My Taipei to do list. 1. Visit the village of cats. 2. Eat all the beef noodle soup. 3. Be tapped a few thousand times with a blunt meat cleaver. Yep, forget being massaged with hands, in Taiwan, there’s a more exciting blade-based experience on offer – knife massage.
Used in China for thousands of years, knife massage is still very popular in Taiwan – so much so that I didn’t just have one knife massage in Taipei I had two. They were both amazing but in very different scenarios and with very different results. So, here’s what you need to know about this traditional, but unusual massage, style.
Knife Massage in Taipei City Mall
Taipei’s City Mall snakes for about a kilometre underneath Taipei’s Main Station. Stand on the station concourse and you’d have no idea it was there, but head down one of the 20 odd entrances into the mall and you’ll find wall-to-wall fascinating shops and stalls – from Maid Cafes and Cosplay outfitters to people selling giant squid on sticks. You could probably pick up all manner of things you didn’t know you needed here – I, however, am trying to find the stall of the Chinese World Knife Therapy Association.
Close to exit noY16, I hit the jackpot. A sea of yellow blankets on beds gives away that it’s offering some kind of treatment and there, on one of them is an elderly lady being tapped by two quickly moving blades. They flash in the bright mall lights as they move.
The smiling man at the front looks a bit surprised when I head straight towards him rather than standing to stare in wonder at what the heck is going on.
He doesn’t speak any English, but the price list he hands me spells everything out.
It tells me the prices – 220NTD for a 10-minute starter massage going up to 1200NTD for a sixty-minute full body massage.
It also lists the benefits of being thwacked repeatedly with a cleaver – they include raising metabolism, fighting fat, helping sleep, moving around the blood and my favourite, ‘relieving the sore.’ Right now, I have a lot of sore! Even if I didn’t already know I wanted to give this I try
I book myself in for a 10-minute sample massage – it seems a bargain at £5.50 or AU $10.
Normally the sample massage is done upright in a chair and focuses on the upper back, shoulders, neck and head.
At this point in time, I’m panicking that one of my retinas is detaching (long story, don’t ask, it was fine) and so I’m nervous about him bashing my head. Via the magic of pointing and smiling that I employ on so many of my trips, we decide that he’ll deal with my lower back and legs.
The knives start moving – it’s a sensation rather like drumming. It’s incredibly soothing and despite the fact that I’m lying in the middle of a busy shopping mall on a Saturday lunchtime, the world around me seems to disappear.
My happy chill-out mode is disrupted slightly when he starts tapping my butt – I know from my physio that the muscles here are a problem. Briefly, the sensation, tips from relaxing to ‘a bit bloody
Despite that, the ten minutes flies by, and I don’t want to get up at the end of it all.
When I do though it’s like I’m in a different body. All the tension and niggling stiffness that I normally hold in my lower back
Over the next day or so, my back feels a bit tender in spots but otherwise, I feel incredible.
I’m now really glad I’ve booked a longer massage a few days later with Olivia at the Light Project in Ximending.
Not only am I looking forward to seeing how I feel after a longer session, but Olivia was brought up in LA so (obviously) she speaks perfect English and I’m intrigued to find out more about the practice and history of knife massage.
How Does Knife Massage Work?
When I first see the cleavers used in knife massage, all I can think is trips to the butchers; they’re effectively a blunted version of the knife you might use to chop up half a cow. Unfortunately, that’s a pretty inappropriate analogy as to become a knife massage practitioner takes not only training in the art of wielding the knives but also the commitment to a disciplined lifestyle – one element of which is eating a vegetarian diet.
The reason for this is that knife massage, like so many traditional Chinese therapies, works on the transference of energy with the practitioner being a conduit for positive energy entering the body and negative energy leaving it. The clearer their internal energy, therefore, the better – and eating meat muddies the waters.
When I first had the massage, I thought the idea was that it would be the tippy, tapping action of the knives on the body that causes the muscles to relax, but actually, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
Olivia explained that while the vibrations of the knife do activate nervous impulses and blood flow in ways that relax the muscles, the main results from knife massage come from the practitioner themselves acting as a conduit for negative energy pulling it out of the system allowing a rebalancing of what’s known in Chinese medicine as Chi, or your life force.
If you’re used to going in for a massage, having your muscles kneaded and maybe enjoying a bit of whale song as you go, it might sound like a bit of a leap into woo-woo land, but trust me, you won’t regret it.
Knife Massage in Ximending
I arrive at Oliva’s small white treatment rooms tucked into a small arcade in Taipei’s teen mecca Ximindeng in my normal state of over-excited frenzy.
With her cropped hair, crisp white linen shirt and a beautifully upright posture I envy even now, Olivia oozes calm – and, as I sit there babbling 19 to the dozen about my trip something weird happens.
Her chill out vibes
We chat about how knife massage works and what parts of my body might need specific attention and then, we’re up.
The treatment starts with a few simple exercises, holding and turning two large wooden sticks to align energies. Suitably aligned, I move to the massage bed in the treatment area and I lie fully clothed, face down on the table.
The tapping starts – Olivia moves the knives quickly and, now that I know what to expect, I can focus more on the sensation. It’s like a rhythmic drumming across my back.
Over the next hour my whole body, arms, legs, back, stomach and shoulders are pummelled. It’s incredibly relaxing and exactly what I needed after eight days of running round Taipei like a madwoman. ‘Your body is really tired,’ says Olivia. Considering I’ve been walking over 20 kilometres a day trying to see everything on my Taipei to-do list, and been seriously stressed out about my non-detaching retina, that’s not really surprising.
When I get up off the bed, I feel refreshed – and yes, balanced. Unlike my first knife massage, I didn’t feel the effects of this session in my physical body, it was more of a mental reshuffle.
I head back to my hotel feeling like a weight has been lifted.
Olivia told me I might get some symptoms over the next couple of days as my energies regulated themselves out further – the list she showed me included soreness, lethargy and the need to use the bathroom more often. She recommended I go back to my hotel, have a bath and stay off the booze.
Well, two out of three wasn’t bad!!!! I didn’t get any side effects though.
So Which Knife Massage is Right For You?
I thoroughly enjoyed both my experiences – but they were very different. So which might be right for you?
If you just want to try the massage for the novelty of the idea then head to City Mall for the sample session.
The other benefit of City Mall when you’re on a trip to Taipei and maybe don’t know how your schedule is going to pan out is that you can just head down there at any point that the mall is open and if
The Mall itself is huge so try and enter at entrance Y16 (it’s marked on google maps). The stall will be to your right as you enter, look for the yellow blankets and a fluffy elephant!
If you’d prefer to book an appointment so you know how things fit into your itinerary or you want to really learn about the practice and how it can help, then book with Olivia.
Price wise for an hour-long session, City Mall is a little bit cheaper, at 1200 NTD compared to 1500 with Olivia – but, you get a private room with her rather than having other people walk past.
If you feel happier having someone who you can talk to and, who will understand if you have any particular health concerns you need tackling, then you’ll also be better to see Olivia.
At the time I wrote this, Olivia’s practice was called Light Project Ximending – but, they have now moved locations (don’t worry it’s still in Ximendeng) to a shiny new space and had a rebrand. So you’ll find them at Light Program Red House No.13, Lane 10, Chengdu Road, Taipei, Taiwan.
Make bookings via their Facebook page. They also offer I Ching readings which aren’t that easy to find in English.
There are other knife massage practitioners in Taipei and other areas of Taiwan, the website iBuddahlove.com gives the addresses of recommended practitioners.
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