Brief biography of Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais
The method was developed by physicist and Judo teacher Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais (1904-1984). He received his PhD from the Sorbonne and worked in the Joliot-Curie laboratory in Paris. He also spent many decades studying Judo, training with its founder, Kanō Jigorō.
He discovered how to reeducate his own movement when he was incapacitated by a sports-related injury and given little chance of ever walking without pain. Then he worked tirelessly to develop how to teach an intelligent relationship to gravity using principles of human learning, physics, and martial arts.
He ingeniously focused on directed attention and novel movement patterns to restore faulty muscular learning. Dr. Feldenkrais devised thousands of Awareness Through Movement lessons to foster human development and learning.
He applied his knowledge of anatomy, physiology, physics, and engineering, as well as his mastery of martial arts, to restore his own functioning and, later, the functioning of many others, including luminaries like David Ben-Gurion, Yehudi Menuhin, Peter Brooks, Gregory Bateson, Jonas Salk, and more.
The method's success stems from his ability to offer extensive variations and creativity in human movement. These variations access our innate ability to make new neurological connections, just as we did when we first tested new movement patterns as babies and children.
Brief Overview and Highlights
Moshe Feldenkrais was born May 6, 1904, in the Ukraine. In 1918, at age 14, he walked by himself to Palestine, a six-month journey.
Feldenkrais completed high school in Palestine. He hurt his left knee in soccer match in 1929. He learned Jujitsu (the Japanese art of combat) while in Palestine an developed his own self-defense techniques, which he taught to the
Feldenkrais traveled to Paris in 1930. At age 27, in 1931, he published Jujitsu, a book on self-defense.
He graduated from college in Paris in 1933 with degrees in mechanical and electrical engineering. Began work that same year in the laboratory of Frederic Joliot-Curie at the Radium Institute while studying for his doctorate in electrical engineering at the Sorbonne.
In the thirties he gave jujitsu lessons in Paris, and “because his students were mostly fellow researchers, he had to be convincing from a scientific perspective to successfully seduce their Cartesian minds.” Michel Brousse, research director of the International Judo Federation, writes that Feldenkrais instinctively applied the principles of physics and made wide use of his sagacity and scientific logic to organize the various steps of the progression to be followed.
From 1935-1937 he worked at the Arcueil-Cachan laboratories building a Van de Graaff generator, which was used for atomic fission experiments. In 1935 he re-issued his Hebrew Jujitsu book in French with revisions and updates, titled La Defense du fabile contre l'agresseur.
In 1933 he met Kano, the founder of Judo, who was impressed with Feldenkrais's books on self-defense. Feldenkrais received his Judo black belt in 1936, at age 32. In 1938, at age 34, he published the book, ABC du Judo.
With war looming, Feldenkrais escaped to England in 1940 where he worked for the British Admiralty and taught Judo. In 1942, at age 38, he published, in English, the two books Practical Unarmed Combat and Judo.
In 1946 he sat on the International Judo Committee and began scientifically analyzing Judo principles. In 1949 he published Body and Mature Behavior, his first book on the Feldenkrais Method.
In 1951 the French edition of Judo pour Ceintures Noires (Judo for Blackbelts) was published. The next year the English version of Higher Judo: Groundwork appeared.
In 1951 he returned to Israel to direct the Israeli Army Department of Electronics. Around 1954 he moved to Tel Aviv and began teaching his method exclusively. During this time he wrote two books on his method, The Potent Self and Awareness Through Movement.
In 1957 he began working with Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion. In the late 1950's he presented his work in Europe and the US. Among others, he worked with anthropologists Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, writer Helen Keller, acting coach Peter Brook, violinist Yehudi Menuhin, and the physician Jonas Salk.
He published two more books on his method, The Case of Nora in 1977 and The Elusive Obvious in 1981.
He presented two teacher-trainings in the US, one from 1975-1978 in San Francisco, the other from 1980-1982 in Amherst, MA. He was too ill to complete the last training and his other students finished teaching it for him.
He died of complications from a stroke on July 1, 1984, at the age of 80. The International Feldenkrais Federation in Paris continues to oversee his books and papers and regulate Feldenkrais practitioners internationally.
(biographical information courtesy Mark Reese, Feldenkrais trainer and Feldenkrais's biographer. See Moshe's bio: A Life in Movement, by Dr. Mark Reese.)