Feldenkrais & the Martial Arts

In February 2019, at the invitation of the Nederlands Feldenkrais® Vereniging and Mind in Motion, Moti Nativ taught a weekend workshop in Amsterdam about Feldenkrais and the Martial Arts. Moti is a Feldenkrais teacher with a unique background: a retired Colonel from the Israeli Defense Force, Moti trained members of the military in the martial arts. He is a Shihan in the Bujinkan school of Budo Taijutsu, has a black belt in Judo, and is a certified Krav Maga instructor.

Doing Awareness Through Movement® lessons, Moti couldn’t help but recognize the concepts of judo and connections to its techniques. Curious about how this could be and how it came to be, Moti started to investigate the martial arts side of Moshe’s life from 1920 to 1950. Studying Feldenkrais’ collection of judo and self-defense books in detail and considering the content in the context of his writing and teaching, Moti identified the specific martial arts techniques, teaching methods, and theories that informed and influenced Moshe.

Historical research became a basis for embodied inquiry and practice: Moti used the moves as a kind of curriculum or roadmap. He learned the techniques and taught them to others, turning these ideas back into action in the dojo, and developing a feel, a kinesthetic, inside out understanding of what brought Moshe Feldenkrais to his method of learning and self-education.

What’s makes Moti’s workshop remarkable is the vibrant, vivid, visceral way he brings this deep understanding of judo and its connection to life for the participants. The Awareness Through Movement® lessons lead directly to demonstrations, dialogue, and doing martial arts practice with a partner. Each time Moti proposes an exercise, he demonstrates a bit, you try it out with one of the other participants, he follows our efforts, reflects on his observations, and then he shows and says a little more, guiding, clarifying, nudging, refining, and illuminating. Flowing from finding efficiency on your own, for yourself, on the floor to then, upon standing, being “encouragingly challenged” to put that experience into action with someone else, is thrilling.

Experience rules. Concepts, demonstrations, talks — all contribute to building up an internal understanding of the basics of judo, including dynamic stability, spatial awareness, the link between coordination and strength. The way of the warrior — presence, attention, ability to stay calm when under stress or in an emergency and to respond in the moment — comes to life in the happening of these immersive moments.

Having attended Moti’s weekend workshop, the members of my fifth Amsterdam training — trainees, tutor teachers, support staff, and faculty — arrived on Monday eager to continue learning. The day began with Moti and me debriefing his workshop. Afterwards, he taught a couple more ATMs, connected them to developing a powerful punch and to learning Moshe’s choke technique. Not only did the trainees develop a deeper appreciation of the foundation of Feldenkrais’ methodology, but they also got to experience, firsthand, a prime example of the method’s potential for teaching meaningful movement skills in a down-to-earth, practical, relevant, and transformational way.


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  1. I have always heard how the Martial Arts influenced the development of Moshe’s method. I could see this in his Awareness Through Movement lessons. But as someone who had never before experienced any Martial Arts, the time I spent with Moti in Amsterdam gave me a new and richer understanding of this connection.

  2. I am delighted to see this aspect of our Method getting so much attention. I came to Feldenkrais via dance and Tai Chi, and it was immediately clear to me how much overlap there was between what I had learned in Tai Chi and what I was learning in my training. I am commenting because, while I can easily see how working in pairs is vital for developing fighting skills, as a hypermobile person with lots of non-standard joint behaviour Tai Chi turned out to be a much safer option for me, particularly as taught by my first teacher. My most recent teacher is also good, but I found that her focus on testing postures through resistance was enough to trigger injury for me, so I have had to give up the class, and the experience reminded me of my one and only Aikido lesson. In my very first experience of the pair work my partner yanked my wrist in a way that immediately triggered pain, and when I commented the teacher pointed out that it was a technique for learning to fight, and thus (his implication was) not for wusses like me who couldn’t take a little pain. I was already working as a practitioner, and was not prepared to risk injury to myself in this way, and have sadly put Martial training to one side indefinitely. Fortunately there are no such risks in Qi Gong training and I am continuing down that route. I do see FM as being similar – i.e. a martial-adjacent process focussed on all aspects of health and self-development! Keep up the good work both of you.
    Best wishes,

    1. Hello Maggie –
      Sorry that you had such a rough intro to Aikido. My experience at North Bay Aikido here in Santa Cruz (many years ago) was quite the opposite — all of the teachers there taught in a way that’s congruent with a Feldenkraisian approach.