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John Steven Harris: 1942-2015

John Harris was born at a very young age at Mercy Hospital in San Diego, and as a child his favorite outfit was his BB gun and cowboy hat.

John was a somatic educator and worldwide seminar leader on approaches to physical and emotional pain and was an ally in the healing process of thousands of people. He worked as a massage therapist at the 1984 Olympics; coauthored a book called Fix Pain with his dear friend Fred Kenyon; and taught at Santa Barbara Body Therapy Institute (BTI) where director Katie Mickey remembers John as a mentor and innovator who was a connector for many, through friendship, counsel, and tutorial.

John Harris
Courtesy Photo

John first joined BTI in 1993, teaching myofascial release, trigger-point, and sports massage. “Big mitt,” “make nice and act like you care,” “grope and futz,” and “nature doesn’t care if you’re happy,” were all “Johnisms.” John mentored all nine of BTI’s faculty and countless others in boundary setting; hand saving; working smart; kata sequencing; matching, mirroring, and pacing with clients; redirecting tangential students; love; wry humor; and life.

“Master John had a way as a teacher. He had an ability to share his vast knowledge in such a way that he could reach students all along the continuum of skill building. Those who had the curiosity to seek more outside of class were invited with open arms and an open heart,” recalls student and dear friend Keld Hove.

John was an exceptionally gifted bodyworker. When John put his foot on your back during a barefoot session, or his thumb on a trigger point, it felt amazing. His feet and his hands were big, soft, warm, intelligent, responsive, and deftly capable of melting your muscular tension. John loved to make fun of talk about “energy flows” and “sensing energy,” yet he had the most uncanny knack of knowing from halfway across the room when a student had missed the mark on a trigger point; he could go right to the spot like a magnet to metal.

John was an innovator. Barefoot/Deep Tissue, a hand-saving modality that John, Fred Kenyon, and Matt Lynch developed in the early ’90s, has become a cornerstone modality for many therapists. The technique allows steady, deep muscle release with no stress to the thumbs, hands, and wrists of the practitioner.

In the last seven years of his life, John took on another project. Whilst “dying” in southern Mexico, he came across a former BTI massage student, Pilar, in an outdoor market. They immediately took to one another, craving companionship and connection, and together they developed a practice of community building through weekly rituals in Santa Barbara such as Soup Kitchen — an open invitation on Wednesday afternoons for all to stop by their house for homemade soup and bread; Tribe Tuesdays — an affinity group that would meet to share and check in, creating a space to support and feel supported; and Gropenfutz classes — a type of massage created by John for bodyworkers and non-bodyworkers alike, inviting all to learn a simple yet loving form of touch as a way to connect with friends and family.

In the end, they discovered what it was to truly love — showing up, radical truth telling, commitment, pattern recognition, and the practice of loving kindness. The project turned into a way of life … living with open hearts, good boundaries, deep richness, presence, and connection.

“One of the more valuable lessons that he has left with me is that in life, whether it’s joy or suffering, there is always knowledge and richness to be found. And don’t settle for less than you really desire in life. Squeeze out every drop,” remembers dear friend Erick Hudson.

The love for John from his family, friends, and the BTI student body and faculty is deep and abiding. John’s passing was preceded by years of heroic grappling with Parkinson’s. In his final year, many friends and BTI graduates helped provide a team of support for John, with the scheduling aid of Erick, Barbara, Gael, and countless other gems. His children and Pilar, his faux da (short for faux daughter; John was her faux Pa), were graced to be among those in John’s presence in his final week and are forever touched and grateful to his community for the incredible love, care, and support they showered upon their beloved Dad, and the immense openheartedness, courage, and council he gave in return. As close friend Eduardo recalls John’s saying, ”I have nothing left to do but to open my heart.”

John/Harry/Johnny Mo Fo/Master John/Juan-two-three/Dad and Pops survived his formerly alive dachshunds Hildagard and Heidi. He is survived by his brother Jeff, “the good son”; three natural children, Shawn, Cait and Matt, whom he felt were better looking than he but not as smart; a faux da, Pilar; two wonderful ex-wives, Cath and Andrea; a bounty of beautiful friends; and his sparkling take on life. Oh, and a better dad, there never ever was.

Prior to his passing, John requested that anyone who cherished him do something kind for somebody they normally wouldn’t do something kind for. He will be loved forever.

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