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Interview with the manager of Wat Po

Khun Serat Tangtrongchitr is 38 years old, holds a Bachelor Degree in Mechanical Engineering, a Masters in Business Administration, a Diploma in Thai Traditional Pharmacy, a Diploma in Thai Traditional Medicine, a Diploma in Midwifery, and is the Manager of Wat Po Thai Traditional Medical School. We went to interview him at his office in the head office of Wat Po TTM school, along the Chao Praya river, one of the most charming places in Bangkok.

Manager Wat Po Medical School Interview

Q. : Let’s take a brief look at some recent developments in Thai massage: one school in Tha Then, one school in Chaeng Wattana, and one in Chiang Mai. An affiliated Japanese school, a Wat Po in the Philippines and a lot of new courses on offer: advanced courses, foot massage, oil massage and aromatherapy, infant and child courses, as well as professional Thai massage… just from February to November 2006 there were exhibitions held in Germany, Italy, Turkey, USA, Japan, Hong Kong…Thai massage itself has never been so healthy… It seems that finally, after the Swedish, the Ayurvedic and the Shiatsu, it is the Thai massage’s turn in the spotlight…Has something changed in your marketing/advertising policy?

A.: Right now, for our advertisement, what we are trying to do is to go to meet our students or our potential clients as much as possible… My group of teachers has just come back from Romania and we plan to go to Malaysia in July and we plan to go to Hong Kong and Taiwan this year in October and November…because massage you cannot explain in words, you cannot explain in pictures but you need to give some moment of touch to them… we think that if we can go to meet as many people as possible we can massage for them even just a little bit, even just 20 minutes, they can understand better what Thai massage is about.

Q.: What is the philosophy behind Thai Massage? Recently, have you developed any new techniques or theories?

A.: The Thai Massage is still the same but somehow we have to develop some of our own techniques in order to suit the people in other countries. Like we give Thai oil massage for foreigners because when we go to massage in European countries or any country where it is very cold or dry, somehow we cannot just give the Thai massage- we cannot rub and press-, we have to use and apply oil so that the skin will not burn… so you have to experience new techniques from time to time…We have many students coming from others countries to study with us…Now we have more and more new courses, like the course in Professional Thai Spa, and we have Thai Yoga exercises, exercises like respiratory exercises, that we teach to the masseurs, for the patients that need to exercise; instead of getting the massage the patients can learn and do by themselves.

Q.: These techniques can be helpful for people that need to recover from sickness or accidents, right? I mean, a kind of rehabilitation?

A.: Yes, those who need to recover will make certain exercises according to his problems. The respiratory exercise and Thai Yoga, have, right now, about 80 positions and we are arranging them seasonably for the patients. For example, for the people that cannot stand and have to lie on a bed, we have developed some positions to suit them, the same for those who can just sit and cannot stand up…and so we can have regular exercises for everyone…

Q.: What training is required to become a Teacher of Thai Massage at Wat Po?

A.: All the Teachers in Wat Po had to study here. After they finish the course in Thai traditional massage and foot massage course they are required to get work experience outside for about two or three years and then, when we have a new position, we ask them to come and take an examination in attitude and skill test; if they pass they can work like our massage therapists, from five to ten years; after this period if we think that they are suitable for becoming a trainer, we promote them to be assistant trainer for about two or three years, and if their performances are good they can became regular Teachers.

Q.: So the Massage Teachers do not need to be graduates in Thai Traditional Medicine?

A.: No, they are specialized in Thai Massage; but after becoming Massage Teachers they can study Thai Pharmacy or Thai Medicine in our School.

Q.: What is the standard day schedule for students of the Basic Course?

A.: The students can come to apply and study on every day . We are open 7 days a week . The class is from nine o’clock in the morning to twelve; one hour lunch break and then the afternoon session is from one to four p.m. Every day they have to study 6 hours (until they complete the course’s hours, at least 5 days).

Q.: For those who want to study Thai Massage for professional purposes, is the Basic Course sufficient?

A.: The Basic Course is like an introduction to Thai Massage. This course is suitable not only for introduction but for the ones that work already in the Massage field and need to know more and some alternative ways to treat their patients. But if your aim is to be professional in Thai Massage you should study the Professional Thai massage for Health, 165 hours of course, it take about one month to be completed…right now we have a course almost every month.

Q.: In Salaya?

A.: Yes, in Salaya

Q.: For the Professional Thai Massage Course, theory study is planned. Tell me more about this.

A.: Students will study Anatomy and Physiology, Thai Traditional Massage, Thai Traditional Medicine and Thai traditional Pharmacy for the herbal medicine. We compare the western medicine with the Thai Traditional medicine, we explain why when we acupressure a certain point we get a certain result.

Q.: At the end of any massage course, a certificate is awarded. Is this certificate recognized by any authorities?

A.: It is recognized by the Ministry of Public Health, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Labor.

Q.: The certificates are awarded in Thai, in English or both. Can they be recognized in foreign countries?

A.: Some countries already recognize our certificates. We are trying to get accreditation in many countries from where people that come to study here belong. In the US, some States already can accreditate our certificates like in California. The standard required for massage is different from country to country, in some cases is needed more theory class to take in that country.

