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The Weight of History: Why the West’s Convoluted Relationship to Sex and Gender Still Screws Us Up

I’m pretty sure that there’s no one in Western culture, whatever their perspectives on these issues, who wouldn’t say that the West is deeply troubled about sex and gender. And that trouble impacts every one of us throughout our lives, muddying the waters of an important area of life. This is the legacy of a particular path of cultural programming, and it is only by understanding that program and its alternatives that we can begin to deal with it.

Relations Between the Sexes

We start at the beginning, the cultures that originated Western programming on gender and sexuality, Ancient Greece and Judaism. Both were sedentary agricultural societies with patriarchal family organisation- the inheritance was passed through the male lineage. Any culture where this occurs begins to impose social controls and restrictions on women, who become viewed to some degree as breeding stock for the production of male heirs, and therefore must be kept “pure” to guarantee the inheritance. But these two cultures went further than many others. The reason was that each produced a negative dualistic view of women.

Anyone who’s read Aristotle probably has some idea of how the Greeks, or at least the Athenians who became the cultural centre of Greece, tended to see women. Women were inherently weak, inferior, servile, impulsive and irrational, needing male supervision. In Athens, to be a wife, especially in the upper class, was to be shut away from male society. To associate with men was to be either a prostitute or a courtesan- the latter being the main route to cultural participation for Athenian women.

In ancient Judaism, as one author has pointed out, the role of the man was delineated by duties- sacrifices, charitable works, other religious and social roles- and the role of women was delineated by prohibitions. They were limited in their ability to associate with men, had to observe numerous taboos, their sexuality was tightly controlled by men, and they had few property or other rights.

Christianity, although emerging from Judaism, afforded a remarkably prominent role to women in the first few centuries of its existence, as attested by the large number of extremely popular female saints during that time. Of course, when the Emperor Constantine decided to use Christianity as a means of unifying the fragmenting Roman Empire, Christianity went from a persecuted minority of committed believers to an official church, and had to welcome the social establishment into the fold. With them, they brought Greco-Roman attitudes about the place of women in society. Women were increasingly restricted, and their role in the church declined.

In the West, Augustine of Hippo’s explanation of sin and the fall posited that the ascendance of the rational mind over the emotions and the body, of male over female and of spirit over matter was the natural order of the universe, and that the “lesser” half of each pair was naturally predisposed to sin. As the most influential writer in Western theology, his ideas were passed down and magnified into even worse forms.

Nevertheless, the Middle Ages were not the low point for women. That came with Enlightenment, the era when the family declined as an economic unit and formal learning (exclusive to men) displaced informal study. The result was a bifurcation of society into a rationalised, masculine public sphere stood and a domestic, family sphere.

Sex

The Mediterranean world two thousand years ago was extremely ambivalent about sex. On the one hand obsessed to the point of paranoia with the danger of letting respectable women (that is women who are or will be married or are part of a sacerdotal order) associate with men in case they might lead them into temptation, the Greco-Roman world had no such expectations for men, which meant unequal divorce and adultery laws and a preoccupation with female virginity.

Into this fraught environment came various religions such as Manichaeism which saw sex itself as the source of evil. Augustine, a former Manichaean, imported the idea of sex, specifically sexual pleasure, as the means through which original sin was passed on to each new generation, a cornerstone of Western theology.

Christianity, which had inherited the sexual ambivalence of Judaism, quickly imported the ideal of celibacy from the many existing ascetic philosophical cults, notably neo-Platonism. Neither Eastern nor Western Christendom every developed a satisfactory anthropology of sexuality, with the result that the most restrictive and paranoid elements often carried the day. With the women, in good Greek fashion, seen as the source of temptation, it was they who were more and more tightly controlled.

The more rules piled up, the greater the transgression. When Pope Gregory VII in the eleventh century enforced complete celibacy for all Catholic clergy for the first time, he created an untenable situation in which clergy, and especially higher clergy, were virtually expected to have mistresses. The famous example of Pope Alexander VI who sired a number of children as a cardinal and carried on an adulterous affair as pope was far from an isolated case. Only pressure from the Protestant Reformation caused a return to strict enforcement of celibacy, which as we see from the current crisis of clerical celibacy in relation to child abuse, was nothing more than a facade anyway.

But the real question for our culture is the value of romantic relationships, and of marriage in particular. In the Greco-Roman world, no spiritual value could be assigned to marriage, and the Augustinian position that marriage exists to propagate the species is likewise unhelpful. Marriage thus became simply a biological relationship. Our current fixation on romantic love, inherited from the tradition of courtly romance, values the crescendo of emotions and desires in the moment, but is ephemeral. Until we are able to restore spiritual meaning to romantic love, we will not have resolved the basic emptiness that underlies sexual repression in our culture.

