What happens when you combine primal self-defense methods with the insights of a psychotherapist and the heart of a warrior? Meet Dr. Ruthless, also known as Melissa Soalt. An award-winning women’s self-defense expert and Black Belt Hall of Fame recipient, Dr. Ruthless emerged at the forefront of the women’s self-defense movement in the mid-1980s and has created her own “Dharma of Defense.” You can see her in action in her Paladin Press DVD, Fierce and Female.
Her teachings encompass the physical and spiritual dimensions of self-defense. She unabashedly advocates for women to leverage their killer instinct—not for the sake of destruction, but to preserve and protect life. In this interview, conducted by Brooke Axtell, Dr. Ruthless shares her perspective on the female warrior spirit and why we must learn to mobilize our survival instinct and forge fear into fire.
Q: What attracted you to training in self-defense and teaching other women how to defend themselves?
A: In my late teens, I lived in the Middle East and traveled around Asia. I was attacked multiple times and violently groped. I learned I was a scrappy bitch. I successfully fought off rape attempts in Israel and Pakistan, and I suffered a lot of indignities. Women who have been violated know what it’s like to be reduced to anti-matter. It’s utterly dehumanizing. I also witnessed appalling inequities, the ways in which women are controlled by men. This birthed my undying reverence for female disobedience and the need for women’s self defense.
When I came home, I began training in martial arts. Then a decade later, in the middle of the night, a rapist broke into my home. He had cut the power and phone lines. I heard the creaking floorboards as he headed for my bed, knife in hand. Fortunately my screams sent him fleeing before he reached me. That was a terrifying event. It propelled me from martial arts to the more practical, down-and-dirty methods.
Q: You have a unique approach to self-defense. How would you describe your “Dharma of Defense”? How did it evolve?
A: My paradigm evolved from decades of immersion in the study of self-defense and the warrior mindset. Warrior paradigms are traditionally male. This mindset is dispassionate, detached, and steely. It doesn’t fully connect to women. So my approach defines a female warrior paradigm, which is far more primordial. It addresses female realities (spiritual, physical, emotional) and helps women capitalize on their greatest strengths. It is rooted in my concept of Fierce Love and the radical ability to turn fear into fire. It’s a fusion of primal self-defense—which plugs into elemental powers and capacities—and the resolute heart of the female warrior.
We need to honor ourselves with a larger view of spirituality that includes this fearsome potential. My paradigm closes the divide between our “higher” and “baser” (animal) selves and imparts a unifying, more wholesome and lustier self-persona. I view this as part of the Fighting Eros of Life.
My work is born out of two very deep feelings: love and fury. Women must know they too can be dangerous creatures and not just feel like the endangered ones.
Q: Can you tell us about the fighting methods you teach?
A: Attacks against women happen at terrifyingly close range. The predator will use his greater size and strength to dominate his intended prey and gain compliance or control.
I want women to have the option to fight. Tight quarters calls for explosive, instinctive, uncomplicated in-fighting skills that rip from our lower center of gravity and base of power, from our hips, legs, and core. I teach women smart timing strategies, how to harness the formidable charge of fear and adrenaline, refashion their bodies into decisive penetrating weapons (plus how to wield handy weapons), and counterattack to escape.
If a female chooses to fight back, she needs to be armed with this ferocity and skill. The killer instinct, nestled within ferocity, not only helps fund a woman’s fight, but it can also help a woman kill her own fear, which is sometimes necessary.
Q: You speak extensively about awakening the warrior spirit in women. What is the warrior spirit and how can women reconnect with this?
A: The female warrior spirit has always existed. It is a primordial seed that needs to be released from the field of potentials and realized in our waking dimension. We need to grasp its memory, this elemental power from our prehistoric past, and bring it into the present. With the courage it liberates, we can create far more equitable and enlightened societies.
