A Love Supreme: How Mother India Taught Me to Fight Like a Girl.

Harmony… Or Else!

                                                         

How do you thank a mother when that mother is a country? Mother India isn’t really my country—my own roots can be traced to Russia and Eastern Europe—but I was there, a guest on her soil. In the late 1970’s when I was nineteen, I traversed her midlands, climbed her rugged hilly bosom, and descended into her bowels. I ogled her erotic sculptures (Mother India’s a canoodler!) and thrilled to her voluptuous goddess culture. I even swam in the Ganges alongside pilgrims and cattle—so I can attest: Mother India really is the land of Holy Shit.

She is also the Primordial Womb world. For thousands of years, Indians have worshipped the Great Womb, an aspect if not icon of the Mother Goddess herself: domed monuments and vulva shaped statues adorn public spaces. At nineteen, India’s formidable girl power appealed to my budding feminist ideals; a vulva here, a vulva there, and with a cabal of goddesses, as fierce in their sexuality as their ability to restore cosmic order and save the world from doom, I mean… what’s not to love?

Sure, Mother India has plenty of faults—immense poverty, sickness, child labor, festering inequities from an antiquated caste system, to name a few—but spiritually speaking she’s a wise and zaftig momma. Her divinity is all-inclusive; her wisdom is as good as it gets—girl, you are already many! You are not, as Amy Bloom once wrote, one note on a flute. More like a sonata with every conceivable permutation. It’s hard to dismiss or escape India’s mind-blowing mix: everywhere you turn, the numinous and the primal, squalor and splendor, the smells and sounds of Genesis and Rot share the tiniest of spaces, entwining like lovers in a great cosmic fuck.

So what better place for learning how to give a good blow-that’s blow as in strike—than my beloved Mother India?

I was on a densely packed train. I knew it was coming – his hands I mean. I’d been traveling through strict patriarchal cultures where even the thought that women owned their bodies and had a right to do so wasn’t a blip on the screen; taking and grabbing were privileges of men—the proof was invisibly inked on my body like telltale DNA at the scene of a crime—so I’d learn to smell intent. When a man posing as helpful Mr. Rogers wouldn’t take No for an answer – he’d helped me with my knapsack, then stuck too close and tried to help himself to me-that was it. I went off: I slammed him in the head; I bashed him about the face and neck and shook him like a rag doll. Then I did the unthinkable:

I cracked his offending hand hard as I could. I nailed that sucker. Little bones crunched and “gave” beneath the fury of my fist. I watched him deflate like a punctured balloon, stunned by the power emanating from this hippie turned Beast Girl—and frankly so was I. A home-run grin peered through my fury. It wasn’t that I enjoyed hurting him—well, maybe just a little—but that I had issued his terror, not the other way around; that my body, which I’d spent my entire girlhood hating, was an instrument of power.

The lights went on.

Call it cellular memory or the magic of Mother India but when I struck back, time and space swung its doors wide open, or so it felt, and I went swirling back through evolution deposited into the skin of much earlier predecessor: Neander Babe, I call her. She had thick gnarly legs and a tribal chic ‘do. I remember feeling that I’d slipped into that genetic pool, merging with prehistory, landing in a time that predated domestication, feminine deodorants and plastic bosoms. Before our own madness was pruned back by fear, hemmed in by a litany of don’ts.

In my loopier moments, I imagine that had it been Paris instead of India, I might have poisoned my mauler with a savage bon-bon, or sicked my poofy Bichon Frise on him, or stabbed him with a barrette-something pointy and au courant. In reality, years later on an Italian train, when a pot-bellied pig of a man stuck his hand down my shirt and grabbed my breast, I slapped him across the face, flashing him my best Sophia Loren look of indignation. It was very dramatic; people came running, there was a lot of gesturing and noise. It was, in a word, Italian.

But this was India where life is far more elemental, closer to the bone, and all things mystical are in plain sight. So the fact that my experience was on the supernatural side, that I tapped into powers more ancient than myself, or that the spirit of Kali, a “divine destructress” with avenging limbs, had gotten under my skin or played a hand in my uprising, should come as no surprise.