The Result

The legacy of all of this historical baggage has been to afflict whole populations with guilt over their sexual drives and to complicate relations between men and women with an extremely fraught layer of sexual politics.

Each and every one of us has run into this at some point- flaming misogyny against women who aren’t fulfilling what we still somehow feel are their “natural” gender roles, difficulties in relationships coming from those roles, pervasive sexual shame. Restriction, especially restriction that interrupts basic elements of human nature, gives rise to transgression. Restriction and transgression alternate their way through Western history- the Renaissance gave way to the Enlightenment, the philandering Regency period gave way to the restrictive Victorian era, the fifties gave way to the sixties. Lurching from one extreme to another, our civilisation has yet to find balance.

For some more insight into the emotional damage done by this approach and how to undo it, have a look at this Ted Talk by Sheila Kelley:

 

Signposts on the Road to Balance

Things weren’t always this way, and don’t have to be. Hunter-gather and pastoral societies are often much less restrictive than what we would consider their “civilised” counterparts. Even my Celtic and Germanic ancestors didn’t have a lot of this baggage, and there are societies in this world that have come up with more creative ways to negotiate these issues.

One thing is certain: equality is not enough, and sexual freedom is not enough. Real relationship, meaningful relationship between the sexes on the basis of equal partnership, whether in a romantic relationship or in everyday life, is a skill that much of our society has yet to rebuild. Without shared values, shared endeavour, there can’t be real connection, real meaning to the relationship between the sexes. And that is the fundamental problem that allowed this stupidity to go unchecked for so long.

One suggestion from Authentic Ancient Traditions is that each sex has something to learn from the other. In the Orthodox tradition, female saints are often described in terms that in Greco-Roman culture were stereotypically male- strength, warriorship, perseverance, wisdom, courage and so on- while male saints are often noted for stereotypically feminine virtues- gentleness, humility, compassion and so on. Without affirming the stereotypes, the idea of seeking balance and completeness in this way, and thus overcoming the dualistic view of gender, is an interesting one for our society.

But to truly resolve the dilemma of sexual desire probably requires a Tantric approach, in which desire, rather than being treated as the enemy, is focused and reframed into an avenue for enlightenment.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


FOR WOMEN ONLY: Do NOT Try Another Weight Loss Method Until You’ve Watched This VIDEO

(Yes, there’s a video – we suggest you read the post first, LOL 😉

 

 

The Daily “RUDE SHOCK”

You’ve just rolled out of bed and you’re kind of mindlessly heading towards the shower.  On the way, you pass by the mirror, of course and, without thinking, you actually look at your own body…
SHOCK! …that belly fat… those “love handles” over your hips… the sagging butt… the “thunder thighs”… “OMG!” you say out loud. 

 

Your self-image takes a nose dive.  Then you think about all your attempts to shed those unwanted pounds and you blame yourself and call yourself a failure.  So your self-esteem rapidly catches up to your self-image, both now in a nose-to-nose terminal descent towards yet another crash landing.
This scenario is all too common.  And while it’s not unique to women, that fact is that it’s more common with women and for two reasons:

1. A higher percentage of women have weight issues, and…

 

2. It is HARDER for women to shed the pounds and keep them off.

 

FEMALE Weight Loss is a Different Animal

When it comes to the human body, we like to pretend we know the whole picture.  The FACT is, though, we’re often operating in the dark!  For example, what does your liver do?  Would it shock you to find out we’re still learning more about that?  It should.

Weight loss is no different – we’ve spent decades assuming that whatever works for men should work for women… despite all the evidence to the contrary.  Fortunately, we’re now seeing a breakthrough that’s benefiting tens of thousands of women worldwide.
Yes, every once in a while, humanity makes a breakthrough and finally figures out a better solution, a solution that works for a much higher percentage of people.  And ladies, that’s just come true for you.
Although there are certainly lots of clinically obese women out there who would love to lose the weight, in my coaching experience it’s even more often the case that you’re desperately trying to lose just that last 20-40 pounds.  And that can be THE most difficult weight to lose.
True, if you’ve only got 20-40 pounds left to lose, no one is going to call you obese.  Heck, they may not even notice you’re carrying extra weight at all, depending on what you’re wearing.
But YOU notice.  That’s the 20-40 pounds that not only keeps you out of your bikini – it’s keeping you out of a lot of other clothes you love, especially in the warm weather, and it may be impacting the kind of social invitations you accept (costume party = yes, pool party = Are you kidding me?!) and the kind of vacations you plan (hmmm… sight-seeing = Sure thing!  Beach = Not a chance~!).

Simplistic Theories You Need to Ignore

To shed the pounds AND to avoid having your self-esteem pummelled on a daily basis, there are several prevalent theories of weight loss you need to train yourself to tune out.  Unfortunately, despite all the medical evidence to the contrary, you still hear these, sometimes

even from “gurus”, so be careful.
The Input / Output Theory:  if you just eat less and exercise more, you’ll lose weight.
That would be great if exercise were a viable approach to weight loss.  It is NOT.  It doesn’t burn enough calories efficiently enough.  It also doesn’t address the question of your metabolism – how your unique metabolism produces and burns fats.
I know lots of people who get lots of regular exercise, but the pounds just don’t come off and, more importantly, THEIR TENDENCY TO GAIN WEIGHT REMAINS UNAFFECTED.  That’s critical and we’ll get to it in a moment.
Moreover, starving the weight off is hardly a recipe for sustainable weight management!

The Low Carb Theory: a low carb diet will take those pounds off.
And it often will, no question.  Everything from Atkins to Paleo can work really well in this respect, simply because so many people have metabolisms that convert sugars into fat faster than a politician converts facts into fantasies.  What’s the catch?
This doesn’t alter your metabolism.  And you DO need to consume a certain quantity of “good” carbs to maintain optimal health.
These and many of the other theories and approaches you’ll hear (“it’s all emotional”, “you need to count calories”, “don’t eat fats”, etc, etc., ad nauseum) are not only half-truths or even completely wrong as theories, they’re also enormously damaging to your belief in yourself as a person, to your self-worth at its very core.

What Actually “Works Gangbusters?”

Before we get to that, it’s REALLY important to know what a workable approach has to do for you.  If you’re thinking, “it just has to take pounds off”, think again.  Starvation will do that, but that doesn’t mean starvation is a viable life-long weight management strategy, does it?

 

A truly viable approach to FEMALE weight loss in particular absolutely must:

 

1. Take of weight reliably and predictably (i.e., if it only works for a      small percentage of women, then it’s not very useful)

 

2. Allow you proper nutrition during the process (i.e., it’s not based on any sort of starvation, like 500 calories a day or whatever) and even let you “cheat” a little so you don’t go nuts!

 

3. Alter your metabolism so that you’re not constantly at war with weight management for the rest of your life!

How to Stop Fighting Weight Battles and Just WIN the Damn War!

Here’s the real issue – if your weight loss approach is changing your diet but not your metabolism, you’ll be fighting “the Battle of the Bulge” your whole life long.  Do you really want that?  Wouldn’t you rather alter your metabolism so the whole weight war comes to a victorious conclusion?

 

That’s why you’ve got to stop fighting battles and just win the war.

 

And here’s a super effective approach to female weight loss that meets all our criteria AND gets our vote as the most likely approach to win the war for you, once and for all.



Back Into That Bikini?  Yes, Believe It Or Not!

Ultimately, you want and NEED two things: a) you need to feel good about your own body and how you look as a woman, and b) you need to keep your weight at a healthy level to prevent some unwanted and pretty nasty medical conditions.

 

 

Your idea of looking your best may or may not be getting back into a bikini.  However, I think you’ll agree that if you could get back into a bikini and feel good about what you see in the mirror, that would be worth the proverbial million bucks to you.

 

 

And if you’d like to meet a whole bunch of formerly overweight women who are now happily back in their bikinis, just go here and watch this VIDEO very carefully

 

 

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


Female Resilience: What’s the Best Self-Defense Training for a Woman Today?

A man may seldom if ever think about the possibility of being physically attacked, yet for a woman, this is an ever-present psychological reality she has to deal with.  This may explain why the psychological and emotional benefits a woman derives from learning to defend herself  seem to outstrip those that men derive from it.

If you’re a woman and you’ve been in school in the last fifteen years, chances are you’ve either taken or been offered a class in self-defense. Even if you haven’t, there’s probably at least one dojo or community center near you offering such a class. Given all this choice, how can you be sure that if you invest time and money learning to defend yourself and your friends and family, you’ll actually come out with the ability to do so?

The effectiveness of what you’re learning depends on a number of factors- the experience of the instructor, the composition of the class, and most of all the shape of the program. You might encounter

Purpose-designed programs: You may find programs that are designed specifically for women’s self-defense and nothing else. The quality depends heavily on the expertise of the instructor. The pros of such systems include a focus on managing real-life situations; the big problem with many of them is that the actual techniques will have had comparatively little field testing.
Modern self-defense systems: There are a number of modern systems available which incorporate focus on real-life situations relevant to modern life, most of which include plenty of hands-on practice and have a relatively short time-to-combat effectiveness.

