„No matter how closely we look, it is difficult to find a mental act that can take place without the support of some kind of physical function.“
Dr. Moshé Feldenkrais
The person behind the method
Moshé Feldenkrais, (1904 – 1984) was an engineer, nuclear physicist, judo master and visionary – he was far ahead of his time.
At the age of 14, he set out alone from his hometown of Slavuta, former Russian Empire, now Ukraine, on the arduous and dangerous journey to Palestine. There he worked in construction and initially as a private teacher for children. He was an enthusiastic sportsman and dealt extensively with hand-to-hand combat methods. Among other things, he taught self-defence to members of the Haganah.
Due to a knee injury, he first began to experiment with his own limitations and movement possibilities and realised early on that lifelong learning is possible due to the functioning and structure of the human brain. It was already clear to him that body and mind are inseparable.
He used movement as a tool to make habits perceptible and to distinguish more appropriate patterns from unfavourable ones. In this way, he himself and later his students were able to relearn movement sequences oriented to human movement development from baby to adult, and at the same time create variety. He constantly discovered new possibilities and thus created an immense collection of lessons of inestimable value.
What today is scientifically proven and known as neuronal plasticity and is constantly being researched further was already understood by Moshé Feldenkrais at that time. He spent his life searching for ways to share his insights and experiences and make them accessible to as many people as possible.
Through his work at the Radium Institute with Irène and Frédéric Joliot-Curie in Paris and at Churchill’s secret anti-submarine research unit in Scotland, he worked with many scientists with different specialities and was also able to exchange ideas with them in other fields. His unquenchable thirst for knowledge also brought him into contact with many creative people, so that he was able to explore and educate himself extensively on a variety of disciplines and subjects. Even before developing his method, he wrote a book on self-defence techniques, which also found followers in the French Resistance during the Second World War. The famous French mime Marcel Marceau, who was also a member of the French resistance movement, is said to have said to Moshé Feldenkrais during a meeting: “Feldenkrais, you saved my life”, alluding to this very book.
Because of his self-developed techniques, he came into contact with Jigoro Kano, the founder of the martial art of judo. Kano ignited in him a passion for judo. Moshé Feldenkrais was the first European to be awarded a black belt in 1936. He founded the Jiu Jitsu Club de France together with Mikinosuke Kawaishi in 1936.
Moshé Feldenkrais devoted himself entirely to the development of his method from the 1950s onwards. He worked one-on-one with countless people with a wide variety of backgrounds, ailments and needs. At the same time he trained the first generation of Feldenkrais teachers from the 1960s onwards. He led a total of three training courses until his death. He also had close friends in Switzerland. This resulted, among other things, in the 24 Feldenkrais lessons spoken by Franz Wurm, which were broadcast on Swiss radio in 1969.