yin/Yang polarity couple, and which is linked to the Metal energy. Indeed, the Lung ends on the thumb and the Large Intestine starts on the index finger. Although these two fingers are not far apart, they are neither in direct relation nor close contact. When I was a student, this question puzzled me a lot. I was given explanation that Energy did not need a direct connection as it flows through the skin barrier to “jump” to the starting point of the next meridian. Really? And why this finger and not another one or even the tip of my nose? In short, there was something fishy about this explanation. The deep path of the Lung on the hand explains more concretely how the relationship is made possible and especially which points are making this possible.
LU 7, Rekketsu (Liè quē in Chinese – 列缺) or “Broken Sequence” is not a point to be ignored. Located in front of the styloid process (in the direction of the meridian flow), it is at first a point that belongs to the VIP club of the Master points. There are only 5 of them in total and they are all like Swiss knives as they have so many applications on a given anatomical area (presently the chest). Then, it is a Raku point or better known in Chinese as Luo (communication) and guess what? Who do you think it communicates with? With the Source point of the associated meridian of course, which is the Large Intestine (LI 4). So, there is already de facto a relationship between the two meridians via LU 7. But that’s’ not all, if your interest is in the Extraordinary Vessels, you will discover that it is also one of the Master Point of the Conception Vessel, it can also be called the Opening point of the Conception Vessel, when paired with KD 6. And backward, KD 6 is the opening point of the heel Yin Vessel and LU 7 its paired point. As you can see, just by studying this deep mini-path of the Lung, a lot can be learned. Therefore, what about the great deeper pathway?
From the belly’s depth to the emergence of energy
Let us now follow the great deep path of the Lung, the one’s, if I can say, through which everything is made possible. We are not going to look too much in books to understand it. Rather, I would like to show you how to perceive it using basic common sense and little observation skills. Its hook above the navel indicates a relationship with the mid part of the Triple Heater. If it is below the navel, like a fishing hook, it tells us how important the link between breathing and birth is. Without the first breath, there is no life, and therefore no umbilical cord that dries and forms a navel. At the beginning of our life, as soon as we leave our mothers’ womb, we have – before anything else – to take a deep breath. Otherwise, a tap on the baby’s butt triggers a nervous reaction and the result is the same. In other words, this means that the belly and the breath are intimately linked, and I personally prefer this explanation, even if it is a little less academic.
Afterwards, the crossing of the pylorus, the stomach and the transverse part of the large intestine and the diaphragm is not innocent. Indeed, as soon as we experience stress, we stop breathing and put ourselves into apnea. Just look at your reaction when you receive an unpleasant email, read painful news or listen to someone criticizing you. And here we are just talking about things that are emotionally manageable. Now imagine that you witness, just in front of you, a person being ran over because he or she is crossed when the pedestrian light was red. As this happens, you stop breathing, then you scream and turn white or green, depending on your nature. This is called emotional shock.
The organ that is most sensitive to emotional shocks and the stresses that result from them is the Lung and immediately afterwards, the Stomach. Who hasn’t felt their stomach to be knot up at the announcement of bad news? It doesn’t take long to feel it tight, does it? This is due to its cellular nature, but let’s not get carried away here. And what’s the best way to relax that area? I’ll give you a hint: breathing. If the energy of the Lung rises at the time of stress, then you will cry, otherwise you will calm down if you let it go down into the belly. The diaphragm located just above is the champion for blocking itself in case of stress, which automatically cuts off the breathing since it is the one that allows the inspiration thanks to its downward movement. Here again, it will be necessary to do some breathing exercises to unwind it, not to mention receiving a good Shiatsu of course.
Its onward journey is quite simple. The pathway goes around the heart on both sides to enter the lungs, this time to indicate or demonstrate the connection between the organ itself and the meridian, and then heads up to the larynx. The larynx is a complex organ, part of the respiratory system which purpose is to manage the opening and closing of the upper airways, allowing the air to flow in and out, to yawn, to swallow, but above all to make the vocal cords vibrate, and therefore to express oneself. The air, the breath, the speech, the lung, all of this is intertwined and explains why we must be careful with what we say (the Buddhists speak of the notion of Right Speech in The Noble Eightfold Path) or else we will hurt both the Lung energy and the Heart’s one which is close by. As a reminder, if all the Yin organs are responsible for an emotion, only the Heart can feel them. It is now time for all this energy to come to the surface after charging all these organs, which it does at the first point of Lung 1.
Again, a little study of the names tells us a lot. This point is not to be called only “LU 1”! This is only a naval warfare game-like code to facilitate learning at first, but which can quickly become a sea mine as one progresses. No, its name is Chyūfu (or Zhōng fǔ in Chinese – 中府), which means ‘Central Palace”, ” Central Treasury “, “Central Archive” according to the magnificent explanations of Jean Motte, the famous French acupuncturist, and which is, by common sense and wisely translated, “Middle of the bowels”. The palace is where are located treasures and what better treasure for us Shiatsu practitioners than the belly, the foundation and source of the Ki. Therefore, and logically, the ancient Chinese designated LU 1 with a name that indicates the source of the deep path of the meridian. In Chinese medicine, there is no such thing as coincidence.
The quest of deep paths
If equipped with a hint of common sense, and without losing ourselves into complex explanations, we can accept to change our way of thinking, then the study of the deep pathways becomes an ongoing discovery and learning journey giving sheer gratification. Very early in my teaching, during the second-year course, I provided a teaching syllabus containing the deep pathways, the musculotendinous and the communication meridians, because it is not because one learns Shiatsu that one should be ignorant of these aspects of energy. By contrast, this knowledge is key to grasp the full picture of the complex jigsaw when it comes to Eastern medicine. This will allow you to make skilled techniques unthought of before. For example, if one day you find LU 7 completely empty, a quick and easy way to boost it is, while keeping on pressing it to exercise a friction below the navel and forcing the breath from the hara. The speed of results is quite impressive. Therefore you should not waste any more time this fall reading the umpteenth evergreen story on Metal energy as we are entering autumn, and whatever the case, this would be a long-winded reading as if there were not already thousands of subjects that have not yet been written and immerse yourself in the deep pathways of the meridians. You will come out greatly uplifted.
Ivan Bel: Hello dear Betty, thank you for giving me some of your time after the madness of this last European Shiatsu congress. I guess you must be relieved that it is over.
Betty Croll: I am very happy it has turned out the way it did. Totally different than we had in mind when we started this, 2,5 years ago. But regarding the circumstances it couldn’t be better, with such a nice group of people, very committed and positive.
Before talking about the congress, could you tell me about your journey in Shiatsu?
I started Shiatsu in 2004. One of my children, aged 4, had many health issues and after seeing al sorts of physicians, and specialists and giving her many medications like antibiotics and painkillers, without any positive outcome, I started to look for another approach. I found an anthroposophical doctor who had also a massage therapist in his clinic. After a couple of treatments her health started to improve and infections disappeared. I was so much taken by surprise that I wanted to investigate the working of this sort of therapy. I had studied pedagogy at university, so I did know something about children. Of how things can go wrong, mentally and physically and what can be done. But everything in this study was seen from the intellectual point of view. Nothing was said about the intelligence of the body. I didn’t understand it, and I wanted to know how it worked. At first not with the idea of becoming a shiatsu therapist, but out of interest. So, then I started my first shiatsu education. I finished two different Shiatsu schools – both with a curriculum of 3 three year. And opened my practice. Since then I have worked as a shiatsu therapist with people aged from 6 month to 87 years old. I have worked as well for 6 years in a children’s hospital, where I treated children with all sorts of problems, but where the doctors couldn’t find any physical abnormality. It was quite unbelievable to see what Shiatsu could do for this group of sensitive and fragile children. In 2016 I finished my acupuncture education. So, I combine both techniques. Whereas acupuncture is seen as more efficient, I find and experience Shiatsu to be a much better approach.
In your opinion, how can Shiatsu respond to the problems of our western society?
I think that Shiatsu as a manual therapy is very helpful to improve one’s awareness and consciousness. If a person feels better and understand what is happening and how her or his body reacts to inner and outer sensations, he or she can adapt and change for the better. Shiatsu is not simply a therapy that solves problems. By incorporating the connection with oneself and the other during treatments, I see and feel patients experience a change. Awareness of this inner contact and living it, allows things to come together.
The focus of Shiatsu is to become aware of your body, to become aware of the difference between your inner and outer world. It emphasizes that we are part of a bigger picture, in which everyone is related to everyone and everything.
In a time and landscape where divide and conquer, distance and fear are propagated, connecting in the way Shiatsu is doing, is a powerful force for the good. Finding the connection is, I believe, the anti-dote to fear and division.
As a practitioner, what do you like when you do a session?
I like it, if there is a real change in someone’s attitude and awareness. That there is a comprehension of what is happening, rather than solving the problem. Because the only way that things will change, is when there is a movement inside the person him/herself.
At what point did you say to yourself “what if I organized the European Shiatsu Congress in Amsterdam”?
Well that was not quite the case. Bart asked me, if I would like to jointhe group. I hadn’t thought of it before. But when he asked, I thought it would be great if we could organise this event and by doing so increase awareness of Shiatsu, to become more known by the public and the regular medicine.
What is incredible is that you are not a teacher, you don’t have a whole organization behind you to support you, but you did it anyway.
Well, please note that there are Bart Bloemers, Karlijn Eijkmans and Daphne Riabokon, who have worked at least as much hard on this project. And we did have help from so many other people to make this happen. Also, we were advised by some teachers in the Netherlands and abroad to make an interesting and a challenging programme.
How long does it take to organize such an event? Were you supported?
Well it took us 2,5 years. At first, we had a monthly contact which became more intense this last year. And full time the last 4-5 months. Yes, we were very much supported by Happy Hara magazine for instance. And also, Cliff Andrews from England with his webinars helped us a lot. And so, did Bas van der Paardt, who was responsible for marketing and technique and live stream. And so many more. In the end we had more than 75 volunteers helping us with this event.
I imagine it couldn’t have been easy, especially since the Covid crisis came over it. How did you get through it?
I don’t know actually. Of course, many times we thought we had to stop, and couldn’t go on. But there was a deep voice inside who said, it was doable. Although we had a lot of forces against us, we wanted very much the people to hear another voice than that of fear. So, I think this deep-down feeling of ‘It can be done and it is so necessary’, made us to go on.
In the end, after running from one superb practice venue to another, I thought that you had succeeded in your gamble. It must have been a great joy for you and Bart to see practitioners coming from all over Europe despite everything.
Yes, it was unbelievable and touching, and moving to see all these people. It made us cry. That it worked out against all odds.
At this event you innovated by offering live streaming for those who wanted to follow the congress from a distance. How many people followed this “distance learning” in a way?
I am not sure but I think around 250.
The day before the end of the congress I could see you dancing, and during the closing ceremony we all saw Bart’s emotion at the end of his speech. What do you get out of all this adventure?
I think the most important thing is that we need so much to be in contact with each other. And that we will continue to try and find ways in connecting with each other. Because without connection there is no life.
In any case, I congratulate you for your impeccable organization, the choice of locations ; churches, old stock exchange and all in the beautiful city of Amsterdam. What are you going to do now?
First, we have to finalize administrative details and off course ask for feedback from the visitors. And after that I think we all are going to have a holiday if possible, and let ourselves be carried away by the seasons.
As president of the European Shiatsu Federation, Chris McAlister is a personality in the world of Shiatsu. But apart from this official title, we don’t know much about his life and his career. His life is like a novel of travel, adventure, martial arts and oriental medicine, set in Tibet, India, Nepal, China, Japan, England, France and Sweden. What follows is a portrait of a man who spent many years in Asia, traveling and learning with some of the greatest masters of their time.
Ivan Bel: Hello dear Chris. There is something I want to know about your name. You’re living in Uppsala but your family name doesn’t sound at all that Swedish. Where are you from exactly?
Chris McAlister: I am from England and was born to parents born in London, who experienced the second world war as children. I was raised in the suburbs of London, but moved back towards the centre as a young adult. Significantly, apart from the Scots-Irish roots my name implies, my great-grandmother had gypsy blood. I am convinced this has fuelled my wanderlust and curiosity and taken me to the farthest flung reaches of Asia and many other parts of the world.
At the age of 22, I travelled with two friends to India and embarked upon a two-year odyssey that took me through Nepal and Tibet on several occasions. While in Tibet, I became attracted to a wild and exotic woman who turned out – to my surprise – to be Swedish. We travelled together through eastern Tibet by truck, tractor and trailer and even on foot. Gradually we made our way across South eastern China and from there via Hong Kong to Japan. After many comings and goings, we eventually settled here in Sweden, where I still live for a variety of very good reasons.
