Harmony or Else. Why We Need to Re-boot & Celebrate our Survival Instincts.


I’ve curated many self defense “success” stories over the years. Some have effected me in the deepest of ways, aligning with my reverence for female disobedience and women’s innate capacity to call upon their primal nature in times of danger, even doing what some might deem unthinkable. (For a female I mean.)

As an example, this story – Nurse Kills Home Intruder – admittedly made my bosom heave. In case you missed it, in 2011, Susan Walters, a then 51 year old Oregon nurse, returned home from work one day to encounter an intruder wielding a claw-hammer. He quickly attacked, striking her in the head and face. Our girl gave as good as she got: she attacked back and wrested his weapon away. In the throws of what became a deadly ground fight, she strangled him… to death… with her bare hands. Police found the then 59 year-old intruder heaped on the floor. Good thing: this guy was no mere intruder but a hit man with a lengthy rap sheet who’d been hired by her hubby to kill her.

       “Walters knew she temporarily had the upper hand, and if she continued to apply                  pressure the man would eventually stop breathing, but she offered him a way out. “I            said, ‘Tell me who sent you here, and I will call you an ambulance,’” Walters said. “I            wanted him to be afraid, as terrified as I was.” 

When my fists stopped pumping the air, I printed out the story and filed it into my folder — Deadly Dames.

I’m now in contact with Susan discussing the possibility of collaborative work or interviews. She will always have to live with the fact that she took someone’s life, but as she says with clarity and wisdom: “I didn’t choose my attacker’s death. I chose my life.”

Amen to that, sister.

Survival like romance must capture our hearts.

I get it: The potentiality of violence – including from ‘loved ones’ and those we know– is an unattractive topic. It’s much easier to talk about life skills that sell women’s magazines: Dating, cooking, becoming a happier or fit person, who’s doing who, or “How to Shed Ten Pounds in time for The Holidays!”

(Ironic isn’t it, that publications billing themselves as empowering for women, featuring bold faced tips on “how to make friends with your body” are also chock full of toothpick-thin models and headlines urging women to “lose that ugly belly fat now!”)

The truth is: no one who wants to think that some day violence may be visited upon them. It’s my observation that women often assume they could talk their way out, after all women have majored in “talk” and “empathy.” While these are great strengths and useful self protection tools, allowing us to develop a rapport that might in fact lower an aggressor’s arousal, talk and empathy aren’t always saving graces– they can also be a hindrance. We need additional tools including forceful and explosive ones. And that has become my Major, my contribution, which I enthusiastically pass to other women.

Some think of this place as the dark side, but I call it home — literally. At my house, an overnight guest might find a push dagger and chocolates under her pillow and discover books on Close Quarters Combat sharing coveted bathroom space with Buddhism Today and Bon Appetite.

But it’s the totems on my nightstand that speak most directly to our fierce female endowment. First are photos of my beloved nephews: One glance at their faces and — pardon the gush — I beam with a radiant luminescence that outshines my most expensive haute couture sheen. At the base of their photos lies another love — my trusty Afghan knife, which I bought 40 years ago in the old Kabul market. It’s a small knife, seven inches from its pointy tip to the bottom of its curved wooden handle, with an odd ripple in its blade where the metal was hammered too hard, too thin. I remember the first time I slept with this knife and awoke to find my hand glued to its handle, its carved old wood, and how survival, like romance had captured my heart. I know this Beast Girl part of myself intimately and could no more divorce this primitive endowment than I could amputate a limb. Or disown my maternal and empathetic nature.

This isn’t just my story, my truth, or interior motif- it’s your story too and that is why I tell it.

Decades have passed since my foray into the martial arts. I can say with pride, women have come a long way. Heck, when I was growing up being prepared meant leaving home with clean underwear and change for a phone call. The best advice du jour? Throw up on your attacker.

Today, for every female on TV who ineffectually pummels an assailant’s chest another one dishes out punishing blows or just shoots the asshole. We’re past this damsel in distress stuff, right? So why does my enthusiasm still meet with resistance — and not just from men?

