After ballerina Avital Zeisler was savagely attacked as a young woman, she lived in fear—until she took action to train with experts in self-defense from around the world. Seeking a method specific to women and using Krav Maga as a base, she created her own self-defense program: the Soteria Method. It was an immediate sensation, and is now in demand by everyone from corporate executives to Hollywood stars—such as Amanda Seyfried, Megan Boone, and Keri Russell, to name a few—who seek her classes both for the self-defense and for the intense, body-sculpting workout.
Unique and empowering, Weapons of Fitness will help get you into incredible shape—and just might save your life.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||7.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.70(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
To my family, who built the nest, told me I had the wings to fly, and trusted that I could achieve my dreams—I would not be who I am if not for your love and support. For all who inspired me throughout this journey, I offer you my gratitude and respect. I recall every moment of support vividly, and I want to thank those who believed in me along the way—your generosity of spirit has helped me find the place where I can share this method with the world. To my literary agent, Joy Tutela, and my editors at Penguin, Megan Newman and Gigi Campo, for seeing this vision through—I could not have done this without you. To the one man who endured the impact of every combative featured in this book—thank you, George, for your physical and emotional generosity. To Tammy, I am forever grateful for your unwavering support. To Richard and Amy, thank you for your support, guidance, and belief in the cause—from the outset. Moran Cerf, thank you for your time consulting with me on the neuroscience of our minds. Dax, thank you for being my rock. To every one of my students—I am honored and humbled by your achievements. All of you give me the extra strength to move forward, as you have all touched my spirit in a special and unique way.
I had always subscribed to the belief that women were far more likely to be victimized by men because they were physically weaker and thus ill-equipped to defend themselves. This was nonsense that, I suppose, was further perpetuated by my love of movies—where, time and time again, I was offered examples of the classic “damsel in distress.” It wasn’t until I met Avital Zeisler and was introduced to her unique method of self-defense, the Soteria Method, that my perceptions were forever changed. There’s no clearer way to say this (and I hope I don’t lose anyone by speaking so technically), but Avital is a genuine badass. She emboldened me beyond my wildest expectations by teaching me simple mechanical techniques and combative wisdom that more than make up for any physical disadvantage. In short, she turned me into a badass. The Soteria Method is exclusively for the female defender and works for women of all ages and sizes. It helps you to build an effective and intuitive survival mindset that ensures your ability to use the concepts and strategies under pressure. Learning Avital’s method has actually made me less paranoid and more confidently aware.
In addition to learning how to physically defend myself, I was surprised by my gains in mental acuity and my reduction of anxiety. Avital’s Soteria Method gave me an increased level of confidence, which resonates in my daily life. It’s also a serious workout. Avital’s personal journey is intertwined in her method and profoundly illustrates how women can gain strength to overcome any attack, setback, or negative experience—and to live the best life possible.
Avital’s story is a fascinating one. She is incredibly brave for sharing it. It is her personal experience of surviving a sexual assault and becoming such a highly respected self-defense instructor that gives the Soteria Method such strength, purity, and authenticity. Here, embedded in her ethos, you’ll find a unique set of benefits for women of every age, state of mind, and physical capability.
I believe that every woman should know the Soteria Method. Life is too precious to not want to get the most out of it, so strive for happiness and solace. The physical and mental benefits of learning Avital’s method will be apparent shortly after a commitment to her program. The empowerment that you feel will last a lifetime.
[ PART ]
[ CHAPTER ]
REDEFINING SELF-DEFENSE FOR WOMEN
I was told that I was too tall to be a classical ballerina. I was told that I had too much muscle in my calves to be a model. I was told that I didn’t have a deep-enough six-pack when I participated in a fitness competition for athletic routines. My body never fit society’s molds for the passions I wanted to pursue. Being judged on each and every physical attribute, rather than who I was as an individual, sometimes made me feel like a prisoner to my appearance. But deep inside, no matter what anyone said, I had a drive to find my place in the world, and a dream to nurture a creative outlet where I could express who I was and what happiness meant to me.
When I was young, I always considered happiness a given. I was totally immersed in the world of dance, got good grades, and maintained my focus on being the best dancer and student I could be. I felt invincible, safe, loved, supported, and cherished by my family and friends. I was completely unaware that bad things could happen to me. Even when a neighbor surprised me on my driveway by telling me that I was his “honey,” all I had to do was tell my father. He immediately marched over to the neighbor’s house and made sure that was the last time this neighbor came anywhere near me or our property, or the police would be called. Within this cocoon of security, I nourished my ambition.
