Tok Sen: Massage by Mallet

Me receiving Tok Sen on the shoulder

Me receiving Tok Sen on the shoulder

I’m sure you’ll agree that nothing says relaxation like a massage delivered via a mallet and chisel. Actually, you probably wouldn’t agree with that at all, but I intend to convince you otherwise.


In the beginning of May, I attended a two-day workshop on Tok Sen, which is an age-old Thai system of bodywork that is delivered with a khone (a wooden mallet) and limb (a wooden wedge.) The name “tok sen” can be divided into the onomatopoeia tapping sound “tok” and the word for energy lines “sen.” In the past this method largely found favor with Thai farmers and others who had sinewy bodies. However, today it’s often combined with Thai Yoga Bodywork (TYB) to deliver treatment to people without steel band like muscles.


This art is not particularly well-known. I can guess why. As in the practice of a martial art, when one inserts a tool (weapon) between giver (attacker) and receiver, the comfort level on both sides initially drops a bit. In the martial arts, the armed practitioner becomes concerned about the increased ease with which he might inadvertently injure his training partner.  This isn’t only because weapons are designed to compound damage, but because the feedback through the tool is less. Of course, the receiver has good reason to be more concerned as well. This is one reason why many martial arts don’t introduce students to weaponry until they’ve developed considerable skill in unarmed practice. I’m sure it’s why a much longer course in Thai Yoga Bodywork is generally a prerequisite for learning Tok Sen.


Khone and Limb

Khone and Limb

So the natural question is, why add an element of risk—even if it’s a minimal or imagined risk? Tok Sen adds versatility to one’s practice. One can save one’s thumbs in a way that doesn’t sacrifice precision. The usual way to avoid “thumb fatigue” is to use hands-free methods that use elbows, knees, heels, etc. Those other implements can be ideal. However, none of them hit as narrow a target as does one’s thumbs. With Tok Sen, one can opt for the chisel edge or the round end depending upon the target area, and when one is using the chisel edge one can orient it for best effect.


Also, believe it or not, the “tok” sound of the tamarind or teak wood has a bit of a relaxing timber when done with a practiced rhythm.


For massage recipients, not only is Tok Sen pleasant, but it makes a great story that will impress one’s friends. I mean, let’s face it, a cool story is a part of the reason why some people get moxibustion and acupuncture. And cool stories are all of the reason anybody gets “fish massages” and “snake massages”—neither of which offer therapeutic value beyond exfoliation and goosing the sympathetic nervous system (i.e. inducing temporary terror), respectively. So, cowboy up and give it a try. You can take a selfie and tell everybody how you toughed it out.


For masseuses and masseurs, it’s easier to control the pressure on the limb than one would think, and as long as one has the experience to know where and how the muscle lays it’s unlikely one will injure the recipient.


Here is a video that will show better what it’s like.

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