While writing this I learned something new. Kali, who is typically portrayed as bloodthirsty—feared and revered for her battle-girl persona—is also a symbol of women’s empowerment, described as a perfect model of female balance: powerful, active and assertive—never pointlessly destructive. And what exactly are her legacies? She returns women to “three virtues” historically denied women in most cultures: Strength (moral and physical); intellect and knowledge; and sexual sovereignty.

So maybe that’s what hit home on my maiden voyage.

Here’s my loving shout out to Mother India and her fetching femmes fatales—girls, keep the force alive.

                          Dangerous Dames: A vibrant melange of Beauty and Beast.
                                   The  Prayerful and the Primal Rolled Into One.

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.

But.

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!

 

 

 

Shocking Self Defense Rules for Women

5 Shocking Rules for Women’s Self Defense should you need to go physical. Because – let’s face it, ladies– talk and empathy aren’t always saving graces.

(1) Unless you’re a prize fighter, don’t trade punches with a dude. That’s playing into his game and wholly unwise. If you get clocked real good and knocked out, it’s awfully hard to fight back. (Said wryly.)

(2) Never just smush your elbow into an aggressors face. This isn’t kissy face- its smashy face. Whip-crack that elbow, smash it hard into the nose, throat, neck. To get free, you’ll need to put a hurting on a fella. Ditch the icky-poo feeling!

(3) As part of your goal, especially in opening moves, aim to shock his nervous system and consciousness, using surprise and speed. Be the hand grenade that goes off INTO your target. This will buy you a second or more to continue then escape.

(4) In close range assaults, for example, an upright pin, BE the “animal” not the pleading terrified woman. (Send her out for a drink.) Choose smart timing. Are his hands busy at your boobs? The good news is that you know where his hands are– so counterattack straight away. Zero to one hundred percent into a vulnerable face / throat or head target. Consider shredding and ripping- eyes nose lips face- and even biting and letting loose loud guttural animal sounds right into his ear. In other words: Go Primal. A ten pound monkey can shred a man’s face in seconds. Grab and torque the head; crack and use ears to crank the head around or slam it into a hard surface. Unleash yourself in order to escape. This is “defensive counterattack.”

(5) Get with the power of coiling and springing. Example, if you’re lying down (or in an upright pin position) and you can free your hands and engage the power of your hips…Spring It! Release like a coiled cobra. Don’t waste precious time pounding on he-mans’ chest. (That’s why Tarzan pounds his chest; it doesn’t really hurt.) Be a jack-in-the-box…on steroids! Open with a shock to the system that you can continue to capitalize on.

Remember, the goal is escape. Every situation is different and ONLY YOU can make the decision to resist or not. But if you do, abide by reality, not wishful thinking. Exploit smart timing and stay focused on what you need to do in order to escape. Then do it.

One final note for the uninitiated: Let me assure you. Scary as it may sound, this fierce fighting capacity already exists within you. It may be dormant or buried, covered over by layers of fear or socialization or by doubts and internal conflict about the use of force, or by social conditioning that keeps women tied to their fears of men and their powers.

It needs to be awakened, turned back ON and called out of hiding – which is part of my job.  Ultimately only you can give yourself permission to do what may otherwise be unthinkable.  But understand: this is nothing new.

Back in prehistory, say 40,000 years ago we coddled our young one minute then speared marauding bears the next. Our aggressive and nurturing natures seamlessly entwined. In other words, this power pre-exists in much the same way that fire lies dormant in a matchbox– until the first strike.

 

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Risk Reduction & Fighting Skills, Yes! But Let’s Change the Conversation and STOP Victim Blaming!

Golda got it right: If women are to learn self defense, shouldn’t men learn self control? (I say “men” because statistically speaking it usually is.) 

First the caveat: I believe in fierce self defense. I endorse sensible risk reduction and proactive self protection, from cultivating “jungle consciousness” and heightened internal and external awareness up to and including the acquiring of emergency fight-back skills. I believe in taking responsibility for our personal safety. You’re the only one who’s with you all the time, so you’re in the best position to save yourself. If you haven’t read my Forbes guest blog, BEING NICE CAN KILL YOU, please do. It speaks volumes to where I’m coming from and to this point:

The more a woman is groomed in traditional behaviors of female socialization and platitudes of politeness the more at risk she becomes.

