Melissa Soalt trains women to turn their fear into fire.With the right skill and will, women can defend themselves, says the fierce self-defence exponent
When “Dr. Ruthless” answers the phone, it’s a sweet voice with an even softer disposition that I encounter across the line. I’ve read about her, and the website of this women’s self-defence expert is dominated by phrases like “fierce and female”, “Neander babe”, “beast girl”, “go ballistic”, “use dirty tactics”, “take control”. I’ve seen fighting pictures of her and does she look formidable! And then when I meet her, I’m stumped by the contrasting package that Mellisa Soalt is. She’s about five feet tall, has a petite yet sinewy frame, and is quite comfortable kicking ass and wearing jewellery.
While I tell her that it is reassuring to see that such a tiny woman has become emblematic of physical power, she gives me one of her favourite lines: “It is not the size of the woman in the fight, it is the size of the fight in the woman!” Melissa’s approach to self defence is really about breaking stereotypes. That women are small, defenceless, don’t have it in them to put up a fight…
“It goes against the grain for most people, especially women, to resort to violence. The trouble is also the hesitation that comes from fear. I am a non-violent person and believe in the least harm. But if you are attacked, you have to become a savage beauty,” she tells me at some point in the interview. “I take the cringe response out of you. Everyone has the killer instinct in them. I believe that half the population in the world should not live in fear of the other half.”
She believes that a woman’s nurturing and aggressive natures were seamlessly entwined since the Stone Age, but “... thousands of years of socialisation has quelled female ferocity, downsizing our more primitive survival instincts…”
Women must repossess the Beast-Girl within, she says on her website, explaining the force within women that she wants to tap into.
One of the pioneers of the women’s self defence movement in America in the 1980s, 54-year-old Soalt now specialises in what she terms “full force scenario-based adrenaline stress training”. While it might be a mouthful, what she does is create scenarios that women may encounter — eve teasing on the street, verbal attacks, a grope, a street attack, aggressive male posturing, purse snatching, an attempt to rape — and offer step-by-step moves to self defence.
“These are practical down-and-dirty self defence forms, where we deal directly with the fear and anger within women. And it is not just defence, it is also counter attack. Most women in such situations are paralysed by fear. We teach you to change this conditioning, and channel the fear and energy in order to escape. And for this you need primal animal skills.”
Her training focuses on gross motor movements — using your knees, elbows, hips (“our power is in our lower bodies”), hands (“because that’s all that is available in such situations”). She also teaches strikes in the standing positions, and lying-down position ground fighting (an essential rape-defence mechanism). “We also train you to look for clues, have a panoramic awareness around yourself, how to get someone aggressive to back off in the first place…most male tactics in such situations are predatory — they want to dominate and get women to comply.”
“Our techniques are not just about strength, but about explosiveness. You don’t need muscle mass to defend yourself. Every part of your body is a potential weapon. We teach you to go from zero to 100 per cent — create a distance with your attacker, use the element of surprise, and go through your target…and ultimately escape.” If you exercise and are in great shape, it is definitely an advantage. And if you have had any martial arts training, it does add to your strength and skill, she admits. But what is most important is the skill and will, a belief that if you had to, you could do it.
Using tools like pepper spray or pocket knives also require training, and it doesn’t always work. And working with her on this technique is her long-time partner, police instructor and combat applications trainer Michael Haynack. He is literally the “punching bag” that Melissa’s students get to train with. “What we do is use emotions as a trigger to action,” explains Michael. “It is not the weapon, but who is using it, the delivery system that matters.”
Like most self-defence promoters, Soalt started off after she was repeatedly assaulted while travelling through Asia and the Middle East in the 70s, and stalked and almost raped back home in the US in the 80s. Till then she was a psychotherapist dealing largely with women who had faced attacks and consequent trauma. “A lot of my insight comes from that practise.”
Melissa and Michael are now in India to launch a training programme in their technique that is currently not here in India. On June 7, they will hold a self-defence workshop (for both men and women) at the Indian Heritage Academy in Koramangala. For details call Sindhu on 99160-96304.BHUMIKA. K