WOMEN AS WARRIORS
The Heart of the Female Warrior
To be effective
in self-defense, you cannot just
must attack back. For a female,
this is the ultimate reversal:
You become the huntress, not the
hunted; the predator not prey.
You summon and unleash all your
life forces—courage, will,
wrath, cunning, physical powers—and
use them like secret weapons. Nothing
is out of bounds; nothing is unthinkable.
There’s little to compare
this to: you dial up the creature
within; you trade in your polite
self for your animal-self; you
issue the “sic” command
and give that beautiful junkyard
bitch within carte blanche permission
to go for the throat.
Soalt, from “Fierce
Love: The Heart of the Female Warrior”
Shortly after my Fierce and Female videos came out, I ran across
a review by a self-defense pro whom I highly respect: “She
has more balls than most men I know,” he raved. I was flattered,
all right, but . . . balls?
I have received this comment before and always take it in the complimentary
spirit in which it is meant, but it speaks volumes to the association
between courage and manhood, between courage and virility and just
how deeply this association embeds in our language and culture.
This is something I should like to change.
The warrior spirit lies deep within us all. It’s a vital,
rousing force that can turn the meek into the fearsome. Women, as
a tribe, are endowed with their own warrior instincts and powers,
borne in the female psyche and biology.
For example, classical warrior texts call for a dispassionate mind-set,
devoid of emotion: you must control your fear, control your emotions,
they say. But that, I protest, is part of a male paradigm. While
it’s true that strong emotions can hijack body and mind—“Don’t
let your emotions get ahead of your technique,” I tell my
students—it’s precisely the swells of rage, terror,
and love itself that funds a woman’s fight, fueling her body,
enabling her to evoke the warrior spirit—be it to protect
herself, loved ones, or the sovereignty of her peoples.
Rage. Terror. Love. Fury. These aren’t words you’re
likely to find in any warrior’s code or combat manual. Yet
fighting and the business of being a warrior is an emotional and
primal reality as much as it’s a moral and spiritual one.
For 18 years, I’ve been teaching women how, when all else
fails, to shed their civilized skins, unleash their Savage Beauty,
and attack back—not like playful kittens, like wolverines.
(The goal, of course, is to facilitate escape.) But I am also a
woman who’s been assaulted and fought back. At five feet tall
on a good hair day, I can attest: It’s not the size of the
woman in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the woman!
Fighting spirit is a lot like beauty—it’s both innate
and can be cultivated, but always kindled from the inside out, whereas
power is a commodity that can be sourced from many places. And I
have siphoned power from violating hands: from rapacious hands that
stole pieces of me in the darkness, trying to evict me from my very
own body; from the sweaty pulp of my would-be rapist’s palm
slapping over my mouth as he bashed my head against the wall (I
struck back and escaped); from hands that tightened like a noose
around my throat, before I spit in my attacker’s face and
a vicious fight ensued; from the hand that I broke that wouldn’t
take NO for an answer. (That was a dawning recognition: my body
was a tool and instrument of power, and with this tool I too could
be dangerous. A knowing, long before I had any training, that I
have since passed to countless women.)
Power is also kindled by fear. I’m talking about primal,
animal-level fear. The kind that Ambrose Redmoon, Native American
warrior and writer, so aptly described “could pull the flesh
off your face”—which I think should be a requirement
for anyone teaching self defense. If you haven’t been scared
to death you don’t qualify, especially when it comes to teaching
women, most of whom are already experts in fear, many of whom have
fought their very own “War on Terror.”
Terror is the mother of all fear. You know it when you feel it.
An icy chill rips through your body at warp speed, catapulting you
into a Darwinian world of predator and prey. When I unpack my memories,
I can still feel the terror I felt when a man shrouded in darkness
broke into my home in the dead of night, after first cutting the
power and phone lines, then headed for my bed—knife in hand.
Fortunately I repelled his advances with a Godzillian yell from
Hell. This incident is what led me from martial arts to the down-n-dirty
methods that would become me.