You’re now President of the European Shiatsu Federation (ESF), taking over from my dear friend Frans Copers. But I’m sure it didn’t all happen at once.
Arriving in Sweden and knowing no one, I was keen to connect and make contacts, especially in the Shiatsu world. I met a few nice people and not only started a school with two of them but was quite quickly accepted onto the board of the association. After a few months I was given the responsibility of helping the Swedish Shiatsu Association to become a member of the ESF. I became the representative and held that post for seven years. I then stepped back and remained in the background to assist the various people who took over after me. After about eight years, it just so happened that the current rep could not attend the upcoming meeting in Athens. Inspecting my schedule, I noticed that I was available and took the chance to step into her shoes.
During a lull in the meeting, I was approached by Frans, whom I had known since my very first days at the ESF – and had invited to teach in Uppsala – to take over after him as president. I was amused, since this was clearly a joke and the very furthest thing from my mind at the time. When the meeting was over, Frans again approached me with the same request, whereupon I realised he was serious. I stepped back mentally to consider the proposition and during the coming days and weeks consulted with everyone close to me on whether or not this might be a feasible and possibly even a good idea. Everyone was supportive and encouraging, and since I did at that time have space for it, I took the post. I reasoned that there was no one else currently available with the same experience or skill set as me, and that if there was a need then I had better fill it.
The first thing I’ve noticed is that you’re a language lover. You speak English, Japanese, Swedish and French. You have also studied in France. How do you relate to languages? And how did you learn them?
I have always loved languages and learned very early on that a language embodies the culture of the people who speak it. When I was 10 years old, my sister moved to Spain for a year and came back a changed creature, speaking a wonderfully exotic language. My brother did something similar a few years later, spending two years in France. I even visited him there and got to see the under belly of Paris – an eye-opening experience for a 15-year-old. I had a talent for French at school and even studied German for four years. This felt like a complete waste of time until I finally moved to Sweden….
I spent a year in France as part of my university degree. I was studying law, which was my father’s idea, but the French minor in European Studies got me a year in Grenoble, near the alps. I wriggled out of the academic studies and spent my time sitting in cafes and making excursions around France and Europe. My French was only mediocre until I met a woman who took me not only to Spain on the back of her motorbike but taught me real French in a variety of situations.
This knack for languages, combined with a talent for mimicry and voice distortion, served me very well on my Asian trip. Speaking conventional English gets you nowhere in Asia. You have to learn to speak their English. My friends thought I was mocking the locals as I modulated my voice to suit their ears. When the results materialised, they quickly changed their minds… I was complemented on many occasions for my excellent “Indian English”.
In China (including Tibet) there are very few English speakers, so it was necessary to learn some rudimentary words and phrases in Chinese and Tibetan. This is always slightly embarrassing and highly comical for the locals, but the doors that swing open make it all worthwhile. Learning Japanese was one of the hardest linguistic challenges – in this language you get nothing for free. Not a word or even a concept is familiar. We all know words like kamikaze, karate and kimono but such words have limited use when you are buying rice and tofu or trying to learn Shiatsu. Japanese is easy in one way – the sounds are simple. The rest is really, really difficult, but I studied hard and practised unrelentingly, and ended up translating a book my acupuncture teacher had put together. This was my next lesson in how Japanese people think – in spirals…!
Arriving in Sweden, I quickly found use for several linguistic threads: German was really useful because Swedish was heavily influenced by it during the Hansa period. More interestingly, I found a use for the hours of tedious study I had endured with Chaucer and Shakesepare as a schoolboy. Old or “Middle” English is derived largely from Germanic, but even more so, Scandinavian roots. With these two free gifts, learning Swedish proved to be a relatively simple exercise.
Learning Chinese characters was also extremely eye-opening, because they show you the foundations of quite abstract concepts. This has been a key insight for me in learning Oriental medicine.
Very early on you were attracted to Asia and I can imagine you taking a backpack and traveling this continent around, let’s say, 25 years old. Tell me how it went? Why in the first place did you want to go there?
In fact, I was 22 when we set out and landed in India. My culture shock was total, mixed as it was with a heavy dose of jetlag. The initial turmoil gradually transformed itself into utter fascination and love, especially for India. My best friend and I had decided to go to India for a year after hearing others’ travellers’ tales. I clearly recall speaking to him from a telephone in the hallway of the student hall overlooking Grenoble. Unfortunately, India had stopped giving unlimited visas to UK citizens and we found ourselves heading for Nepal after only a few months, with the monsoon on our heels. Through a chance meeting in Durbar Square (E.N.: located in Kathmandu, Nepal, which owes its name of darbâr (royal courtroom) to the court held there by the kings of Nepal until 1886), we realised that we could travel to Tibet. (“Where the hell is that?” we all said. “See those mountains up there? On the other side” came the reply). That opened up a world of possibilities and I ended up looping around Asia for another year, before hooking up with my Swedish girlfriend and travelling to Japan.
What was the first experience that marked you in Asia?
The first experience that marked me was brushing my teeth in a very seedy Bombay hotel and seeing 7 gigantic rats running up a drainpipe one after the other. The other major experience was contracting hepatitis in the untamed wilds of Tibet.
Oy my! That must had been a shock for you. So, in 1986, like a lot of travellers in Asia, you were badly ill. But this experience opened up a completely new perception of the world and health. What happened exactly?
I had been continually on the move for 6-7 months by that time, and my health had suffered through a combination of hard conditions and often poor nutrition. I made an excursion to lake Nam-co in Tibet. The lake is three days walk from the main road and I did it with 20 kilos on my back, five on my front and new boots that rubbed my ankles raw. (E.N.: Lake Nam Co or Namtso is 112 Km from Lhasa in North-North-West direction). I was with two Australian girls, who were also headed that way and I began to feel tired on the first day. On the second day I felt slightly worse, but luckily, a bunch of Tibetan nomad riders offered us a lift over the pass with their yaks and horses.
That was wonderful until we arrived at the top and gazed over the landscape towards the distant lake – it was miles away and my fatigue was beginning to set in. After a few hours walking across horribly uneven terrain, I bade the girls go on – I needed to rest and actually fell asleep. Waking up, disorientated, in the middle of nowhere, completely alone, is not an experience I would wish on anyone. Grabbing my things together, I tried to hurry on. After a very scary experience with a massive dog guarding a little Tibetan nomad kid with green snot pouring out of his nose, I struggled on.
Towards twilight I came to a full stop. Ahead of me was only water. As far as I could see in both directions were beautiful colours reflected on deadly still water. Panic set in. I had no tent and not even a sleeping bag. A night in that rugged, open landscape was a thing I did not relish. Luckily, I spotted a tent off in the distance and when I finally arrived, I was greeted by friendly faces – two Aussies and a Kiwi I knew from Lhasa. They welcomed me, gave me food and I stayed warm between their bodies that night.
We arrived – exhausted – the next afternoon at the caves, where we intended to sleep. I collapsed. In the evening, I gathered goat droppings and filled a sack to create a sort of half-length mattress. As night fell, I wrapped myself in my sheet, my blanket and all of my clothes and tried to stay as close to the Aussies as possible. In the dead of night, I awoke, needing to pee. I struggled out of my layers and made it to the opening of the cave, where my breath was stolen away from me. Looking across the vastness of the lake, I could see that snow had come all the way down the mountains at the other end. Cold entered my being. I peed and scrambled back, shivering, into my refuge. In the morning we all made a communal breakfast, which I immediately threw up. Inspecting my skin, one of the Aussies shouted: “he’s got hep”!
I had no medical background, had even ignored biology at school in favour of the new and “exciting” subject of computer science. I was ignorant, bone tired and scared shitless. I sat on a huge rock while the others went “exploring”. Wrapped in my blanket, I contemplated death.
Another night passed, and the next day the party decided to head back to the road. I contemplated three days of arduous travel, knowing that I was in even worse shape than I’d been getting there and that none of the others could provide me with anything more than moral support. Before we left, I decided on a radical course of action. I stripped off and bathed in the ice-cold waters of the lake. Even though the event was shocking, I believe it turned events in my favour. I felt renewed on some level and was – at least psychologically – ready for the task at hand.
We made it back – a truck gave us a lift over the pass and all the way back to the road and the truck stop, where we spent two nights before hitch hiking north. The meal of goat’s meat and greens we prepared at the truck stop was probably the finest food I have ever tasted. I could literally feel how my body was transforming and assimilating the nutrients as I ate and digested.
During the weeks and months that followed, I gradually rebuilt my strength and health. I travelled more slowly, lived more sedately, ate melons and grapes to my heart’s content and dredged up my old football training exercises to renew my physique. It worked. From then on, I began to seek out healers, herbalists and homeopaths whenever I needed any help. Unfortunately, the trip I made a year later (“by truck, tractor and trailer and even on foot”) undid all of this. The conditions we endured during this journey left me once again sorely depleted and wanting no part of anything going on in the world around me.
Several things happened that renewed my energy once again: staying put for two weeks and eating good food on a regular basis; marble tubs full of piping hot water at the bath house; Tuina sessions by a brawny deaf mute in the same bath house and Taiji lessons on the balcony of the hotel from an elegant, elderly gentleman. In two weeks, I managed to completely rebuild my appetite for life: During an impromptu basketball game with some of the local men, I realised: “I’m back!”
Within another two weeks, I had been exposed to acupuncture as well, and from there I never looked back – though I was still far from recognising the path that was being laid out for me.
What a story! Now we’re going to take a little leap in time. Two years later, you decided to start studies in Shiatsu. But why on earth did you start two different schools at the same time?
After my free and easy wanderings in Asia, I was heavily disillusioned on returning to London. Nothing had changed and everything had changed. An aunt of mine later told me I looked like “a fish out of water”. Desperation eventually took hold and I challenged myself and the universe, which led to direct, random discoveries, which in turn led me to Nigel Dawes, who taught Zen Shiatsu at the London College of Shiatsu. We clicked immediately, and after a few months, he had me help him run an open day that the school put on to attract new students. Sitting together afterwards, his colleague said we looked like brothers. That was enormously pleasing and highly flattering for me, of course, but it also says a lot about Nigel’s style of teaching and relating to people – very even and completely without any unnecessary teacher-student hierarchy nonsense. After six months, he told me to go to Japan and study with his teacher, since he was fast running out of material to keep me occupied.
After I had enrolled in Nigels’s foundation course, but before it had started, a friend told me about a woman running adult education classes in Shiatsu. This turned out to be Liz Arundel, and although we never clicked in quite the same way, she was a great teacher and showed me a set of completely different moves and introduced me to the classical acupuncture meridians. I continued with both teachers into their intermediate classes before heading off to Japan.
After that, you decided to follow Takeo Suzukisensei in Japan. How did you meet him?
Nigel gave me Suzuki’s name (see Profile #3) but no contact details. Instead he gave me the phone number of his friend, Peter Yates (see Profile #4), who became my Qigong and acupuncture teacher and later martial arts training partner. A stylish and elegant French woman named Cathy took me along to Suzuki’s class, which, at that time, was at his home way on the other side of Tokyo. He took very great care to bring me into line with his approach and iron out all the idiosyncrasies I had picked up during my first six months of study. This was tricky at first, but some friendly guidance from elder brothers and sisters made it possible to knuckle down and get back to basics, Suzuki style. The class was made up of half Japanese and half gaijin – foreigners. A Japanese woman translated and when she left after a few months an American woman took over. Two years later, I had become translator – which was not without its perks.
Suzuki was a very simple man in one sense. He was not given to intellectual or spiritual discussion, was intensely private and, apart from the lessons themselves, wholly uncommunicative. Not very fruitful grounds for a pedagogue, you might think. However, he was a master of Ki and could demonstrate things that I am still light years away from even comprehending, let alone reproducing.
Previously, he had worked at the massive Tsukiji fish market and as a technician maintaining electricity pylons. He came to Masunaga quite late and became one of the favoured students. Stories were circulating among the older students that Masunaga went to Suzuki for treatments at the end of his life. However, his approach to his teacher’s legacy was in some ways less than reverent. He increased the number of meridians (more than two-fold!) and even invented horizontal meridian zones going around the head, trunk and limbs. He experimented with meridian associations to an almost dazzling extent and radically changed the kata. His emphasis was on “release”. If the technique released the flow of ki in the meridians, the technique was good. If it did not, then no matter how beautiful or intriguing a technique was, it was useless and to be discarded. This led to a “bare bones” approach and the kata we learned was therefore simple but very thorough: seated, sides, back and front in classic Iokai style, but shaped by Suzuki’s pared back design. He called it Keitai (meridian-zone) Shiatsu.
