People often ask me why I do all this. Honestly it’s just passion. Everything I do, except treatments and classes, is for free. It occupies my days and sometimes even my nights, but that doesn’t matter because I enjoy doing it. It is useful for the cause of Shiatsu and for the people who receive it – our community needs to grow, to organise itself at all levels, to understand its strengths and there is no time to lose.
We see that the world is going from bad to worse. We don’t know exactly what the future will bring, but it will clearly be a difficult one. Shiatsu can’t achieve everything in terms of health, but it can certainly do a lot to benefit people, banish pain and provide incredible personal autonomy to those who know how to use it. No tools – just our hands. It’s incredible! Of course, there are plenty of other manual techniques, but if one day we find that we have to look after ourselves, Shiatsu will definitely come in handy. Setting up schools in many locations means giving more and more people the chance to help themselves. If we also ally this with permaculture, the study of plants and herbs, then we have a solid body of knowledge that can help humanity in every conceivable situation.
In the Spotlight
Ivan Bel was born in 1971 and grew up in France on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, becoming a keen sailor. He discovered Japanese martial arts at the age of 13 and has continued his practise to this day. Having studied journalism and Chinese at the Paris School of Oriental Languages, he spent many years travelling around Asia, and went on to edit the first online magazine on Aikido: “Aikidoka Magazine”. At the age of 28, he discovered Shiatsu, a passion that has since never left him. He has founded several schools, the Ryoho Shiatsu blog and the Mission Shiatsu Humanitaire NGO. He lived for three years in Malawi before relocating recently to Bosnia. He teaches throughout the world and continues his journalistic work with Shiatsu, as well as conducting historical research through the “History of Shiatsu” fb group.
“I was introduced to Shiatsu through an intensive Aikido course. It was love at first sight and that passion is still very much with me today. I quickly realised that Shiatsu was poorly organised, not very well known and that everything was still to be done – I felt as though I had a blank page in front of me. I spoke about this several times in my interviews, sharing a variety of proposals, but nobody took these subjects in hand, so I decided to launch them on my own without waiting for things to happen.
I love Shiatsu in all its forms, both Japanese and Western. There’s so much richness in the different approaches that I find I am constantly learning. My background leads me more in the direction of martial Shiatsu, i.e. Shiatsu based on the principles of the martial arts to work effectively, and as I continued my studies in four different Shiatsu schools, I gradually realised that all that is taught is the practice and the theory, but that the underlying principles are generally unknown. Nor are its history and roots and neither do the different schools know each other, just as the medical world knows little to nothing about Shiatsu.
I wrote a book about the principles, entitled “L’Esprit du Shiatsu”, which is becoming a popular textbook for students and practitioners alike. The English and Italian versions are due to come out at the end of 2024. I have set up a historical research group, which is making slow progress, but which has enabled us to gain a better understanding of how Shiatsu developed, its technical basis, the great founders and their philosophy. The Ryōhō Shiatsu blog publishes interviews, in-depth articles by numerous authors and technical articles in six languages, so that everyone can learn about Shiatsu, expand their knowledge and discover the great teachers. Recently a podcast was launched in French to give practitioners a chance to talk about how they work with Shiatsu.
Here on shiatsuresources.net, I created the first online catalogue of all the Shiatsu books in existence in over 10 languages, so that practitioners and students can find books to read, both old and new. Of course, there is still so much to do. The great thing is that although I started all these projects on my own, dozens of volunteers are now helping me. A grass roots movement is currently changing the dynamics of Shiatsu.”
“My personal life has taken me to several different countries, and as a result, I have had to adapt my work as a Shiatsu professional. Because I love teaching, I have set up schools along the way, so this particular story is less a “project” than the consequence of my life choices, combined with the pleasure of passing on knowledge.
I did a basic training course in Namikoshi Shiatsu in Paris and immediately afterwards moved to Brussels, where, I trained a second time in Yoseido Shiatsu, while working in my private practice. In less than 6 months I was so full that I decided to share clients with my fellow students. One of my regular clients asked me to teach her Shiatsu but initially I refused. When she asked me for the sixth time, I agreed to give her a private lesson. Finally, in 2010, I was offered the chance to co-create a school in Brussels and in the first year we had a small class of around 12 students. After that, the school grew steadily to 4 levels with 4 teachers. After a period of sick leave, I could not seem to find my way back and Shiatsu was beginning to decline in the school, so in 2016 I set up my own and it immediately filled up.”
“Two years later, in 2018, after 14 years in Belgium, my wife and I decided to change horizons and went to Malawi, a small country wedged in between Mozambique and Zambia in south-east Africa. There I tried to set up a Shiatsu school and we even bought the materials, but the local person, with whom I was working, disappeared. At the same time, the school in Belgium collapsed. These were tough experiences, but very formative. From then on, I decided to take personal charge of everything I created.
In 2016, I was lucky enough to go to Senegal with my Belgian students. At the same time, we set up an NGO called “Mission Shiatsu Humanitaire” with the aim of developing Shiatsu throughout the world, but especially on the southern continents. The Japanese brought Shiatsu to the West, so it’s up to us to spread it to Africa, South and Central America, South-East Asia and even the Pacific, if we can. While I was in Malawi, I opened a free course in a refugee camp with the help of 2 students. There are, of course, a thousand difficulties in giving a course, or even going there, but little by little we’re getting the hang of it – the course is still running today and the students are slowly making progress.
In 2022, we moved to Bosnia, a country where Shiatsu is not yet established. There are some Shiatsu schools and practitioners in Croatia, Slovenia and Serbia, but not in Bosnia. I set up a school in 15 days. I guess experience must have something to do with it, because I knew exactly what had to be done (paperwork, premises, partners, communication, training content, etc.) The students turned out in force, among them many with medical and paramedical work experience.
At the same time, I am training assistants across Europe, encouraging them to move up to a higher level and open schools. Whether they choose to follow me or not is unimportant. What’s important is to spread Shiatsu in all its breadth, to every town and city. I find it quite surprising that Eastern Europe is still underdeveloped in this respect.
I have set up quite a few schools, with successes and failures, but all of this only strengthens my determination to do everything I can to make Shiatsu known. I never really set out to create all these schools, but I can’t just sit back and do nothing. Shiatsu has given me so much personally that the least I can do is make it available to others.”
“Setting up schools in many locations means giving more and more people the chance to help themselves”Ivan Bel