Okay? Now…

After the Investigation Discovery Show aired featuring my friend Keri’s brutal attack and escape in Rome using fight and flight, a flurry of critiques about her choices appeared online. What inflamed me is that it speaks to how quickly we as people and as cultures default to blaming the woman – “What was she thinking/ wearing/ doing?” – focusing on her behavior vs the deceptive, rapacious acts of the attacker. The sexual predator. You know…the guy who ruins the woman’s life. Or tries to. (Thankfully not in this case. Eat this shithead… and I’ll see you in court.. in Rome…. where you attacked me….and God knows how many other women…) 

Blaming the victim, even in subtle ways, is not only insulting and hurtful but in the words of friend and legal expert Roger Canaff, it “deepens survivor’s trauma, delays their healing, and takes the focus off of the attacker responsible for the situation in the first place.”

Psychology 101: Maybe it’s a way for people to distance themselves from the harsh reality that “it” could happen to them. That the presence of danger always exists, that bad things happen to smart, good, “God loving” women. That the upstanding guy in your ‘hood who’s kind to your kids, or the man you’ve lunched with before, who you’ve dated without incident, who fixed your faucets, or the funny guy you met yesterday while walking the dog, or the man you married is also a predator.

To appreciate the harm and knee jerkery of victim blaming, look no further than this Dallas news article:  But don’t miss the trail of insightful comments:

“I wonder if those who try to blame the victims of rape, would be as ready to accept blame for being robbed or assaulted because of “reckless” behavior that caused them to be in the pathway of the criminal who robbed or assaulted them, especially [those] who are always so quick to place blame on the women victims.”

Keri is not only a hero, a smart ballsy chick who smacked down her attacker and did the unthinkable (leapt off his balcony and across slippery-sloped Italian tiled rooftops defying death) but she’s also a friend. Knowing all the details of her particular story, any perceptions of “recklessness” are off base.

I’m pissed about this, but aiming to be tactful –hence my shout out for the cessation of victim-blaming brought to you here vis-a-vis my comment (enclosed below) from one online “discussion.”

But first, a request for you dear reader. Take this phrase to heart. It bears repeating:

The presence of danger always exists. Don’t get uptight about it just comprehand it fully, then dissolve or disown any illusions you may have about otherwise realities.  

And please understand this: “No one is vulnerable to sexual violence unless a person near them means them harm.” (Key phrase = “means them harm.”) It initiates with a perp’s intent. Even when it’s a crime of opportunity.

It stems from a rapist’s feelings of violent entitlement. The right to take without consent. 

Even if you or I don’t agree with the choices a woman makes, or deem certain behaviors unwise or downright foolish as I sometimes do, it does not mean she shoulders responsibility for an act of violence committed against her– and this is why I’m NOT in favor of rape prevention TIPS as primary self defense. Because:

(A) It unduly increases female fear encouraging litanies of DON’T do this. DON’T that! Never be alone…For Chrissake people, women have lives to live. (B) More importantly it misleads women into thinking that safety from violence, rape, assault rests solely upon women’s behaviors, and this potentially then blames women. 

It’s one of the reasons why many assaults and rapes go unreported — for fear of scrutiny or blame. FACT: sexual predators and victimizers assault women all hours of the day and night. And in acquaintance or date rape (such as Keri’s foiled scenario) the attacker has established familiarity AND already has proximity to his intended target. So the idea of never being alone with a would-be predator becomes a mute point.

Below is my comment– I post as “savage beauty”- which is my response to a slew of victim blaming knee-jerkery, and this overt suggestion: ” That women of color are more naturally distrustful and would never then wind up alone with a predator or abuser.”  As happened to Keri. I take issue with this, and I think it misses the point for the reasons below:

MY COMMENT: posted as ‘savage beauty” 

As a women’s self defense pro, as one who carries some street cred and who has spent time traveling and living in other cultures, let me first say: I don’t dismiss the truth that certain upbringings, cultures, experiences and mindsets heighten female intuition and perception of potential danger- that’s TRUE. And I agree: all women need alert to potential behavioral clues and draw hard lines. It’s something I call “jungle consciousness” and it’s central to my women’s self defense teaching and paradigm.

