Friday, 6 February 2015

Learning Thai Massage from Ajarn Pichest Boonthume


As a Thai Massage instructor, I like to keep my skills fresh by going to Thailand every year or two to learn from other teachers. In the past seven years I have studied with almost every big school and then some lesser known but perhaps more gifted teachers.

Among all of them, one stood out the most. His name is Pichest Boonthume. It 's hard to understand Pichest from a Western mind frame. If one goes with occidental ideas, one is unlikely ever to learn anything. One of the reasons for that is that Pichest teaches in an ancient world style.

That means there are no fancy printed workbooks, no certification (he couldn’t care less), no accreditation and no set course content. You don’t have to do anything in class. If you just want to sit down and watch or even sleep through class, it is ok!

What might be even more irritating to a first timer at Pichest's is that half the day is spent in chanting what seems like meaningless Buddhist prayers and listening to his complaints about the loss of morality in this age especially in Thailand with rising consumerism and laissez-faire relationships. All this delivered in appalling English.

Then to make matters even worse Pichest may pull out a pack of Krungthip cigarettes and light them in class and take a deep and satisfying drag.

One may wonder then what is the big deal about Ajahn Pichest. Why is it despite all these factors every serious practitioner of Thai massage has passed through his hands.

Why is that despite having all these limitations there might be more than 40 eager students in his small temple/classroom in the season?

The answer is simple. Pichest helps you unlearn everything you know, or think you know about Thai Massage. Which means out of the window goes all the unnecessary movements flourishes, sequences, techniques, passive yoga stretches and other typical fluff and bluff one may have learned at some of the more well known Thai massage schools in Chiang Mai.

A week with Pichest can be hard for some Thai Massage students. Particularly those who have just done a course where they paid 30000 baht and spent four weeks in a Thai massage school. Then you meet this man who turns your world around by proving to you that what you have been doing and what you paid for is quite meaningless and perhaps even dangerous.

However, those who have practiced Thai Massage for some years in the style that is taught in the more famous Massage schools will appreciate Pichest better. They understand instantly how they have been torturing themselves and their clients with unnecessary movements, sequences and techniques. They feel the pain in their thumbs and the ache in their knees. They know they are doing something wrong, but they can’t get a fix on it. Then they meet Pichest and see the simple effectiveness of his work, the ease and grace that flows with it and they are hooked.

Pichest’s massage style will free a Thai Massage practitioner from techniques and bring them back into feeling. With Master Pichest, feeling is supreme, and he will teach you to look for connections and to see the body as a whole. He will teach you how to use the gravity and weight as your friend and give your thumbs and hands a break.

He will teach that physical therapy needs feeling and not techniques. It needs observation and not sequences or more cool looking stretches.

If you plan to go and study with Ajarn Pichest, then give it time and patience. Leave preconceived western ideas of what is a good teacher at home and sit with humility. Observe carefully and try not to think too much. Instead, try to feel and, if possible, get him to work on you. You won’t regret it, and your understanding of Thai massage will change forever. It might even prolong your massage career. Most of all when you ask a question don’t say the word “I think”!


How to reach Ajarn Pichest from Chiang Mai


By bike:


As you drive down on 108 highway with the airport runway on your right, you may need to drive about 15 minutes till you see a large TOA sign. Keep on for another short distance and the lookout for New Life Baptist Church on the left or Ban Waen on the right (see picture).
Landmark and directions to Pichest's house
Ban Waen

Immediately after Ban Waen, there is a small turn on the left (see picture).
Turning to Pichest's House

Take that left and go down about 100 meters past some houses and then some paddy fields on the left.
Paddy fields on the way to Pichest's House
Paddy fields on the way to Pichest's House


Past the paddy field, the road will bend and on the bend you will see Pichest’s House.
Pichest's House
Pichest"s House

By Taxi


Take a yellow Sangtheuw from the South Gate in Chiang Mai. During the day, they are parked next to the gate on the outer road along the moat. Sit on the right side so you can watch out for Ban Waen. When you see it, press the buzzer and get off.
The driver will take about 20 baht. Now locate the turn to the left and walk down till you see Pichest’s house.

Fee: 

Normally about 800 baht a day. You don’t need to call ahead as some people may tell you. Pichest has a very informal class style, and there are no limits to how many people can come to the class. So don’t waste his and your time, calling and irritating him with formality and directions.

Protocols: 

You can drop in informally to see a class, and no payment is required. However if you do intend to take a week's class, then you should come with the money in an envelope, some flowers, fruit and some incense. You can buy this as a standard offering bundle from market opposite the south gate before you take your taxi. This needs to be offered to the deities on the right of the shrine in their respective offering bowls.

Best Time to visit: 

Peak summer which is the least touristy season in Thailand is the best time. There are not more than six people in a class, and you have a better chance of some work getting done on you by the Master himself. Watch out!  His work can be intense also the mosquitoes in the heat of summer can be challenging while doing Thai Massage but who said learning from a master was easy.

Class Structure:


9:00 AM Some informal chat as Pichest has a smoke
9:30 AM Chanting and Wai Kru
10:30 AM Pichest Talks Dharma
11:30 AM Pichest may demonstrate
1:00 PM Lunch (Provide by Pichest)
2:00 PM Practice with other students
4:00 PM class concludes with washing and chanting

Address: See Map


Phone: Don’t bother
Class days: Monday to Friday
Email: Doesn’t have one and even if he did he wouldn’t bother responding

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for this really informative article. I've been trying to find out some more information on studying with Pichest. Great to know you just go down an practice so simply ?! Would you advise to do a basic training before hand for those new to Thai massage ? Much love - Jacki

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  2. Thank you Jacki. I would say it may help to get a basic training before you go to Pichest though that involves some extensive unlearning too. Overall however it helps to a 10-15 day course before going to him.

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  3. I have done a level 1 and 2 Thai. What I understand is i can go directly huh? Thanks for the informative information.

    Regards - Karuna

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    Replies
    1. Yes you can go even if you had done Level 1 and 2. In some cases that might better because you don't have to do the unlearning

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