Q.: How many students take your courses every year?

A.: Throughout Thailand, about 1000 students complete our courses.

Q.: That is a lot of students, especially compared to 10 years ago. I have got to ask you again: why this boom in Thai Massage?

A.: You know, the western medicine is very modernized, is very advanced, but still now it cannot cure all the sickness, or ailments or diseases that people haveÉmany diseases come back again and somehow western medicine cannot cure them all, so people turn to look at some alternative ways to cure that sickness.

Q.: And you think they can be satisfied with alternative medicine?

A.: Yes, yes…we can cure many diseases, many sicknesses.

Q.: Could you give me some examples?

A.: For example: headache and hemicrane: the western medicine can only act on the nerve and stop the pain, but with massage you can cure them. And we can help the patient to change lifestyle, to change habits of wrong postures, to teach them exercises, and how to relax…

Q.: Exercises that can be tought to the patient: I find it very interesting, not only because in western countries people do not have the time to have a massage that often, but also because it becomes a kind of self-help. Should a complete trained masseur have the knowledge to teach the patient to help himself?

A.: Yes, yes…normally if you pass the course in Professional Thai Massage we teach you how to do that. If you have a disturbance in your body, we teach which positions and exercises you have to do, daily or weekly. But a masseur, to get this knowledge, has to train and study and study. Actually, the Professional Thai massage is divided in three level courses: the first level is available for Thai and foreigners, but for the second and third level we don’t have courses for foreigners yet. We hope we can arrange these courses for foreigners in the near future; by now, with the first level, we can teach to cure some simples sickness only.

Q.: In bookshops it is not possible to find any official publications about Thai Massage from the Wat Po School, as you said that Thai massage cannot be tought by figures or just theory; but since a lot of books on Thai massage written by Thai or foreigners are available, don’t you think there is a need to publish something under the school authority?

A.: Well, because you know, for our School, before that we arrange a course to include new techniques for curing some sickness, we have to study, we have to work close with hospitals, western hospitals or universities, we have to keep the records and the statistics, we have to check if a technique is really effective or not, if it is effective for that certain disease. Just after that, if the result is positive, we introduce the technique in the course. Otherwise we don’t…you know, the knowledge that is gathered in the temple is one thing, but that a technique can be effective in modern society, that’s another thing.

Q.: OK, I understand, but for basic Thai massage, that is a massage practiced every day in many countries worldwide, I think it would be useful to have an official book from Wat Po. Many books are available at the moment, some good, but some of them written by people that just have a smattering of the subject.

A.: Right now, we will arrange it in the near future, we will find a way… The problem we face is that you cannot learn just from the book, you will not know if you are working on the right line or not, you cannot experience the feeling of the right pression like a teacher can teach you, nobody checks your workÉ even from a video, as much as a video can be good, you don’t experience the feeling…

Q.: So, books are useful as a reference tool for students that already took the courses. In one of the first questions I asked you, you answered just the second part. What is the philosophy behind Thai Medicine?

A.: Thai Traditional Medicine comes from a mix between Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic Medicine, we combine those two knowledges and we added some of our own local knowledge. For the herbal medicine, for example, we use our local herbs in order to suit Thai people and fit Thai lifestyle. So it became a new knowledge that is effective for everyone.

Q.: Can Thai Massage be used in Muay Thai (Thai boxing) or any others sports? In the muay thay massage, for example, the fighters are given a camphor oil massage before a match. Can the oil massage be combined with Thai massage for use in sports?

A.: Yes, of course. The Thai massage can accelerate the blood velocity, or decrease it. If the masseur knows the technique, he can give the massage for muay Thai or any other sport. Before a competition, you need to accelerate the blood velocity, to wake the body up. There are techniques, like I told you before, we have to check, we have to study, we have to build our hypothesis and then look for confirmation with some Hospitals. If the techniques are effectives enough, at least on 90% of the patients, then we use them and put them in our courses.

Q.: Are your professional masseurs allowed to work in western Hospitals for treatments like pain killers?

A.: It depends on the sensitiveness and culture of doctors. We are working on cooperation of some western Hospitals, and from time to time we send our massage therapist like in Phra Mongkut Klao Hospital that is an Army Hospital in order to massage under prescription of western doctors.

Q.: Is there anything you would like to talk about that I didn’t ask you?

A.: Oh…well right now Thai Massage is very popular in many countries. If you need to know if the one you are receiving or applying or studying for is the real Thai Massage you can check through our School Website (www.watpomassage.com), you can email us and we will answer you. And if you are receiving a Thai massage and the feeling is not good, stop it. About the schools, I think that what you can do is to check with the Thai Government; the system in foreign countries is different; we just teach how to become professional masseurs or massage therapist to the foreigners, at the moment. The teaching is another thing. I think it is already difficult to train people to become good masseurs.

Q.: And the Thai Massage school in Japan or the Philippines?

A.: We send our teachers there regularly.

Q.: This should interest the entrepreneurs in the field: Wat Po can give massage classes in other schools, in foreigner countries, to teach Thai Massage in a professional way. Is it possible for the School to release certificates abroad?

A.: Yes, sure.

Q.: Well, all those concerned are advised.

Bangkok, 15 May 2007