When I was thirteen, I insisted that my mother take me to my first serious dance audition, and soon I moved away from home to attend a full-time ballet school. As the years passed, I competed in every dance competition that I could, and dieted until I had a model’s measurements and became part of the fabulous fashion industry. Not content with success in dance and modeling, I also worked tirelessly in school to get the best marks possible, just in case I ever decided to become a doctor. I was ambitious and driven, but I was still a typical kid, juggling my grades and my passions with my life outside high school. And even after my neighbor’s comment, I remained totally oblivious to potential danger.
Then, one time when I was walking home from my bus stop, I realized that a car was following me. I was scared, but I kept my cool and cut in between some houses to lose him. When I told my parents, my father immediately signed me up for a Krav Maga class. Krav Maga is the official self-defense system of the Israeli Defense Forces and has been adapted for use by elite combat units, secret service operatives, law enforcement, and the general public. I enrolled in a beginner class, learned the moves, and aced the test. The whole time, I was more concerned with getting a high mark on my final Krav Maga test than with actually contemplating the reasons for learning the moves and their effectiveness for real-life application.
DURING MY FIRST YEAR of college, I met a man. I was so taken with him. He said the right things, acted as if tending to my needs was his purpose in life, and spoke as if he supported each and every one of my dreams. As a naive young woman who believed I was in love, I bought it all! This was my first serious relationship, and it felt wonderful. Even as he became increasingly controlling and jealous, no one—not my parents, brothers, or friends—could tell me anything against him, because I wouldn’t hear it.
I started spending more and more time with him at his place and envisioned a long future together. But then one night we got into an argument. I didn’t want to do something sexual with him, and he was insisting. I refused, and he lost it. Within seconds, he turned into a raging monster and lunged at me. I was in utter shock as he grabbed my hair and banged my head into the bathroom wall. Three times. Each time he asked me if I would give in and do what he wanted.
All I could do was think, “What is happening? How could he be doing this to me? Where did this violence come from? Why did my saying no to him result in this violence? What am I going to do?” These and millions of other thoughts ran through my mind. I had no idea how to get out of his hold of my hair, which was incredibly painful. He asked me again if I would do it, and I said no again. He whirled me around and started shoving my head toward the toilet bowl. I resisted, trying to keep my head out of the water, and then I decided to try to calm him down. I cried out that I would do what he wanted. He released my hair to let me up. I ran out of the bathroom and tried to run out of the bedroom, but he leaped after me and grabbed me. He swung to punch me, but I somehow blocked it, through natural reflexes (not training). Then he choked me around the neck. Somehow, with my minimal training, I was able to get out of the choke hold. Then he pinned me down and violently raped me.
I was in utter disbelief that this had happened to me—that someone who’d said that he loved and adored me could attack me so violently. I could not wrap my head around the implications of his attack—what it meant for me as a woman, what it made him as a man. I wondered how I could ever move on from the devastation I felt.
The physical damage was nothing compared to the emotional trauma, which would not go away. Every aspect of positivity and daily enjoyment in life had vanished. I felt nothing but negativity—toward everything and everyone. I had been so innocent, so sure of my own invincibility, and I’d felt so cherished by my family. But now I was damaged inside and out. I was a person who no longer had a direct line to her dreams and aspirations.
After a few days, I told my parents about what had happened. We decided that I needed to at least get a protection order against him. When we went to the police, they said he should be charged with both sexual and physical assault. He was arrested and charged. Every time I tried to pretend like it hadn’t happened or to ignore my flashbacks, another meeting with the police or people from the Victim Services agency would remind me of the incident and the upcoming court case in which I would testify. I didn’t want to serve as a witness, but I couldn’t get over the fact that if I didn’t, I would potentially be putting another woman’s life at risk.
As I waited for the case to make its way through the court system, I learned more about sexual assault from the information provided by Victim Services and individual therapy. I’d thought that since I personally knew the man who had attacked me, it wasn’t considered rape. I was shocked to learn that, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 78 percent of female rape or sexual assault victims from 2005 to 2010 were assaulted by friends, acquaintances, family members, or intimate partners, while only 22 percent were attacked by strangers (per the Bureau of Justice Statistics 2013 report Female Victims of Sexual Violence, 1994–2010). I gained many other unwelcome insights like this as I tried to come to terms with my assault and how it had permanently changed me. One of the most difficult things to accept was that I was only one of thousands of women who have faced this—and worse.
AS AN ATHLETIC KID and teenager, I had always sought out some form of physical activity, whether for exercise or simply to put me in a good mood. But after the incident, nothing made me feel any sense of confidence, empowerment, or positivity. I tried dance classes, fitness classes, every activity I could think of. Soon it got to the point where I had to find a way to bring myself back to life.
I decided to take another self-defense class and reintroduced myself to Krav Maga, since my father still recommended it as an effective self-defense system. This time in class, I was actually able to learn the defenses against the attack that I had experienced. I learned how I could have fought back in the incident, and I practiced the moves over and over again. I gained confidence with each repetition.
