When we begin the Feldenkrais Method many of us are surprised by the emphasis on slow, gentle movements in an Awareness Through Movement class or the subtlety of touch in a Functional Integration lesson. It is for a clear reason: we need to slow down and reduce intensity so we can feel the way we involve unnecessary tensions in any action. In noticing the very fundamental ways we approach doing anything, we can begin to learn new possibilities that can affect everything we do. It is a very different idea to the usual exercise routines, or even corrective exercises, used by most of us who like to be active.
However, it is not necessarily intended that we live our entire life at that slow level — unless we choose to. It is a process for learning to enable us to do whatever else we want to do — at speed or otherwise! Moshe Feldenkrais was a very active and energetic man himself. A keen, even aggressive, amateur footballer in his youth, he taught many skilled people in sports and dance. He was one of the first western judo black belts, co-founded the Judo club of France and wrote several well-regarded books on judo1. His history with martial arts began with defending himself on the streets in the British Mandate for Palestine. (It is an extraordinary story — too long to tell here2.) He wrote a handbook for the Haganah (Jewish defence force) and a little book on strangulation techniques for the British army during the war!3 The experience and understanding he gained from self-defence — especially as a Judoka — and from working with his own footballing injury (torn cruciates and meniscus) are deeply ingrained in the Feldenkrais Method.
These days, the slow easeful movements of Feldenkrais attract or direct many towards the softer martial arts of Tai Chi or Chi Gung, but his background in Judo also connects with methods that foreground grappling, locking, throwing and groundwork such as Aikido and Brazilian Ju jitsu. You will also find Feldenkrais practitioners who are drawn from or attracted to more modern systems like Krav Maga and Systema. Moti Nativ, Feldenkrais practitioner and chief instructor of the Bujinkan school of Budotaijutsu/Ninjutsu in Israel, has done much to explore and reveal the martial arts roots of the Feldenkrais Method.
Karate, often seen as a hard striking form, is an unusual choice for a Feldenkrais teacher. But Karate is not always what people think. The form I do, Goju Ryu, means hard (go) and soft (ju) which combines fluidity and compliance with intense power and speed. It is a close up ‘sticky’ form of traditional Okinawan karate with ties to southern Chinese boxing. It also includes grappling, locking and take downs. I came to Karate late — by mistake (another long story) — and with a history of torn meniscus. Feldenkrais had already facilitated me to run, and is still essential to me for being able to keep myself in karate training without injury and to improve my skills in many techniques that I have found hard. I am not a natural fighter. Goju Ryu is very fast, can involve strong contact and includes eye-popping strength and conditioning exercises.
At first glance it doesn’t look like it could ever be home to a Feldenkrais teacher. But the skill involved, especially for a small person reliant on technique, is enormous. If you trawl the Feldenkrais Method you can find lessons on anything you need: yes there is a plethora of lessons for groundwork, including rolling lessons, getting up off the floor in many ways, even ‘candles’ and sprawling, but also many lessons focussing on the integrated use of the arms that can help punching as well as pushing and pulling, and connection of legs that work well for many kinds of kicks. All martial arts require good use of the ‘tanden’, located at our centre of gravity, which is very present in the Method and Feldenkrais’s profound understanding of dynamic equilibrium5 is fundamental. Despite the diligent teaching of my instructors, I might not have managed without the Method to help me too.
This little mini lesson I offer is just a tiny taste of a huge smorgasbord. See if it helps your fluidity and kicking form!
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