Self-Confidence Is the Best Self-Defense

Self-confidence plays a critical role in self-defense. How we stand, walk, and carry ourselves communicates to the world how we feel about ourselves. People pay more attention to our body language than we think they do. And they respond to what they see, and what they think they can get away with.

This really hit home when I was teaching one of my self-defense classes for women. There were several grown women and two petite teenagers in the class. The girls were sisters, and they were adorable. One was very chatty and outgoing, and the other one was extremely quiet and reserved. They were accompanied by their grandmother, who had decided they should all take the class together.

It usually takes some time for women to feel comfortable in a self-defense class, and this group was no exception. However, eventually they began to get into the spirit of the class. They even started to have fun with it, which is always one of my goals.

The quiet teenager hung back and silently watched the rest of us play with a few techniques and walk through several different scenarios. I thought she was just shy, so I made an effort to engage with her and make her part of the group. After a few moments I said, “Now let’s pretend that someone is picking on you at school.” She shot a look at her grandmother. The room got very quiet. Finally her grandmother said, “That’s exactly what’s happening, and why I brought her here.”

Ahh, that explained her demeanor and her body language. I wished I could go to school with her the next day and protect her from her tormentor. But that wasn’t practical. Instead, I continued teaching from a slightly different perspective. And I made sure this girl was front and center.

Pretty soon, something remarkable happened. She began standing taller (all five feet of her), and started looking me in the eye. She paid closer attention to what we were doing and got a lot more talkative, although not nearly as loquacious as her sister. Eventually I slid up beside her and whispered, “You’re getting it now, aren’t you?”

I wish you could have seen the look she gave me. She had a gleam in her eye and a knowing smile on her beautiful face. As a matter of fact, she actually glowed with a wisdom well beyond her years. She nodded her head and replied, “Oh, yeah. I get it.” I could see her self-confidence increase as the class continued. It was a beautiful sight to behold.

Two weeks later I received an email from her grandmother. She informed me her granddaughter told her that one self-defense class changed her life forever. She wasn’t being picked on any longer and was enjoying going to school again. Or at least, as much as any teenager can enjoy school.

I would love to know how the final confrontation went down. I would have given anything to see how she stood her ground. Most of all, I would have loved to see how her tormentor responded. Especially since I know it was done in a non-violent manner. Sometimes all you have to do is walk tall, look people in the eye, and stand your ground. After all, the best offense is a good defense. And self-confidence is the best self-defense.  Wouldn’t you agree?

Feldenkrais, Survival, and Supernovas

I love the connection between martial arts and Feldenkrais. After all, Feldenkrais is based on martial arts, the art of movement, and the art of survival. Moshe Feldenkrais believed that all human beings were intended to not just survive, but to thrive in their environment. He also wanted to return to each person their human dignity. How beautiful is that?  

To have human dignity, you must be able to protect yourself and have strong personal boundaries. As a martial artist, I understand that, and I always integrate the principles of martial arts, self-defense, and survival skills into my Feldenkrais sessons. I get so passionate about Feldenkrais and the art of survival that many of my clients wanted to explore this connection at a deeper level, with practical application for daily life. Some of them even talked about trying some martial arts classes, but were worried about getting their heads knocked off by over-enthusiastic training partners. After being on the receiving end of some of those partners myself, I could certainly understand their concerns.

But I also understand how empowering the practice of martial arts can be, and I wanted to be able to offer that sense of empowerment to my clients without having them risk their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. I was at a loss, until I finally had a head-smacking moment as a light bulb went off in my head. Why not devote a two hour long class to Feldenkrais and the art of survival?

I chose one of my favorite Feldenkrais lessons titled “The Golden Ball.” It is a deliciously gentle but powerful lesson where you imagine a golden ball placed deep in your abdomen, somewhere between your pubic bone and your belly button. As the lesson progresses, you visualize the ball moving, rolling, sliding, and gliding as you move through the movement patterns.

Before we began the lesson, we started in traditional Feldenkrais-fashion with a body scan. However, instead of lying down and sensing our contact with the floor, we walked around my office and the long hallway outside of it to notice our connection to the floor, our environment, each other, and within ourselves. “How do you feel?” I asked them. “Do you feel confident and powerful? Or do you feel timid and unsure of yourself?”

The response was rather lukewarm until I uttered those magic words, “Go to your mat, and lie on your back….” Ahhh, the rewarding sound of sighs of contentment filled the room as I began guiding them through “The Golden Ball.” Halfway through the lesson, I stopped, had my clients slowly come to standing, and walk around the room and the hallway again. Once more, I repeated my questions: “How do you feel? Do you feel confident and powerful? Or do you feel timid and unsure of yourself?” 

This time the response was a bit more introspective as well as enthusiastic. Their comments included a sense of increased awareness, feeling centered, stronger, and grounded. Interesting, to say the least. I was mind-boggled by the changes that I observed in all of the participants as the lesson had unfolded. Of course I kept my comments and my observations to myself as I had them return to their mats to prepare for the grand finale. 

When the lesson ended, as I watched my clients transition from the floor to standing, my jaw dropped in amazement. The power in each and everyone of them was electric, and I had to take a step back so their combined energy didn’t knock me over. Before I had the chance to ask my three questions, one of my clients exclaimed, “It’s like a supernova! At first I couldn’t feel the ball, and then I started to feel it a little bit. But after the break, it got bigger, brighter, and stronger–now it’s all around me! It’s a Feldenkrais supernova!”

I ended the class as I always do, with a recap of the lesson and what I lovingly refer to as the “family talk.” But before we did, we had one more walk around the room and the hallway. The light and the wisdom from those golden balls just lit up the room, and it certainly lit up my heart. Because I knew that all of those people now had a few more skills to take home with them….the skills of Feldenkrais, survival, and supernovas. Feldenkrais….turning on the power for people everywhere. You simply have to try it to believe it!

Teach your children well

It’s so important to teach your children well so you can prepare them for the great big world out there. However, out of all the things you teach your children, the one subject that often gets overlooked is how to defend and protect themselves when you aren’t around to do it for them. I still get the shivers when I think of the following story.

Last night I watched the news with a combination of horror, admiration and even pride when I saw the disturbing video of an attempted abduction. The would be kidnapper got a huge surprise when his ten year old victim fought back, kicked and bit him while her two year old brother screamed like a banshee. My emotions ran high and I was moved to tears as I watched the video.

I was furious that she was attacked in broad daylight while she was walking down the sidewalk with her baby brother. I was relieved that she was able to protect herself. I admired her tenacity. Most of all, I was proud of her that she knew exactly what to do under such terrible circumstances. And I was proud of her little brother for screaming his head off.

How did this girl know what to do? Her father taught her. Good for him. Apparently, the girl’s father had repeatedly instructed her how to react under such circumstances, just in case. They had even role played such a terrifying scene, in the remote chance that she ever was attacked. As a result, she responded immediately and correctly. She fought like a tigress. She got away and he got arrested.

I like the ending to what could have been a tragic story and another statistic. I don’t know about you, but I would rather see more stories like this than one where another innocent life is lost. Remember, perpetrators are looking for an  easy target. If you can’t teach your children how to protect themselves, or feel ill equipped to do so, you have options. Look into a self defense program for kids, or consider enrolling them into a martial arts school to receive proper training. The point is not to scare them, but to “aware” them. Awareness is the greatest defense a child can have. 

So please, teach your children well. The life they save may be their own.

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP