U.S. massage therapist Chaz Armstrong won the gold medal in chair massage and a silver medal in overall best massage at the World Championship in Massage 2021 competition in Copenhagen, Denmark.
The competition, hosted by the International Massage Association, began in 2017 and ranks massage in categories including: Swedish, Chair, Sports and Thai massage, Freestyle Eastern and Freestyle Western, Facial massage and Wellness (a category comprising hot stone, aromatherapy, lymph drainage and more). This year it attracted over 200 participants from more than 42 countries.
MASSAGE Magazine spoke with Armstrong, who runs Armstrong Therapeutics LLC in Olathe, Kansas, what motivated him to compete on a world stage—and how this experience has changed him.
MASSAGE Magazine: How did you get started in massage therapy?
Chaz Armstrong: I came home one day from high school and my mom was working on the internet. She said, “You’re not going outside until we figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life.” I spent hours on the internet and right then and there I had to pick my career. I was about to graduate in a few months. We narrowed it down to being a meteorologist or a massage therapist.
I thought massage therapy would be more consistent, so I decided to go to massage school. Massage school started two days after I graduated high school. I had to move out of my house in Omaha to start massage school in Kansas, closer to where my friends were. I was 17 and got a really early start.
MM: What was your massage school experience like being so young?
CA: I was a 17-year-old kid in a room full of grown women learning how to massage. I somehow had to make them very comfortable around me. I learned very quickly to adapt to what my future clientele would be. I was the only male in the class, but they welcomed me.
MM: What did you like most about massage school?
CA: More than half the time it was hands on. I would go to school and most of the time I would get a massage, so that made school a lot easier. I am more of a physical learner, and I realized this was the kind of degree where my hands would do the learning, not my mind per se. As a hands-on learner, this was right up my alley. I caught on very quickly.
MM: How long have you been in the field?
CA: I have been in the field a little over 20 years professionally. My first massage [given] was Aug. 20, 1999. I remember the date because it was my birthday, and it was the last time I worked on my birthday. Every year following that I have taken my birthday off.
MM: What kind of massage do you specialize in?
CA: When I’m working, in the back of my mind I hear Ida Rolf, “Put it in place and make it move.” So, I adapted that to my work and have added breathing. I ask my clients to breathe. I also do myofascial unravelling and joint mobility work. I use a lot of myoskeletal work. I use a big gumbo of different techniques. If you have ever seen my YouTube videos, you can see I massage to a different beat.
MM: I noticed in your videos that you have a rhythm to your body when you are massaging. What happens to you when you enter that space?
CA: The space I am in is centered, or grounded. If I am not centered, I cannot feel what is out of place in the client’s body. So, I allow no tension in my body and I use vibration. When I send vibrations out into their body, I can sense where it is tense according to how much bounce back it gives me.
I started doing this technique and didn’t know why but it seemed to work. Then I recorded myself and when I watched it I could see why. I allow my body to do stuff and I ask why later.
MM: Do you feel that you are being guided in a massage?
CA: I do feel it. [When I’m working] I’m trying to feel their muscles, their myofascial, the blood flow. I am trying to feel their breath, I’m trying to feel their muscles when they breathe. And over 20 years massaging six days a week, my hands have become very sensitive. Over time I can feel so much more than what the body is telling me. I just sit there and pay attention to it when they breathe.
MM: How did you get involved in the World Championship in Massage competition?
CA: I did some chair massages at some events and people would not come to me until they saw me work. Once they saw me working on someone, a line would start. I would have a drought for over an hour then I get my first client and then the line starts. I realized it was what they were seeing. I wondered if anyone else was doing this type of style. I went on YouTube and just saw basic 1, 2, 3 strokes. I was looking for a competition and I found it. I knew I had to go. I raised some money and got a flight to Copenhagen.
MM: What was your first competition?
CA: In 2018 my very first competition, I got a silver in chair massage. I was one person away from gold in my very first competition. [There were about 150 people and 36 countries represented, including 12 competitors from the U.S.]
MM: Tell us what this experience was like.
CA: It is one of the best massage conferences I have been to. You are gathered around like-minded therapists from around the world who believe they are the best at what they do. And you can just be there and be a sponge. It was great.
In 2019, I was still hungry for gold. I went back and didn’t win anything. I wanted to quit. I felt the joys of winning and I felt loss, so why go back. In 2020, there was the pandemic. I went back in 2021.
MM: Tell us about your experience at the World Championship in Massage 2021.
CA: It was my third time around. Nervousness was for the rookies. I was more of a veteran mentor this year, coaching new therapists. When I was up and the clock started, I did my thing.
They said it was the best there and that got me my gold medal in chair massage and a silver in overall category.
When I felt nervous, I put on my headphones and danced it out. I wanted to make sure when I touched my client that they didn’t feel it in my hands. And they didn’t.
MM: What made this competition different from 2019 for you?
CA: I was using my same flow, but I was more accurate and on point. Like a dancer landing every step.
MM: How did you develop your style?
CA: It is thorough and therapeutic. As someone who learns from receiving, I had a long list of what I didn’t want in my sessions. Number one is soft pressure. I don’t want to be petted. I learned that you don’t ask, “Is the pressure OK? you ask, “Should I use more or less pressure?” Give them an option. There is a lot of attention to detail that over time develops into a personal style of therapeutic massage.
MM: How do you feel about this accomplishment?
CA: When they gave me my gold medal for my category, I was ecstatic. This was the color I was aiming for! I would have been happy with any medal, but to get the actual gold was ecstatic.
The gold qualified me into the finals with seven other therapists who were there live and seven other therapists who were online. Out of 14 people in the world who qualified for all different styles of massages, I got the silver in the overall category. I am ranked the best chair massage therapist in the world and the second-best overall massage therapist in the world!
MM: Will you be returning to the competition in 2022?
CA: I announced my retirement from the competition before I won the medal. I still feel that. I think the only thing that will get me out of retirement is probably when another therapist catches up with my three medals.
MM: How has this impacted your current schedule and massage practice?
CA: My schedule has always been packed. My clients [hearing about it] said they knew it. They weren’t surprised, they were very excited for me.
MM: How has this competition changed you?
CA: Winning the competition gold medal on Father’s Day helped me repair my relationship with my dad. I saw the date of the competition and wanted to make amends with him before. We spoke and cleared up everything, and I went into the competition with a clear soul. When I told him about it, he said “I told you so.” I feel complete.
About the Author:
Aiyana Fraley, LMT, is a freelance writer and health care professional with more than 18 years of experience in the massage field. She teaches yoga and offers sessions in massage, Reiki, sound healing and essential oils. Her articles for MASSAGE Magazine include “Will Touch in Long-Term Care Facilities be Changed Forever by COVID-19?” and “The NOPAIN Act Could Open the Door to Massage Therapy as an Alternative to Opioids.”