Maybe it’s the glint in my eye but when I tell choice stories — like the co-ed who stuck her scissors in her assailant’s “motherfucking guts;” or my student who cracked her attacker’s head against the bumper of her car then made pulp out of his groin; or when I gush about power, how learning to stomp and kick and slam just plain feels good, I can nearly hear a few uteruses sputter and spasm — in shock, not pleasure. “A fighting art?” quipped one old friend. “What’s wrong with yoga or poetry?”  Nothing! I retort. It’s all good. We are multi-dimensional beings with infinite potentials, not one note on the flute. 

So where do we get this cockamamie notion that women are all-beatific, do-no-harmers with nary a virulent, aggressive or power-loving bone? (Let me be blunt: If I had a twenty for every woman who lit up after delivering thwacking, penetrating blows, this wouldn’t be a blog but dinner with Dr. Ruthless, my treat.)

       This disavowal and disconnect is not only insidious but poses real threats. 

Besides, what could be more natural, more in tune with Mother Nature than knowing how to bash back and not become prey or fodder for a victimizer’s amusement?

Then there’s the incompetence argument — that a woman will only get hurt worse if she fights back. Of course fighting back carries risks. Yes, you might get hurt; but doesn’t getting raped, beaten or traumatized also constitute injury? Strategies aside, this archaic attitude reinforces the age-old pas-de-deux: Men are the protectors; women are the protectees. In other words, you, a wussy female, are defenseless against attack. Got it?

Tell that to the Chicago woman who (brace yourselves, fellas) bit off her would-be rapist’s balls. Compassionate soul that she was, she even brought his testes to the police station… in a baggie! Not to sound crass, but can we imagine the floss job?

Oh please, who said we can’t be outrageous and serious.

I’m not suggesting that fighting back is the solution to violence against women — of course not! — or that it’s always effective or the best option. Or that it takes the place of an urgently needed global shift in the male mindset of violent entitlement, the privilege to “take” without consent or to abuse women and girls. But what I am saying is this: when you boil it down, the answer to why men violate women, or each other, may be simpler than we think: those who will, do it because they can. When we discourage women from learning violent means of self defense we inadvertently encourage them to submit to victimization — not to mention suffering the traumatic aftermath. Distancing from our own lifesaving capacity for the use of force, keeps women unduly fearful of men and their powers. And it diminishes our Selves. And our collective future.

The gig is up. To be safer and self possessed and to pass power to our daughters we must become literate in the strategies of combat.

So here’s my new rule: Instead of shunning aggression I propose we view it as a resource and learn to wield its tools — just as Susan and many others have done, standing up to violence and taking it down or out.  In my more sinister Buddhist moments, I liken my gospel to full contact compassion, so if that helps you, all the better.

NEW SMYRNA BEACH, FL - 1983: Caribbean-American writer, poet and activist Audre Lorde lectures students at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Lorde was a Master Artist in Residence at the Central Florida arts center in 1983. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

NEW SMYRNA BEACH, FL – 1983: Caribbean-American writer, poet and activist Audre Lorde lectures students at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Lorde was a Master Artist in Residence at the Central Florida arts center in 1983. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Archive Photos/Getty Images)











Click to see My Mother, meaning original, youtube: 

Ringing it In. Where Power Comes From.

“There are times when it becomes imperative to release a rage that shakes the skies.  There is a time–though rare–to let loose all the firepower one has.  It has to be in response to a serious offense; the offense has to be big and is against the soul or spirit.  All other reasonable avenues for change have to be tried first.  If these fail, then we have to choose the right time.  There’s definitely a right time for full-bore rage. … And it is right.  Right as rain.”

Clarissa Pinkola Estes: Women Who Run With the Wolves

How did you get into this? Where does this ferocity come from? Did… [insert polite pause here] … something happen to you?

They are questions I’ve been asked countless times. Given my enthusiasm for teaching women how to morph their bodies into weapons, and to penetrate targets and say damn, this feels good! well, I suppose it’s reasonable.

But it’s telling too. It betrays the assumption that something bad- e.g., a sexual assault– MUST have happened to me because why else would I– an evolved female and believer in empathy and compassion– be so passionate about helping women learn to be fierce,  and embrace their aggressive capacities.

Honestly, can we imagine asking a fella the same thing? “Hey there manly man, what in tar nation would possess you to learn to protect yourself from all manner of assault or attack?” What a silly question that would be! In man’s world self defense is deemed natural. It comes with beer and nachos and having a penis.

