Dr.Ruthless: Published Articles
Feed Your Beast!
Beauty And The Beast Within
BUST MAGAZINE FEATURE
Self defense trainer Melissa Soalt sleeps with a knife under her pillow and claims that every woman is a natural born killer. You wanna make something of it?
I am on the ground fighting like a scrappy bitch. The heel of my right foot is en route to my attacker's head. "You fucking little whore," he spews as he lunges for my throat, then-WHOMP! - I land a stunning kick that sends him flying back and leaves me aching for more.
It was my first time defending myself, and it was love at first blow.
For me, "the dark side" is a place I call home-quite literally. At my house, an overnight guest might find a push dagger under her pillow in lieu of chocolates, and discover books on Close Quarters Combat and Death Point Striking sharing coveted bathroom space with Oprah's O Magazine and Ms. and Bon Appetite.
For the past twenty years, under the name Dr. Ruthless, I've been teaching women to defend themselves from attack. Not only do I preach the gospel of self defense and whack padded guys' groins - two things that are generally applauded in my line of work - but I actually savor the feeling of landing the first telling blow, my body refashioning itself into a heat-seeking missile in search of my target. I know this "beast girl" part of myself intimately, and I could no more disown her than I could amputate a limb.
But in spite of Xena, Laura Croft and a culture gone warrior-chic, my enthusiasm for going animal, for teaching women how to shed their civilized skin and morph their bodies into weapons of destruction, makes some folks nervous. Maybe it's the glint in my eye, but when I exalt in my killer instinct or share choice stories-like the one about the woman who sliced her rapist's face with a razor from her purse; or the cocktail waitress who nailed her attacker's foot to freshly laid tar with her stiletto heel; or my student who cracked her attacker's head against the bumper of her car then made pulp out of his groin; or when I gush about my Afghani knife and confess that at night you might find me in the darkness slicing the air as if across a man's forearm and neck-I am often flashed a look of disdain. The concern is that I have abandoned Venus for Mars; that embracing the hardness of warriorhood represents a radical departure from the softness of femininity. But I disagree. After all, what could be more natural, more in tune with Mother Nature than knowing how to bash back and not become prey? The way I see it, the killer instinct is as essential to survival as the maternal instinct.
No creature on Earth other than humans has done such a menacingly fine job of attempting to socialize the killer instinct out of its females. Baring the teeth behind the Miss America smile flies in the face of a culture that rewards women for being pretty not fierce, cute not confrontational. And let's not forget the power of Hollywood where a woman can be a deadly dame, but first she has to give good face and qualify as "babealicious."
Even enlightenment seeking new-agers want us to believe that women are by nature beatific, virtuous, do-no-harmers with nary a virulent, aggressive, or power-loving bone; that we are always the embodiment of the "peaceful warrior goddess;" always ennobling our higher, holier selves, while disavowing our own dark side and bestial potential.
But beauty is only skin deep, and our aggressive instincts lurk just below the surface. Margaret Mead has attested that "When women disengage completely from their traditional role they become more ruthless and savage than men." When pressed to fight, she observed, women display "no built-in chivalry." Mead is not alone in her perceptions. In Women at War: A Deadly Species, author David Truby, cites army psychiatrist Dr. Nati Hoover who agrees that the instinct for violence is inherent in the female sex. "It started with our prehistoric sisters who learned to fight for survival against man and animals. The same urge is still there," she adds," despite society's attempts to hide it behind plastic bosoms, vaginal deodorants and the softness of sexuality."
I don't mean to suggest that fighting back is the answer to violence against women, or that it's always effective. But when you boil it down, the answer to why men violate women may be simpler than we think: they do it because they can.
People always ask me, "How did you get into this? Did something happen to you?" Given my animal lust, it's a reasonable question, but it's also telling, because I don't think anyone would ask a man the same thing. In a man's world, self-defense is deemed natural; it comes with beer and nachos and having a penis. Women, on the other hand, are expected to depend on good guys to protect us from bad guys-a fundamentally flawed strategy, as women are typically alone when violence strikes, plus that good guy/bad guy line can get blurry fast. The underlying belief is that we aren't made of the right stuff. Tell that to the Chicago woman who, in 2001, bit off her would-be rapist's balls. Estrogen doesn't exactly make us sissies.
In truth, I wasn't always in touch with my inner beast. Growing up through the sixties-with my female role models first being June Cleaver, and then hippy peaceniks-who knew from the killer instinct? Mine lay dormant, that is, until my maiden voyage into the world - a low-budget journey that began in Israel (I was all of eighteen) then took me traipsing across Central and South Asia. When you're traveling third class, student rate on antiquated buses and trains, sleeping in fleabag motels, serendipity is laced with danger: there was the crazed Afghani who locked my male companion and I into his ramshackle hash den then assailed us with horse whipping sticks when we refused his offer to trade me for his prized camel; the Israeli soldier who slammed me into a wall then forcibly tried to rape me (I struck back and escaped); the violent knock-down street attack (a well dressed "gent" grabbed my crotch from behind. I spun around and spit in his face-not a tactic I could heartily recommend-and when he choked me, a vicious fight ensued); and once, I was stoned-I mean with rocks, to name a few.