I was with him for three years and learned so much it took me another fifteen to make use of even the fraction that I had assimilated. My debt to him is without limit, but our relationship never developed beyond my initial status as golden boy who had come to Japan to study Shiatsu with him, which then soured to one of half-traitor for also pursuing acupuncture and other studies as well.
Did you ever meet Masunaga or do workshops with him?
I never met Masunaga. My relationship with him is as a beloved Grandfather, of whom I have only legend, hearsay, images and two cherished books to connect me. I was given “Zen Shiatsu” as a present during my first brief stay in Japan. It shocked me to read all about my experiences of illness and health, and excited me to realise that I had already taken a few faltering steps on the path he described. Later on, back in London, it was the iconic image on the front cover of this book that led me to Nigel Dawes, my first teacher, via a gigantic poster on the street encountered on my wild and desperate bus ride to destiny. Nigel had studied with Suzuki, who had studied with Masunaga. That book stayed with me and was later complemented by Zen Imagery Exercises.
You didn’t stop with Shiatsu, you also trained in acupuncture.
Yes. As I mentioned, Peter Yates was my first contact in Tokyo, and he was just preparing to teach his first ever acupuncture course. He invited me to join, but my budget was extremely limited and I was focused on Shiatsu. However, meeting up with him again a week or so later, he not only started teaching me Qigong but connected me with both a Taiji and a yoga teacher. We happened to go out dancing after a visit to the yoga teacher in question and hit it off like two old friends on the dance floor, imitating monkeys and other beasts of the imagination. I spent the night in his girlfriend’s spare room and after breakfast the next morning he once again asked me to join his class. I repeated my pathetic mantra: no money, focus on Shiatsu, whereupon he invited me to take the class for free. I was stunned and surprised, and asked him why. This was quite a lot of money, after all. His reply was two-fold: “Because I think you’ll be good at it and because I want you in my class”.
The deal was done. After the first term, I paid my way, of course, and after two years we travelled to China to study in Guangzhou (Canton) with twelve other students. Peter also introduced me to Gotoh Sensei (see Profile #2), who was then my acupuncture teacher for another three years in Japan.
Your love for Asia doesn’t stop at Japan. You went on to be an uchi-deshi in Canton, China at a martial art school. Please tell us more about that period of your life that spreads from 1990 to 95.
Peter had made a new friend in Tokyo – Greg Winder – a lovely man from New Zealand. Everyone liked Greg – he was easy going and a lot of fun to be around. He’d studied both Chinese and Japanese martial arts and had some beautiful Qigong forms, which Peter set him up teaching. They talked martial arts, senseis and sifus and became so close that Greg invited him, together with two other friends, to travel to Canton and study with his teacher: Wa Guo (see Profile #5). I was not included in that trip but half a year later, after studying some Choy Li Fut gongfu [I] with Greg, I was allowed to accompany him.
We stayed one month with Wa Guo and it was like being in a martial arts movie: Up at dawn to stand in the semi-darkness in deep horse stance. Breakfast together then morning practice. After lunch practice resumed. We learned two very dynamic but highly contrasting forms: Loka Bafa, a combination of Taiji, Xingyi and Bagua, and a spear set from the traditionally female Yang family.
One year later, I was back there with Peter for an altogether less exotic and far more gruelling month of pure Xing yi quan [II] fundamentals, spiced with some Taiji, Hung Gar [III] and Shaolin two-man forms – for light relief! A year after that, we returned for part two of the Xing yi journey. This time it was just as gruelling but also more rewarding as we learnt six of the Xingyi animal forms, a combined Xing yi form called Endless Returning, a two-man Xing yi set, and a Xing yi sabre form.
These experiences are engrained on my soul and in the very marrow of my bones. Never have I suffered so much but also laughed so hard. Never again have I had to endure smells and substances emanating from the core of my being and endure sleepless nights stretched out, seemingly electrocuted, on a wire camping bed that felt more like a torture trestle.
The Chen style of Taijiquan is very different from Yang style because it retains the ability to do fast and offensive movements like traditional Gongfu styles. I can imagine that it was a hard training.
This is true. The story goes that the Yang style came about when master Yang, who practised the Chen style, was asked to teach members of the Chinese royal family. He eliminated much that was arduous and demanding, opting instead for elegance and flow. Yang style still contains countless martial aspects and is deadly in the hands of an expert. However, the Chen style looks far more like a martial art, even though it is traditionally performed slowly – at least at foundational levels.
My Taiji journey started with a modern, hybrid form in the hills of Dali, South-West China (E.N.: Yunnan province). It continued with a Yang 108-movement form, learnt with Ray Wilkie in Clapham, South London, then progressed through Ichi Raku An, a Taiwanese hybrid style (from Taiwan) in Tokyo with Koida sensei. Finally, I was brought into contact with Chen Pei Shan, 20th generation lineage holder of the small frame Chen family style. I studied with him for a year or two before leaving Tokyo, where he still lives and teaches. I have met him only once since then – at a seminar in Paris, but have also trained with his top European student, Dietmar Stubenbaum in Friedrichshafen, Germany.
Chen style Taiji is not for the faint-hearted. It requires at least one year merely to complete the outer form. From there, one re-commences the programme, this time learning how to make the movements deeper, more fluid, relaxed and continuous. The next time one starts the programme, the emphasis is on bringing the movements from the core of one’s being. This process continues and may in time result in the student learning the much faster canon fist form – a scary thing to watch.
Do you agree with this proposition: martial arts and healing arts are two sides of the same coin?
Yes. Having said that, it must be said that very few modern martial arts proponents would even recognise this as being an interesting let alone a viable proposition. The same goes for many involved in the healing arts, especially in the West. Nevertheless, from time immemorial these two have been two sides of the same coin. One traditional argument is that if you learn to destroy, you must also be able to heal and repair the damage you have caused. That seems like a reasonable request to me.
In Japan you started studying and working in an acupuncture clinic in Yokohama. My question is simple: how did you manage to study all those things at the same time and in different countries?
In Japan it is very difficult, logistically, to remain there for any longer period of time. You have to leave the country to renew your visa – at least every six months. Many of my trips to China and Korea were planned for this express purpose, and of course to allow studies with other teachers.
The other major factor was my mindset. I was not interested in a career as an English teacher – this was only to pay my bills and fund my studies. My priorities were clear: studies first, work as little as possible to finance them. Luckily, English teachers in Japan were well paid at that time and the jobs I retained were the pick of the crop. Working only six to seven hours a week I could live – frugally – and pay for my studies. This gift is rare and I appreciated it thoroughly for the time it was available.
I suppose the other major factor is that I met people who were willing to help me and provide me with even more contacts to assist me further on my way. This kind of generosity is important – it demonstrates that people are essentially kind and will always help if you ask with the right attitude.
After those years in Japan and China, when you came back in Europe you were certainly fit and strong. But were you already familiar with moving Ki?
As I mentioned, Suzuki’s method was a “bare bones” one, where the only truly essential ingredient was the ability to release ki. If you could not do that, your technique – and all your strivings – were pointless. This I was able to transpose into Qigong and acupuncture and even in certain of my martial arts practices. I also had the very good fortune to meet a true living treasure – master S.K. Lew. (See details about him in Profile #1, at the end of the interview).
As a boy, Sifu Lew lived and trained at a Daoist temple in Southern China, before emigrating as a young man to the USA. Peter and a friend of his, David Brickler, would bring master Lew to Tokyo every year and during my five years there I met and trained with him five times. The very first thing I learned was a long, quiet internal set called Shen Gong. Part standing and part seated, it is an almost entirely static programme that induces a massive amount of internal ki movement.
All of these experiences, if practised continuously, leave one in no doubt that touch, combined with openness and intention can move ki in a myriad ways.
Fantastic! By the way, I notice that you studied Chinese herbs with Ted Kaptchukin Amsterdam for two years. How was that?
Ted (see Profile #6) was an enormously influential teacher on many levels. Coming back to Europe and settling in Sweden, I had to start from scratch again. I reasoned that studying with such a renowned teacher would inevitably be both rewarding in itself and a great networking opportunity. It was – in ways I am still counting. Firstly, it gave me the chance to meet up with my friend from Tokyo, Nik Kyriacou, who now runs the school we started our training at, the London College of Shiatsu. Every two to three months we met in Amsterdam and swapped stories, while co-translating Gotoh Sensei’s book.
Ted himself is an enigmatic and intriguing character. Many know his book, The Web that has no Weaver, which I had read but did not impress me. Thankfully, he wasted no time in calling the text a very rude name and never mentioned it again. Ted went from being a researcher of research methodology, via 20 years of intense immersion in Chinese medicine, to researching placebo at Harvard University. From this, we realise that we are dealing with a truly unconventional individual.
After the first day of class with Ted, I was stunned. After many years of solid study, I felt I knew nothing. What then ensued was a journey through concepts, stories and legends going all the way back into the mists of barely recorded medical history, tracked wherever possible with references. He introduced us to the individual herbs, giving us full descriptions of their characters and with what kind of people or situations we might have use of their abilities. This was followed by the formulas, where this process was repeated. Finally we dealt with clinical situations where we might employ these various formulas, case studies and in-the-flesh diagnosis practice sessions.
Once again, I felt stripped to the bone and rebuilt in a new way with a more interesting, nutrition-filled flesh. I lost touch with Ted immediately the course finished, but still feel him with me at times as his stories light up my treatment sessions or teaching moments.
This is an incredible journey I must say. Then in 1996 you went to live in Uppsala, Sweden. What happened that made you decide to go and settle there?
I was sitting on a train, coming back from Narita airport after the second trip to Canton with Peter. The Tokyo skyline appeared, and my heart rebelled. Next day, out walking with my girlfriend, I sheepishly confessed that I was done with Tokyo and Japan. To my amazement, she said she had just been waiting for me to say the word. We looked at our options. Neither of us wanted to go to England or the UK. I was all for jetting off to New York, but she vetoed that and instead suggested Sweden. I had visited Sweden twice previously – in the summer – and enjoyed the space, fresh air and high skies. What is more, my chosen studies and would-be career had partly been chosen from the perspective of being able to pursue them anywhere in the world, so I agreed.
Looking at your journey, I see that you have always taken responsibility upon yourself: In 96, co-director of SAOM school of Shiatsu in Stockholm, director of Isshin Gakkai school (Shiatsu and oriental medicine) in Uppsala, Qigong instructor in Uppsala prison, Personnel stress manager in Uppsala Hospital, in 99 leader of advanced acupuncture students in Canton, Qigong and Shiatsu instructor in Jerusalem and so on. It’s a really busy life!
Well, yes and no. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I enjoy kicking back and doing nothing, enjoying a meal or a glass or two glasses of whatever is being offered. I love to travel and can sit still for hours if I have a good book to read, good company and tranquil setting – ideally all three. I really enjoy writing and am involved with several book projects, one of them a very comprehensive look at Oriental philosophy and medicine through the lenses I have been exposed to over the past 30 years.
During my teens, I read the books of Carlos Castaneda, which had a major influence on my life. Carlos’ teacher Don Juan repeatedly admonishes his adept that there is no time – you need to act now. The samurai code, another huge influence, is famous for reinforcing the same message – death is just over your shoulder. You may not wake up tomorrow, so you have no time to lose.
On the other hand, we are well aware of the message encoded in the phrase “wu wei”…
Thats true and I also know how hard and rewarding it is to stick to the wu wei. You’re at the same time the president of the European Shiatsu Federation (ESF) since 2013, and of the European Federation for Alternative and Complementary Medicine (EFCAM), since 2019. This makes you the most influential and knowledgeable person on these topics on our continent. Can you describe the situation of natural health in Europe and the position of Shiatsu in this set?
That may not be entirely accurate. My personal philosophy is grounded on the realisation that I, in fact, know very little and am therefore reliant on others who know more. I have around me a group of experts who know all about their own countries and their own fields of knowledge. As president of the ESF, I have a clear understanding of my role, which is dictated by my own personality as much as external circumstances. I am not a born leader but have been called on to lead at various times of my life – something I am happy to do, so long as I have the full support of those I am “leading”.
