Reflections on Shiatsu Professional Training – reaching out and down, as well as up

I will shortly be in Evanston, IL .(Chicago) for the 2015 Shiatsu Symposium to present a workshop on Seiki and the experiential path in Shiatsu. Please see detailed account under Shiatsu, above. There will be several round-table sessions, or panel debates at this eventPanel.

The line of questions I am interested in presenting on the Friday panel are more or less as follows.

Who in the shiatsu profession, or in other related traditional therapies, is looking within their particular discipline or disciplines to ask whether the training criteria are apt for purpose, that is, if shiatsu (etc.) can be or should be practised as medicine (traditional or otherwise), or as an integral bodywork therapy, with its own specific treatment objectives and methods, or as an educational tool in the field of health and social cohesion? Would a review of aims and applications help us to promote Traditional East-Asian Therapy in a different light?

Developing a varied set of aims or objectives for training, specifically context related, might also help evolve specific and even cross-disciplinary models, training pathways with defined applications in different fields.
Some of these options might necessarily involve a more lengthy formal training, some might be lighter and more flexible pathways with horizontal outreach into the community. The specifics of the vision will also guide us toward the right kind of research choices, project planning and fund seeking.

(Training in the traditional subtle therapies for different areas of medical care, in public and private health clinics, care homes, hospices, rehab centres, etc. might be one thing; training in traditional Do-in massage – simple shiatsu and exercise – for schools, sports and community centres etc., something a bit different. One would involve substantial knowledge of the diagnostic, prognostic and treatment skills of Traditional Eastern Medicine, and the other – the ability to evolve self-help and community awareness programmes using tools from Qigong to shiatsu to meditation. The familiar options to practice individual therapy and lead personal development programmes, could be yet another path).
Schools could make it their business to promote the low arts of healing, the ordinary as well as the elevated, specialised and refined (Manual therapy has a low status everywhere because it is varied and complex, and ordinary! It is both easy and difficult to define, to do, to justify and to prove, but it has always been that way and we could accept the challenge and make this situation usefully transparent. (China and Japan have a coherent account of this).

I feel honoured to be invited to the US, along with my colleagues, as representative of a European success story. In establishing professional Shiatsu in Europe, we have indeed made remarkable progress and achieved some inspiring heights. But I feel that this progress is now in some danger of reversal and would like to discuss the possible reasons for this. I have been aware for some time of a fairly narrow or inward-looking tendency that has prevailed, in good times, to build a profession focused on the role of the individual therapist, rather than the educational outreach that characterised the amateur origins of the work, and which echoed its popular rise in Japan. Some important questions about Shiatsu, its background and social context, have rarely been asked or rehearsed. Individual teachers and schools have often promoted one style or another rather than foster an inclusive view, and modern Chinese TCM was often grafted on to reinforce a rather flimsy therapeutic structure of limited vision.

This has possibly contributed to the considerable decline of the professional project evident in Europe and a corresponding decrease in public awareness of shiatsu generally. There is little sense that Shiatsu or related Do-In exercise practices have maintained a profile among the many amateur activities that play a vital role in community life, when compared with Yoga, Aikido, Pilates or Contemporary Dance (for some varied examples). I have had experience of establishing baseline criteria for training and practice in both acupuncture and shiatsu professions, the setting of qualification standards, ratification of courses and creation of safeguards for profession and public; in short, promotion and oversight of professional interests at every level. Thus I have witnessed the process of institutional bureaucracy at work (at least on a small scale). I’ve also been involved in some quieter ventures, some of them local and some almost self-organising and magical in nature.

I am aware that going downwards and backwards is not consistent with most contemporary professional (Western) projects. But I have been on both sides of the fence.
I would ask the panel to join me in a little deconstructionist exercise via the question, “What is shiatsu for?” And I would ask the younger generation of Shiatsu trainees and practitioners present, what turns them on about shiatsu, why they value it, and where and how they would like to see it spread and succeed.
What is the Healing Art of Touch all about?  PL.