 

A Word of Encouragement

If you don’t think that you have it in you to defend yourself, that you’re not courageous enough or strong enough, think again. Society teaches women to be fearful, it tells them that they are not as brave as men. That is a crock. Women can be enormously courageous, even in the physical arena. Find their stories and get inspired. A little strength is good, but speed, agility and creativity are better. Without belief in yourself, you’ve already made yourself vulnerable and undermined your own resilience.

 

Some Hard Truths

  1. If you don’t train against live opponents in a serious way, you will not gain the feeling for body mechanics that you need in a self-defense situation.
  2. If you don’t train seriously against (a variety of) men, you will not be able to defeat them in real life. Men have different body mechanics, different mass distribution, different musculature and different psychology than women. You must train against men both to get the feeling of it and to overcome any physical intimidation you may experience.
  3. If you don’t train for victory, don’t bother training at all. Not every opponent you meet will be easily discouraged. You have to be prepared to do what it takes to neutralize your attacker’s ability to harm you or your family, and to do so when necessary without hesitation. This doesn’t have to mean inflicting lasting bodily harm (although that is always a possibility), but it does mean that you can’t hold back when an assailant escalates.

 

A few of the things to look for in a system:

– Hands-on practice at no less than half-strength.
– Real-world scenarios
– Focus on combat psychology
– Grappling
– Knife, hard object and gun defense (tip: guns are pretty simple to deal with; it’s the knives you’ve really got to watch out for )

 

Here is what we have to say about a few of the systems that are out there.

We do NOT recommend:

Kickboxing– Kickboxing often markets itself to women for self-defense and fitness purposes, and it is totally unsuitable for the former. Kickboxing is, by definition, ranged combat, while modern self-defense situations are largely close-in and in confined spaces. If you’re going to use kickboxing to defend yourself, make sure there’s plenty of grappling and lock-breaking incorporated. Also be aware of the fundamental problem with kicking above groin level- if your leg is up there, it can be trapped fairly easily, and it is not supporting your balance. There are several non-kickboxing systems that nine times out of ten will be able to use your high kick to put you on the ground. (Note that South American Capoeira may be an exception to some of these problems due to its radically different kinematics.)

Sporting Styles- While Karate, Judo and “Mixed Martial Arts” (MMA) can produce deadly martial artists, all three are essentially sports in the West. Combat in the ring, as we will explain below, is severely lacking as a preparation for real combat. While the strikes of Karate and the grappling techniques of Judo may be useful, the systems on the whole are not designed to give you the kind of comprehensive self-defense training that you’ll find useful on the street. MMA has its own problems which we will not get into, but suffice it to say that successful self-defense training is more about hacking a way to beat MMA fighters, boxers and other common “tough guys” in the real world than it is learning their stuff.

Long-lead-time systems– There are many great martial arts out there, designed by and for people who could devote ten years to learning the basics. Tai Chi, properly taught, is one of the world’s deadliest martial arts- but only after a good fifteen years of practice!

 

You may want to consider:



Wing Chun– Wing Chun, a Chinese martial art invented by a Buddhist nun, is an excellent way to hack self-defense. It teaches body alignment, combat angles, sensitivity to the opponent and simultaneous attack and defense. It is both relatively quick to learn and devastatingly effective when taught well. Make sure that you get lots of hands-on practice time, real-life scenarios and focus on modern problems like knives, guns, Western boxing and wrestling etc.



Systema– A Russian martial art developed for use by the Russian special forces (SPETSNAZ), Systema is deceptively soft, relatively quick to learn and provides you with principles and training you probably won’t find anywhere else. Systema is peerless in providing one-on-one (and one on two or three) experience. If you stick with it, it will teach you serenity in dangerous situations and remove your fear. You must, however, be prepared to face and conquer the two biggest fears of all beginners – falling and getting hit.



Krav Maga– Israeli Krav Maga is the world’s most popular modern self-defense system. It incorporates scenarios from real-world experience, and its methods have been extensively tested in real-life situations. If you can find a good Krav Maga school, you could do far worse.


Xingyi– One of China’s most respected battlefield martial arts, Xingyi is externally quite similar to Wing Chun. It is the quickest of the Chinese “internal” styles to learn. It is linear and aggressive, controlling and collapsing the opponent.  Historically it was a favorite among security guards escorting valuable cargo across a countryside infested with bandits, so it has been well tested.