The ESF has a 25-year history behind it and it is a fairly turbulent one. National associations have come and gone. Personalities have left their mark and disappeared. When I shouldered the Presidency, my first task was to restore internal harmony and then to consider external matters. This I have done. The current group of representatives is a wonderful and thoroughly harmonious one, which I am very proud to be the leader of. During the seven years of my time, we have gradually extended energy outwards to heal old wounds and create new alliances. This is moving in very encouraging directions, one of them being eastwards – the Hungarian Shiatsu association recently joined the ESF, and we are hoping to visit the membership in Budapest next year.
Our major push at this time, however, involves what is called the EQF: European Qualifications Framework (read the article on that subject). Very briefly, this is an EU initiative designed to create equivalency between academic professions and the more hands-on professions. The ideology behind it is to raise the status of non-intellectual trades, where Shiatsu comes in very nicely. The central idea is to turn know-how, gained through training and experience, into formally acknowledged qualifications. This has been achieved to a certain level by the SPS in France, and the Austrian Shiatsu Association, the ÖDS, is now attempting the same feat at an even higher level – bachelor’s degree. Once three associations have achieved this, a European profession will be established according to the guidelines of the EQF, at least at the level of education.
As far as the wider field of complementary medicine (CAM) goes, there is unfortunately at this time very little unity. There still exists a potentially disastrous split between medical and non-medical practitioner groups, which prevents the field from properly unifying. There is also the ever-present spectre of the medical establishment, backed by huge lobbying forces, which watches our every move and frequently intervenes to frustrate both group and individual CAM-oriented initiatives. The current “crisis” has demonstrated precisely how precarious our position is – we have received a very clear message that our work is still considered “non-essential”. There is a lot of work to do.
At the outset of my Presidency, the ESF decided to pull away from the CAM arena as part of its main strategy and focus instead on our right to freely practise our profession throughout the EU. This right is embodied in several EU founding treaties but has never been enacted as law in any single member nation. What this means in practice is that even though practitioners in Austria and France have some degree of formal legal recognition, they cannot take this with them into any other EU member state – in clear contradiction to the founding treaties and the spirit of free movement contained within them.
This is the basis of current ESF policy. Taken together with the EQF initiative, we believe that we have the stepping stones to establish a Shiatsu profession – regulated by professionals for professionals.
Looking back now, did you imagine your life was going to be like this?
No, naturally, I had no idea my life would turn out like this. My father wanted me to be a professional football player, whilst my mother saw me as a ballet dancer. I turned out to be a Taiji and Qigong instructor, which I feel is a fair compromise. At various times in my life I have leaned towards being a translator, a musician, a bohemian with no discernible career path and now some kind of writer.
One thing life has taught me is that nothing is predictable and that, as the Yijing says: change is the only constant. I have seen my life move from phase to phase, sometimes against my will and sometimes in tune with that will. I believe the skill lies in sensing which way things are turning and not resist but to adjust and try to flow as best one can with the changing conditions as they appear.
My personal motto has become: Expect Nothing. Expect Everything. Who knows what the future will bring? All we can do is prepare and be prepared.
Thanks so much for sharing all these memories. It’s been a real pleasure listening to you.
[I] Choy Lee Fut or Choy lay fut or Califo (pinyin: càilǐ fó quán; meaning “Buddha Càilǐ boxing”) is a Chinese martial art from Guangdong developed in the nineteenth century. Founded in 1836 by Chang Heung (1806-1875).
[II] Xing Yi Quan is classified as one of the internal styles of Chinese martial arts. The name of the art translates approximately to “Form-Intention Fist”, or “Shape-Will Fist”. The earliest written records of Xing Yi can be traced to the 18th century, and are attributed to Ma Xueli of Henan Province and Dai Long Bang of Shanxi Province. Legend credits the creation of Xing Yi to renowned Song Dynasty (960–1279 AD) general Yue Fei, but this is disputed.
[III] Hung Gar, HungKuen, or Hung Ga Kuen is a southern Chinese martial art belonging to the southern shaolin styles. It is associated with the Cantonese folk hero Wong Fei Hung, a Hung Gar master. Hung Gar’s earliest beginnings have been traced to the 17th century in southern China. More specifically, legend has it that a Shaolin monk, Jee Sin Sim See (”sim see” = zen teacher) was at the heart of Hung Gar’s emergence. Jee Sin Sim See was alive during a time of fighting in the Qing Dynasty.
“Touching the Invisible: Exploring the Way of Shiatsu” Chris McAlister, Jeremy Halpin & Jan Nevelius, Authorhouse UK, 2021
1- S. K. Lew – last of a generation, master of Qigong, martial arts and Daoist healing
Minimalist skill was Sifu Lew’s signum: he lived to the age of 97 and was active as a teacher and healer virtually until his dying day, so the lesson seems to be one worth learning.
Sifu S. K. Lew was 75 years old when I first met him in Tokyo to study a form called Shen Gong. I had never met anyone like him before and was very taken by his presence. He moved with extra quietness, as though the air was slightly padded around him. He didn’t talk much and only looked around in a very sparing fashion.
He looked pretty old as well, with his white, stringy beard, but that’s when I learned that appearances can be deceptive. He was accompanied by his wife, Juanita, and their 8 year old daughter. Joking around with her, he suddenly dropped like a stone into a low fighting stance that stilled my heart and took my breath away.
As a homeless boy, Sifu Lew and a friend had asked a monk selling herbs in the village square whether they could go back to his temple with him. The monk agreed, and so began Sifu’s stay at the Yellow Dragon Temple on Buddha Mountain in Southern China’s Guangdong province. The friend only lasted a year or two, but Sifu stayed. He learned martial arts, healing arts and, in time, the full Dao Ahn Pai Qigong and meditation system.
My favourite story involved his main teacher. One morning, Sifu was on his way to the meditation hall when they ran into each other. They exchanged a few words and Sifu walked on, leaving his teacher behind. Imagine Sifu’s surprise when, on entering the hall, he saw his teacher already seated, deep in meditation. At this point in the story, Sifu paused and looked around at the group, a delighted smile twinkling in his eyes. He says to me: “maybe you never understand what happen here today”.
I also studied Six Stars, Five Breaths, Earth Meditation and a Qigong healing practice from the extensive curriculum. Sifu passed peacefully a few years ago, leaving the lineage firmly in the capable hands of Juanita Lew, who is now the unquestionable holder of a tradition that traces its roots back to Liu Dong Bing, one of the legendary Daoist Immortals.
2- Gotoh Kimia – chiropractor, master of Ryodoraku, modern Japanese hybrid acupuncture, bon vivant
Gotoh Sensei was one of those people you call “larger than life”. For a Japanese person, he was exceptionally large in all aspects of body and soul. He loved his coffee extra strong, his saké extra dry and his cigarettes extra long. He had only the most rudimentary of skills in English but made maximum use of them.
He had hands like a bear and simply laying them on you impelled immediate and complete surrender. Generosity was second nature to him and he invariably erred on the side of giving too much – never the other way. He reminded me of the large-bellied buddha, with the eternal smile.
Gotoh sensei had been a pharmaceuticals salesman, travelling around selling legal drugs to doctors. Sickening of this, he had gone back to school and come out a trained chiropractor. Encountering the equally charismatic Dr. Oiso on his travels, he started learning a peculiarly modern Japanese hybrid acupuncture called Ryodoraku.
Ryo-do-raku, meaning “connectivity channels”, is the brainchild of a certain Dr. Nakatani, who created a system of diagnosis and treatment using acupuncture, wired to very mild electrical current, and resting on the physiological model of the autonomic nervous system for its theoretical foundation.
His patients treated him like a cross between a family doctor and a slightly bohemian village elder. His prices were not very high and people would just leave a small wad of notes on his table as they shouted out their goodbyes on leaving. No need to check, no need to book the next treatment – come and go as you please. Feel at home – trust and relaxed intimacy.
What sensei taught me above all else was to be as natural as possible with the people who turn up for treatment. They’re just people who are suffering for one reason or another, and they can do without you sitting on a high horse and quoting scripture at them, thank you very much.
Peter Yates once said of him that he was an example of a truly healthy man – there was something essentially life-affirming in everything he did.
And he was an absolute expert at Ryodoraku acupuncture, a true master craftsman.
Takeo Suzuki was my main Shiatsu teacher. He had been a student of the legendary Shiatsu innovator Shizuto Masunaga. Their relationship had been close – when the master found himself staring serious illness and death in the face, he entrusted himself to his Suzuki’s capable hands.
As with all disciples of charismatic innovators, Suzuki followed his own path from the moment of his master’s death. His research and innovatory changes to the basic design maintained at the Iokai Shiatsu Centre, led to parting of the ways and he struck out on his own – a controversial course of action in Japan.
When I met him, he was established as an independent teacher with a small and devoted following equally divided between Japanese and students of other nationalities.
His method was to first simplify everything to its essence. This he did with the “kata” he had inherited from Masunaga. The form he taught was simple, with far less emphasis on elbows and knees and a much softer, smoother approach then Masunaga’s. This was done to facilitate energy sensing, which in turn was designed to make energy interaction during Shiatsu treatments as efficient as possible.
We spent hours and hours perfecting our pressure, posture and touch. His morning classes were circular – once we had practised the four positions (seated, side, back and front) we would take a short break and then simply start over from scratch.
The simple wisdom of this method lay in the sheer repetition and the gradual deepening of the student’s familiarity with the external movements, leading to a greater appreciation – and eventual mastery – of the internal aspects of the practice.
The afternoon classes were the exact opposite, however. Yes, we devoted hours and hours to palpating the hara in the quest for the perfect diagnosis technique. However, the afternoons were also his arena for presenting ideas and techniques from his own research.
Everything was research for Suzuki: He presented a scheme of how the 14 main meridians affected the various anatomical and functional aspects of the eye; he explained how the various meridians were connected to elemental and environmental aspects of life; he developed his own system of facial diagnosis; he presented new ideas on how deep deficiency (in-kyo) could be accessed and treated, the detection and release of inflammation, at least twice as many meridian pathways as Masunaga and meridian-based cross-zones that ran around the body in sets of 14 in the arms, legs, trunk, neck and head. He even taught us a new sequence for the five elements…!
As a practical researcher and modulator of energy, Suzuki is still unsurpassed in my experience. He showed me beyond any doubt that energy is not only real and palpable, but also susceptible to direct interaction on many levels and through many channels – not least touch. He instilled in me an independence of thought, that has legitimised my own attempts to understand, to discover and to create. He left me with a hundred unresolved issues – some of which still crop up in new guises even today and lead to interesting discoveries in Shiatsu and energy work.
I used to receive news of him from students whom I had introduced to his class, but one day someone reported that his clinic was gone and that he and his family had disappeared without trace. Suzuki had previously worked at Tsukiji fish market. He had also been employed as a telegraph pole technician. For a while he had been a Shiatsu therapist and teacher – something of a master, in fact. Perhaps it was simply time for a new twist on this lovably eccentric man’s life path.
4- Peter Yates – autodidact, strongman, gentle giant, scholar-sage
My first meeting with Peter was all shock and awe. His impressive frame was ripplingly muscular. Atop the sculpture sat a hugely smiling face and a broad Lancashire accent.
Pete immediately fixed me up with an excellent Shiatsu contact, a yoga teacher and a Taiji teacher. In the weeks that followed, he also became my Qigong and acupuncture teacher. For the next half year, I met up with him and a bunch of rag-tag students in Yoyogi park to practice Qigong twice a week – rain or shine – for which I paid a very modest amount.
The acupuncture class – his first ever – he gave me for free. Why? Because we had connected, because he thought I’d be good at it and because he wanted me in his class. Simple as that.
Pete led a bunch of us to China for intensive acupuncture studies and he also set me up with Gotoh Sensei, my next acupuncture teacher. A year later we reconnected to start the next phase of our mutual development, practising martial arts both at home in Tokyo and in Canton, China with a genuine master of the martial arts.
During my five years in Tokyo and in the 25 years since then, Pete has taught me many things:
Pass it on! You can’t keep it, so give it away and the next phase will come to meet you.
Teacher and student is not a one-way relationship. If a teacher can learn from his students, both develop in ways no one could have foreseen.
Be yourself. Whatever you are exposed to, whichever roads you take, whoever you come in contact with, always remember who you are. Pete came from extremely humble origins – a mining town in Northern England, where prospects were either “down the pit” or nothing much. He has been on the edge of trouble several times in his life, but always been humble enough to take good advice and a way forward when it was offered.
Later in life, Pete has returned to his roots – strength training according to old-time strong man traditions, and Northern Soul dance. These are important for Pete and help him return again and again to renewed vitality as he follows his life path of Qigong, martial arts and acupuncture.
