Fierce and Female: A Self-Defense Expert Challenges Women To Define What is Non-Negotiable

by Gloria Feldt on February 17th, 2012
in 9 Ways Blog, Define Your Own Terms, Employ Every Medium, Gender, Leadership, No Excuses, Power Tools, She's Doing It, Use What You've Got and tagged , , , , , , , ,

We often think of power as being a concept that is disembodied and theoretical. But it’s also very physical.

I previously posted here about Ellen Snortland, whose book, Beauty Bites Beast, about the psychological value as well as the physical importance of women becoming proficient at self-defense I always recommend to my students when I teach Women, Power, and Leadership.

Now comes Dr. Ruthless with yet more practical tools for what she refers to as the “Killer Instinct…to preserve and protect life.” And, she says, women need to forge their fear into fire. Read on…and share your experiences with physical fear and strength.

Q&A With Dr. Ruthless on her “Dharma of Defense” and Why we Must Venerate the Warrior Spirit

What happens when you combine primal self-defense methods with the insights of a psychotherapist and the heart of a warrior?

Meet Dr. Ruthless, also known as Melissa Soalt. An award-winning women’s self-defense expert and Black Belt Hall of Fame recipient, Dr. Ruthless emerged at the forefront of the women’s self defense movement in the mid 1980′s and has created her own “Dharma of Defense.” You can see her in action in her acclaimed DVD, Fierce & Female.

Her teachings encompass the physical and spiritual dimensions of self-defense. She unabashedly advocates for women to leverage their Killer Instinct —not for the sake of destruction, but to preserve and protect life. In this interview, Dr. Ruthless shares her perspective on the female warrior spirit and why we must learn to mobilize our survival instinct and forge fear into fire.

Brooke Axtell: What attracted you to training in self-defense and teaching other women how to defend themselves?

Dr. Ruthless: In my late teens, I lived in the Middle East and traveled around Asia. I was attacked multiple times and violently groped. I learned I was a scrappy bitch. I successfully fought off rape attempts in Israel and Pakistan and I suffered a lot of indignities. Women who have been violated know what it’s like to be reduced to anti-matter. It’s utterly dehumanizing. I also witnessed appalling inequities, the ways women are controlled by men. This birthed my undying reverence for female disobedience and the need for women’s self defense.

When I came home I began training in martial arts. Then, a decade later, in the middle of the night, a rapist broke into my home. He had cut the power and phone lines. I heard the creaking floorboards as he headed for my bed, knife in hand. Fortunately my screams sent him fleeing before he reached me. That was a terrifying event. It propelled me from martial arts to the more practical, down and dirty methods.

BA: You have a unique approach to self-defense. How would you describe your Dharma of Defense? How did it evolve?

DR: My paradigm evolved from decades of immersion in the study of self-defense and the warrior mindset. Warrior paradigms are traditionally male. This mindset is dispassionate, detached and steely. It doesn’t fully connect to women. So my approach defines a female warrior paradigm. It’s far more primordial. It addresses female realities (spiritual, physical, emotional) and helps women capitalize on their greatest strengths. It is rooted in my concept of Fierce Love and the radical ability to turn fear into fire. It’s a fusion of primal self defense – which plugs into elemental powers and capacities- and the resolute heart of the female warrior.

We need to honor ourselves with a larger view of spirituality that includes this fearsome potential. My paradigm closes the divide between our ‘higher’ and ‘baser’ (animal) selves and imparts a unifying, more wholesome and lustier  self-persona. I view this as part of the Fighting Eros of Life.

My work is born out of two very deep feelings: love and fury. Women must know they too can be dangerous creatures and not just feel like the endangered ones.

BA: Can you tell us about the fighting methods you teach?

DR: Attacks against women happen at terrifyingly close range. The predator will use his greater size and strength to dominate his intended prey and gain compliance or control.

