He Tried to Light Me Up–Instead I Stole His Fire.

How did you get into this? Did…something happen to you?

Happen to me? It’s a question I’ve been asked untold times. Frankly, it’s an annoying and telling question because it assumes something terrible must have happened to me: why else would I – an educated woman and self-confessed bleeding heart- encourage women to nurture their killer instinct and teach them how to refashion their bodies into weapons.

Then again, given my enthusiasm (see above) it’s a reasonable question. And, yes, I have my happening stories. I can rattle them off: from manhandling and violent groping to being trapped in a train car by a group of predatory men; from near-rape attacks which I fended off, to a home invasion by a knife-wielding would-be rapist and maybe killer. (It was the stuff of nightmares; I foiled that attack.) They’re all true and plenty good reason to take up self defense.


There are the stories we tell, and there is the story behind the story. The one that often lives in the shadow of grander lore and can be traced back to childhood. To “that moment in childhood,” wrote Graham Greene, “when the door opens and lets the future in.”            

I know my moment. Its memory came back to me one day during a radio show interview, greeting me like a bell in the distance waiting to be rung.

“It” was born on a frosty winter’s night in the ashes of fear, fueled by a young girl’s desire to have saved herself, her friend and… her friend’s hat.

This memory has become a touchstone for my teaching. It happened like this:

I was seven the first time I felt terror. It was a brisk winter’s day. The snow-covered earth crunched underfoot but the sun was out, shining across its slick white surface. My friend Jennifer went walking to a wooded area near my home where a creek ran through. When we arrived, two boys, bigger and older, maybe nine or ten, approached then flanked us. They were friendly, even chatty at first, then something switched: the air between us turned ice cold and still – I knew we were in trouble.

One of them brandished a knife, threatening to cut us. I remember the blade, how it gleaned in the afternoon sun as he waved it back and forth. The second boy grabbed me, pulling us apart. “I’m gonna set you on fire,” he growled before clutching a hunk of my dirty blond hair. Flick? Whoosh! It was the sound of his boxy silver lighter set to the highest flame closing in on my head. I smelled my hair sizzle and burn, and could not escape his grasp. Blow, blow, blow was all l could think to do. Each flame that went out — my cheeks, red hot from blowing and panting– was followed by another dreaded Flick. Stop It! I pleaded. Each time I tried to pull away, he pulled me closer, charring more hair, singeing my scalp.

I don’t remember a word he said, I just remember the look on his face as he toyed with me in a mean game of cat and mouse. I was lightheaded, growing dizzier by the second, and wanted desperately to be home. Maybe it was that thought that enabled me to yank free and scramble to a clearing.

That’s when I spotted Jennifer, the pompom on her long winter’s stocking hat bouncing up and down as she wrassled with the bigger boy in the creek. I remember standing there like a marbleized statue, frozen with fear, watching my best friend get punched and roughed up, watching her colorful stocking hat float away in the icy stream.

Then abruptly without warning our young terrorists-in-training took off like a couple of wild critters who’d had their fill – and so did we. We crossed the Big Avenue and ran down the street. I had never run so fast. She was the tomboy, not me, but that was one home stretch where my chunky little legs hit the pavement as fast as hers.

Later that night after things at home calmed down, I sat in a warm pink bubble-filled tub. I thought a lot about what happened and why. I didn’t have the words for it but I knew I’d been initiated, as if I’d crossed some threshold and arrived in a world of fear. “Welcome to fear!” I imagined it saying, as if I knew it would be a given, a natural part of the female landscape. Like the eventual menses and breasts, so too there would be fear. First it will be of boys and then it will be of men.

The truth of this would wax and wane over the years. And I would come to know fear and terror intimately again, each incident propelling me further down this path and into the heart of self defense.

Adult passions can often be traced to early beginnings, to an incident or desire deposited into a fertile young mind. That day in 1963 would prove to be such a fateful beginning: the young boy who scared the bejesus out of me had unknowingly lit something far more than a tress of hair.

That night while trying to scrub away what had happened, a new thought and yearning arose through my fear: Why didn’t I steal his fire? What if had kicked his scrawny ass and rescued myself, my friend, and her hat?

That was the thought and image that put a smile on my face. In essence I had- stolen his fire. I just didn’t know it at the time. It wasn’t until decades later when I was inducted into Black Belt’s Hall of Fame that I realized I had become a keeper of the flame.

My story is a palpable, heartfelt reminder. It serves me when teaching women–so I visit it often.

We all have our stories and defining moments. Some are easy to recall while others may have been dismissed or just plain forgotten. To stay connected with the spirit and the truth of what brought you to this path, think back, relax, and inquire within.

You may be surprised!




Looking For Power In All the Wrong Places: To Find Your Fierce Look To Your Heart

   about-bottomRecently I was reviewing some quoted material and found this. It speaks to what I call The BIG SHIFT.