It was on that trip that I first discovered my fighting spirit- a sublime and powerful force that saved my pretty ass on numerous occasions. Although I'd had no prior self-defense training, I quickly learned that intention fueled by killer instinct really is the mother of technique. One night when a perv wouldn't take no for an answer and tried to maul me yet again, I went off, slamming him about the head and neck, then busting his hand. Little bones crunched beneath the fury of my fist and I watched him deflate like a balloon while I felt larger than he. Power radiated from my body and a homerun grin peered through my fury. It wasn't that I enjoyed hurting him--well, maybe just a little-- but that I had issued his terror, and not the other way around. It was then that I had the dawning recognition that my body was a tool and an instrument of power, and that with this tool I too could be dangerous.
When I returned home, as time passed, these experiences dimmed into memory. But in 1976, when I first saw women slamming beefy guys around at a martial arts expo, my fighting spirit and muscle were instantly aroused, and I wanted to get my mojo back. I wanted to feel power have its way with me again. I wanted to retrieve that ancient part of myself languishing beneath the constraints of growing up female - so I began to study the martial arts. Cliché as it sounds, it felt like a homecoming.
For some, training in martial arts or self defense amounts to good exercise or therapy, but for me it has always been a watering hole for my animal self, a respite from the ubiquitous hum of civility: the meaty thuds, the heated whooshing, the bellowing sounds all part of its primitive appeal. My training, which was primarily in Aikido, a Japanese martial art, filled me with power and endeared me to the beauty of throws. Still, its non-violent philosophy left me unprepared for the harrowing encounter I was faced with in 1984 when a knife-wielding, would-be rapist broke into my home in sunshiny Boulder, Colorado while I was in bed. Fortunately, my war cries sent him fleeing. But this experience shifted my focus to more practical and savage fighting methods that now comprise the lion's share of what and how I teach.
Learning to fight back is an acquired taste all right, but once tasted, it's never forgotten. Once you deliver your first no-nonsense blow or slam a big guy to the ground it whets your appetite for more, arousing a bone-deep hunger, a craving for power and to be self possessed that pulls you back again and again. It spirals you into the basement of your being, feeding your animal self - the beautiful junkyard bitch within.
To be effective in physical defense, you cannot just defend yourself, you must attack back. Not like a kitten, but like a wolverine. It is the ultimate reversal: you become the huntress, not the hunted; the predator, not the prey. You summon and unleash all your life forces-courage, will, fear, wrath, cunning, physical powers-and use them like secret weapons. You harness your adrenaline, evoke the killer instinct, and hose down your attacker with everything you've got. Little is unthinkable.
It's a transformation that I cherish. I welcome the feeling it produces in my body, the heat and blood-pulse that rushes my limbs and loins, turning the mound of my sex and the round palace of my hips into a hub of power. I love booming like a mad woman as my elbows chisel into spears; my legs becoming battering rams; my pearly whites morphing into razor-sharp canine shredders. I love knowing that, in a heartbeat, I could hit the on-switch and become the mother of all beasts.
But most important is the payoff. One night, an unsavory fellow on a dimly lit street decided to size me up. I could smell his intent. It was a classic pas de deux between predator and intended prey. In an instant, I hunkered down, readying myself, and my she-creature raced to the fore. Had there been a dip in his shoulder or stance-common precursors of attack-I would have been all over him like stink on shit. He knew it too, saw that I became the predator, and walked on by. Once he'd passed and I was out of danger my body relaxed, and I was filled with power and an eerie sense of calm.
"Get back. I mean it!" I state firmly in my low slung voice as I hunker down to confront a menacing (padded) attacker who won't let me pass. Then, in a moment of martial magic, a quick now-you-see-me-now-you-don't shuffle, I evade his oncoming fist and fire off explosive counterstrikes: Elbow, knee, knee, I boom with my big girl might, pummeling him into the ground, before rejoining mystudents.
For a moment the training room is silent, then exuberant with cheers. When bitches bite back and let loose their killer instincts, each one drinks from her victory. Each stunning blow, each robust yell is a purgative for my psyche that blows out the crud of age-old conditioning and the marshmallow fluff of New Age prissiness, fastening me to my senses and reminding me that women are givers and gluttons, supporters and competitors, creators and destroyers. That we too crave both the fuck and the Fuck You.