Pete has been to Sweden four times to teach my students. I have been to the US a few times to teach his. Always there is the spirit of free exchange, mutual learning and then kicking back in total ridiculousness to relax and return to the path with renewed joy and vigour.
He is and has been a living inspiration to thousands of people and a model of how to live a life with modest but proudly upright self respect. I count myself lucky to have become one of his friends.
5- Wa Guo – martial artist, calligrapher, bonesetter, Oriental medicine practitioner
Wa Guo was everything you could ask for; the real deal – a master of both Chinese medicine and martial arts. Several martial arts. Many martial arts, as it turned out.
We stayed in his house, in the back alleys of Canton. We got up at dawn, assembled in the dojo (his downstairs room) and stood in a low horse position for forty minutes in the half-light. After breakfast, we studied a form that combined the three internal martial arts – Taiji, Xingyi and Bagua for three hours, then had lunch together.
In the afternoons we practised a spear form from the Yang family. Although the thrusting, jabbing, twisting and leaping were arduous and complex, we had a great time. We learned a few supplementary exercises, but those were the two main forms we took home with us and diligently practised for a year and a day.
Next time was completely different. Just me and Pete. And Wa Guo. And Xing Yi. Pete had specifically requested this, and I had agreed – blissfully unaware of what awaited me. Training started next morning. We were to hold a fiendishly painful position for thirty minutes. Kindly, Wa Guo let us know that the 30 minutes could take up to an hour. We could rest and resume as often as we liked, but 30 minutes of real time were required. It was pure torture.
Wa Guo came home for lunch. We’d put on a brave face. In the afternoons the real pain started. Wa Guo had told us that the key words to keep in mind were “fixed and unchanging” – thoughtfully, he’d underlined them in a dictionary for our benefit. We kicked off with a deep posture from hell. Also 30 minutes. This time, no breaks. We could however switch sides as often as we liked. We changed sides so frequently, he didn’t even have time to correct our stances properly.
Then came movements; difficult, precise movements, incorporating this position of pure pain. After a couple of hours, when he was satisfied that we were half dead, he took us through some two-man Shaolin forms and Taiji push hands routines: just for fun – just to loosen up. We didn’t sleep for a month.
Wa Guo plagued me with corrections – mostly for my very inelegant posture – but his manner was faultlessly polite to the end. The thoughts and emotions ricocheting around inside me were far less so. Believe it or not, we went back for more the next year. We even learned a truly wonderful Xing Yi sabre form, as well as six of the Xing Yi animal forms, including the punishingly explosive dragon.
Returning to Canton in 1999 with a group of my own acupuncture students, I was able to fulfill my ambition to learn a drunken style Gong Fu, practising once more on the hard tiles of his downstairs ”dojo”, this time with Gong Fu brother and acupuncture student, Martin Thambert.
Studying Chinese herbs with Ted Kaptchuk in the late 1990’s was a life-changing experience.
During our very first lesson Ted named and summarily dismissed his own famous book in one sentence. He then informed us that the Nei Jing, the seminal text of Chinese medicine, was a “polemical text”. Most of us were shocked all the way out to the tips of our toes and all the way into the marrow of our spine, but in fact he was being polite. It turned out that what he meant was a propaganda text, one intended to sweep away an old paradigm and usher in a new one. Years later, having sampled the therapeutic gems of antiquity which did not survive into the Nei Jing’s revised cosmology of Yin-Yang and the Five Elements, let alone into the post-revolutionary TCM system, I can appreciate what he was trying to say.
And that was just for starters. Everything I had learnt about Oriental medicine during the ten years leading up to that point was suddenly cast into doubt. Ted told us that he was going to hypnotise us and teach us not what to think but how to think. He would, he said, provide us with syntax and grammar and invite us to write our own sentences. All of these promises he then proceeded to fulfill.
One of Ted’s teaching mantras during the two years of the course was: “I’ll teach you what the herbs do. You make up the symptoms.” Taken at face value this may sound outrageous, irresponsible, anarchic, absurd and even meaningless. As with all masters, he was speaking in code.
As the course developed, we began, slowly, to understand the encoded meaning of his words. What he intended to do was teach us all about the energetic actions of the herbs. What does this mean? It came to mean a description of the herb’s character, personality, movement and direction. In particular, of course, we needed to know which meridian or meridians the herb was most closely associated with. Once we had understood this, we knew what the herb did and once we knew that we could begin to employ it.
Working backwards from clinical situations we could easily identify which herb or, more often, formula would best fit the situation at hand. This is what he meant by “making up the symptoms”.
Consider the wisdom of his approach. Another teacher might have given us an abstract list of symptoms a given herb or formula was reputed to address. Such a list is almost impossible for the average student to remember beyond the end-of-term test. If on the other hand, we came to know the herbs as energetic beings with clearly described personalities, we would remember them in a completely different way – they would come to life.
Ted subsequently returned to his academic roots and is currently engaged in placebo research at Harvard University.
One of Iokai’s original staff members, a close assistant to Shizuto Masunaga, has been teaching Iokai Shiatsu in Europe for 40 years: Kazunori Sasaki Sensei who has been sharing what his master transmitted to him, a passion and a deep interest in meridian shiatsu. In this rare interview a great master of shiatsu speaks about his research and his years of sharing the Iokai spirit in Europe.
Ivan BEL: Dear Sasaki Sensei, I’m really happy that you have accepted to do this interview. Looking at the Internet I realized that there is not much information about your path or career to be found. I hope that you would want to speak a bit about yourself.
Kazunori Sasaki: I have been evolving within the European Iokai Shiatsu Academy for many years with close disciples like Thierry Camagie, Christine Breton and other assistants in different European countries. It has been a rich exchange and I’ve been very attached to this traditional way of direct transmission from heart to heart. In Japan we call this I Shin den Shin [I], which means, “Different hearts become the same”. I have enjoyed the privilege to evolve in this way with them, with the teachers, practitioners and with all my students for many years. Nevertheless I’m happy to answer your questions today and I take this opportunity to thank Palle Dyrvall who clarifies my Japanese English and transcribes this interview.
My first question will make you relive your childhood. Where do you come from? Where were you born?
I was born in Yokohama in 1947, in a traditional and ordinary family. At this time Japan wasn’t a modern developed country as it is today. The process of becoming a modern society had just started. Many children were born at this time, there was a baby boom after the war, and I remember that there were many children in each class at school.
When you where a child or teenager did you already have an interest in therapy?
When I went to elementary school there was a boy in my class who had a physical handicap. He had suffered from infantile hemiplegia. I protected him from other bullying children. We became close friends and his father, who was an acupuncturist, took me under his wing. My mother was also using moxibustion at home and it interested me. This man as well as my mother influenced me a lot.
Did you practice martial arts?
In Yokohoma there where many dojo with all kinds of martial arts and generally most kids did martial arts. But since we didn’t have much money I couldn’t attend these classes. So I learned through playing with other kids. Later I did 4 years of military academy and then I studied martial arts very intensely.
I have read that before you practiced Shiatsu you practiced a technique that is not known in the west “Neeshin Ryoho”. Where did you learn this technique? What does it consist of?
A friend of an uncle practiced this technique, and I learned it from him. Alternative medicine wasn’t something rare or special in those days, it was very common. The word itself Neeshin Ryoho, comes from Netsu, which means Heat and Shin, which means Needle. Ryoho simply means treatment method. The tool one used was made up of several dart wheels attached to a handle where each wheel had multiple needle sharp teeth.
It was mainly used for home treatments and was said to specifically help the lymphatic system, to stimulate proper circulation. But it was also a tool for diagnosis. One would heat the roller with electricity and then used it on certain zones of the body. It is common in acupuncture to use moxibusion to heat needles but Neeshin Ryoho is different and technically it’s not so simple. The practitioner has to use wet towels to quickly control the rollers temperature because it’s essential to get it just right. One would then observe pain or absence of pain and also the reactions on the skin. Mostly it was different shades of red but also absence of color was observed. Little by little and step by step I started to use my hands for treatment.
Very interesting. This means that you had already learned about the trajectories of the meridians. What did you feel with the discovery of the meridians?
It was through the interaction with the patients, a process of wanting to understand the patients and their symptoms that I took more notice of the meridians. From there to actually feeling something in contact with the meridians there was a long process. In order to feel the meridians one needs to be free from oneself, one’s expectations, ideas and projections. I didn’t know the subject deeply and I wasn’t free from myself at this time. Only later through years of practice did I discover the feeling of the meridians.
It seems that you were attracted by spirituality quite early on. How did this start?
As a child perhaps one doesn’t use the word spirituality, or think of the practice as spiritual. My mother was a Buddhist so I grew up with this practice all around me. I remember that the powerful atmosphere was very compelling to me. I was sensitive to this as a child and I noticed that there was some invisible power that became visible in the world. I was interested in the truth behind this and also the truth behind other things that I saw. I was interested in electronics for example, not only spirituality.
Did you go to the temple? Did you read some specific books?
Perhaps Buddhism is different from christianity in the sense that the story of Buddha is very accessible to the mind of a child. His story inspired me in its unfolding from childhood to the progressive enlightenment of what is true nature [II]. Perhaps this is different than in the West, for me it didn’t come from the temple or from a book. I was curious about it while growing up in this kind of society and environment.
At a certain time your quest for spirituality brought you to India. What where you looking for exactly?
When I was young there wasn’t much TV around, even if it expanded a lot after the war there still wasn’t much around before I was a teenager. So I would listen a lot to the radio and it stimulated my imagination. For example I heard the story Les Misérables and I remember my fascination with Jean Valjean [III]. He was strong and courageous, was generous to the poor and his heart was filled with goodness. These kind of stories interested me a lot as a kid. He was like Robin Hood, he would steal from the rich and give to the poor.
This was probably one reason that brought me to India. I had seen that human society wasn’t fair and honest in India, that there was no real equality between the poor and the rich. And also, and this was the main reason, I wanted to meet Buddha. I’m a Buddhist, and since Buddha came from India, I wanted to go there.
Buddha, who according to the legend, was born as a prince, left his palace and joined the beggars and the poor. I wanted to understand the principle of life according to this story in interaction with simple people of everyday life.
What did you search for exactly?
It was also a search of a free mind, perhaps like a child’s mind, a mind that wasn’t yet formalized by society. I wanted to see what a free mind would be like.
Did you make some important encounters?
One always makes important encounters. In the Orient a tree is a master and nature is the foundation of this culture. You can learn from a tree, a flower and from the wind. The way one sees life depends on the person but also on the culture that one grew up in.
In your opinion, is there a link between spirituality and the work with the meridians? Does spirituality help the understanding of Ki?
To me it’s obvious that there is a link between the intimacy with the truth of our being, with the sacred and with the perception of the so called world around us. And I don’t consider Ki and Spirit as being separate. When we act, we act from within and it involves our Ki, witch is linked with the organs and the spirit in the depth of our being. The meridian network is a system of invisible functions that makes the link between the organs and our human activity. If the organism isn’t healthy we can’t perceive the environment correctly and then we don’t know what to do and how to act. So the organs have to be in a good condition for us to act properly together with the environment and all the conditions present at a given moment.
Concerning the understanding of Ki: Ki is global without any specific detail. Even a stone has Ki. But a stone also has spirit, just like a mountain has spirit or a river. A mountain isn’t a river and a river isn’t a mountain but both comes from Ki. But really it’s like the chicken and the egg (laughter) we will never know which came first Ki or spirit.
Finally, when did you discover Shiatsu?
At the time when I was young a very basic approach of Shiatsu existed in daily life. We call it Teate [IV], which is also the origin of Shiatsu. I discovered professional Shiatsu much later but basically, I learned it since early childhood. When my mother wasn’t well she would ask me to do Teate and after she would guide me in how to use my hands. This made me very happy and it was all very intimate and close to me in my life. I would also follow my mother when she went for professional treatments and in this way I got a very basic understanding of the meridians. Later when I studied electronics and learned about its function I put it in relation to the conductive function of the meridians. It seemed like common sense to me. I realized it was different with the transmission of Ki in a human body but I learned more about this spiritual part later.
Did you pass the diploma at the Namikoshi school before following Masunaga? In which year was this?
Yes of course I passed my professional license in Tokyo. In order to become a professional one needs this in Japan, and it’s the same for any professional work. If you want to become a professional painter, for example, you need a license. The same as in order to ride a car you need a State driver’s license. Also Masunaga took his license in the Nippon Shiatsu School (Editor’s Note: also known in English as Japan Shiatsu College or JSC), he wasn’t a doctor so he needed a license as well. I will have to check but I think I got my license in 1975.
