I reckon that anyone going a bit deeper with Thai Massage, taking more Thai Massage courses, and reading about Thai Massage, will one day or the other inevitably bump onto the phenomenon of Ajarn Pichest Boonthumme.
Ajarn Pichest is perhaps the best known living Thai Massage Guru from Thailand. His influence is vast, his radiation intense, and many contemporary Western Thai Massage teachers are or have been influenced by his style, methods, and techniques.
The late Asokanada (Harald Brust), the founder of the Sunshine network and the author of the book the Art of Traditional Thai Massage, is one of the earliest Western teachers who put Pichest prominently in the picture. Asokananda has been one of the most important contributors to spreading Thai Massage (or Thai Yoga Massage as he called it) in Western countries, notably in Europe.
Apart from Asokananda, there are and have been many other teachers who wrote about or thanked Pichest for his teachings, and that of course further spread his name and fame. But then, who is Pichest?
Well, that’s a difficult question to answer. So many people, so many stories. What stands out, is that Pichest is an important contemporary Thai Massage instructor and therapist, known around the world, and his work finds its way to the many practitioners and teachers studying and learning from him directly, or indirectly through other teachers.
Pichest Boonthumme was born in 1958, in Hang Dong (near Chiang Mai city), Thailand. His father was a Traditional Thai Medicine doctor and taught him the first basics of Thai Massage and Thai Medicine. Later, in his twenties, he got a practitioners job at the Old Medicine Hospital in Chiang Mai (Thai Massage School Shivagakomarpaj).
In the early eighties of the former century, he gradually became one of the most important practitioners and teachers at the Hospital. It’s there where Asokananda met him. In the nineties, Pichest stopped working in Chiang Mai and moved his therapy and (teaching) practice to Hang Dong, back home. From then on, his fame gradually started to grow.
The legends surround him while still being alive, and at times it’s hard to know exactly what’s true and what’s not. One of Pichest’s nicknames became the “Chain Smoking Master of Thai Massage.” Apparently, he would smoke a lot, even when doing a massage session, although I must say I didn’t see him smoking when I met him early 2012.
There are other things about Pichest I can confirm myself though. I saw him taking a nap while in fact giving class. He just suddenly got up from out Lotus position, walked to the side end of the room, laid down and went for about an hour of sleep.
I can also confirm that his English is just horrible. It’s very hard to follow his discourse. And the only thing I can remember him telling me over and over again was “Too much thinking. People too much thinking.” By the way, he’s famous for his quotes. In a previous article about Pichest I’ve put some together.
Pichest is also known for his tough style of massage. Say, hard style… the “no pain, no gain style”… or as said in Thailand “Good pain!” He’s famous for his extraordinary techniques, continuously inventing and adding new ones to his repertoire. Pichest likewise stresses the “no effort” way of doing Thai Massage, that is—alignment, body-weight use, efficiency.
I once heard a story of one of my Thai Massage instructors telling me that Pichest got quite ill during his work at the Old Medicine Hospital due to misuse of his body, that is—strenuous working positions, not using body-weight while giving pressure, too much working with the hands and from out the shoulders, and so on. My teacher claimed that Pichest in fact developed his style after that. That he realized the need to do things differently if he wanted to continue practitioning Thai Massage. Sounds plausible… but I can’t confirm if it’s true really.
There are many people who adore Pichest, but also many who DON’T like him at all. He is quite confronting, hard, tough in his judgements and remarks. I remember another teacher of mine who detested him for the following reason: she went to Pichest for the first time in her life and when she got in his classroom he remarked: “You too fat!” She told me she felt terribly embarrassed in front of the other students, started to cry, and left, to never go back.
Another story that comes up regularly is that of a student who comes to learn from him and gets told that he’s not being allowed to practice, but first needs to watch the classes for a week (but still needs to pay for the course). Yep, Pichest is very confrontational. In his daily Buddhist sermons, he often criticizes contemporary developments in society in Thailand and around the globe. One of the examples he has used a lot is the 7-11 parallel, on which I’ve written another article also.
I don’t know if I like Pichest or not. I met him only once, one day, and accordingly it’s hard for me to judge the man. I only know that he heavily influenced my practice through other teachers. Frankly, I don’t think it really matters what I think of him. I suppose as for Pichest, it’s not about “to like, or not to like,” or “want or not to want,” because that surely would be “too much thinking” really.
If you’d like to know more about Pichest Boonthumme’s work and practice, I would advice you to look up some videos about him on YouTube. There’s a lot of material to be found. Nothing better than to see the man in action!
Thai Style Quotes from Pichest Boonthumme
Ajarn, Acharn or Ajahn (Thai for master or teacher ) Pichest Boonthumme, the so-called "Chain Smoking Master," is perhaps the greatest living Thai Massage teacher. A living legend. I don'... [Read More]
The 7-11 and Pichest Boonthumme
The 7-11 as a metaphor of everything which goes wrong in the world---an image used regularly by Pichest Boonthumme, the already legendary "chain smoking Thai Massage master" from Hang Dong (Chian... [Read More]