That memory still haunts like a ghost from time to time. But the
terror itself has been absorbed, eaten, you could say, and transformed
into fuel in the belly of the beast. Now, when the memory arrives
that chill turns cold blooded—the French call it sang-froid —and
is seasoned with invective. From the neck up I am ice; from the
neck down, I am fire. I imagine tearing into this man using everything
at my disposal—my bare-naked body, the walls, furnishings,
improvised (and not so improvised) weapons.
So I know a thing or two about this dirty business. This intimacy
is no doubt part of what the reviewer perceives in my demeanor and “spirit
of entering” and identifies as balls. But frankly, I would
attribute it to primal rage and fear.
My own stories pale by comparison. As a former psychotherapist,
I have companioned survivors of violence and assault into netherworlds
of horror where moments can unravel into lifetimes of suffering.
I am not the first to say this, but sexual and bodily attacks are
microcosms of war leaving heaping smoking mounds of devastation
in their wake. And let me tell you: it ain’t a pretty picture.
The effluvia of rape and child abuse stinks, and makes you want
to sob. So my mettle, you could say, also comes from heartbreak
hardened into resolve. And from e-mails alerting me to atrocities
against women all over the world; they flash across my computer
screen like smoke signals from afar—and not so far. Women
being tortured and burned and killed and gang-raped by civilians
and soldiers alike; beaten because they were handy when “his” demons
struck. This makes my skin crawl, and it incurs my wrath.
We have nice, civilized, air-fluffed terms for this feeling: Righteous
rage. Moral indignation. But what I feel is far more primitive:
Each story fuels my fire and undying reverence for female disobedience,
adding another stripe to my war face.
So this essay is really a call to arms which I hope will awaken
women’s warrior spirit, shatter myths of female defenselessness,
and topple some unspoken enemies: the cavernous divide between femininity
and aggression (into which many victims have fallen); the insidious
New Age notion that flow is not compatible with force; a culture
that rewards women’s “looks over competence” and
wants women to believe that confidence comes in a roll-on. (Don’t
even get me started on the farcical term “feminine protection.” Protect
Oh sure. There’s progress. Let’s not forget Hollywood,
where a woman can be a deadly dame but first she has to give good
face and qualify as “babealicious.” The mandate is clear:
You can act tough, but keep it pretty, not gritty.
Reclaiming the Killer Instinct
No creature on Earth other than humans has done such a menacingly
fine job of socializing the killer instinct out if its females.
As a feminist, it would be a tidy coup if I could blame all this
on the “evils of patriarchy.” But it isn’t just
age-old conservatism or ads boasting, I live for a great halter
top! that atrophies the female-animal muscle, truncating women from
their baser selves. Popular New-Ageism and “moon-to-uterus” spirituality
co-conspire in this pacification and would like us to believe that
women are innately all-beatific, all-nurturing, 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 dark side
and bestial potential. (Frankly, this doesn’t sound like any
woman I know. Can the notion of men as all malevolent be far behind?)
Nowadays, we hear a lot about higher callings, the yearning to
connect with forces greater than one’s self, and about the
power of returning to one’s roots. This is precisely the gift
of self-defense—it returns women to native powers buried beneath
fear and the rubble of socialization, and it bestows saving graces—not
from heaven above, but from below—from our lower center of
gravity curiously located near the site of the womb. (More reasons
why self-defense is a womanly art!)
Self-defense is not a sophisticate: It’s raw; it’s
primal. It involves a descent into a subterranean strata of your
being, far below the topsoil of the nice lady cammo. Here lies a
respite from the ubiquitous hum of civility: the meaty thuds, the
heated rush, the bellowing sounds all part of its primitive appeal.
There’s magic too: learning to fight back locates women back
in time, long before plastic bosoms, bikini waxing, and feminine
deodorants, returning us to an earlier Self. Each thwacking blow,
each bellicose yell peels back a layer of the modern-day veneer
until, stripped to our essence, we uncover what anthropologist Michele
Rosaldo has called “The image of ourselves undressed,” the
stuff we are made of at the core—a vibrant and formidable
mélange of Beauty and Beast, I attest. And it can knock a
To be effective in self-defense, you cannot just defend—you
must attack back. For a female, this is the ultimate reversal: You
become the huntress, not the hunted; the predator, not prey. You
summon and unleash all your life forces—courage, will, wrath,
cunning, physical powers—and use them like secret weapons.