That said, the BIGGER truth and moral in Keri’s story of outrageous bravery and best use of fight and flight reflexes — not to mention her outstanding presence of mind, disallowing Marco to break her down, her execution of decisive action in The Moment of Truth when seconds counts, and additional meritorious actions which I could go on and on about here– the point is this: Men like her attacker Marco are VERY GOOD LIARS AND DECEIVERS–they’ve majored in deception, in disarming women’s radars and staging false realities in a calculated fashion under great care and cover. So Keri’s story could be any woman’s story nightmare and this goes to why women MUST be trained in emergency and aggressive “last resort” self defense strategies. Because it could be you or me or a sister or BFF.

You or I may have strict boundaries and rules. Perhaps you or I would never have gone back to this man’s apt. Good! Smart! Hooray for us! (For the record, Marco  gave Keri no reason to fear him; he was a good guy when they were at his digs hours earlier.) But don’t think for a moment that it couldn’t happen to “me” meaning any of us. Instead of Marco in Rome, maybe it’s that nice fella from church who you trust. Or the new upright man who moved into your hood and he’s been kind and protective of your kids. And one day he and you are alone and his predatory stripes come out and he goes off on you expecting favors. Or attempts to rapes you. Or maybe he IS your minister/ neighbor/ electrician or other known-to-you entity.

Predators are masterful liars. They know how to BLEND IN and have majored in staging. It can (and it does) happen to the smartest among us and because all it takes is ONE MOMENT OF weakness which we all suffer from time to time.

Let’s cease all forms of victim blaming, subtle or overt. Risk reduction, YES! Smart protective measures and bang up skills, YES! Responsibility for personal safety, YES….

My friend Keri was violently attacked by a predator who has likely done this before and she had the courage and smarts to prosecute in Italian courts and may have saved many women’s lives and integrity.

I applaud her survival instincts. I could write a book about all that she did right once it all went wrong. Including how quickly she rallied her fighting spirit and arrived at a bottom line decision – which is a critical step – deciding instantly:

“What is non-negotiable? What is uncompromising and worth fighting for? What do I hold sacred?”

It’s from that deep well of spiritual resolve that we take decisive and heroic action.

I’ll close with this: Violence and sexual violence against women is pandemic. Even when women do all the “RIGHT” things we can still be victimized. Because those who will, who violate women, do so because they can. 

Let’s stop focusing on what SHE (the woman) did, stop scrutinizing her behaviors. Heighten our knowledge and senses, and acquire savage skills and learn the “tells” and behavioral clues for sure. But let’s also move the conversation onto the vile actions of the predators and hold them accountable. Maybe knock some heads and asses around, as Keri and many other women have successfully valiantly done.

We need to stand together as women regardless of background or race or ethnicity. Because in this war on women, we’re one very big hood: Woman hood.

 

 

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

A-woman-must-not-depend-copy

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.

Raising Fire From Fear: A Screed. A Revolution. A Manifesto in the Makings.


With a little alchemy and will power we raise fire from fear.

“The tribe that possessed fire possessed life.” — 1982 film, Quest for Fire

“Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.”  Gustav Mahler

I love these quotes. They speak of truth and a deep reverence for what has come before.

They also speak to the power of fire as pivotal to life, as primordial. Easy to see if we zip back in time… In prehistoric days fire meant life: it meant warmth, cooked food, better tools and community. Life gathered and unfolded around fire. “Watch fires” set around dens and camps is also what helped keep predators at bay. It enabled survival, allowing our kin  to literally “take back the night.”

So vital was fire to life that tribes had literal keepers of the flame. Their task was to carry  still smoldering embers wrapped in grassy leaves and bark-wrapped bundles from camp to camp. In this manner fire was kept at the ready– ready to be re-stoked and brought back to life at the tribe’s new digs. (I imagine its classified job listing. Wanted: Reliable fellow with good lungs for ultimate BLOW JOB.)

It’s no exaggeration to say that once our ancestors learned to make fire at will and were no longer dependent upon lightning strikes or stealing fire from rival clans, it changed the course of evolution. It enabled our ancestors to then turn their attention to higher pursuits — to culture and community and to a little thing called LOVE. This all started with knowing how to kindle a flame; a flame which became a portal to a whole new life.

This is also the potential power of women’s self defense: to liberate women from their deepest survival fears–at least alleviate undue fear by being armed with skill, strategy keenly cultivated instincts – so that we can nurture and manifest our full 3-D  potential.