Aikijutsu- Several harder-edged versions of Aikido have emerged over the years under different names. Though I have tremendous respect for Ueshiba’s teachings, personal abilities and philosophy, his martial art as it has been transmitted tends to follow the movements of the master without inculcating his understanding of the energies of combat, the combative body or his experience of the messy side of self-defense. Newer redactions of Aikido lack the gentleness of the traditional styles, but are often developed with a sober eye on the needs of modern self-defense.

 

Controlling Fear

Two weeks ago, we wrote about the logic of fear. In self-defense more than anything, you must learn to escape the logic of fear and live within the logic of courage. Self-defense classes today tend to teach women to watch out for potential threats all the time, and to a certain point, this is just prudence. But it can feed into fear. If you come to actively regard people as dangers to yourself, you are not only harming yourself, you are subliminally advertising that fear to potential predators, and virtually guaranteeing that you will lose out in any dangerous situation.

The logic of fear thinks, ‘Danger could be just around the corner.” The logic of courage thinks, “Maybe I’ll have to fight for my life today or tomorrow. Maybe never. If it happens, I will meet it with the certainty that I am prepared and that I can succeed, no matter what. I even look forward to the challenge. In the meantime, nothing is going to stop me from enjoying my life and taking people as they come.” Maybe you will prevail, maybe you won’t- but you certainly won’t if you fear the event.

When your body-mind senses danger, it floods you with epinephrine (adrenaline). This activates the fight-or-flight response. In that space, you have probably less than a second to direct that adrenaline toward the “fight” end of the spectrum. The trouble with the flight response is that is essentially blind and uncontrollable. What it did for our prehistoric ancestors in open country or dense forest doesn’t work so well in modern cities. The fight response, on the other hand, can enhance your thinking and instincts, and most importantly, it gives you options and the will to make the most of opportunities. You can still choose to run or hide- but it will be a decision, not blind reaction. It really helps if you’ve “pre-selected” the fight response before you find yourself in danger.

 

Some Pitfalls of the Ring

There is a tremendous difference between being able to fight in a ring and being able to defend oneself. In the ring, there is padding for the hands (which diminishes the dexterity of the open hand, which is by far the most lethal weapon on the body, and diminishes the tactile sense of the opponent), there is protective padding which psychologically reduces the threat from incoming blows, there is a regular surface, a limited area, and a lack of obstacles.

In real life, effective self defense requires improvisational ability, speed, use of the available terrain and found objects, and most of all, a trained body. Sparring scenarios, usually done bare-handed at no less than half strength, are a critical part of training; gloved sparring within a defined ring can help you get a feel for combat, but should not be your main focus. If you spend your time training in accordance with the safety rules found in the ring, you will deprive yourself of a tremendous array of real-world tactical options.

 

Teaching Your Body to Think

The most effective martial arts provide exercises designed to help the body interpret and deal with incoming force in such a way that your body will do the thinking for you. This leaves your mind free to strategize. Here are a few of the best, which I recommend regardless of what system you choose:

 

Systema Punch-Absorption and Deflection Drills:
These can be found in the “Systema Hand-to-Hand” DVD. The idea is twofold: first, you learn how to absorb incoming force with your body only, thereby removing your fear of force, and second, once you’ve done that, you learn to turn every blow thrown at you into an opportunity to collapse the opponent. Similar principles are also used in Systema knife-fighting (another DVD we recommend), kick defense, hard object defense and ground fighting.

Wing Chun Sticking Hands (Chi Sau)
Chi Sau is designed so that your arms develop an instant ability to interpret your opponent’s movements, and move automatically to deal with them. Advanced practice is done blindfolded.

Tai Chi Push Hands
Push hands is another two-person exercise, but the objective is to maintain your own posture, balance or “root” and space while collapsing that of the opponent. Early stages of the drill are done relatively slowly and softly, but there are many more ambitious forms of the exercise as well.

 

If you, as a woman, can develop confidence in you ability to defeat those who would harm you physically, I can almost guarantee that this confidence will propel your whole life and career towards success of every kind.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

 


Resilience Secrets from a War Zone: Casting Out Fear

There are basically two ways in which we can choose to live our lives: in courage or in fear.  We can either create our own lives or be victims trapped within them.  I’ve written previously about the importance of cultivating courage in a deliberate way.  Today we’ll look at one of the truly outstanding examples of courage in our time.  Malalai Joya has spent her life in the most apparently hopeless set of circumstances, yet through courage, she has managed to create a better reality not just for herself, but for hundreds of thousands of other people.