Could you tell us about your first encounter with Masunaga, do you remember this?
I attended the classes at Iokai while I was doing the studies for my professional license. You see, Masunaga Sensei wasn’t my teacher at the Nippon Shiatsu School, he had already left the school at this time, after he had been teaching there for period of 10 years. I remember being very inspired by the way that he was expressing his vision about the meridians in connection with psychology. No other professor spoke of psychology and physical problems together. For someone interested in understanding sickness, it was very interesting. A person is important and interesting to you according to your own interests.
To reflect upon and try to to understand the teachings of Masunaga at this time helped me a lot. My interest in Shiatsu was not only as a physical approach, so meeting Masunaga was like meeting a kindle spirit. Like Masunaga, I was also a Buddhist. So, I was already interested in the invisible, in the non manifested. Still it wasn’t always easy to understand Masunaga as he was referring to Mu and Ku [V]. I remember his lectures from this time as a concentration of psychology, Oriental medicine, linked with Zen Buddhism.
What kind of man was he?
Masunaga Sensei was particular in the sense that he would use a lot of ideas and abstract principles to explain his study and explorations of Shiatsu. He was very theoretical. Privately he was a simple and modest man, not very special. But if somebody is interested in the same thing as you are and also has a lot of experience, he becomes special to you.
How did he teach? Was it difficult to be his student?
In Japan it’s like this: if you come to study with somebody, it’s because you want to and because you respect the teacher. So, one just listens. Also, the students pay so the teacher kindly transmits. He would talk a lot and I would listen. But it was all very interesting.
Masunaga would often discover his interests while teaching and transition from not understanding to spontaneous comprehension in class. Suddenly solutions to previous questions would appear, for example while reading aloud from old articles of his, which was something he would do. Also, there were many interesting people passing by, among them professors and practitioners of Oriental medicine. One clearly felt that Masunaga was actively researching together with his students. This was the spirit at Iokai. It was all very transparent and obvious somehow and I felt much joy and satisfaction in this atmosphere. We were really researching a very deep subject.
How did the classes go about, were they organized as they are today, or did Masunaga teach according by his intuition?
The classes were organized in the same way as Iokai in Europe: the first module was a basic class for learning the Katas, the second module a meridian class and the third module was the diagnosis class. There was no forth module in Japan, no class of case studies. It was necessary to add this in Europe since we don’t work in the same way with a clinic as Masunaga did [VI]. So I added this to the program in Europe. It’s difficult otherwise for the students to understand the practical applications of Shiatsu together with case studies.
While being several years by the side of Masunaga, you became his assistant. Few people have stayed that long with Masunaga.
I was busy five years full-time at the Iokai clinic. I was busy as part of the staff and since I spoke a bit of English, and since I was an easy person that accepted everything, I stayed long and became close with Masunaga.
Everybody else had another practice, often a room in their homes where they received their own clients. Most of the practitioners came once or twice a week to Iokai. I remember that 40% of the pay went to the clinic and 60% to the practitioners. I was there every day, even on holidays and Sundays, except perhaps once or twice a month.
This is really impressive. The only one I know who stayed that long at the Iokai is Akinobu Kishi. Was it like this?
Kishi wasn’t at Iokai for a long time. He practiced Masunaga’s way in the beginning but after he didn’t do Iokai Shiatsu but his own way. He developed his own style. His family was part of a religious sect, Ten Ri Kyo, which means Therapy from Heaven. He grew up in this sect and was influenced by it and other methods like Reiki and other more magical things. He was not very interested in the meridians. For about one year he would come once a week, on Wednesdays, I remember. Masunaga didn’t control much on who came and what method they used, even some used essentially chiropractics or osteopathy in the clinic. But I don’t want to talk about Kishi and Masunaga because I don’t know the truth.
Did you study or work together when he came?
We never studied together but I knew of him and for a while he came to the Ginza clinic once a week, one of the branches of Iokai. There were three clinics at this time: Ginza, which was in an expensive city street, and then also Ueno and Shinjuku [VII]. Perhaps at times he would be at the Iokai and I would be at another clinic, it’s possible. By the way, later Shinjuku closed and only two other clinics were left.
Kishi developed his own style Seiki Soho, but you stayed true to the style of Iokai. Why?
Yes, Kishi developed his own style from a long time back, but I found my truth in the purpose of Iokai, which means King of medicine association. The ancient Sutra that contains I. O. [VIII] corresponds to the ideal that Masunaga had, as well as his attitude towards sickness. When he fell upon it the first time he was inspired and decided to use it as the name for his approach. In the sutra they speak of an elevated being like Buddha, or Jesus. We try to understand what it means to be such a king of medicine at our level. And even though Masunaga was our guide, this purpose was also above him, it was above everything and it is still. And this is why I stayed; I wanted to study this deep subject which is human sickness. I try to understand, I evolve in my skills, I teach and give treatments and I will until the end. Probably this lifetime will not be enough.
Your words are very inspiring, thank you. Lots of people passed through Iokai during the years that you were there. I’m sure you must have met a number of people that later became well known in the field of Shiatsu in the world. I will quote a few names and perhaps you can tell me your memories about them: Wataru Ohashi, Susuma Kimura, Katsusuke Serizawa, Shizuko Yamamoto, Yuichi Kawada, Izawa Tadashi.
Ohashi visited several times at Iokai, he lived in America and helped to introduce Masunaga over there, as you probably know, he translated the book Zen Shiatsu. He also organized a couple of workshops in America for other teachers like Namikoshi for example. But Ohashi was never part of the Iokai staff.
Kimura was at the Iokai staff for several years, I think he came twice a week to work at the clinic. We were both part of the staff but we didn’t really spend time together. Japanese people are often very busy with their work, when they’re at work. I remember he spoke good English and that he would sometimes privately teach foreigners.
Katsusuke Serizawa was a professor in the university, he had an important position in Oriental medicine and in society in general. He was a Western doctor and was even internationally famous. Because of his position and his knowledge he brought a lot of interest and legitimacy to acupuncture. Though he wasn’t, he could have been a teacher of Masunaga. Also he was not at Iokai.
I met Shizuko Yamamoto in London, but she wasn’t doing Iokai Shiatsu, she was doing barefoot Shiatsu, something that didn’t correspond with me at all.
Yuichi Kawada was never at the Iokai but he studied with Masunaga at the Nippon Shiatsu School. Masunaga was teaching psychology in link with Shiatsu but he could not teach meridian class at the Nippon Shiatsu School because this was the class of Izawa.
Izawa Tadashi had great knowledge of the classical acupuncture meridians and I believe that Masunaga learned many things from his discussions with Izawa. Only when leaving the Nippon Shiatsu School and establishing Iokai could Masunaga teach his way of seeing the meridians as well as his way of making treatment.
Another person at Iokai I remember well is Kono, she followed Masunaga from the beginning of Iokai, she was also responsible for the teaching of the basic class. She wasn’t the most theoretical person; she had a very normal Shiatsu approach, which was good for beginners.
Did your practice make you travel?
I’m a Japanese man and I didn’t do trips just for my pleasure, it was research. I went to China to research and deepen my understanding of Oriental medicine and to learn more about their way of doing diagnosis. I wanted to see if the ancient oriental approach was still alive over there. I also studied a bit of herbal medicine. I studied Tai Chi in Thailand and then further in Taiwan. In India I practiced Yoga. I wanted to experience the Nadi channels and the feeling of the meridians in these practices.
How did you come to stay in France, after all?
Because I met my wife and she was French, would she have been from another country I would probably have ended up staying in another country.
I imagine that being Japanese doing Shiatsu in France in the 80s wasn’t always very easy. How was it during these beginning days and where did you work?
Yes, nobody knew Shiatsu in those days so it was often difficult to introduce it. Where I went for the seminars there would generally be a demand for me to give private Shiatsu sessions. Also, someone who had a Yoga centre in Italy brought me a lot of patients, this is where I gave most of my Shiatsu sessions in those days. Later it followed in France and in other places. This was generally the process of how things developed. Some of the people who had received these private Shiatsu sessions would organize small study groups for further learning of Shiatsu. They would then come to study with me in other places.
In the beginning you collaborated some time with Yuichi Kawada. After he settled in Belgium, where he went on founding Yoseido Shiatsu. Could you tell us more about this time?
Yuichi Kawada asked me to come to Europe. He had been to the workshop in Paris that Jean Michel Sarraute organized for Masunaga in 1979. Okabe, one of the participants of the workshop had told him I was the assistant of Masunaga. There was also someone else who asked me to come but the invitation of Kawada was one of the reasons I came to Europe. As you said we collaborated for a while but if you want to know about Yuichi Kawada and the development of Yoseido Shiatsu I prefer that you ask Kawada.
Finally, and with success, you created the European Iokai Shiatsu Association. How did this happen? Which are the countries that are now part of EISA?
In the beginning I must have been going to about 8 European countries. First, I went to Holland and after there was France, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, and Italy. They are now all still members of EISA, all except Italy who is out for the moment but they’ll be back soon, I hope.
Each country has an academy with a slightly different policy, this depends on the laws and the level of recognition that Shiatsu has in each respective country. We have a common point which is the quality of the teaching. The hand is the same in every country and the spirit too. The hand with spirit is characteristic of man. A dog, a pig or a bird also has a kind of five finger hand, but they can’t use it in the same way. We are all deeply interested in the fundamental idea of Iokai. We have a good communication through EISA, every country has a leader who helps this common communication.
Today you have been teaching thousands of students and you have trained dozens of teachers as well. The only one that I know is Palle Dyrvall in Brussels. Could you give me the names of some important teachers of your organization?
Eloise Sewell founded the Iokai school in Amsterdam more then 30 years ago, Norbert grote Beverborg has now taken over the lead in Holland. Hagen Vogel started Iokai Shiatsu in Germany and after Tilman Gaebler took over. He has been teaching since the end of the 80s. France is a big country and there are many teachers. It was Anne-Marie Delabre who started the first Iokai school there. After, Thierry Camagie in Marseille and Christine Breton in Paris have been the main figures of Iokai France.
In Belgium it was me and Yuichi Kawada who started, Odile Varnat then took over now Palle Dyrvall is the main teacher there. Odile Varnat was also in Luxembourg and now it’s Adela Garçia who is in the lead there.In Austria it was Hugo Somme who started and now Michael Budha has taken over. In Switzerland they are many. Juliette Pillet was there in the beginning and after Nicole Jalil-Demierre has been the main teacher for many years. Now Richard Emery from Sion is the president. We are making a new website for EISA, so soon you will be able to see all the teachers, if you are interested.
Each year I attend with lots of interest many workshops of all different styles of Shiatsu. What surprises me is that each time I see a course in Iokai Shiatsu around the world it seems different. It seems that there are as many ways to practice Iokai Shiatsu as there are schools. How come it is like this?
Probably your experience is not from a school recognized by EISA. If it had been then probably your question wouldn’t have been the same. I believe that your mistake is mixing up Zen Shiatsu and Iokai Shiatsu. Many schools use the name of Masunaga through the name of Zen Shiatsu, but Masunaga never gave this name to his method [IX]. So yes, it’s a bit of a disturbance to us really because many people make the same mistake as you.
Ah, I understand better now, thanks for making that clear. Could we speak a bit about your Shiatsu? You have said that the meridians are much more then simple channels to transport Ki. Could you explain this to me?
In the ancient Oriental approach, the meridians are described as functions that include both the physical and psychological aspects of man, a body/mind without separation. This is the basic approach of Iokai. I would say that things appear more clearly in consciousness as you spend time with them, given that you are earnest in your wish to understand. I have spent a big part of my life trying to understand people and their complaints through the perspective of the meridians. It has taught me a lot but still I don’t know if I have a clear answer of what the meridians are. The meridians is a very deep subject and aspect of life. It’s difficult for me to say something about that in a few words without giving a lecture.
If I understand well, then the meridians are organic, energetic, psychological and emotional functions. And if so, then a good practitioner should be able to act upon all these aspects of man? Is it like this?
It seems to me that you are dividing things. But what is a human being, is he divided? He who has a life has both a spirit and a body. The one is not the other but we can’t have one without the other. We study that the body has many different kinds of energy, that the spirit does as well and that when they all function harmoniously together life seems light and easy. If a gap appears disrupting this harmony, a stress of some kind, then as a consequence man suffers. Sometimes this can be helped through Shiatsu but sometimes this gap comes from the source, from the DNA, then we can’t help.