Mahler’s quote also relates to my urging for the preserving of fire – more specifically its UTILITY as a self defense weapon and why women need to turn this flame up a notch

In my Dharma Of Defense I speak of the elements of FIRE and ICE. This combo of forces was best described to me once by a teacher and former combatant as a need to be “on fire from the neck down and ice cold from the neck up.”

Or as I prefer to say, we need a HOT body and a COOL head. Amen to that sistahs.

Here’s the deal: If confronted or frightened you want to keep a cool head, yes! (De-escalate. Lower an aggressor’s arousal. Calmly, swiftly extricate yourself.) But if a woman has to GO PHYSICAL to escape a larger, stronger, pumped up creature intent on harm, she best be packing a charge of primal power and heat, armed with the know-how to explode into a target with the ability to source this power from loins and limbs, from her sex and her soul– and to bring it in a heartbeat. It’s a power that must be kindled from the inside out. A knowing to be kept aglow in the heart, ON at all times.

Think of this as a pilot light to be adjusted as needed–from the luminous kindle (no particular threat, life at large) to a suddenly, violently ignited whoosh. (When it’s time to go ballistic on someone’s ass.) It’s a power born of love, fury and primal survival instinct. It dwells in heart and hide; it can quicken your pulse, flash a mean heat across your face  and feed deeper life forces and desires– from the carnal to the spiritual.

Not too shabby!

Let me say: I don’t shake my head and tsk tsk or merely view this as a necessary evil as in– Isn’t it a terrible shame that women have to learn self defense stuff, have this switch turned On? NO! On the contrary I view this readied charge and female-animal potency as part of the larger constellation of life forces, as downright womanly, as part of THE FIGHTING EROS OF LIFE.

If you don’t already know this facet of yourself, let me assure you: It’s a beautiful thing – and it can save your pretty ass.

Finding and switching on this fierce female source is personal to each of us, but it’s also political with far-reaching ripple effects. When this tool is alighted by women en masse we can burn down myths and burn IN ownership of our own courageous and outrageous warrior nature- which might otherwise be crippled by fear.

A FIERY LITTLE HISTORY HERSTORY OF WOMEN’S SELF DEFENSE

It was precisely this fighting spirit that gave birth to WOMEN’S SELF DEFENSE as a movement and consciousness which was spawned in the 70’s, born of the coupling between martial arts and feminism. This was no nebbishy exercise! It arose as a   RESISTANCE MOVEMENT to combat rape, as a viable means of “taking our bodies back” and to paraphrase Black Belt Women’s Nancy Lehman, from the need to feel our force. (Oh how I love this phrase: Feel Our Force. That something as elemental as learning to protect our boundaries and bodies was deemed “RADICAL” by many… is a  telling statement indeed.)

And so this phrase coined by feminist Andrea Dworkin became an emerging war-cry:

 Resist do not comply.

Which brings me back to the quotes about FIRE and another reason WHY we need to turn this flame up a notch: When any discipline or “movement” (Yoga for example) crosses over from grassroots to mainstream and becomes commercialized, something inevitably gets lost or diminished in the process of proliferation. So too, as women’s self defense has become mainstreamed, has become Big “profit center” Business –with franchises and licenses, with weekend and online certifications–and as its been exposed to the dampening winds of political correctness, some of its ORIGINAL FIRE has dimmed, fallen by the wayside in favor of “ten easy steps” or reduced to mere exercise (don’t even get me started) or subsumed by the ubiquitous language of ‘personal safety’ —a term I fiercely resist. Not because it isn’t an accurate umbrella (who among us doesn’t want to be safer?), but because it distances from the primal heart and martial bloodline of self defense, dispatching what belongs in the realm of the senses to a higher headier mount. To a more sanitized, gentrified mindset of cautionary tips and do’s and don’ts whereby FEMALE FEROCITY– its ire and blood-pulsing might -is easily deemed irrelevant, a mere PS in the equation of “what works.”

Nonsense!

Put another way SELF DEFENSE LITE subjugates the need to feel and cultivate our force, to nurture our will and authority for “applied violence” (when needed), to ennoble and verify our own dangerous capacities and female fighting instincts.

And honestly now… personal safety?... what a lustless term. Feh! (We can do better!)