While we, the vagina people, are still principally taught (yeah, it’s changing) to “watch out!” as a primary means of defense. As rape “prevention.”

My answer is complex. My passion and fire stems from many sources, including my (former) work as a psychotherapist specializing in trauma recovery. And yes I’ve had my share – or more- of incidents: violent groping, manhandling, assorted close encounters, attempted rapes, a vicious street attack and a terrifying “it happened to me” nightmare scenario. In 1985 I was awakened in the dead of night by the sound of creaking floorboards from the footsteps of man I did not know. He, the shadowy figure down my hallway, was approaching, heading for my bed blade in hand. That would be after first cutting the phone lines and electric power. (For the record, I foiled that attempt with quick timing and war cries. What? .. .You didn’t hear me? Fay Raye’s KING KONG scream had nothing on me. No no dear with feeeling this time.)

There were follow up calls from this mystery man saying that he knew my whereabouts and the patterns of my and my then fiance’s life. I was terrified. I know what it’s like to be scared to death. 

This was the final initiation that led me from Martial Arts to more practical down dirty methods which would become me.

Still, sometimes the question– where does this come from?- does not always compute. Because how do I trace the genesis of something so deeply embedded in the bone of my being, that the mere asking unleashes sensations that leave my loins simmering with a knowing heat. You might as well ask me, “Where does LOVE come from, or the kindness of strangers, or the female desire to want or to have?”

The truest thing I can say is that IT– this power, capacity, and female warrior spirit– has NEVER ceased to be. It has always existed, it is eternal, unconditional. It is a life-force that we plug into. A bell in the distance waiting to be rung. Often it is rung at the behest or urging of fear terror.

It also comes from the female desire to be safe, self possessed and to have power.

As far as I can remember, including a girlhood incident that first sparked the desire (I’ll share that story in a future post; hint: boy tried to set my hair on fire), I have always hungered for this feeling and the potential it engenders. It wasn’t always a conscious desire, but it was invisibly moving me toward a capacity I would later call FIERCE.

Fast forward from my girlhood assault. One night, years later, on a midnight train churning through India, when a Man In A White Shirt wouldn’t take NO for an answer << insert repeated violent groping here>> it crystallized. The membrane around this inchoate power broke. When I struck back, cracking him about the head and busting his offending hand, a power I did not know I possessed sprung loose, as if released from dormancy, from potential into being. It was an epic moment. A memory, a whiff of something lost but not forgotten rushed back into my body. Like a ghost limb re-membered. The experience was as numinous as primitive.

The match was struck. The fire ignited.

Eventually this realization would become the basis of my philosophy:

Some part of you already knows how to do this…

In the end, this isn’t just my story, my truth or wake up call– it’s YOUR story too. And that is why I tell it.

about-bottom                        YOU’LL KNOW IT WHEN YOU FEEL IT!

9296_920846741262665_2662112249301133413_n          RINGING IT IN WITH THE GIRLS OF INDIA’S RED BRIGADE LUCKNOW.

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!


Five Fierce Rules For Fight-Back Self Defense

Let’s Call it What It Is– EMERGENCY Last Resort Self Defense 

By last resort, I mean that risk reduction, assault deterring, boundary setting and repelling strategies naturally come first. Now log this tip: To greatly reduce your risks, you must deny two things: PRIVACY & CONTROL.

Translation? As much as realistically possible, don’t allow yourself to become isolated with a would-be attacker/ victimizer/ criminal or predator. (TRUST YOUR GUT HERE!) And do not allow “them” to control your behavior- in other words to lead you where you do NOT want to go or otherwise manipulate your movements against your will.

Remember: Do NOT allow a criminal or would-be rapist to force you into a vehicle or otherwise move your from crime scene A to crime scene B. It will always be to a far more isolated location where it will be more difficult to attract attention or breakaway. This includes NOT allowing an assailant or thug to forcibly move you from the visible jogging trail seen by passing motorists and others into the more desolate woods. Or from the parking lot and front of the building to the remote back of the building. This all constitutes forcible movement from one place to another.

So you may have to go physical with whatever skills you have in order to free yourself.