I abhor war. But we can reject war and embrace the warrior spirit. We don’t have to relinquish our ideals for a just, compassionate world, but we also need other tools. We need to own this choice to aggressively even violently fight back to protect what we hold sacred.
One way to connect with this spirit is by tapping into our lineage. When women hear real accounts of female warriors and “deadly dames” throughout history, they begin to cultivate new ways of imaging themselves and can internalize this spirit.
Q: In your experience training women, what are the inner obstacles or beliefs that keep women from aggressively resisting attack?
A: It comes down to fear or socialization—much of it is rooted in the myth of female defenselessness or other internalized beliefs: “I’m too small; too weak; don’t have it in me.” Some internal conflicts stem from a religious ideal that disallows force or where self-love and this expression of power do not extend to the woman or mother—only to protecting the child.
In the context of self-defense, these diminishing beliefs become obstacles, the “inner muggers” that can put a choke hold on female force or create potentially lethal hesitation. Conflicts need to be reconciled in advance. For example, “I’m a worker for peace. You want me to slam what?” This is imperative because all systems must be GO.
When women answer the question, what is worth fighting for, and define their sacred boundaries, ferocity naturally arises. This ferocity doesn’t just gift us with strength, but it also dissolves inhibitions and arouses the will. So it’s a superpower.
We need to be willing to fight for what we value most. I don’t see this in opposition to the calling to make the world a better place. On the contrary, when women receive the warrior spirit and reap its muscle and might, this not only saves lives, but it also helps heal the ills and indignities imposed by fear. So it’s a curative tonic.
Q: What kind of mindset shift needs to happen for women to fully embrace their capacity to fight?
A: It’s a monumental shift in stance: from ask to take. Women have traditionally been groomed in the virtue of asking, of “May I?” whereas men have been entitled to take. Sexual assault is violent entitlement, is taking without consent. Historically, taking and ownership have been privileges of men.
Effectively resisting attack hinges on women giving themselves permission, without apology, to not only be aggressive, but to take control. Gloria Steinem once remarked that taking is, in itself, empowerment for women. Nowhere is this more true than in fight-back self-defense when now may be the only time that matters and you literally have to take charge. When the only way out is through you have to counterattack and become the huntress not the hunted.
For a female, this is the ultimate reversal. Until recent times, this wielding of forceful resistance, especially in the face of control and fear, has been largely unthinkable. Forbidden. For many, it remains counterintuitive—so it takes learning and unlearning.
Q: If you could say anything to encourage women to pursue self-defense, what would you say?
A: “Do it! Here’s the deal: regardless of technique or method, you are the weapon—the delivery system. Everything else is a tool, a force multiplier. Once this is fully understood, the need to acquire skill and cultivate our will becomes luminously clear. And to truly take our bodies back, this learning is vital.
Women are called to help the world, but as we challenge the old systems there will be violence and opposition. We need to lionize ourselves and be prepared. We need to mobilize our courage to burn down apocryphal myths and attitudes that perpetuate rape and violent entitlements. Fighting back is not the only or always the best solution, but it is a significant piece in the war to combat violence against women.
When women confront their deep-seated fears, which all women feel to some extent, when they realize their primal self-defending powers and consciously embrace the willful warrior spirit, it changes everything. Far beyond its life and dignity-saving benefits, the embodiment of the Fierce Female is vital to liberation itself, to shifting self perceptions, creating new internal power states, and to re-balancing the world.
“In the end it doesn’t matter how you get here—whether you’re pushed by fear or pulled by power—what matters is that you arrive.”
Melissa Soalt is the author of Paladin’s Fierce and Female DVD. She has blogged for The Huffington Post and has been featured and cited in diverse media outlets including The View, NBC Nightly News, SELF, The Wall Street Journal, BUST, Black Belt magazine, India’s The HINDU, and for the Committee to Protect Journalists. Visit her at www.dr-ruthless.com and join her on her Facebook Page, where she posts like mad with self-defense tips, tools, and warrior wisdom. She is at work on her first book for women.