Coming to America

The American Massage Championship

By Lisa Bakewell

In July 2020, competitive massage will cross the Atlantic Ocean and come to America. The debut of the American Massage Championship (AMC) will take place at the 2020 World Massage Festival (WMF), which will be held in Michigan City, Indiana. This championship competition is sanctioned by the International Massage Association (IMA), the originating association of the World Championship in Massage.

From Football to Massage

Long before AMC founder Jeppe Tengbjerg became interested in massage therapy, he had plenty of drive and a competitive spirit. As a former professional football player (soccer for those of us in the United States), Tengbjerg played for Denmark and Holland. He then went on to coach and was still coaching and playing while he attended massage therapy training in the late ’90s.

Since 2001, Tengbjerg has owned his own massage school, the Tengbjerg School of Massage, and is trained to the highest level of massage in Denmark. In 2016, he decided he wanted more, so he created the IMA to encourage higher education by developing and promoting the various massage techniques practiced by experienced massage therapists worldwide. “I wanted to create a Masterclass for the best educated in Denmark,” he says, “and I wanted to create a Danish Championship—and maybe a World Championship.”

Never one to plateau for long, Tengbjerg’s vision for a World Championship was realized. “In 2016, I asked Carl Newbury (the founder of Massage World Magazine) and Ryan Hoyme ( if they would help support my project,” he says. “I didn’t know them at the time, but they both replied the same day that they thought it was a great idea and they would help. The rest is history.”

World Championship in Massage

Since 2017, the World Championship in Massage has been an annual event in Denmark. The championship is primarily a competition, but at the same time, it’s also an opportunity for MTs to find professional inspiration and networking possibilities. By participating in the World Championship, bodyworkers have the opportunity to strengthen and improve their skills. According to Tengbjerg, “Everyone needs inspiration. Tournaments attract many different massage therapists with many different massage methods, including methods they have invented or developed.”

In 2017, approximately 80 participants from 30 countries participated in the World Championship. In 2018, participation increased to approximately 127 participants from 37 countries. In 2019? An impressive 200 participants from 42 countries participated in the event. “Even more if you count the judges,” Tengbjerg says. Registrations for the 2019 event had to be cut off due to space limitations.

Since the World Championship is a colossal event and takes an enormous amount of planning, it has only been held in Tengbjerg’s home country of Denmark to date. Once Tengbjerg finds the right people to organize the event in other countries, though, he envisions the competition being held in a new country each year. His dream is to unite the countries. “I hope national massage associations use this opportunity to meet to discuss massage education, rules, and laws, and, in this way, help each other.”

The most amazing aspect of the World Championship to Tengbjerg has been social development. “We now see that participants travel around and teach each other, and have fun together,” he shares. “The same will happen in the United States.”

Building a World Community

Tengbjerg’s competitive nature keeps him moving forward to new challenges. His current goal is to grow the IMA world community one country at a time by broadening the scope of the World Championship in Massage. To do this, he has been promoting IMA-sanctioned National Championships (such as the upcoming American Massage Championship and the Canadian Massage Championship in October 2020) and maintains championship consistency by personally training the judges himself.

Because of the success of the IMA World Championship in Massage, other countries often contact Tengbjerg for IMA approval for their events. “Many of these organizers want to be part of the IMA family,” he says. “We try to work with everyone to create the same guidelines and rules. I want to give all massage therapists the opportunity to not only participate in the World Championships in Denmark, but also to participate in open national championships, in order for them to improve their massage skills and experience other cultures.”

The expansion of the IMA-sanctioned National Championships is exploding, according to Tengbjerg. “This year alone,” he says, “I have been to [several] countries, teaching selected judges, [including] Lithuania, Italy (European Championships), Moldova (EURASIA Championship), Ukraine, Russia, England, France, Greece, and Romania.” Next year, Tengbjerg plans to visit Norway, the United States, Canada, Switzerland, and Thailand. “We are very close to closing agreements in the Netherlands, Sweden, and Belgium, as well,” he says.

To date, there have been minor competitions around the world, but none as big as the IMA World Championship in Massage event, according to Tengbjerg, although the open national championships are growing. “For example, Carl Newbury organized the English National Championship in London in 2018 and 2019. The first year, there were approximately 75 participants. In the second year, there were approximately 100.” Using these numbers and comparing them with the growth of the World Championship in Massage, Tengbjerg expects the national championships to continue to expand.

“Together with my IMA ambassadors, I have created a place and a platform where people can meet. I hope the big countries/federations use this opportunity to help the smaller and poorer countries create better education.” Tengbjerg wants to build bridges, for example, in “the spa industry—for all employers and schools, but also for all the distributors of equipment for the clinics and other key players in our industry to communicate better and create better opportunities for everyone.”