Here’s the bottom-line, my call to arms if you will, a bit trumpeting albeit:   

“As long as men are the sole agents of aggression and women are the casualties of their actions, the victims on the pointy end of men’s violent entitlements, there will NEVER be a balance of power between the sexes. Women will remain relegated to a subordinate status, too powerless or simply too fearful to resist the dominance and brutalities of others, limited by social contract and constraint in the ways in which we can express our own ferocities, yearnings, and fighting spirit.

The gig is up. We must no longer outsource our protection to men– to fathers, husbands, brothers, boyfriends or saviors in khaki or uniform blue. It’s time to bring this power home, refasten it to our womanly roots, to reap its fruits, harvest its furies and acquire the skills to Self Defend. It’s time to rekindle this flame, lionize ourselves, and raise FIRE FROM FEAR.

       Each and together may we become outposts of courage.”

BUT FIRST. SOMETIMES THE CURE LIES IN THE ILL.  

To arrive at a cure (on OUR end I mean) we need to brave the scary places, the dark corners and basement of our “what if” fears- which isn’t always unfounded mind you. Only by confronting our vulnerability – which, face it ladies, we all feel to one extent or another; we all know fear’s imprint, the toll it takes, the signature tracks it leaves in the female psyche and soma; it’s ills, indigntiies and dimiinishing effects…only THEN can we release the POWER that lies in its wake.

Let this journey happen. Grab a torch and dig in. We’re going DOWN TOWN into the primal zone where Fear and Power not only co-exist but often entwine like lovers enmeshed. And from this savage union FEROCITY awakens.

COPYRIGHT – MELISSA SOALT, 2011. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. NO REPRODUCTION OR COPYING WITH EXPLICIT WRITTEN CONSENT.

 

Dr. Ruthless: Shouting It Out For the Media!

Attention Media– if you want a fresh voice in women’s self defense call me!

Schooling women in ancient skills, attitudes, and warrior wisdom since 1986!   

From no-nonsense fight-back skills to the inner tools and emotional dimensions of self defense; from the larger issues of violence against women to controversial topics such as why women must embrace (not shun) their killer instinct. I can address it all with intelligence and panache. Le’ts shout it out!

Press Release Below–followed by additional talking points. 

Discovering the Dr. Ruthless Difference:

“It’s Not The Size of the Woman in Fight, It’s the Size of the Fight in the Woman”

AMHERST, MA – You know Melissa Soalt (AKA “Dr. Ruthless”) as the go-to expert on self defense from THE VIEW, NBC Nightly News, Huffington Post, Self, Marie Claire, The Wall Street Journal, CosmoGirl, BUST and more, where she’s shared her expertise with countless women via her no-nonsense “Dharma of Defense” – a brand she evolved from decades of immersion in the study of self defense and the female warrior mindset. Now, Soalt takes us deeper into the primal ferocity zone – a place, she says, all women need to be to recover the lost skill of “pulling ferocious from fear.”  It could save your life!

“Female socialization – ‘nice lady behavior’ – actually puts you more at risk with aggressors and criminals,” says Soalt in her blog at Forbes.com, “Being Nice Can Kill You.” Soalt points out that successful fight-back self defense often hinges upon the unspoken truth that far beyond technique, women must harness their “inner ferocity” and “maximum yang” powers if they are to effectively fend off assailants. And this is vital: When nothing else will do but counterattack, women must be ready to spring into action, using their bodies and whatever tools they have at their disposal but most importantly understanding this nugget of warrior wisdom: Regardless of technique, you ARE the weapon, the delivery system! All women have the innate capacity to be dangerous defenders, says Soalt, but in many ways this goes against social mores and traditional female mandates.” See below for the full blog entry and to learn more about “The Dr. Ruthless Difference:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/shenegotiates/2012/06/21/being-nice-can-kill-you/.

Soalt also makes a splash this summer with her latest appearance on Investigation Discovery’s “Dates From Hell,” in an episode focusing on a remarkable rape-escape, set to air July 11th, 10 p.m. EST. http://investigation.discovery.com/tv/dates-from-hell/episodes/ Here, Soalt not only imparts smart fighting strategies but addresses the classic predatory mindset and tactics of a would-be rapist, gives behavior clues that often precede a violent attack which should never be ignored and discusses the stages of an attack. “Teaching women the innate skills to manage fear and adrenalin, and harness their terror, is as important as teaching women to tap into their warrior selves,” she reiterates.