I’m passionated about treating psychological problems through Shiatsu, even though it’s often very difficult. How do you go about these kinds of troubles? Do you simply do basic balancing through Yin/Yang and the Five elements or do you use another method?
The question itself is simple but it’s not easy to give a general answer. Each case is different; the treatment always depends on the person and the current condition he or she is in. As I just said, the body/mind harmonize together in a very delicate way. If you are in a good condition and you are out on a field feeling the wind on your face, it might feel very good. If you are not in a good condition the same wind might be disturbing you both physically and psychologically, you can’t feel peaceful being in the wind. In this way we learn through the ancient Oriental approach about the physical and the psychological. We study many ancient texts at Iokai, we study them from different angles and we try to understand.
I can also add something concerning morality. We have different ideas about what is good and what is bad in different groups and in different societies. And people often suffer because of their beliefs of what is good and what is bad. We are conditioned by our culture, by our upbringing, by rules and laws of society, and it’s also important to learn about these things in order to understand why people suffer. Though one might not learn about this by reading books on psychology or Oriental medicine. We have to observe life.
In Japanese culture one doesn’t speak much about feelings. How does the practitioners do in order to understand that the difficulties a person is facing could be from a psycho-emotional origin?
Traditionally we believe that the mental and the physical have the same source, they are both the expression of Ki, originating from the internal organs. This Ki is depending on and is in interaction with our life activity, with genetics and with the cultural background, as I just explained. Practically, it’s through diagnosis that I try to understand what is the source of the distortion. This is why the study of diagnosis is at the heart of Iokai Shiatsu.
With the experience that you have now with both Japanese and Europeans, what are from your experience the main differences that you encounter when you give Shiatsu treatments?
First and foremost, the treatment always depends on the person but when the culture is different, people are also different. It’s a given and it is also a challenge. It’s true that in the beginning I only gave Shiatsu to Japanese people. When I came to Europe, I remember having to really study the European body and the European culture as well in order to understand people who came to see me. But today I don’t really know how to express this in words.
If I count well then, it’s been 50 years that you are doing Shiatsu today. One can speak of an entire life dedicated to this art. Which are the big lessons that Shiatsu has taught you?
I repeat again: Iokai means the King of Medicine Association. And the master or king of medicine knows the true nature of disease. He knows how disease comes to be and he knows how to prevent them. He knows how to deal with illness and he knows how to prevent people from becoming ill. He studies his own disease and the disease of others and he tries to understand. The question what is disease is a big question.
What I have learned is that disease is part of life. And that certain parts of life we like, while other parts we don’t like so much. Most often we don’t like to fall sick, but still sickness often helps us to know about who we are. And it’s the dream of everybody to know their true nature.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to engage on the path of Shiatsu?
Shiatsu is basically Teate, Te means Hand, and Ate means at the right time and at the right place. It refers to the basic instinct to put the hand on the harmed body. It’s a gentle touch that can help other people, and it helps you too.
When a person in difficulty comes to see you and you can bring back peace through touch, it is very beautiful. And yes, I spent my whole life with this practice but to what degree I have succeeded is a question mark.
I have only two hands but I have been lucky to meet many beautiful and spiritually connected people who have supported one another on this path. It has given us many hands to help many people. I wish that we will continue to develop this art of touch in society and in the world at large. Iokai is not a private enterprise; it’s a common association to investigate human sickness. People with a humble and a spiritual approach are all very welcome.
I thank you very much for having given so much of your precious time. Thank you Sensei.
[I] « I Shin den shin » is a common expression in all kinds of Japanese arts, it expresses a traditional way of teaching from master to student, from heart to heart.
[II] In Buddhism, what is called the “true nature of the man” means to leave the world of illusions.
[III] “Les Misérables” written by Victor Hugo. This should not surprise the reader, because from the Meiji era onwards Japan has been interested in western culture, in the same way that westerners have been interested in Japanese culture.
[IV] “Teate” is the oldest name given to designate a technique using touch in Japan. One can estimate the use of this name to be about 2,000 years old.
[V] “Mu and Ku” are two of the main concepts of eastern philosophy, they are fairly close to each other in meaning. They were used by Masunaga in its Iokai Shiatsu. To clearly understand them, read “Shiatsu et médecine orientale”, only in French, Le Courrier du Livre editions, 2017. To learn further see Eiji Mino’s interview that also talks about this subject.
[VI] The classes where organized differently for the Japanese and the non-Japanese students. The non-Japanese students mostly took the basic Kata class and the meridian class. They rarely stayed more then 3 months, the length of a tourist visa. Most of the Japanese students already had their professional license from the Nippon Shiatsu School, when they came to study at the Iokaï. They mainly followed the meridian and the diagnosis classes.
[VII] Ginza, Ueno and Shinjuku are names of Tokyo districts.
[VIII] In the “Ekottara agama”, the forth part of “Agama-Sutra”, the Buddha teaches that the “King” – “O” – of “medecine” – “I” -, knows the true nature of disease. He knows how disease comes to be and he knows how to prevent them. He knows how to deal with illness and how to apply the right treatments so that the illness doesn’t come back.
[IX] In fact, Ohashi translated Masunaga’s book “Shiatsu” and renamed it “Zen Shiatsu”. Ever since Shiatsu schools around the world have used the name Zen Shiatsu to indicate that they practiced in the style of Masunaga even though they had not studied Iokai Shiatsu. To know more about this subject and Masunaga’s reaction, read Ohashi’s interview.
Cover photo: (C) Inge Van Mill
1- These handmade needles are crafted on the model of the third of the nine types of acupuncture needles describing with shapes, sizes, and uses in Huangdi’s Internal Classic Ling-shu. The third kind called Tei Shin needles are described as having “a head sharp as a millet grain” and “not to be used to penetrate into the muscles, witch may cause harm to energy”.
Together with S.Tejima, a friend and college at the Iokai, Kazunori Sasaki Sensei explored the use of these needles according to the descriptions in the Ling Shu. Needles: a) aliminium & b) silver. These two needles has completely rounded heads and are used for tonification when the Kyo is wide and large. c) This silver needle is conically shaped and used for sedation. d) gold needle for tonification. e) silver needle, tonifies less then gold but more then copper f) also a silver needle but a different style for the purpose of sedation. g) & h) copper needles. i) needles to be left in place for a longer time using paper tape. j) Sometimes a wire (mix of silver and copper) is used for connecting but mostly the body of the practitioner makes the bride between two needles. The leather handles are for making the right contact. Using these needles was a way for Sasaki Sensei to deepen his understanding of the meridian and research ways of influencing Ki/Ketsu circulation. Japanese acupuncture and Iokaï Shiatsu use the meridians in a similar way though most shiatsu practitioners in Japan don’t consider the meridians but have a symptomatic approach using pressure points. Using these needles was a process for Sasaki Sensei for deepening his understanding of the meridians. One thing he discovered was how important it is to use ones hands for treating these sensitive channels.
2- On his search to find the Buddha Sasaki Sensei felt called to be of help to poor people in India. Here he joined a Japanese friend who managed an agricultural research project to protect the rice fields in south India.
3- In 1980, just before traveling to Europe, Sasaki Sensei studied with Dr. Swami Gitananda, a Medical Doctor and Yogi who taught Yoga, ancient philosophical and spiritual concepts in combination with principles of western médecine.
4- Swami Gitananda’s yoga class brought good health, well being and helped Sasaki Sensei to a closer understanding of the Nadi channels and the chackras.
5- The Ueno clinic was the original Iokai clinic and it’s where Masunaga was present, accept when doing occasional visits to the other two clinics. It was very small with little space in between the futons, sometimes only 30 cm. With the personal belongings of the patients around it easily became messy but the concentration and ambiance was always very good. Sasaki Sensei treasured this time with Masunaga Sensei as he would be very present researching together the subject of the meridians, the secondary branches and diagnosis, that he would generally check before and after every treatment.
6- Shizuto Masunaga Sensei bought a new camera on his way to this lecture in 1976/77. He wanted to document this event at the prestigious Shinkyu Acupuncture and Moxibustion College in Tokyo.
7- Shizuto Masunaga Sensei is teaching as Kazunori Sasaki is preparing the following presentation with the organiser of the event.
The history of Aikido is sometimes mixed with that of Shiatsu, because many Japanese masters have spread these two skills around the world. While they were sent to different continents to disseminate Aikido, they were also great teachers of Shiatsu. Compared to the original article published in Dragon Magazine n ° 28, I added two personalities living in Japan so that you have a better idea of the influence of these masters on Shiatsu today.
Translated by: Odile Fayet
At the end of the Second World War, all of Japan went through the pangs of famine and misery. But with the arrival of the 50s, it was a kind of renewal that affected all areas of Japanese society. The country was rebuilding and many techniques were emerging from the dungeons of history to get a facelift. This has been the case of Aikido which had to reinvent itself technically under the major influence of the second Doshu and adopted its message of universal love to distinguish itself from the warrior martial arts before the war (bujutsu). This has also been the case with Shiatsu which has been shedding its moult since its origins in Amma and has been seeking official recognition from the authorities. Hence Aikido advocating nonviolence and Shiatsu establishing peace of body and mind, these two approaches could only meet.
It is common knowledge that O Sensei was a great lover of Anma massage which was very popular in his youth and he regularly asked his uchi-deshi to come and massage him. Masamichi Noro was undoubtedly the one who was most requested by O Sensei. But over time Anma had become the shadow of what it was before and Shiatsu gradually took its place as a manual therapeutic technique until it was officially recognized in 1964 by the Ministry of Health. The essential protagonist of this period was Tokujiro Namikoshi. He was a real media star who made Shiatsu known to the Japanese population. Later on, he even had his weekly TV show. We owe the first encounter between Shiatsu and Aikido to the Frenchman André Nocquet. He was the second foreign student to take courses at the Hombu Dojo in 1955 (after the Italian Salvatore Mergè in 1942), he took basic courses at Nihon Shiatsu School (NSS) (also known as Japan Shiatsu College now) in Tokyo. Since he considered Ueshiba and Namikoshi giants of their times, each in his own specialty, he organised a meeting between them.
Photo linked from Budo Japan: article by Guillaume Erard (C) on an exciting biography of André Nocquet (center). Right Tokujiro Namikoshi. Left of Nocquet, O sensei Morihei Ueshiba. Far left, unknown.
Ueshiba was above all simply curious, but open-minded towards everything related to manual health because he had been suffering for a long time from intestinal disorders. The story does not say whether he had then consulted with Namikoshi or not. From that moment on many uchi-deshi started studying Shiatsu. Hence, when they later went on to spread Aikido around the world, they were also great Shiatsu teachers. The following portraits are proof that Aikido and Shiatsu have a common path.
Born in 1918, Mutsuro Nakazono was one of the masters who influenced French Aikido. Nakazono came from a family where martial arts have always paired with
healing arts. Grandson of a sumo champion, he started kendo at 6 years old, judo at 12 and then karate at 19. But he also led an exemplary health course. His mother who was a midwife initiated him very early to first aid for parturients. He learned in particular to turn babies who were in a breech presentation just using his hands. At age 20 he obtained a specialist’s diploma in osteopathy and then began studying Kanpo medicine. In 1942, at age 24 he crossed paths with Shioda sensei when he was already a judo shihan (4th dan) and became interested in aikido.
In the 50s, he became a macrobiotic practitioner alongside the founder “Georges Oshawa” (his real name Nyoichi Sakurazawa). When he arrived in France in 1961, he also had the title of shiatsushi (shiatsu specialist). In 1964, they were three Japanese masters living in France: Masamichi Noro, Nobuyoshi Tamura who has just arrived and him. Together they led numerous courses. But the health arts were an integral part of Nakazono sensei’s life, and he taught shiatsu in Paris. Among his most important students in this field, we find Philippe Ronce, Jean-Claude Tavernier, Pierre Molinari, Michel Odoul and Christine Anrioud.
Michel Odoul – who is today a celebrity with no less than 20 books on the subject of natural health and shiatsu – has been deeply touched for life by this encounter with this master whose requirements were terrible. “He was both a master of shiatsu and acupuncture, a university professor of traditional Japanese medicine, all of whose references he knew by heart. I was 25 when I met him. He was a samuraï, you can see it in his books. If we read them literally today, we would say to ourselves “who is this madman”?! He was in this uncompromising samuraï rectitude and so he was someone hard to follow. Moreover, a number of his assistants were unable to complete their apprenticeship. I’ll give you an example: for Nakazono sensei, it was out of the question to arrive five minutes before a shiatsu session. The day had to be prepared because straightness is first imposed on the practitioner. So you had to arrive early, prepare the body, clean the place, meditate, etc. For him the posture of the practitioner was not a privilege, but a duty, an obligation of proper behaviour with all the Bushido code in filigree. The second peculiarity of Nakazono was that when a certain level was reached there were no explanation anymore. If we wanted more, we had to go get it, work, observe and get more involved”.
