The healing touch: Florida School of Massage celebrates 40 years

“J. Krishnamurti said that the greatest societal problem we have is separation,” said Florida School of Massage (FSM) owner Paul Davenport. In an effort to solve that problem, the school has spent 40 years improving people’s lives through the vehicle of touch and teaching others to do the same.

“We don’t teach our students to fix people,” he said. “We teach them to make people aware of where their problems are and empower them to fix themselves.”

FSM, fully accredited by the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation, was originally called the American Institute of Massage Therapy. The school changed ownership several times before landing in the hands of Paul Davenport in 1987. In 1992, they made their home next to Paynes Prairie and expanded their business.

Since Davenport took ownership, he said between 4,500 and 5,000 students have graduated into work with spas, salons, medical and chiropractic offices, rehabilitation clinics, resorts and private practice. Davenport employs 35 to 40 part-time licensed massage therapists who each teach a specialty, whether that’s Swedish massage, connective tissue massage, sports massage or other courses. Each instructor also has access to clinical massage rooms for appointments with the public.

FSM offers six-month-long massage therapy programs with classes in anatomy and physiology, kinesiology, communication, business and ethics, among others, while also holding advanced certification courses in traditional thai massage, aromatherapy, hand and foot reflexology, and integrated massage. The school also has a large library and a shop packed with healthy-living products.

“On the first day of anatomy class, I tell everybody to put their notes away and listen to me like a friend, and not spend time writing something down to read later. They listen to the class material that way, and the rest of week I give them a list of things to memorize and 90 percent make a 100 on their first exam of 100 new anatomy terms,” he said. “But learning the terms is not the point, it’s learning that you can learn.”

Each class stays together through the program so that they can get to know one another, Davenport said, and by the end of the term he said that most of them “say their lives have changed in a major way.”

“They do things they did not know were possible, which is the hardest thing to teach,” he said.

Vincent Cambria, a 36-year-old former FSM student and owner of Go Primal gym, came to FSM at 19. Cambria had dropped out of high school and said that after a friend told him that she had attended FSM he figured that he could go through the program, work for a couple of hours every day and then skateboard as much as he wanted. Now he sees more than 60 gym members a week in between workout sessions

“On the first day of class we all sat in a circle and an hour into it I thought, ‘This is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life,’” he said. “We had an anatomy test at the end of that week and I got a 100. What hit me was that I could learn. This is where I learned I had the ability to learn.”

FSM is nationally recognized and attracts students from all over the country, including Cambria and Carman Pennington, a student in the teaching assistant program who came back to FSM for the second time from West Virginia. Pennington graduated in 2003, and has been licensed and practicing for 10 years. Pennington, once he’s finished, plans to open his own school in West Virginia within the next year.

“The teachers here are world-class,” he said. “They are the best in their fields and when you get it from them you’re getting the best instruction and every bit of knowledge they have.”

As for the next 40 years, Davenport said that he’s been giving that a lot of thought recently.

“This is a community,” Davenport said. “There are people here who have worked here for 20 years, and I want the community to continue as long as it can so it can be effective longer. I want to pass these skills on to a member of the community who will value the school for same reasons I do, and maybe we can keep it going like that for 90 years. We can keep empowering people to change themselves and at some point the whole world, and I see us as being a small part of that.”

To learn more about the Florida School of Massage’s programs or to schedule a massage for yourself, please visit

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