Malalai was born in a village in western Afghanistan in 1978.  Less than a year later, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.  As a student, her father had been an activist arrested for participation in pro-democracy demonstrations, and would lose a leg fighting with the resistance against the Soviets.  After the Soviet withdrawal and ensuing civil war, the fundamentalist Taliban took control of the country, outlawing the education of women and preventing them from taking on any meaningful public role.  And then came 9/11 and the invasion by the United States, who turned for help to the criminal warlords whom the Taliban, if nothing else, had kept in check.  It may seem that there could be no more hopeless situation into which one could be born, particularly as a woman.  Most of us in that situation, if we were fortunate enough to be educated, would probably try to get out as fast as possible.

As a teenager living in a refugee camp in Pakistan, Malalai took a job instructing older refugee women in basic reading and writing.  Her father had always encouraged her to read and attend school, and thus she was more literate than many of her elders.  From this experience, she began to understand the power of education to change people’s lives.  Malalai also began reading biographies of resistance leaders, including Ghandi and Nelson Mandela.  They impressed her with their steadfast approach to dealing with injustice, and her reading list during this time suggests that she was deliberately cultivating the same quality of resilience.

When the Taliban took power, Malalai joined an organization dedicated to the advancement of women, and returned to Afghanistan, to Herat province, to teach in underground schools for women.  Despite the probability that she would be killed or imprisoned if she was found out, her family supported her decision and resolved to move back with her.  Teaching girls in basements, concealing forbidden books under her burqa and recruiting pupils by word-of-mouth, Malalai rose to become regional director of her organization just before the Taliban fled the American invasion.

With the Taliban gone, all the warlords came back to their fiefdoms and the weak central government not only did nothing about it, but allied with them.  At this time, Malalai became a public figure, spearheading clinics, orphanages and other important humanitarian measures in the region, getting things done despite the novelty of being a woman in such a position.  Seeing the direction her country was headed thanks to the fundamentalist warlords and the willful blindness of the Americans, Malalai decided to put herself up as a candidate for the Loya Jirga, the constitutional assembly.  She had no illusions that she could cause it to change course- she went only so that one person would speak the truth.

Of all of her district’s candidates, only Malalai spoke about the need to deal with corruption and to give women equal rights.  She won by a considerable margin.  Even then, the UN workers organizing the election warned her to be more circumspect in Kabul for her own safety.  In Kabul, she saw an assembly stacked with warlords whose ongoing abuses of human rights she knew all too well.  When it was clear that only the warlords and their supporters were being given a chance to speak, she approached the Chairman and argued guilefully that the younger delegates hadn’t had a chance to speak.  Once she had the microphone, Malalai denounced the corruption of the assembly in stark terms:

“Why are you allowing the legitimacy and legality of this Loya Jirga to come into question due to the presence of those criminals who have brought our country to this state?”

You can WATCH IT ALL HERE:

When her microphone was cut off prematurely, pandemonium was unleashed, but other delegates came forward to shield her physically from the angry mob.  She was ejected from the assembly, and that night there was an attempt on her life.  But her words were heard around the world, and more importantly, by ordinary people around Afghanistan.  Thousands of people, men and women, from fellow delegates to taxi drivers to old mujahedeen, found ways to express their support.  Wherever she went, huge crowds were there to greet her.

There has been much more to her journey in the years since that time- Malalai sat for a term in Parliament and has been finding new ways to help her people and to challenge the status quo.  She has become a unifying voice for those Afghans who want to change their reality, and a key facilitator for that change.  We in the West who have been watching Afghanistan for the past ten years must admit that it cannot be saved by any government or constitution or force of arms.  But every nation can be saved from within, if the people themselves become willing to strive for something better.  The courage of people like Malalai Joya brings that day closer.

The key is personal courage and overcoming the rule of fear.  When asked about how women can best defend their rights, Malalai said, “Once women understand that the key to freedom is in their own hands, they will dare to be brave, remove obstacles from their path, and be prepared to make sacrifices.”

We may not have warlords to fight, but fear has its claws in every human mind, preventing us from reaching our potential through internal threats just as they used external ones.  To refuse that oppression really is the first step to resilience and personal fulfillment for every person, everywhere.

Remember, courage (an essential ingredient of human resilience) is only a DECISION away.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


What Every Woman and Parent Needs to Know About Women’s Self-Defense

Let’s face it, you could be the target of physical violence…  It happens all the time in our society.  It could happen while you’re commuting, walking down the street, at your place of work, or even in your own home.  

And yes, statistically speaking, you’ll probably never have to defend yourself or your loved ones over the course of your life time.  But you don’t ever want to be put in that position and realize you don’t know what to do.  That’s why self-defense is an integral part of mastering personal resilience.

Not surprisingly, self-defense is of even more concern for women than for the guys.  So if you’re a woman trying to figure out the best way to learn self-defense or if you’re a parent wondering where you can send your daughter, what should you do?  The array of options out there is bewildering. 