Nothing is out of bounds, nothing is unthinkable. There’s
little to compare this to: You dial up the creature within; you
trade in your polite self for your animal-self; you issue the “sic” command
and give that beautiful junkyard bitch within carte blanche permission
to go for the throat.
I know this part of myself intimately—as all women should —and
could no more disown this savage endowment than I could amputate
a limb. Like my maternal nature, it is bedrock, or maybe it’s
this simple: survival, like romance, has captured my heart.
Yet I speak of this love affair with some trepidation. In spite
of a culture gone warrior-chic and the alarming fact the CDC (Centers
for Disease Control) has identified sexual assault and violence
as one of the greatest health concerns of the 21st century, my enthusiasm
for “going animal” and teaching women how to morph their
bodies into weapons of destruction makes some folks nervous. Maybe
it’s the glint in my eye, but when I tell choice stories—like
the one about the cocktail waitress who nailed her attacker’s
foot to freshly laid tar with her stiletto heel—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, then neck—I am often flashed a look of disdain. The
concern is that I have abandoned Venus for Mars; that my flight
into the hardness of warriorhood represents a radical departure
from the fleshy pink interior of femininity. That the Beast Girl’s
cravings are an anomaly of nature.
Nonsense! Somewhere along the line, we lost life’s original
instructions. What could be more natural, more in tune with Mother
Nature than knowing how to bash back and not become prey or fodder
for a scumbag’s amusement? But the concern is telling, and
betrays an unspoken fear: that the tools of aggression/forceful
resistance/use of force is coming to a female near you.
And it should. I think about my student Sheila who suffers brain
seizures, a result of having been boxed in the head by her attacker. “Why
didn’t anyone ever teach me what to do,” she laments.
These are haunting words that resound in every women’s self-defense
If I were Warrior Queen for a day, I would issue a decree that
all women become too dangerous to attack.
Myths & Misconceptions
No one would ever ask a man, “Hey there, manly man, what
possessed you to learn to protect yourself from all manner of scum?” What
a silly question that would be! In a man’s world, self-defense
is deemed natural; it comes with beer and nachos and having a penis,
whereas women are encouraged to rely on “good guys” to
protect them from “bad guys”—a fundamentally flawed
(not to mention disempowering) strategy because 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; that women are the weaker sex; that she’ll only get
hurt worse, blah blah blah. What a screwball argument! Of course
fighting back carries risks. And, yes, you might get hurt. Count
on it; visualize it; become accustomed to the idea, I urge women,
as though being raped, beaten, or slaughtered doesn’t constitute
injury? Not possessing explosive counterattack and escape skills—the
first few seconds are often the most critical—and hoping to
be rescued by a savior in uniform blue, or simply hoping… is
far more injurious to women than fighting back. Strategies aside,
this archaic attitude reinforces the age-old pas-de-deux: Men are
the protectors; women are the protectees. In other words, you, a
wussy female are helpless against attack. Got it?
Tell that to the Chicago woman who, in 2001, bit off her would-be
rapist’s balls. (Helluva floss job, I have to admit.) Or the
Boston co-ed who feigned unconsciousness then sliced her rapist’s
face with a razor from her purse; or my student who cracked her
attacker’s head against the bumper of her car and made pulp
out of his accomplice’s groin. Or “Kathleen,” who
chomped her knife-wielding rapist’s finger down to the bone
during a vicious attack. (Her story is recounted in Sanford Strong’s
book, Strong on Defense.) “I was so enraged that I went primal.
Just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I can’t
fight like an animal,” she vigorously declared.
Like I said, estrogen doesn’t exactly make us sissies. Female
ferocity is hard-wired, as old as the womb itself. And this fighting
capacity goes far beyond self-defense.
