Susan Findlay and Jill Kristin Berkana  – Photo Courtesy Ryan Hoyme


I have just had the great honor to perform the duties of a Judge at the 3rd annual World Massage Championship in Copenhagen, Denmark. I am eager to share my impressions. To begin, I feel it necessary to share who I am, so that you the reader can understand the perspective I am coming from and why my opinion might matter to the conversation. Here is my bio.

How can one assess the effectiveness of a massage by observing?

First we must consider who the viewer is. To have the ability to place value on a massage based on viewing, the observer must be a seasoned and comprehensive expert in the field. Otherwise, the viewer cannot properly assess, and should not assume to do so.

As an entry level educator, I have spent thousands of hours carefully watching my student therapists develop the skills required to become highly effective massage therapists. With that, I am qualified to assess the constitution of a massage visually.  My fellow judges in the Freestyle Western Massage Competition were equally as qualified.

If this still has you scratching your head, consider how instructors teach massage therapy and bodywork with demonstration. To question the educational and assessment value of observing massage therapy and bodywork being performed is to challenge how almost every instructor since the beginning of time has taught this work.

At a school, the faculty teaches the bodywork through demonstration. When the students then practice what they have seen, the instructors are carefully looking for and encouraging the following basics:

• Use of proper body mechanics
• Fluidity, continuity and therapeutic pace
• Self-Care practices
• Awareness of environment
• Equipment usage
• Noise control
• Immediate response and adjustment to client feedback
• Ongoing devotion to presence and connection
• Honoring the spaces between the therapist and client in all ways (comfort zone)
• Appropriate execution of technique
• Awareness and avoidance of endangerment sites and contraindications
• Maintenance of Hygienic Standards and Universal Precautions
• Artistic Expression within the boundaries of our Scope of Practice

As an entry level massage therapy educator, this is what my faculty and I are doing with our students to ensure they are developing into highly professional and legitimate therapists who are able to enter the field of Massage Therapy and Bodywork with our proud endorsement.

A qualified judge at the World Massage Championship is doing the same.  What every single contestant at the World Championship of Massage should embody and exemplify as second nature are the BASIC STANDARDS AND RULES OF ENGAGEMENT. This is especially important if they have branched out into Advanced Technique.

What about actually feeling the work?

Feeling the massage is by far the best way to assess the therapist’s skill and ability to provide effective treatment. At my institute and most massage therapy schools, student clients provide real feedback for the student therapists. Additionally, every client that receives in our clinic provides a written report for our student therapists to provide feedback which the student therapist can use to grow.

This is very similar to what happens at the World Massage Championship. After the Therapist has performed the massage, the client, who is another competitor /assumed professional expert and a massage therapist discretely provides the team of judges an overall grade to be factored into the entire point calculation.

How do the judges determine winners?

This is a point system. The Founder of the World Massage Championship and the IMA Advisory Board have determined a criterion for the judges to use as we are assessing the participants. I can only speak to the criteria for the Freestyle Western Room where I was working. The participants were judged on Technique, Client Connection, Ergonomics (Body- Mechanics), Innovation and the Clients Overall Impression. At least 4 judges and 1 recipient were involved in the determination of the participants overall assessment.

I hope this short article helps everyone understand the value of assessing by observation, and will clarify the assessment system in place for this event.