To help you out, I’ve rated most of the readily available alternatives for you here.  Keep in mind that there’s no way I could cover every possible style or system, and that one of the most important variables is the one you’ll have to rate for yourself – the quality of the instructor(s).  

The Rating System:



The most desirable rating under each category is 5.  Just think of it as a “5 star” rating 😉


Availability: this refers to your chances of finding competent instruction in this style/system in an average major city.


Speed: 5 stars here means the style will make you genuinely effective at defending yourself in the shortest possible time.


Sophistication: The less sophisticated systems may give you a baseline self-defense capability, even quickly, but may keep you from progressing beyond that level.  The most sophisticated styles, on the other hand, have incredible potential.  Unfortunately, there’s sometimes a trade-off between speed and sophistication, and a less sophisticated system may serve your immediate purposes.


Grappling / Striking: This refers to the style’s preference, since almost all of them prefer one or the other.  While ideally you want a mix of both, striking (e.g., punching, kicking, elbowing, etc.) is certainly the more important, especially in the early stages.  


Applicability (to women’s self-defense): Does the style / system leverage a woman’s natural abilities and take into account her physical characteristics?  


Martial Art: Karate
Country of origin: Okinawa, Japan
Availability: 5
Speed: 3
Sophistication: 2
Grappling/Striking: S
Applicability: 2
Overall Rating: 3
Karate is often taught as a sport, rather than for self-defense.  If taught specifically as self-defense, it could bring you to a reasonable level of competence in a short time.  However, it has stylistic elements that can inhibit further progress.


Martial Art: Taekwondo
Country of origin: Korea
Availability: 5
Speed: 3
Sophistication: 2
Grappling/Striking: S
Applicability: 2
Overall Rating: 3
Same comments as for Karate.

Martial Art: Jiu-Jitsu
Country of origin: Japan
Availability: 5
Speed: 3
Sophistication: 3
Grappling/Striking: G
Applicability: 3
Overall Rating: 3+
Although primarily a grappling system, jiu-jitsu verges on a “mixed system”.  It may lack the sophistication of more “internal” arts, but it can be learned to a basic level quite quickly.  Particularly worthy of a look-see is modern “Brazilian Jiu-jitsu”, which has made a name for itself in the martial arts world. 

Martial Art: Judo
Country of origin: Japan
Availability: 5
Speed: 1
Sophistication: 1
Grappling/Striking: G
Applicability: 1
Overall Rating: 1
Judo is solely a sport.  Anyone telling you they teach “combat Judo” is out to lunch – the combat version is jiu-jitsu, from which Judo was explicitly constructed as a sport.  You’ll never learn to defend yourself competently through Judo.  

Martial Art: Aikido
Country of origin: Japan
Availability: 4
Speed: 2
Sophistication: 5
Grappling/Striking: G
Applicability: 4
Overall Rating: 3+
Aikido is one of the world’s top martial arts, no doubt.  However, it takes quite a while to reach competence.  Note that some Aikido styles are combat oriented, while others are not much more than an elaborate form of exercise.

Martial Art: Ninjutsu (Tai-jutsu)
Country of origin: Japan
Availability: 2
Speed: 4
Sophistication: 4+
Grappling/Striking: Mixed
Applicability: 4
Overall Rating: 4
This is the martial art of the Ninja.  It’s far more sophisticated than all later Japanese martial arts, with the exception, perhaps, of Aikido.  Competence in a short period of time is easily possible with good instruction. 

Martial Art: Shaolin
Availability: China
Speed: 3
Sophistication: 4-4+
Grappling/Striking: S
Applicability: 4
Overall Rating: 4
The catch here is that the Shaolin systems (northern and southern) and their off-shoots are sometimes taught more as aesthetic practices than as martial arts.  Authentic Shaolin instruction from real Shaolin-temple trained instructors has become easier to find in recent years. 

Martial Art: Wing Chun
Country of origin: China
Availability: 4
Speed: 5
Sophistication: 5
Grappling/Striking: S
Applicability: 4+ to 5
Overall Rating: 4+ 
Wing Chun is a superbly designed system and was invented by a woman, Yim Wing Chun, explicitly to defeat the greatest martial art of the time, the Shaolin system.  This was also Bruce Lee’s primary style.  A competent Wing Chun practitioner will defeat most comers quite easily. 

Martial Art: Jeet Kune Do
Country of origin: Hong-Kong / USA
Availability: 3
Speed: 5
Sophistication: 4+
Grappling/Striking: S / Mixed
Applicability:  5
Overall Rating: 4+ to 5
Bruce Lee and his senior student, Dan Inosanto, developed this from Wing Chun, Kali/Escrima and other martial arts.  It’s extremely effective, easily learned and takes the best of everything.  Highly recommended.