I want women to have the option to fight. Tight quarters calls for explosive, instinctive, uncomplicated in-fighting skills that rip from our lower center of gravity and base of power, from our hips, legs and core. I teach women smart timing strategies, how to harness the formidable charge of fear and adrenaline, refashion their bodies into decisive penetrating weapons (plus how to wield handy weapons) and counterattack to escape.

If a female chooses to fight back she needs to be armed with this ferocity and skill. The killer instinct, nestled within ferocity, not only helps fund a woman’s fight, but it can also help a woman kill her own fear which is sometimes necessary.

BA: You speak extensively about awakening the warrior spirit in women. What is the warrior spirit and how can women reconnect with this?

DR: The female warrior spirit has always existed. It is a primordial seed that needs to be released from the field of potentials and realized in our waking dimension. We need to grasp its memory, this elemental power from our prehistoric past and bring it into the present. With the courage it liberates, we can create far more equitable and enlightened societies.

I abhor war. But we can reject war and embrace the warrior spirit. We don’t have to relinquish our ideals for a just, compassionate world, but we also need other tools. We need to own this choice to aggressively even violently fight back to protect what we hold sacred.

One way to connect with this spirit is by tapping into our lineage. When women hear real accounts of female warriors and “deadly dames” throughout history, they begin to cultivate new ways of imaging themselves and can internalize this spirit.

BA: In your experience training women, what are the inner obstacles or beliefs that keep women from aggressively resisting attack?

DR: It comes down to fear or socialization—much of it is rooted in the myth of female defenselessness or other internalized beliefs- “I’m too small; too weak; don’t have it in me.” Some internal conflicts stem from a religious ideal that disallows force or where self-love and this expression of power does not extend to the woman or Mother–only to protecting the child.

In the context of self-defense, these diminishing beliefs become obstacles, the “inner muggers” that can put a choke hold on female force or create potentially lethal hesitation. Conflicts need to be reconciled in advance, for example, “I’m a worker for peace. You want me to slam what?” This is imperative because all systems must be GO.

When women answer the question: What is worth fighting for? What is non negotiable, and define their sacred boundaries, ferocity naturally arises. This ferocity doesn’t just gift us with strength, but it dissolves inhibitions and arouses the will. So it’s a superpower.

We need to be willing to fight for what we value most. I don’t see this in opposition to the calling to make the world a better place. On the contrary, when women receive the warrior spirit, and reap its muscle and might, this not only saves lives but it helps heal the ills and indignities imposed by fear. So it’s a curative tonic.

BA: How have other religious or spiritual concepts hindered women from embracing their capacity to physically fight back?

DR: In any fundamentalism, regardless of faith, where men and male religious authority maintain control and “protection” over women’s bodies and behaviors, fighting back is a diminished opportunity. At this level, male protectionism has a dark side. Female force is intentionally kept in check, and unleashing it could be met with dire consequences.

But there are other hindering forces. Some “New Age” ideologies propagate the insidious notion that women are the all-nurturing, all-benevolent, pacifistic creatures devoid of aggression. This lopsided view is dangerous. It furthers the disconnection from our primal selves. Any teaching that fails to honor and validate women’s aggressive potential, alongside the strengths of empathy and nurturing, does women a grave disservice.

We need to expand the definition of love. Love is fierce. Instead of shunning aggression, we must view it as a resource. Spirituality should not just be based on the higher self. Talk and empathy are not always saving graces. When we discourage women from learning aggressive self-protection, we inadvertently encourage them to submit to victimization and suffer its traumatic aftermath. We have to make space to include this vital aggression as part of our womanly nature.

BA: What kind of mindset shift needs to happen for women to fully embrace their capacity to fight?

DR: It’s a monumental shift in stance: from ask to take. Women have traditionally been groomed in the virtue of asking, of “May I?” whereas men have been entitled to take. Sexual assault is violent entitlement, is taking without consent. Historically, taking and ownership have been privileges of men.