 “Real personal safety calls for nothing less than the re-awakening of instincts that allow for early recognition of danger, the skills and strategies to diffuse and escape violence, and the ability to mobilize deep-seated primal powers to fight off attack. 

It commands a monumental shift in women’s self perceptions, the channeling of intense emotions, unlocking a power and authority women often don’t know they posses. It taps into what Soalt calls, Fierce Love and a knowing in one’s heart: What is worth fighting for? What is non-negotiable? Where do I draw that line? ” 

Self Defense From The Inside Out.

I want to be kick ass! women blurt out with gusto. Great!, I say. But understand this: Self defense is an inside-out job. Before branding ourselves toughees we need to confront our feelings of vulnerability – otherwise known as ‘the female fear’ – which quietly lurks in the background of women’s lives.

Imagine for a moment that you are under attack. That your words and best efforts at peaceful persuasions have failed, that escape is not an immediate option, that terror has seized your heart with such a mighty force that you can barely stand, think, breathe…

Now hit the pause button.

Here’s the critical question: “If under attack, where will YOU go inside yourself to mobilize the focus and presence of mind to effectively act; to unfreeze your fear, activate power and call up courage with the whole of your heart? (Not to mention contending with the effects of an adrenaline-spiked cocktail pumping through your veins which can just as easily hijack your thinking-brain as gift you with super power.)

How will you collect yourself and command your emotions to rally in formation, your subatomic self forging an iron will? And do this in a heartbeat because seconds count.

If you secretly imagined that you’d crumble or get stuck in the freeze —  and if so, I assure you: you are in VERY good company!- ditch that image, and prepare to re-imagine…What if you knew that in a pinch, you could become a dangerous dame and effectively be your own best protector and self defender? 

The Good News Answer: You can and need to be. There IS such a place, a go-to zone and a way to rapidly mobilize skill and power. The path to arousing female power is akin to arousing female desire. It taps into a complex network of feelings, a circuitry not only rooted in biology and the brain but also intimate places spanning our loins and limbs, heart and soul. It’s a primal ‘heat’  that lives far below the topsoil of our everyday ‘nice lady’ selves, our cover-girl veneer. Yet for many, the capacity to BE the aroused warrior has atrophied or become dormant, buried beneath fear or conditioning of one kind or another, subsumed by the artificial constructs of femininity and by socialization which favors women’s nurturing, do-no-harming nature. So it needs to be unearthed, reinstalled, and turned back ON. Then kept on like a pilot light’s flame which can be adjusted as needed. Because in the Moment of Truth all systems must be GO! 

What’s Been Amiss: Looking for Power in all the Wrong Places


The biggest problem and “miss” (especially for women) in the larger martial and self defense world is that power has traditionally been influenced if not defined by men and the male mindset. That’s a mouthful I know.
What I mean is this: the male self defense paradigm has largely focused on an external constellation of power: the strong muscular body, the high-powered martial moves, the pumped and steely mindset as the primary ways and means of sourcing and delivering power, and succeeding in self defense and by extension in the ‘battle’ of life. 

While strength, moves and mindset are vitally important, they aren’t the whole story of power, nor necessarily the most critical components for women who typically lack the luxury of greater size and strength and often the mental or social conditioning to ‘return fire’ if they need to go physical. 

The Female Way

For most women, sourcing power and warrior spirit is INTERNAL and connected to feelings. It is as much about working “in” as working out.

It entails calling up will-power and courage from our deepest emotional reserves, descending into the basement of our being to access strength and grit. It means pulling power from terror and fury itself and bringing this fire into our fight.

In other words, for women, the directive to physically self defend doesn’t just originate in our bodies and brains or from knowing strategies in our heads or even from the fight/ flight effects of adrenaline.


It often arises in a completely different organ: The Heart. It arrives via the emotional and feeling body. And from a place that is both spiritual in nature AND rooted in survival instincts which must be leveraged in our defense.

Once a woman discerns where she draws that line, deciding what is not negotiable, uncompromising, and worth fighting for, this retrieval of power can happen in a heartbeat.

The Power of LOVE  

Women often discover their greatest strengths and abilities through feelings of love. Where there is love, there is ferocity which naturally arises to then protect what a woman loves or holds sacred. Be it safeguarding her boundaries, her body, her own life or the lives and sovereign dignity of her loved ones.


When I talk about “ferocity” I don’t mean a hate-filled emotional recklessness but rather a powerful surge of forceful, directed, maddening energy – whether it’s driven by fear, fury, love or survival. It’s a willful uninhibited force. It is the fevered taste, the already whetted appetite of a hungry lioness; it’s what allows us to punch, tear or claw our way out of darkness or an overwhelming life crisis.

Ferocity is that BIG bolus of juice, of toughness that enables us to swim upstream and fight uphill aided by defiance, a certain gnash in the teeth, and a singular focus to see our way through to the other side.