Martial Art: Tai Chi Chuan
Availability: 4
Speed: 1
Sophistication: 5
Grappling/Striking: Mixed
Applicability: 2
Overall Rating: 3
Tai Chi is one of the most sophisticated martial arts in the world.  In China of old, to challenge a Tai Chi master to combat was regarded as a one-way ticket to the after-life.  Now, however, Tai Chi is usually taught for its health benefits and few instructors can teach the combat aspect.

Martial Art: Bagua Zhang (Pa Kua)
Country of origin: China
Availability: 2
Speed: 2
Sophistication: 5+
Grappling/Striking: Mixed
Applicability: 3
Overall Rating: 3+
Bagua is at least as sophisticated as Tai Chi and high level practitioners are nearly unbeatable.  It just takes a while to become competent.  It’s also hard to find good instructors. 

Martial Art: Xing Yi (Hsing I)
Country of origin: China
Availability: 2
Speed: 3+
Sophistication: 4 to 4+
Grappling/Striking: S
Applicability: 4
Overall Rating: 4
Xing Yi is the third major “internal” style from China (after Tai Chi and Bagua), and is extremely direct and effective.  In 19th century China, many body guards were trained in this style.  Finding good instruction would be the key here. 

Martial Art: Krav Maga
Country of origin: Israel
Availability: 3-4
Speed: 5
Sophistication: 2-3
Grappling/Striking: S / Mixed
Applicability: 4+
Overall Rating: 4
Krav Maga was developed to train people quickly.  So if you want to become dangerous in a short time frame, this is for you.  For women’s self-defense, it’s hard to argue with the idea that becoming effective quickly is the primary criterion. 

Martial Art: Haganah
Availability: Israel
Speed: 5
Sophistication: 3
Grappling/Striking: S / Mixed
Applicability: 4+
Overall Rating: 4
Haganah is based on Krav Maga and two other Israeli systems.  Its virtue?  An extremely well-designed curriculum where you, the defender, terminate all encounters in one of three ways.  Whereas some martial arts bombard you with hundreds of possible techniques, Haganah simply shows you the best response to the most common attacks.  From there, it’s all downhill for your opponent – you either take him down, break his ankle or send him to the afterlife – your choice!

Martial Art: Thai Kick-Boxing
Country of origin: Thailand
Availability: 2-3
Speed: 3-4
Sophistication: 3-4+ (depending on the style)
Grappling/Striking: S / Mixed
Applicability: 3-4
Overall Rating: 3+
Thai kick boxing (not to be confused with generic “kick-boxing”) is a very effective and practical system and is usually taught for real combat, although there are sport variants too. 

Martial Art: Silat

Country of origin: Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia

Availability: 2
Speed: 4
Sophistication: 4+
Grappling/Striking: Mixed
Applicability: 4
Overall Rating: 4
Some of the Silat systems are among the world’s most sophisticated martial arts.  Yet, unlike the Chinese internal systems, these translate into real-world effectiveness quite a bit faster.  They also teach a very sophisticated defensive method against knife attack. 

Martial Art: Kali / Escrima

Country of origin: Philippines

Availability: 3
Speed: 4
Sophistication: 4+
Grappling/Striking: Mixed
Applicability: 4
Overall Rating: 4 
Kali / Escrima is a grouping of systems that, like Silat, strike an ideal balance between grappling and striking, and between weapons and empty-hand applications. 

Martial Art: Systema (pronounced siss-TYEH-mah)

Country of origin: Russia

Availability: 2
Speed: 5
Sophistication: 4+
Grappling/Striking: Mixed
Applicability: 4
Overall Rating: 4 to 4+
An extremely sophisticated use of body mechanics, coupled with internal power generation and economy of movement, this continually updated method has been routinely taught to Soviet and now Russian special forces. 

Martial Art: “Women’s Self-Defense” courses

Country of origin: N/A

Availability: 4
Speed: 3
Sophistication: 2-3
Grappling/Striking: Mixed
Applicability: 2-3
Overall Rating: 3
Okay, a rating of 3 is generous, but here’s why I’ve given it: these courses are often a good first exposure to basic martial arts techniques, they tend to cover the legal issues surrounding self-defense, and they teach women how to make use of items readily at hand for self-defense.  These courses, frequently offered to the public through recreation centers or colleges and usually with accredited martial arts instructors, are however usually too short in duration to bring you to the desired level of effectiveness.  You’d have to continue with something else. 

There you have it – a basic once-over of what’s out there today and how likely each of these styles / systems is to get you where you want to go.  

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger 




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