Taiwan’s 2,000 year-old knife massage
Quick chopping motions are expected in many types of massage. But in daoliao, or knife massage, the chopping is done with real blades.
Lying face down on the massage table, I waited fearfully for the chopping to start. My knife massage therapist, Elsa, was cheerfully wielding two meat cleavers. That’s because, while chopping motions are expected in lots of body massage, in this one, knives do the chopping.
Elsa began by using her hands to press my body and loosen the extra tension I was surely now carrying. Then the cold, steel knives started their gentle pummelling, over my back, arms and my head. I wouldn’t have known they were knives at work if it wasn’t for the occasional clinking sound, like cutlery against a plate, as they touched. After Elsa told me to relax for the third time, I gave in and closed my eyes as the knives worked on getting my qi, or life force, flowing.
When the chopping ended, I must have been asleep. Surprisingly, many people do doze off when pounded by these – admittedly blunt – knives for 70 minutes.
While it looks dangerous, daoliao, which translates as“knife massage” or “knife therapy”, is believed to have physical and emotional healing powers and is a form of Chinese medicine that is thought to be more than 2,000 years old. Practitioners say it was first carried out by monks in ancient China. It spread to Japan in the Tang Dynasty more than 1,000 years ago and to Taiwan following the Chinese Civil War in the 1940s.
While knife massage is hard to find today in China and Japan, it has undergone a resurgence in Taiwan in recent years as people have sought it out to deal with the stresses of modern life.
The Ancient Art of Knife Massage Dao Liao I-Jing Education Center in Taipei has trained practitioners for almost four decades. They have 36 branches in Taiwan, 15 of which have opened in the past five years. They have also taught people from around the world, from Japan to Hong Kong, France to Canada.
Today, people seek out the therapists’ knives to help relieve physical ailments, improve sleep quality and deal with the pain of being dumped.
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