The American Massage Championship

Although Mike Hinkle and Cindy Michaels (the husband and wife duo who created the very popular World Massage Festival and Massage Therapy Hall of Fame) have not attended the World Championship Massage Competitions in Denmark, they are looking forward to hosting the inaugural American Massage Championship—and they are excited to have Tengbjerg join them in Michigan City, Indiana, in July 2020.

When asked where the idea for holding an American Massage Championship at the festival came from, Hinkle says, “It was at the urging of Leslie Young, Senior Director of Administration and Outreach for Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals.” With Young’s prompting—and 15 years of festival success under his belt—Hinkle contacted Tengbjerg to inquire about creating an IMA-sanctioned competition based in America.

After speaking with Hinkle, Tengbjerg reached out to his American advisers. They assured him that the WMF and Hinkle were the right fit for creating the IMA-approved AMC.

“I know Mike Hinkle and his staff are working hard to create an amazing championship,” Tengbjerg says. “As the United States has high standards of education, I expect to see many good, high-quality massages. I look forward to seeing what categories are filled and what the American massage therapists can offer of inspiration to the rest of the world—but also to see what the rest of the world can offer the USA.”

Tengbjerg will attend the WMF and the AMC, and will be the point person for training the judges on the rules and how to judge the event. He is looking forward to witnessing the skills of American MTs. “The ones who have participated at the World Championship in Massage have been very good,” he says. “Also, I have heard a lot about the good vibes and atmosphere at the World Massage Festival.”

Hinkle and Michaels believe the American competition is important because the American Massage Championship will allow attendees to participate in a competition without having to travel great distances. “We are looking for the first 200 registrants to showcase their talents at the AMC,” Hinkle says. “Hopefully [the championship] will be more of a learning experience than a competition, and competitors will learn from modalities being showcased from around the world.”

What to Expect

At the American Massage Championship, the focus will be on examination, techniques, ergonomics, and overall performance in six categories and will be evaluated by specialists and highly experienced judges in each category. Participants will be informed that the competition judges are capable of evaluating the individual treatment, and that each treatment may be placed in more than one category.

The competition area is divided into six massage areas, and bodyworkers must provide their own equipment (tables, mats, chairs, etc.). Participants will be divided into groups of three. The location of table or mattress for each participant will be chosen at random. The duration of each round is 65 minutes (including examination), where participants have approximately five minutes to examine the receiver before the massage is given.

In the first round, the receiver will be asked to rate their treatment from 1 to 15. The judges, who will be members of the Massage Therapy Hall of Fame in this round, may issue 1–3 wildcards for the finale (final competition). Judges will make all decisions collectively to ensure fairness in the competition. They will evaluate the participants in the following areas:

• Client contact

• Ergonomics

• Flow

• Innovation and development of new methods

• Recipient feedback

• Techniques

For the finale, spectators, who are trained MTs, will be able to hand out one point each. Massage recipients (professional, highly educated MTs) will hand out up to six points, depending on their massage experience, and the judges will hand out three points each. The winner of the 2020 AMC will be the MT with the most points.

Competition Categories

• Swedish massage (Western massage, including classical massage, sports massage, myofascial release, muscle energy technique, neuromuscular techniques, stretching, etc.)

• Asian massage (Thai massage, shiatsu, tui na, ayurveda, etc.)
• Wellness massage (hot stone, aromatherapy, spa massage, lymph drainage, holistic massage, etc.)
• Western freestyle massage (different types of Western massage methods, self-treatment, mobilization, cupping, massage with tools, bodywork, etc.)
• Eastern freestyle massage (different types of Asian massage methods, including shiatsu, acupressure, Thai massage, cupping, massage with tools, etc.)
• Chair massage (both Western- and Eastern-inspired massage)


Event Information

The American Massage Championship

July 12–16, 2020

Blue Chip Casino and Hotel

Michigan City, Indiana (one hour from Chicago on the lake shore)

Participation fee: $250 (nonrefundable)

Proof of insurance coverage must accompany application.

A diploma will be issued for each participant, enabling massage therapists to brand their business in a new way.

For more information, send an email to

For event rules and judging criteria, visit:

The World Championship in Massage

June 20–21, 2020

Copenhagen, Denmark

Participation fee: €225 ($250 US; nonrefundable)

Deadline for registration and payment of fee, June 1, 2020

Participants are responsible for arranging and booking accommodations, flights, and local transportation.
Proof of insurance coverage must accompany application.

A diploma will be issued for each participant, enabling massage therapists to brand their business in a new way.

For more information, email the IMA at

For event rules and judging criteria, visit

World Championship in Massage—Teaser (August 27, 2019):


Lisa Bakewell is a full-time freelance writer, editor, perpetual learner, and lover of life in Chicagoland. Her areas of writing expertise span a multitude of topics that include health and wellness, travel, parenting, personal/company profiles, a plethora of “how-to” articles (her favorite!), and technology. She can be reached at