There we find again all the Japanese spirit which implies that we must “steal the technique with the eyes” (mitori geiko) and not always the will to understand everything, explain everything.
This story begins a bit like that of the founder, Morihei Ueshiba. Born in 1931, the young Reishin Kawai was of weak constitution. To strengthen his body, he began at a very early age martial arts, including sumo and kenjutsu. As a teenager, he suffered chronic inflammation of the right knee and medicine was unable to relieve it. He then turned to shiatsu, acupuncture and a special diet, which ultimately healed him. From that moment, he would be completely convinced of the benefits of these approaches and decided to train. In 1946, he was only 15 years old when he became uchi-deshi of Torataro Saito sensei, a healer master who developed his own method of care. At the same time, he trained him in kenjutsu as well as in Daïto-ryu Aikijujutsu. Saito was himself a friend of Arimoto Murashige sensei who encouraged him to attend O sensei’s lessons during the 30’s. This is how he was able to transmit the basics of what was to become aikido to his young disciple. Reishin Kawai, strongly wanting to learn more, enrolled in the Faculty of Oriental Medicine at Tsukushoku along with Hombu Dojo in order to perfect this dual path of the warrior and the therapist. His teacher will be O sensei Uehsiba, the founder himself, his son Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Koichi Tohei, and sometimes Morihiro Saito in Iwama. He then founded the Nihon Kobudo Iho Fukyukai (Japanese society of martial arts and acupuncture studies) in November 1955.
Yet in the 60s he decided to travel the world. This is how he discovered Brazil where he finally settled to spread Aikido, first at the request of Murashige who had become 9th dan, then officially and directly by O Sensei. He then settled permanently in Brazil where he was the pioneer for Aikido in this country. It was exactly on January 9th 1963 that he opened a first dojo with 42 tatamis in São Paulo. From there Aikido quickly developed, in particular thanks to one of his students of Japanese origin – Keizen Ono – an association which will become a federation. He will also have a strong influence in Argentina and Peru. Whilst practicing aikido for 50 years he never forgot how he was able to save his knee and regularly treated practitioners with shiatsu.
He would pass on this knowledge to his many students, some of whom are now senior officers (Keizen Ono, Makoto Nishida, Wagner Bull, Roberto Maruyama, all 7th dan).
The 50’s and the 60’s were a great period when, according to the wishes of its founder O sensei Ueshiba, young Aikido senseis left around the world to spread his martial art. But these same senseis also had more or less advanced knowledge of Shiatsu in their technical background. That’s for example, the case of Minoru Kanetsuka (born in 1939) who discovered aikido at the University of Tzakushoku (Tokyo) in 1957 and studied under the direction of Gozo Shioda. After graduating from college, he decided to settle in Nepal and taught aikido for 8 years to local police and members of the royal family. In 1972 he moved to England where he became assistant to Chiba sensei, then when he left, he became the technical director of the British Aikido Federation.
Bill Palmer was one of his aikido students, but he also taught him shiatsu in 1973. He remembers that “when I was at university, I was starting to practice aikido. My teacher was also an excellent practitioner of shiatsu. His name was Minoru Kanetsuka and I really liked what he was doing. So, I started studying with him. For 6 years, I watched what he was doing and afterwards, people from the dojo asked me for treatment. So my beginnings are very much related to aikido and the spirit that reigns in a dojo. It was a very simple form of shiatsu, without any theory about the meridians. The practice was based on key points and the quality of touch. Kanetsuka used to say “Shiatsu is like aikido. Do not try to control anything. Just improve your quality of touch and respond to how you feel “or” If you open up to someone’s energy, then it transforms him, but if you try to change him, then he resists“. Bill Palmer later became one of the founders of the UK Shiatsu Society and is today one of the great European teachers of this discipline.
Seiichi Sugano sensei is one of the best known Aikido masters in Australian, Belgian and American aikidokas since he lived in these three countries for many years. Always smiling, loving to laugh heartily, I had the opportunity to interview him. Seiichi Sugano also has an affair of the heart with shiatsu. Born in 1939, he started judo at 6. In 1957, after reading a newspaper article, he decided to go to the Hombu Dojo to see what Aikido was about. He was received by Kisshomaru Ueshiba and right after an interview and a test course he immediately asked to become uchi-deshi but he was only 18 years old. So he had to prove himself and train daily for a year before that happened. His tatami mates were Nobuyoshi Tamura and Yoshimitsu Yamada. Among the instructors of Hombu Dojo, Koichi Tohei (who was the head teacher) will leave a lasting impression on him as he was the only one to speak and work with the notion of Ki.
Is that what led him to take a closer look at energy? The story doesn’t say.
All about of Seiichi Sugano’s journey is well known. Married to an Australian woman, he will be sent there for 10 years to represent Aikido. Then he will move to Belgium for 8 years while going to teach in Malaysia every year. He eventually settled in the United States until his death in 2010. But did he teach Shiatsu?
One of his former Belgian students, Louis Van Thiegem Shihan says: “Yes, I do remember the shiatsu lessons that Sugano sensei gave. I can’t tell you where he learned it, but he was teaching it. He was also very scholar in general, so he always spent time reading and learning. It was at the time when he arrived in Belgium, in our dojo, he organized initiation courses in shiatsu for the most assiduous students. It was a very intimate family-like practice, but he knew enough to help someone who suffered from a knee, an elbow or a shoulder problem for example. Since it was not his main activity – he was first and foremost an aikido master – he did not have a practice or anything, but he was quite able to teach and to take care of patients “
Another legendary figure among the masters of Aikido, Hirokazu Kobayashi was born in 1929 in Osaka. Coming from a family who works in lacquer, his poor health pushes him to practice martial arts from the age of 7 years. His fiery temperament is already at work since he immediately begins not to one, but to three techniques at the same time: karate, judo and kendo. Never doing things halfway and seduced by the nationalist theses of the time, he decided to join the army from the age of 15, which of course is prohibited. However, he finds a way to trick recruiters, in particular by changing the number of buttons hung on his jacket. He will be in all conflicts and six months before the end of the Second World War, decides to be a suicide bomber. Fate will prevent him, his aircraft carrier will be sunk and he will be one of the survivors. Upon his return after his demobilization, he will be a docker in Tokyo’s harbor, unloading fish all day long. He resumed practicing karate, but his master wrote him a letter of introduction so that he also studied aikido with O sensei. The meeting of these two warriors could only work and this is how Kobayashi sensei quickly became one of the closest students to the founder. Eight years later, he returned to Osaka and opened a dojo with the local police. His story is now part of aikido’s legend. Appointed 7th dan at 35 years old only, he will succeed Murashige sensei as European technical director. Teaching 5 months a year in Europe, he also dedicates himself to another of his passions: speed. Riding a motorcycle in Japan and sports cars in Europe, his energy is overflowing. At 42, he was appointed 8th dan. But to see in Kobayashi only a hothead would be a mistake. He is also a man of studies who seeks to know more and more about what surrounds him and more particularly on the human being. This is how martial arts will bring him to Seppo/Kuatsu techniques and a great knowledge of acupressure points and acupuncture meridians. This knowledge he used to heal, shown to his students.
Among the many high-ranking students he has trained, Master André Cognard remembers that: “Kobayashi sensei always looked after us, most of the time at the end of the course, on the edge of the dojo. He practiced joint repair techniques and therapeutic massage. He didn’t quote his sources. The first time he associated me with one of his treatments, I was amazed by the power of his technique. It was an Aikido teacher who complained about a knee problem. Kobayashi sensei asked me to slowly extend the patient’s leg he was flexing while he pressed his thumb over a point on the knee. The result was conclusive. The man was able to sit in the seiza position which was impossible for him just before and walk without suffering.
The experience did not end there for me. When we got to the locker room, our patient burst into tears and began to tell me about a relationship that had caused psychological trauma. When I talked about it to Sensei he just said, “These chronic knee problems are always linked to a complex with the mother.” It would take me a few years to observe it to translate this by: “problematic of separation”. “Loss of possession of the body” and “partial birth”. In an instant, he had brought me into a world, that of the conscious body. “
This man is undoubtedly one of the least known masters of Aikido. His uncle was a Buddhist priest and when he told him that he wanted to do Judo, the latter recommended that he went to the dojo of a “mental” martial art, named Aikido. But the teacher had moved. This teacher was none other than the founder himself. Despite this, he started studying with Kusutarou Mizutani in an old school of martial arts: Takenouchi ryu, famous for its seizure’s techniques. He was 17 years old. At that time, during the
Besides the martial course there were also Shiatsu and bonding technique to put the bones back in place. A few years later he opened a dojo. It was wartime in Japan and he had to do night patrols. A certain Hiroyuki Nozawa was sent from Kyoto to do the same, but he was also an Aikido teacher. They went together to teach their martial techniques in the small dojo of Takoka and thus he began to teach Aikido without naming it, because he had not received degrees in this discipline.
In 1945, he was part of the third wave of young men called to go and fight abroad. After 3 months of classes, he joined his regiment (air force) in Korea as a soldier. Nevertheless his manual care capacities got known and he was called by the barracks’ doctor to help a person. “I gave this man two doses of anesthetic, but the pain is not going away. Try to treat him.” He then spent 20 minutes doing Shiatsu and the pain went away. The chief doctor wrote to the general staff so that he would not fight any longer and remained in full-time medical service the next day. This is how he developed a great experience of manual care for illnesses of all kinds and war wounds. His talent was such that when demobilized in 1945, he was refused immediate return to Japan so that he could finish treating the battalion adjudant. He could not return to Japan until October 45. He immediately resumed teaching Aikido, trying to restore hope and joy to the young demobilized after the defeat of Japan.
In 1951, he learned that for the first time in a long time, O Sensei had to return to Wakayama to train the police forces. It was a rather rare stage in the course of O Sensei, since he taught every other day with Koichi Tohei, the other days being dedicated to karatedo with the masters Otsuka, Tomoyose and Yamashiro. Thanks to his friend and colleague Nozawa, he was able to follow all the training with the police. After the lessons, he proposed to O sensei to give him a Shiatsu. This one said to him “Formerly my students gave me a Shiatsu but there is no one training in Shiatsu today. So, maybe just this time?” After the treatment O Sensei congratulated him and asked him if he knew the Nishi Health method (read the very good article by Nicolas de Araujo on Katsuzo Nishi, in French) that he himself was following. He also showed him his method of care with the palms. Thus after this meeting via Shiatsu and Aikido he received the 3rd dan and became one of the students of the founder and was the recipient of many stories from the life of Ueshiba. Their common passions for Aikido and the manual arts of health brought them together until the death of O Sensei. Sadao Takoaka continued to teach Aikido and to heal in Shiatsu all his life. He died in 2002.
He is one of the post-war students, who started Aikido very early in life, in college at the age of 14 under the teaching of Seseki Abe sensei (in Osaka), in the college’s dojo. This one said to him “It is not a question of force. It is Ki“. Later he went to study at the university to become an electrical engineer and discovered Shiatsu in parallel thanks to Namikoshi’s television broadcasts, and also continued Aikido. He became interested in the study of Shiatsu and followed a basic training at the beginning of the 60’s. In 1963 he met O Sensei and became his student until 1968. During these years there, he proposed to him to do Shiatsu . His memory is as follows:
“He was always happy when I was doing Shiatsu on his back. I felt like I was pushing on an iron plate with my fingers. My fingers bent back and forth. It was not the back of ‘a normal person. I was taught that it was Ki conditioning.” In other words, the energy was so dense in the body of the founder, that it could not enter his muscles.
He still continues to teach Aikido today and offers Shiatsu to his students. One day Kuroiwa was asked what was the difference between Judo and Aikido. He replied: “On one hand, Judo is the world of Newtonian physics, on the other hand, Aikido is the world of quantum mechanics.” Between the two, Shiatsu is the link to treat the body and Ki.
There are many other Japanese aikido masters who have learned (as the founder confirmed) Shiatsu or Anma, but they are not all known to biographers. On the other hand, they all had a large influence in the diffusion of Shiatsu, not only in Japan but throughout the world, because these two arts have multiple links, the most important being the concept of Ki. Today, more and more martial arts practitioners are doing and teaching Shiatsu thus reviving the tradition of koryu (classical schools): knowing how to fight, knowing how to heal.