Never one to shy away from bold statements, Soalt is a triple threat – an award winning self defense expert, a former psychotherapist and a Black Belt Hall of Fame recipient. Her message and method of reducing risk, of practical and forceful strategies that work regardless of a women’s size and her proven tips and how to’s have been hailed by law enforcement, street fighters and feminists alike.

Here’s a smattering of the buzz surrounding Soalt:

  • “Every once in a while someone comes along and not only leaves an indelible impression on you, but also changes the way you perceive yourself and your place in the world. Women’s self defense expert Melissa Soalt is one such person… Dr. Ruthless has a lot to offer the world.”   Black Belt Magazine

  • “If you’re Melissa Soalt aka Dr. Ruthless you preach the gospel of low-down, dirty, eye-gouging, groin-crushing, go-for-the-throat self-defense tactics for women. You take your 25 years of training and combine it with your insights as a former psychotherapist. You come up with a potent message to women that constant fear is a crippler, and that you can learn how to fight like a warrior– or a mad dog– always keeping in mind that fleeing, if possible, is your best defense.” Politics Daily (now part of Huffington Post Media.) 

  • “Dr. Ruthless KICKS ASS!” BUST Magazine  

Here is a sampling of lifesaving info that Soalt can share with your audience:

  • Practical assault deterring methods and explosive fight-back skills to facilitate escape, capitalizing on the body’s fight and flight response and minimizing freeze or panic.
  • How to morph your body into a decisive weapon and weaponize! How to use the environment and handy objects. Soalt’s formula: “Whaddya got?”
  • Resist or submit–what the data shows and Soalt’s decades of perspective
  • Use ALL the feminine wiles…where to put your focus, how to collect yourself inside and how to use trickery and deception to create openings and opportunities
  • Occupy your hips! Learn to generate maximum power from that part of the body we love to loathe!
  • Lay it on us, Dr. Ruthless. Does size matter? Yes…and no! Fight “smart” and use your strengths against vulnerabilities. Ask Soalt how!

In addition to her expertise Soalt is also a woman who has fended off attack with stories to share. For more information on Soalt, including media appearances, seminar offerings and her Fierce & Female DVD, please visit: http://www.dr-ruthless.com/index.php

ADDITIONAL TALKING POINTS:

First lines of defense. The nuts and bolts” — from danger recognition to body language,  boundary setting, and verbal skills to how lowering your center of gravity IS a deterrent.

Fight back and RAPE DEFENSE skills— attacks against women happen at intimate “hot breath on your face” range. To counterattack and counter the terror we need explosive gross-motor “in-fighting” tools. I’ll share practical moves, addressing PRIME targets and  WEAPONS for stand-up, pin and rape-specific positions. The goal is to disable and escape. (Did you know: the EARS make great handles and targets….More!)

The emotional and mind-setting skills to manage FEAR and remain focused in the MOMENT OF TRUTH when adrenaline and emotions flood your system, potentially producing panic. Seconds count– be there!

Clear the path: Why you MUST overcome the fear of injury and reconcile spiritual and moral conflicts in order to effectively go primal in self defense. Decide in advance: What is worth fighting for? What is uncompromising and non-negotiable? Where do YOU draw that line?

How and why FEROCITY is a superpower.

Understanding predatory tactics and progressive stages of attack. Predators are masters of deception. I can highlight specific behaviors and address “testing” and indicators that typically precede attack. Once a sexual predator gains a woman’s trust and  measure of calculated control, he will “close the deal” by using his greater size, strength, and displays of aggression- in essence, TERROR TACTICS– to gain compliance and control. These stages can happen in one night, or over weeks or months.

How to USE  the environment in self defense— beyond “get your keys or a pen in your hand” there are myriad ways to use walls, counter tops, surfaces and furnishings in your defense – as shields, weapons and barriers. Own your world!

Controversy! How facets of Pollyannaish New Ageism con-conspires in the pacification of women furthering the disconnect from our baser survival selves.

Dr. Ruthless can also address special-focus groups: from tweener and teen safety to female journalist training in sexual assault prevention- a topic she has been cited on- to deeper cultural dialogue around the FEMALE use of violent force and why the learning of radical self defense is NOT victim blaming, but a vital yet often overlooked tool in combating violence against women.