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Welcome to my Blog

So, it seems that you want to spend some time reading what I have to say. Well, thank you and welcome! It's my hope that each time you read something it inspires you, makes you question your beliefs, challenges you, teaches you something and hopefully gives you a few chuckles along the way. I am not a 'writer', but I do love to teach and this a fantastic forum for that, I will talk about what I know and sometimes challenge conventional thinking on a variety of subjects but I will never be intentionally disrespectful. Having said that though, I might ruffle the odd feather sometimes... Thanks for listening.

Susan

When I was first approached to judge The National Massage Championships in 2018, I was skeptical. I’m sure on hearing about a competition that judges massage, you, and many of my colleagues, may also have had a similar thought process to me: how can massage possibly be judged? It isn’t a spectator sport. In fact it is something that should be very private between therapist and client. A healing journey that isn’t meant to be for public consumption. As a matter of fact, I was rather concerned about how this could harm our profession. I had seen other events and I was appalled with some of the performances, it felt like I was watching the X-Factor for massage. They had all been more about showboating than actually a demonstration of the skills required to deliver quality massage.

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In spite of my reservations, in fact - partly because of them, and I will explain why in this article, I decided to accept the role of lead judge for the UK’s National Massage Championships. One of my primary reasons for accepting, was due to my respect for the organisers - Carl from Massage World Magazine, and Kate from City Lux. I had known them both prior to the championship, and knew that they operated from a place of integrity.  I have been Carl’s feature writer for Sports Massage since 2007. Because of our long history, I trusted he wouldn’t want to harm the profession, and before taking on the role of organiser, would have had a plan in place to make sure it was done in the most professional and respectful manner. Like me, he had a reputation to uphold and was not going to gamble it, unless he truly believed the Championship could achieve an overarching objective: namely to educate those in and outside of our industry; elevating the reputation of massage, and empowering the therapists who work hard to develop the necessary skills to be successful in their careers.    

                                                                                              

Informing my decision to agree to be a judge in the competition were statistics indicating how much the field of massage therapy has grown. Over the last decade the health and wellness industry has been booming. According to Statista, ‘the value of the health and wellness market in the UK increased […] from over 20.5 billion euro in 2015 to almost 23 billion euro in 2018.[1]’ Statistics are also indicating that job opportunities within the field will increase from 18 to 26% between 2017 and 2027.     

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Among the many reasons for the growth within the industry is the growing acceptance of massage as a medical tool. The younger demographic of the British public are starting to realise the benefits of massage for reducing stress, and are incorporating it more and more within their self-care routines. The older demographic are also appreciating the benefits for specific health related issues; we are especially seeing more research done within the oncology field - an area I specialise in myself. The benefits of massage for cancer patients are far reaching and will require an article or two of their own to discuss!

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Today we have even reached a point where some medical providers and insurance companies will recommend massage therapy, and in some cases pay for it. This growth I am seeing within the industry was an enormous contributory factor for me accepting the role as judge. I want to see the industry continue to grow, and one of the ways I can contribute to ensure that it does, is by imparting what I know to those coming after me. I have become successful within this field because of hard work and dedication. I have spent hours learning about anatomy; physiology (the study of organs and tissues); kinesiology, (the study of motion and body mechanics); biotensegrity (the study of the relationship of movement and how each element works together to form a functioning unit); business management; ethics; as well as the hands-on practice of massage techniques. Of course, I use the North London School of Massage to impart this knowledge to my students, but on consideration I realised that I could use the platform as head judge to set examples that would positively impact the industry as a whole. 

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Once I had accepted, I began to realise that what we were creating was stage onto which we would unite many different massage modalities; promoting greater understanding, creativity, and interconnection within and outside our profession. The first event in 2018 went well, although, as was to be expected, we were still learning, the full message of our intentions for the Championship and its competitors hadn’t quite reached all of the participants. We still had a few too many ‘performances’, that were less about the client and more about the therapist being ‘artistic’.                                                                                          

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However by 2019 and this year’s championships, which took place only a couple of weeks ago, we had well and truly articulated the ethos and the premise of the competition. This was to be an event of the highest standard, where therapists came from all over the UK to demonstrate just how skilled and able successful massage practitioners really need to be. This year, the returning therapists had taken on board the previous year’s feedback, ensuring that clients were the focus and the therapists were well trained, respectful vehicles of facilitating the power of the body to heal itself - whatever the modality.  There wasn’t an act or performance in sight. They did our profession proud. Throughout the event I was constantly hearing comments, such as these testimonials, from participants and spectators:   

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  • “I learnt so much by just watching.”
  • “I have picked up loads of ideas.”
  • “It feels so great to be a part of a community, this job can be such an isolating profession.”
  • “I feel so proud of what I have done here today, I did not go away with a medal but I took away so much more, I feel good about myself, it was not easy stepping out of my comfort zone, but I am glad I did it.” 
  • “I will be back, it was so much fun.”

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As the Head Judge, part of my role was to establish judging criteria. This is where I believed I could make a critical difference. I needed to ensure that the criteria brought out the best of the participant’s skill set. I wanted to highlight the incredible abilities massage therapists have, whilst making sure they maintained a professional and respectful environment at all times. In terms of the participants, it astounded me to witness the talent of some of the therapists. In fact some of them were able to demonstrate their skills to such a high standard that a new category emerged. I’m afraid you will have to keep reading my blogs to find out more about this category though, as I am sworn to secrecy for the moment.

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The judges I worked with for the event were an incredibly diverse mix of some of the best professionals within the industry. I have to say it was an honour and a pleasure to witness the various skills and talents each judge brought to the table. We were blessed to have experts from all areas of our profession, from Chair Massage, Eastern, Freestyle, Spa & Wellness, Swedish & Deep Tissue to Advanced. The judges came from all over the world, some, like Ryan Holmes, from as far away as America.

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Other than bearing witness to the talent Britain has to offer, another highlight of the event for me was being able to talk with the other judges. Being some of the top professionals within the industry worldwide, it was really interesting to hear their insights and opinions of many of the other events that take place all over the world. It would appear that they are very different from what we do here in the UK. One of the conclusions we reached after much discussion, was that there is a need for a committee to be formed to regulate these competitions; establish common criteria and standards. 

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During the two days of the actual championships, my role was not to evaluate any of the participants, but to ensure fairness in the judging, and offer a point of neutral contact for both the therapist and judge. I also helped to ensure that the event ran smoothly, and dealt with any issues that cropped up. However, the really hard work was mostly undertaken by Carl and Kate. They had a vision, which they successfully saw through. The event from start to finish was handled with such professionalism and I was extremely proud to be a part of it. Because of them future events will continue to emphasize the technical skills and ability massage therapists have, raising the profile of the massage industry exponentially

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I am aware that there are many people in the industry who are still skeptical about this event. However, I would say before forming an opinion, come and experience the two days. Witness the feelings of pride that radiated from each participant once they had finished their session. See with your own eyes the professionalism, talent, technical skill and ability demonstrated. And, perhaps most importantly of all, observe the educational component of the event for the spectators - they left with an appreciation and new understanding of the power and potential massage has. 

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By attending the event yourself, I can guarantee that you will reach the same conclusion I did - these competitions are important to maintain the growth and status of our industry. They have a great deal to offer our community, as well serving to develop a wider awareness, for both therapist and lay person, of what quality therapy should consist of.