You Haven't Lived Until You've Lived Through a Meat Cleaver Massage
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because those aches and pains are not going to cure themselves.
By Eugene S. Robinson
“Oh, you’re sore? Get down there!”
We’re in Washoe County, near Reno, and even nearer a reservation. Specifically, we’re in the garage of James Painter, a Native American martial artist of the baddest-assed variety. A stout looking, bespectacled man over 40, Painter has perfected a fight style that might leave you broken — but on a good day? Much less broken than whoever you’re fighting.
But that’s not who’s talking to us.
That would be Santiago “Saints” Terrases, a 6-foot-3, 300-pound-plus Native American mountain of a man. And while it’s touching that he cares about our aches and pains, it doesn’t soothe nearly enough when he points to the red mat posted up on the floor in his cousin Painter’s garage. But he’s a bodywork guy, with a degree in kinesiology, who works for a physical therapist when he’s not doing his own thing, so I decide: Could help, won’t hurt … at least worse than the present pain pulsing in my lower back.
“But I got something new,” Terrases says as he digs around in his bag and returns with a meat cleaver. Yes, that kind of meat cleaver. Designed to rend raw meat from the bone in hacking bursts by butchers everywhere. The hope? That it’s a prop.
Tempted to think he used the dull side? Then be tempted to think again: He uses the sharp side.
The reality? It’s very much not.
“I want you to lay on your stomach, hands down at your sides, and hold … very still.”
Then it all begins. A combination of a 300-pound-plus man walking over the entire length of your body striking at various muscle bundles with a meat cleaver. Tempted to think he used the dull side? Then be tempted to think again: He uses the sharp side. To chop both my arms, that are uncovered by clothing, and my torso, that is. Not soft either. But also not hard enough to draw blood. Or draw much blood. All –– and this is the big brand differentiator –– while standing on me.
Forty minutes later I stand up, and while it could be a case of hitting your hand with a hammer because it feels better when you stop, I feel no pain. I twist. No pain. I bend. No pain. It would be cheeseball to describe it as magic, but it sure as shit was magical.
“Well, ultimately, our body wants to breathe,” says the 41-year-old Terrases. “So I want to improve the flow of blood, spread those blood vessels, open up the muscles and push the pain out.” A statement that could easily have been attributed to at least a half-dozen serial killers.
But Terrases, born and raised in Woodland, California, and a member of the Shoshone tribe (he’s also cut his teeth as a competitive MMA fighter), gets damned-near mystical when he describes how his treatment works. Because it’s not just the cleaver that makes the difference –– cleavers have been used before in Chinese medicine –– but him standing on you while he does it. And this is all about where and how hard he places his feet while he chops. Something that the physical therapist he works with professes to having “no idea” why and how it works.
“Keeping the body from holding on to pain is what I’m doing,” Terrases laughs. “And I have not yet met a case of sciatica I haven’t been able to fix.” A bold statement. But when Terrases clicks off how he ended up with the meat cleaver after having experimented with sticks, whips and shovels, you want to ask someone if it’s possible that medical science has really missed something valuable.
“There are more things under heaven on Earth than in our books of science,” says surgeon Dr. Steve Ballinger quoting Hamlet. “But I’ve had four massages with razor-sharp instruments and it seems like it works 50 percent of the time. Usually if the cleaver is cold, it’s like an ice massage. Or maybe it scares you into a neuro reset.”
So for this outgrowth of Shoshoni mysticism, where Terrases practices and pulls from the Russian martial art of Systema with a grounding in Western medicine, you can pay $3 a minute (soon to be $4 a minute) for as many minutes as you think you can handle until the pain goes away — and it might just help you. But you have to ask him very nicely.
“I get mostly martial artists,” Terrases concludes, “but everyone is taking martial arts these days so I’m treating everyone.” And if you’re afraid of big, sharp, chopping devices? He’s glad to downgrade you to the shovel massage. For no extra fee.