In context of self defense its purpose is to preserve life and dignity — not to ‘teach him a lesson or make ’em pay.’ It is not rooted in revenge.

The thing about ferocity is that it not only boosts physical strength, but dissolves inhibitions, hosing out obstacles and rallying the will. So it’s a superpower akin to what has traditionally been termed “killer instinct’ — a phrase that still chafes against women’s empathetic nature and sense of connected-ness, including my own. (Yes, even I, plucky brave-hearted leader, have a hard time spitting out the term “killer instinct” and I much prefer “ferocity” and “dangerousness.”)

In the end, perhaps ferocity isn’t just an attitude but a destination. A go-to place and primordial state of being that is au naturalle and organic like the ferocity of childbirth. For women, this ‘state’ needs to become second nature, a second soul-home.

Get Your Mojo Pumping and Back Online 

Although many can teach tactics and tools, Soalt believes that only a female can bring other women into this ‘primal zone’ within themselves. The courage and skills to safeguard boundaries and summon one’s might in the face of fear is best — and most directly–transmitted and realized through a female role model….”

Below are my essential four components and means to realizing this potential, to clearing the path, reinstalling your power, deflating your fear, working with your emotions, and arriving at that sweet spot, where the outermost layers of fear burn off to reveal something far more fearsome. It’s Womanly. It’s Primal. Read on……”

Survival like romance must capture our hearts.



Black Belt Mag Names Me A ‘Top Five’ Tough Girl!

What’s a nice Jewish Girl like me doing on a list like this? I’ll tell you what– soaking it in and passing the message of finding and tendering YOUR INNER TOUGH GIRL! 

I was utterly surprised and honored to find my self amidst this impressive roster of formidable femmes and fighters including my hero, the lioness Kathy Long. To receive  glowing comments by Combatives legend Kelly McCann makes it that much sweeter:

Melissa is a legitimate combative talent. She’s explosive and fast. Yeah, she’s diminutive but how’d you like to get hit with a bullet her size?

And from reality-based instructor and defensive tactics trainer Lito Angelis:

…she’s the one who understands street self defense the best. She has very good mechanics. She’s a smaller person but she hits hard.

OK, self promotion over.

Tender The Tough

A few words about “TOUGH” – a phrase which has primarily been associated with men possessed of steely skills and fight. Women, it’s time to renew our claim to this word.

Armed with our love and fury, deep-seated survival instincts and fervent desires to bring justice to the world, women have always been tough, long been warriors, fighters and even deadly dames. (Hey, our gender gives birth for Chrissake!) If not in physical realms, we’ve waged formidable battles in social spheres — for the right to vote, for equality in the workplace, for reproductive rights. For our bodily integrity. And the fight goes on…

As sexual assault and violence against women continues to plague our world, it’s  incumbent upon women to GET TOUGH and nurture this potential.

First, a “get tough” clarification: Don’t equate tough with being fearless. (Fearlessness isn’t the goal; we need fear and to go without is dangerous.) Next, remove preconceptions and understand: Far beyond any particular skill set, “tough” is an attitude, a raw tenacity of heart, of strength and guts, and it’s often born in the fires and tremors of fear. Fear is in fact a frequent precursor to “tough.” (Yep, this toughee also knows this well.)

Much like beauty, toughness is sparked from the inside out. It’s often home grown, revealed under the duress of dire straits. I see this all the time with women who have NO training, yet fight like Fierce Mothers and bitches–as in canines junkyard bitches.

Take for example one of my favorite, most extraordinary success stories: When 23 year old Hong Huang was run over (twice; forward and then backward) by a truck driven by a level three sex offender who had followed her when she left her work shift in Tacoma Washington one night, she lay motionless on the ground: Her back was broken, her pelvis, cracked, her lung near collapsed and she suffered numerous facial injuries.

Despite all, when her attacker attempted to scoop her her up and throw her into his truck, she fought him off with the only weapon she had: HER FISTS! With his face in range she punched him in the eyes, pummeling the shit outta that face. He aborted his plan. Her presence of mind was extraordinary. Refusing to go into shock she took note of his features and they swiftly apprehend this motherf. She said of that fight- back moment:

“It was just like a rush of, you know, adrenaline and endorphins; everything your body does when it’s in survival mode.”

Equally memorable was the shy look on her face when retelling her story from a wheelchair weeks later. Her head slightly cocked to one side in a school girlish manner, she remarks, Well…..I guess I connected.


In another list, I would dub her Queen Of Tough.

Here’s a clanking toast to gutsy women who understand that fear can and must be forged into fire and that being afraid or even terrified does NOT mean being defenseless. 

In the end, tough is not only a quality but perhaps a destination. It doesnt matter how you get here–whether you’re pushed by fear or pulled by power. What matters is that you arrrive.

Mesdames and Mademoiselles — let’s toughen up together!