Effectively resisting attack hinges on women giving themselves permission, without apology, to not only be aggressive, but to take control. Gloria Steinem once remarked that taking is, in itself, empowerment for women. Nowhere is this more true than in fight-back self-defense when now may be the only time that matters and you literally have to take charge. When the only way out is through you have to counterattack and become the huntress not the hunted.

For a female, this is the ultimate reversal. Until recent times, this wielding of forceful resistance, especially in the face of control and fear, has been largely unthinkable. Forbidden. For many, it remains counter intuitive—so it takes learning and unlearning.

BA: If you could say anything to encourage women to pursue self-defense, what would you say?

DR: “Do it! Here’s the deal: Regardless of technique or method you are the weapon. The delivery system. Everything else is a tool, a force multiplier. Once this is fully understood, the need to acquire skill and cultivate our will becomes luminously clear. And to truly take our bodies back, this learning is vital.

Women are called to help the world, but as we challenge the old systems there will be violence and opposition. We need to lionize ourselves and be prepared. We need to mobilize our courage to burn down apocryphal myths and attitudes that perpetuate rape and violent entitlements. Fighting back is not the only or always the best solution, but it is a significant piece in the war to combat violence against women.

When women confront their deep-seated fears, which all women feel to some extent, when they realize their primal self-defending powers and consciously embrace the willful warrior spirit, it changes everything. Far beyond its life and dignity-saving benefits, the embodiment of the Fierce Female is vital to liberation itself, to shifting self perceptions, creating new internal power states, and to re-balancing the world.

In the end it doesn’t matter how you get here—whether you’re pushed by fear or pulled by power—what matters is that you arrive.”

Fnd the original article posted here.
©Melissa Soalt. Reprinted with permission.


Gloria Feldt

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

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6 Responses to Fierce and Female: A Self-Defense Expert Challenges Women To Define What is Non-Negotiable

  1. Christine says:

    I feel connected to the spirit of warrior, though I never though of defining it in those terms until now, when I fight for what I believe in. That passion is fulfilling. I think women should learn to work past the fear of being strong and connect with the how fulfilling it can be to be strong, determined and resolute in action. I would love to hear Dr. Ruthless speak more about self-defense but especially on redefining what women are about. Maybe warrior is the new feminism?

    Dr. Ruthless makes excellent points on self defense even more so, to me, when I read how it connects to the idea of “taking” rather than asking for permission. “When women confront their deep-seated fears, which all women feel to some extent, when they realize their primal self-defending powers and consciously embrace the willful warrior spirit, it changes everything. Far beyond its life and dignity-saving benefits, the embodiment of the Fierce Female is vital to liberation itself, to shifting self perceptions, creating new internal power states, and to re-balancing the world.”

    Thank you, Dr. Ruthless.

  2. Gloria Feldt says:

    Thanks for your comments, Michelle, Mindy, and Michael. In my personal experience, my self-perception and sense of psychological strength as well as physical capability changed when at midlife I started building upper body strength. I say hear, hear! To Melissa for her work and all of you for supporting it.

  3. Thank you all for your wonderful thoughtful comments.

    To Christine, not that I shy away from controversy, but it would be impossible and presumptuous of me to redefine what woman are about. And that IS precisely the point. We are no longer straight jacketed or defined by any litany of “do’s” or “dont’s or prescribed behaviors. Women are breaching what were once forbidden zones, pressing into new frontiers. Part of the new definition IS: we are NOT one note on a flute; we are 3-D prismatic, endowed with myriad potentials including the Female Warrior.

    And this has a lot to do with renegotiating our relationship with fear as well as shifting our relationship with power and gaining fluency with POWER as Gloria Feldt articulates.

    I also see it like this: Decades ago, women’s erotic desires and appetites were taboo–then along came Erica Jong, Audre Lorde and other female provocateurs who helped blow the lid off that shame and denial, which helped women repossess this vital life force. So too, today, the repossession and realizing of our innate aggressive fighting capacities and instincts IS part of the new reclamation.

