Moshé Feldenkrais (Doctor of Science, Sorbonne) was an engineer, physicist, inventor, martial artist and student of human development. He was born in 1904 in what is now Ukraine, but emigrated to Palestine as a young man. He did construction work, studying at night school, eventually working as a cartographer, until he was able to qualify for the Sorbonne, in Paris. There he earned his BSc in engineering, and then his doctorate. He went on to work in the Joliot-Curie laboratory during the 1930’s.
While in Paris he also came into contact with Jigoro Kano, the Japanese martial artist who developed Judo. This became one of the enduring passions of his life, and Feldenkrais was a founder of the Ju Jitsu Club of Paris as well as one of the first Europeans to earn a black belt in Judo. His two books on judo are still sought after.
As the German army swept into France at the beginning of the second World War, Feldenkrais fled to Britain, where he joined a group working on anti-submarine research for the Admiralty. It was there in the 1940’s that he began to formulate his Method: an old knee injury recurred, and the doubtful prospect of surgery pushed Feldenkrais into what became a life-long exploration of the relationship between movement and consciousness.
In developing his work, Feldenkrais drew on a dazzling variety of sources. Perhaps as a result of the self-directed education of his youth, he had an inordinate appetite for learning, and studied, among other things, anatomy, physiology, child development and psychology; his experience of both learning and teaching Judo also led him to a number of Eastern awareness practices and other somatic approaches. As his methodology developed, he sought out others who were similarly engaged, discussing and comparing approaches; you may find connections between Feldenkrais’s work and that of Ida Rolf, F. Mathias Alexander, Gerda Alexander, Milton Erickson and Heinrich Jacoby. The Feldenkrais Method, then, is a synthesis that includes elements of these wide-ranging explorations, firmly grounded in the experimental ethos of Western science.
During the 1950’s Feldenkrais finally left his career in physics to pursue the much less certain path of creating his own discipline. He had returned to Tel Aviv, in what was then the state of Israel. At first he worked by himself, teaching group classes and working with individuals with every imaginable difficulty. As his reputation grew, he trained his first group of assistants. In the late seventies he began teaching in America, where he trained another, larger group, and began one more training programme; this was completed by his assistants as his health deteriorated. He died in 1984. Today the Feldenkrais Method has spread across the world, with many thousands of practitioners.