Moshe Feldenkrais was an engineer, physicist, inventor, a martial artist who brought Judo to the Western World. He was a master in the study of movement and human development.
Born 1904 in Slavuta (present day Ukraine), and having eye witnessed theprogroms there as well as World War I, Feldenkrais decided to leave for Palestine at the age of 14. He journeyed by himself for six months and arrived in Tel Aviv. There he worked as a laborer; graduated from high school; and became a cartographer for the British army.
At the same time, he was involved with Jewish self defense groups, studied Jujitsu and developed some original self defense techniques. He hurt his knee during a soccer game, an incident that would shape his future career and life. He published his first books about Autosuggestion (1930) and Jujitsu, a book on self defense (1931). In 1930 he left for France to study engineering.
There in 1933 he met Jigaro Kano, the founder of Judo. Besides being a research assistant with Frederic Joliot-Curie in Paris, Feldenkrais also taught Jujitsu. He started training in Judo and studied for his Doctorate in Engineering at the Sorbonne. He received his black belt in Judo in 1936, and worked on several research projects.
In 1940 Feldenkrais needed to escape German occupied France. He became a scientific officer for the British Admiralty and conducted anti-submarine research in Scotland. He taught Judo and self defense and published in 1942 an self defense manual, the Hadaka-Jime: The Core Technique for Practical Unarmed Combat.
In the 1940’s Feldenkrais’s injured knee became increasingly troubling to him and he was offered a 50% chance to improve it with surgery. He refused what he called an “unscientific” offer and decided to apply his knowledge of physics and the human body to find a way to regain the use of his leg. He studied everything that he could find about health, healing and making connections. This included anatomy, kinesiology, physiology, neurophysiology, movement and hypnosis therapies, psychotherapy, spiritual practices and acupuncture. He experimented with minimal movements and self-observation. He studied ways to refine and re-discover the fundamental processes that children go through in their motor learning. He succeeded in walking again and started to work privately with a colleague who had back pain. Gradually he started Lecturing about his new ideas. He also began to teach experimental classes, and to work privately. He also continued to teach Judo.
In 1946, after World War II, Feldenkrais moved to London and worked as an inventor and consultant in private industry. He published two more books: the first on his new method Body and Mature Behavior, in 1949, and his last book on Judo, Higher Judo, in 1952.
Feldenkrais moved back to Israel, in 1951, and after working for two more years for the Israeli Army, he dedicated his time to further developing his method. He made his living teaching and working with individuals. From 1955 on, he taught classes in Awareness through Movement® in a studio in Tel Aviv and gave Functional Integration® lessons in the apartment where his mother and brother lived.
His most prominent student at that time was the Israeli Prime Minister, David ben Gurion, who had back and neck problems. When he started to work with Feldenkrais, he could barely stand to give his speeches. At the end, he was able to do a handstand. The picture of a Prime Minister doing a headstand at the beach in Tel Aviv became quite famous.
Dr. Feldenkrais also worked with the violinist Yehudi Menuhin, the anthropologist Margarete Mead, the neurosurgeon Dr. Karl Pribram, and other influential professionials of his time.
He continued to publish works about the method: Mind and Body (1964), Improving the Ability to Perform (1967) (changed to Awareness Through Movement 1972).
His first teacher-training program in Tel Aviv was in 1969-1971.
In 1972, Feldenkrais gave a 5 week training in Esalen, California. This was his official introduction to the USA and was followed by another teacher-training program in San Francisco from 1975-1978.
He increasingly traveled internationally gave workshops, and continued to work with children and adults who had difficulty with their movement functions.
In 1977, Dr. Feldenkrais published his case study The Case of Nora, after working with a Swiss women after her severe stroke. He continued to develop and wrote The Elusive Obvious (1981) and began a 235-student Amherst training in 1980.
Dr. Feldenkrais was a pioneer and introduced many keywords such as self- awareness and mind and body motor learning. Giving up was not in his repertoire.
When he died in 1984, he had worked with thousands of children and adults to teach them how to improve their functional and movement skills. As technology has improved, neuroscience has begun to confirm many of his findings such as neuroplasticity and the ability to develop life-long motor and mental learning skills.
The precision, depth and joy of his work is applied today in diverse fields such as neurology, psychology, rehabilitation and in all areas of art and sports.