    Part of my goal is to frame this WANT–the hunger to be self possessed, to be power-ful, to protect our sovereign boundaries –as something that enlarges the Being; to frame this rock’em, sock’em know-how in a dignified light and as downright WOMANLY. (Which it is!) That’s a radical shift, I know.

    But it’s time: we can no longer view this learning as a fringe frontier, as something for the fierce few. We need to bring this power home, to reap its fruits, harvest it furies and acquire the skills to protect and defend. And to pass this power to our young.

    In my book (forthcoming this year), I view this fierce warrior potential as utterly womanly. This learning is not victim blaming; it is elemental, basic and ordained by Nature.

    I invite all to come over to my Dr. Ruthless Face Book page where I freely dispense no-nonsense tips, tools and warrior wisdom, and where I post REAL stories of every day women who are successfully fighting back and escaping rapists and thugs, and sometimes “stickin’ it to the man.”

  4. Gloria Feldt says:

    Melissa, this is the most extraordinary conversation. So great that you are articulating your philosophy and concrete tips women can use every day. Physical safety is the first step. There is a direct connection between your work and the current VA bill that would force women to undergo physically intrusive ultrasounds if they are considering abortion. Some have called that state-mandated rape, and indeed in the literal sense it is. I wonder, how could your arguments for women’s self-defense ability be applied to this public policy issue?

  5. Gloria- Wow. Thank you for your mighty words. You ARE mighty… and that’s another topic. Let me mull your excellent question when I have a bit more time to focus and get back to you if I may. But yes this intrusive ultrasound raises issues of bodily sovereignty and boundaries being violated at the “hands” of the State.

  6. First this quote from RH REALITY CHECK WEB SITE:

    “Next week, Virginia Delegate David Englin (D-45) plans to change the conversation around the forced transvaginal ultrasound bill (or as we believe it is more accurately described, the state-sanctioned rape bill) next week by addressing its potental criminality under Virginia’s object sexual penetration statute.

    “[object sexual penetration] is a new issue I plan to raise when we debate the Senate version of this bill next week. But surely decent people who disagree about a woman’s right to choose can at least agree she shouldn’t be vaginally penetrated without her consent.”

    The proposed VA BILL is an outrage to me on every conceivable level including as a self defense warrior. Protecting and defending our boundaries and integrity lies at the heart of self defense. It matters not whether a criminal is a stranger or… UNCLE SAM.

    IF it is determined that the forced vaginal ultrasound mandated by Virginia prior to having an abortion, literally and actually constitutes rape or “object penetration” (which of course it is) and not a medical necessity (I don’t believe it is) then we have a situation we can fight for.

    For those who aren’t familiar with this type of ultrasound, a very useful procedure when administered for good medical reasons, here is a link describing and diagramming the penetration involved:

    I’m guessing that VA has stalwart SELF DEFENSE laws. IF all the above is so, if this forced penetration was deemed illegal (not to mention morally reprehensible; more ways for men and religious authority to control women’s bodies) than a woman should be able to legally refuse this procedure claiming her RIGHT TO SELF DEFENSE. In other words, she should be able to say NO!–and have that be respected without consequence.

    And there’s this: COMPLIANCE DOES NOT EQUAL CONSENT. So even if a woman complied or felt coerced (because she was fearful of “resisting”) she is still NOT giving her consent. Unless she willingly chooses to do so.

    So yes, the right to SELF DEFENSE could effect this state mandate forcing women to undergo a vaginally intrusive procedure AGAINST THEIR WILL.

    Those words painfully echo in my head: AGAINST OUR WILL.

    Of course this raises and connects to bigger issues of women losing the right to control their bodies and maintain autonomy. All this IS intimately connected to women’s SELF defense.

    It goes back to this question: what is worth fighting for? What is uncompromising? Where do you/ I/ we draw that line?

    Thank you Gloria for framing that question.

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