As I write this, I am surrounded by copious accounts of women warriors
from every era and corner of the globe—from ancient warrior
queens to modern-day guerilla fighters. While their stories often
go untold, the list is as long as the world is wide: from Sri Lanka’s
Tamil Tigers—a renowned and deadly fighting unit—to
anti-Nazi resistance fighters; from the “Russian Battalion
of Death” to petite martial nuns; from South American revolutionaries
holed up in jungles to American frontierswomen homesteading with
child in one arm and shotgun in the other. Armed with their love
and their fury —and weapons, and explosives, and combat skills—women
have always been fighters, willing to fight to the death to protect
their brood, their land, and the sovereignty of their peoples.
These accounts lend veracity to Margaret Mead’s words that “When
women disengage completely from their traditional role, they become
more ruthless and savage than men.” When pressed to fight,
she observed, “the aroused female... displays no built-in
Female militancy is almost always fueled by oppression and atrocities. “Women
are reacting to their victimization with a matter-of-fact military
vengefulness,” wrote Naomi Wolf in her feminist tome Fire
with Fire when discussing Balkan women who have taken up arms. One
woman she cites joined the fighting “because of the mistreatment,
the killing, and the rape. When I am on the front lines, I don’t
see any difference between the men and the women,” she states.
Another woman Wolf cites, a Sarajevan doctor, remarks how a third
of the women she treated for rape “waited to have their gynecological
problem resolved and then went out and picked up a gun.”
But it’s the words of Marisa Masu, an Italian resistance
fighter from World War II, that I find most sobering:
“At the time it was clear that each Nazi I killed, each bomb
I helped to explode, shortened the length of the war and saved the
lives of all women and children. . . . I never asked myself if the
soldier or SS man I killed had a wife or children. I never thought
Her words point to disturbing truths about survival—how the
unfathomable becomes fathomable, the unthinkable becomes doable;
how the forces of dark and light, creation and destruction, the
maternal and killing instincts are not opposites but merely a few
degrees of separation apart.
I learned this lesson, myself, 28 years ago while on my maiden
voyage into the world —I was living in Israel at the time—when
a fierce killer instinct summoned my hand onto a machete leaving
me ready and willing to slice-n-dice a man had he continued to close
in and not opted to flee. A seed inside of me popped open, I felt
a chink in my armor and a whiff of something ancient passed through
me. I knew in a heartbeat—I could kill in self-defense. This
potential is in our blood, and perhaps our souls, and it could save
And that is what I beseech.
I don’t mean to suggest that fighting back is the solution
to violence against women, or that it’s always effective.
But when you boil it down, the answer to why men violate women,
or each other, may be simpler than we think: they do it because
I too long for a more equitable world, and I abhor and oppose war
and the horrors it wreaks. But until women reclaim the warrior spirit
and know that we too can be dangerous creatures, and not just the
endangered ones, we will never be safe or whole. As long as men
are the sole agents of violence and women are the casualties of
their actions, the spoils of war, the victims on the pointy end
of male aggression, there will never be a balance of power between
the sexes. Women will remain relegated to a subordinate status,
too powerless or too fearful to resist the dominance and brutalities
of others, limited by social contract and restraint in the ways
in which we can express our own ferocities, yearnings, and fighting
Perhaps a more immediate reason to internalize warring women’s “play
for keeps” attitude is this: whether a woman is fighting for
her homeland or fending off a thug or rapist, it amounts to combat,
requiring the same martial mind-set and unfettered willingness to
attack back, to fight for one’s life. This calls for a brutish
mind-set, enabling you to bring your weapons to bear, to survive
the brutalities, and to take the hits. This is why, when learning
to fight back, the sound that must erupt from a woman’s body
is not a shrilling plea for help, but a bellicose war cry. Because
In my world, it’s understood: The sanctity of love, the sovereignty
of body and soul sometimes require acts of aggression, and the tools
of violence are encoded in flesh.
The face of the warrior belongs to us all.
To learn more about her methods, messages and Fierce & Female videos,
visit www.dr-ruthless.com or contact her directly at: email@example.com
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