In 1986 Andy Fagg offered the first professional massage training course in Bristol and now runs the Bristol College of Massage and Bodywork. Andy Fagg was a founding member of MTI, the organisation that sets the standards for massage training in the UK, and sat on the Board, from its start in 1988 until 2014. He is about to step down from running BCMB.
What is Bristol College of Massage and Bodywork?
In terms of our basic training we run a two-day Introductory Workshop program and a Holistic Massage Diploma twice a year. The word holistic is often interpreted as being a bit wet, wishy-washy, put on some whale music and burn some incense. I’ve often considered dropping it.
Holistic should mean relating to the needs of the whole person and bringing a whole range of possibilities into that dynamic. That’s a very different view to it just being some bit of fluff that you will have at a spa.
We also run three more diploma courses in year two, Remedial, Sports, and Indian Head massage plus shorter courses. There’s also advanced courses with top class visiting teachers who have real weight and authority.
What sparked your love of massage?
In 1980, I worked as a civil servant in Whitehall and I hated it. I started seeing therapist who gave me some massage, and I thought this is interesting. It led to me quit the civil service and go travelling with my wife Cathy. While trekking in the Himalayas I got frostbitten toes and had to be carried down the mountain, wait for a yak, then Robert Redford helped us find a horse, and finally I got medical help.
“Part of the deal being human is that you come into this life, get given a body and then you’ve got to work out what the hell to do with it. There is something about the wisdom of trusting what is going on at a physical level.”
I was lucky I didn’t lose any toes! Cathy started rubbing my feet to keep the circulation going and it was great. In Freak Street, where people bought dope, we bought The Massage Book, by George Downing – part of the Esalen Institute. Later in Goa we’d spend every day on the beach practising a different page from the book. It’s full of little line drawings of couples do nice things to each other!
How did massage become a career?
Back in England I trained with Sarah Thomas who co-authored The Book of Massage and her teacher was from Esalen, so there is a clear lineage back to that style. Later I started to run groups and introductory courses, and then involved in the MTI.
When the Massage Training Institute started, it was really anybody who fancied having a go could do some massage teaching. Now it sets the standard for massage training and exams in this country. I am ambivalent about regulation in relation to massage. It’s great to have policies, processes and procedures, provided they encourage innovation and creativity and doesn’t stifle it.
Why is bodywork important?
Massage became my career path because my body doesn’t lie to me. My mind can tell me all sorts of stories about issues but it’s just recycling them. Bodywork, I have found, both as a client and a practitioner helps me find out what is really going on.
Part of the deal being human is that you come into this life, get given a body and then you’ve got to work out what the hell to do with it. There is something about the wisdom of trusting what is going on at a physical level.
What are your greatest inspirations?
Arnold Mindell, who created Process Oriented Psychology, he showed me how to bring the lightest of touches to something very deep. Fritz Smith, who founded Zero Balancing, who I worked with in the 90s. ZB works with energy in the body through bone tissue and there is something very grounding about it.
What do you hope to pass on in the future?
I want to create a living legacy of people learning and practising massage. Then the tradition can keep developing.
The idea of colleagues of working together with a common purpose has been very important. I’ve put in place policies and structures, so that things can keep going without me. A shared vision is vital but it must contain room for different views.