Even with the best of risk reduction and prevention strategies, it happens – so here’s FIVE basic rules if you must fight back. 

1) Explode and penetrate into your target, do not just give a smack. Explode like a bullet directly into your target, not like a firecracker dispersing energy in all directions at once. 

(2) Technique AND fighting spirit count, so tap and funnel raw animal ferocity.

(3) Focus. Focus. Focus. FORCE it if you must but do not allow your mind to splinter, waver or freeze. Breathing helps!

(4) YELL! It oxygenates the tissues, rallies the fighting spirit and can add as much as 33 % more power to your moves.

(5) OWN you world and use your environment. From utilizing walls and counter-tops to shove off of or slam (him) into, to using blunt and pointy objects as weapons, to wielding trash cans and furniture as shields and barriers. My motto? “WHADDYA GOT?”

When it’s GO TIME, get fierce!  And get cracking!

Got F? Lionize Yourself with Fierce Love.

Love is Fierce. (And self defense is fierce love.)

Lionize yourself. Be the Courage. 

That’s the focus of this post and my spanking new blog aptly titled: Find Your Fierce. In many respects it is the heart and blood-pulse of physical self defense. I mean when nothing else will do but counterattack.

Lionize. It’s rarely discussed. Doubtful that you’ll hear this in any women’s self defense manual– except mine. And you’ll hear it a lot because it houses my F slogans:

Ferocity. Fierce. Female. Fear Into Fire.

Ferocity is an attitude. A force. It not only fills you with determination and strength, but the hidden gift of Ferocity is this: it dissolves inhibition and rallies the will to fight.

For a female (typically smaller with less mass and muscle) this isn’t just some New Age empowerment soundbite- this isn’t faux ferocity— but a vital tool in the arsenal. A weapon that can to be sharpened, cultivated and worn on the inside, which is in itself a deterrent.

Learning to mobilize ferocity in the face of what may otherwise be stultifying FEAR is part of the process of becoming an effective self-defender.

Ferocity is a gift that keeps on giving. Nestled in ferocity lies another primal powerhouse: KILLER INSTINCT. It’s an ugly term I know. I’m in this 26 years and it took me years to come to grips with this word–because it grates against my being– and not couch it in the more palatable language of “Survival Instinct” which it’s connected to. But Killer Instinct is a particular emanation and expression of survival. It’s what allows us to engage and to wield the tools of violence and direct it purposefully in the service of survival. In the service of protecting and preserving life – defending that which we hold sacred.

I’m not advocating this for the purpose of destruction- of course not. (For the record, I escort spiders out of the house prayerfully cupped in hand while uttering benedictions of good wishes under my breath. I’m THAT girl.) Here are the two reasons why I urge women to leverage their killer instinct for self defense.

  1. Because it can fund and drive your fight, allowing you to “bring it” HARD and FAST, delivering an extra dose of AGGRESSIVE whammy powered by the spirit of entering. (In other words: save your pretty ass!) 
  2. Because it can help you assassinate your very own fear. KILLER INSTINCT cuts both ways. There may be times when killing your fear becomes necessary. So that you can, in warrior parlance, take up the spear or do what might otherwise be unfathomable. (“You want me to bash what?”)

There is in every woman this deep-seated domain of ferocity- something of the cave, the primitive exists in us all-– but it’s often buried below fear or conditioning. It needs to be called out of hiding and lured to the fore so that it can be freely tapped, focused and (judiciously) wielded. So that it can embolden our hearts. Once your killer instinct is realized and switched ON, it’s a potential game changer. And there’s this:

For years we lauded our F Spot. (Va va voom!) We now know it’s way more than a mere spot. (HA!) I’m guessing you’ve been there, released that. Now it’s time to release another va-va-voom: The F-Spot. More than a spot. It’s a network housing the means, ways and locales within to free YOUR FIERCE. But before you can coax it out of hiding, release it in full, you must first answer these intimate questions: What is worth fighting for? What is non-negotiable? What do YOU hold sacred? Where do you draw the line? 

The answers to these questions will define your boundaries and arouse Your Fierce.

Make no mistake: It’s a power that’s as spiritual as primal. It’s part of our wholesome female package. The fighting Eros of Life.

Welcome to my new blog.  With more “F’s” to come…