An article entitled “Samurai-Shiatsu goes into schools” initiated a project to bring Shiatsu into schools and subsequently into family homes. The aim of the article was and is to snowball this initiative to establish the now called Samurai Programme in as many schools and other children’s services as possible.

Text: Karin Kalbantner-Wernicke | Translation: Svenja Schaper

It’s time to act

The initial impetus for the project arose from the reality that many children now have schedules that rivals an adult business manager. Children also face performance pressures at school. When those pressures are combined with postural problems and concentration difficulties, some children display stress-like symptoms seen in adults.

Children complain about stomach pains or headaches and report sleeping problems. In school, they come to the attention of professionals because of their difficulties with learning; postural problems make it difficult to sit still on a chair all day and to concentrate for long hours. To alleviate their lack of sensory input, they either squirm or ‘switch off’, no longer engaging with teaching, missing out on vital learning.

These findings are backed up by empirical data. The Robert Koch-Institute (Berlin, Germany) carried out a national, representative children and youth health survey between 2003 and 2006 ( Around 18,000 children and young people took part in the survey. The data which follows relates to the motor skills module of the children and youth health survey which was carried out by Prof. Klaus Boes at the Institute for Sport and Sport Sciences at Karlsruhe University between 2002 and 2008. The children tested were between 4 and 17 years old.

These are some of the results:

  • 35% of children and young people were unable to balance for two or more steps on a 3 cm wide beam on the floor going backwards;
  • 86% of children could not stand on one leg for one minute;
  • 43% were unable to touch their toes when carrying out a forward bend (this applied to 53% of boys and 33% of girls).

Another survey compiled by German health insurers also showed clearly the urgent need for action with regards to children and young people. The data states that:

  • 71% of all children complain regularly of stomach pains and headaches;
  • 50% of all children have concentration difficulties;
  • up to 65% of all children display postural damages;
  • 40% of all children complain about backache.

The results regarding social status and migration background (especially with regards to girls) impacted on motor ability was damning. Results showed children and young people with a high social status had greater motor ability than those with a lower socio-economic status. These findings were congruent with observations we ourselves made as part of a movement/obstacle course presented to children in Year 5 in a German comprehensive school:

  • out of 181 tested pupils (10 and 11 years old) 134 were unable to stand on one leg for one minute;
  • 131 pupils were unable to reach the floor with their fingertips and extended legs;
  • walking backwards for 3 metres presented a great challenge for pupils – 109 pupils were unable to do so, 31 could walk 2 to 3 steps backwards on the 3 cm wide beam and 41 managed to walk just half the distance.

The movement/obstacle course used in the above survey showed that motor, co-ordination and balance skills were insufficiently developed in most pupils. Observations also showed that daily school life presented a huge challenge for many pupils – be it due to a negative classroom atmosphere or heightened performance pressure and anxiety.

The Samurai Programme

We felt something needed to be done to address these findings. Knowing Shiatsu could help, we developed the Samurai Programme which is firmly rooted in Shiatsu. Children are fully clothed and learn to carry out a sequence of Shiatsu ‘moves’ on each other. The Samurai Programme is designed so that through different qualities of touch various sensory systems are encouraged and activated.  The word ‘Samurai’ means ‘servant, companion, guardian’ – and it aims to convey how children can nurture others as well as themselves. Showing respect and becoming aware of one’s own and other people’s boundaries are important principles of Shiatsu and the programme actively works to develop this awareness.

As the Samurai Programme encourages the development of body awareness and taking the load off a strained back, the head is freed up so pupils are able to concentrate with greater ease on their learning. Another aim of the programme is to nurture class cohesion and create greater health awareness for both teachers and pupils which in turn will have a positive effect on classroom atmosphere.

The uniqueness of the Samurai Programme (especially when compared to other massage programmes) lies in its understanding of both traditional oriental knowledge and latest insights of neuroscientific research with regards to child development. The combination of those approaches results in a developmental concept which provides fresh angles for understanding and supporting child behaviour. New angles open up new solutions and one of the main tenets of the Samurai Programme is to always look for a person’s strength and available resources in order to best support them.


The various Shiatsu techniques and sequences also include meridian based movement exercises. These are taught in a playful way as part of a story about two Japanese children, a boy called Kooko and a girl called Hanako. Japanese customs are also part of the session, for example to greet each other with ‘Konnichi wa’ (Hello) or to ask ‘O genki desu ka?'(How are you, or more precisely, How is your Ki?). Exercises are called “Samurai warms up in the sun”, “Samurai energy boost”, “Samurai holds head up high”, “Samurai, Bear and Tiger meet”. They are visually supported by beautifully drawn picture cards which serve as a memory aid and motivational tool. Children are taught to use ‘strong, firm bear paw touch’ as well as ‘gentle, light tiger paws’ to go up and down the spine.  There are also Do-In games and other body awareness exercises to start and finish a session or for when concentration flags in the classroom.  ‘How am I feeling’ cards encourage children to be in touch with how they are and to show others – as a sign for ‘I need space, thank you’ or ‘I’m great, let’s get going.’ As with Shiatsu, an important aspect is to respect where each individual is ‘at’ and not to super-impose exercises and touch where it is not wanted or when the person is not ready for it yet. At the start of each session, children ask each other’s permission before engaging in physical touch. Gentle, respectful touch is fostered and children are given the chance to give and receive positive touch regularly.

Shiatsu practitioners who have trained as Samurai Programme Trainers go into schools and teach children and teachers the programme. Instruction is divided into three sessions which last for up to 45 minutes each. The Shiatsu ‘moves’ are easy to learn and are quickly taken on board by children who then carry on with their practise: with their peers in class and at playtime, their parents, siblings, grandparents and friends at home. In this way, Shiatsu touch is carried into the community. The programme is further supported with a book which includes the story and set of picture cards as well as website resources (see below).

After 3 and then 6 months the Shiatsu practitioner returns to school for another session to observe how children and teachers get on and to make suggestions for further development where needed.

Current developments

The Samurai Programme has been introduced into primary schools in Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, France, Netherlands, and most notably Austria – where regional health insurers pay for Shiatsu practitoners to deliver the programme in participating schools. Karin and her husband Thomas Wernicke have also introduced the Samurai Programme both for children and adults in Japan and Australia. Shiatsu practitioners have found it invaluable to introduce Shiatsu touch to children and to ‘spread the word about Shiatsu’ into the wider community. For many, it has meant an expansion of their private practise.

Another exciting development has been the adaptation of the Samurai Programme for older adults. It has been carried out in various old people’s homes and was received with great enthusiasm. As a result, one of the biggest German Social Care Charities (Arbeiterwohlfahrt e.v.) is now introducing Samurai Programme for Older Adults in their care homes, specifically to support people living with Dementia and the onset of Alzheimer.

In addition, the Samurai Programme has also been adapted to be suited to working with younger children aged 3-5 years old – the Samurai Programme Minis!

Join us to continue to establish the Samurai Programme in our respective communities –  find out about the different training opportunities to become a Samurai Programme Trainer during Karin Kalbanter-Wernicke’s Samurai Programme workshops.

Curious about The Samurai Pogramme?
Visit Karin’s workshop at the European Shiatsu Congress.