I was amazed at the changes I felt. For the first time since the incident, I began to feel the sense of empowerment and confidence that I was so longing for. I kept on going back to the self-defense classes just to hold on to those positive feelings. I soon became addicted.
My transformation began with a search for empowerment, but it quickly became a more involved challenge of assessing how what I was being taught was applicable to women in particular. Basically, I wanted to find out if I, as a woman, could really defend myself against a much stronger and larger attacker. Since I’d experienced a violent sexual assault firsthand, I had a unique lens of reality that I used to assess the concepts and tactics that I was shown. I couldn’t help but try to judge whether or not each tactic I was shown would work in a real-life situation.
From my experience, I knew that at the moment of the attack, I was feeling so many things, had so many thoughts, that I wasn’t able to formulate a clear or quick response. In the moment, I was trying to simultaneously comprehend what was happening, overcome the pain and fear I felt at this sudden betrayal and attack, and formulate an escape plan. There was too much going on in my head, and I was ill prepared to defend myself. Knowing how my brain reacted in this situation informed my approach to learning self-defense techniques. I knew these factors had to be kept in mind when assessing the effectiveness of the self-defense techniques I was being shown.
So, whenever I was taught a new move in a training session, I would respectfully and quietly challenge the technique in my mind, rather than accept it at face value. I would picture myself back in the moment when I’d been attacked and ask myself, If I had known how to do this Backhand Hammer Fist, would it have helped me in that situation? Would I have been able to think of it in time for it to be helpful? I challenged each move in my mind and on the mat, and I tested or modified what I learned on my own after class. It even started to feel fun—becoming a new game of physical angles, leverages, body mechanics, and mindset boundary adjustments. I became fascinated with finding defensive tactics and solutions that did not rely on my size or strength.
As I immersed myself more and more into the world of self-defense, I had an epiphany. I realized that the perceived disadvantages of being a woman could actually work to the advantage of a female defender. Our smaller statures can be very misleading to a larger, stronger attacker. No matter how small we are, if we are well trained, we are still capable of exerting force toward targets. And on the psychological level, male attackers will perceive us as weaker and physically inferior. So if a woman is able to stay tactical while under attack, she’ll have the element of surprise on her side.
I continued exploring why self-defense meant such different things for men and women, and revelation after revelation excited me and drove me to learn all I could about self-defense from a woman’s perspective.
AFTER SOME BASIC self-defense training in my hometown of Toronto, I sought out more advanced classes and began to train in the United States. Then I was invited to attend a Krav Maga training session in Israel, and I jumped at the chance to learn about this powerful fighting style at its source. People told me that no woman had ever passed the full instructor course, and that since I was only twenty years old, I was still too new to the system to do so. But that challenge was all I needed to hear. I packed my bags with my brand-new Krav Maga equipment and joined thirty-five men from around the world in the instructor course.
In some of my previous training sessions, the male participants had been dismissive of me and didn’t believe that I could hold my own against them. So it was no surprise when I encountered the same skepticism in this instructor course. One very vocal skeptic, in particular, chose to pick on me during the first week to try to show how much I didn’t belong there. Then, one time, he made the mistake of trying to kick me, thinking I wouldn’t know how to block it. I blocked it with my leg. His shin shattered. This story continues to circle back to me even now, years later. It was the moment that earned me the grudging respect of the other participants—and the reputation of being the “Canadian girl who could hold her own.” I worked hard, trained harder, and passed the instructor course.
My time spent studying Krav Maga only reinforced my realization that self-defense is very different for men and women. Knowing Krav Maga as well as I did only made me want to learn more about other forms of self-defense. So I sought out opportunities to learn from as many military personnel, law enforcement officials, and security specialists from around the world as I could. This was the pivotal point when I committed myself to my mission of finding out what was real self-defense. I was able to use my own experience of a violent attack to zero in on effective self-defense techniques for women. I could still remember the sense of freezing in fear during my own attack, so each time I mastered a technique and mentally tested it against my attacker, I felt a sense of immense satisfaction and relief.
MY NEW QUEST had enabled me to shift from a negative mindset to a more workable one. I was functional, though I still wasn’t happy or excited about life. I attended my college classes and listened to what my professors were saying, but I had a very hard time connecting with people. And whenever I could, I would head off for training sessions or go on trips to further my study. When I finally graduated from college, it was easy for me to make the decision to teach self-defense.
After years of studying and training, I finally felt like I could defend myself against an attack if I needed to. But I wanted every woman to have that sense of confidence. As my passion to show others what I had learned became more and more meaningful to me, I decided to make the big move to New York City to work as a hand-to-hand-combat consultant.
I continued to train and expand my network of security contacts, but I still couldn’t pull myself from the state of being on emotional autopilot. I struggled to make it in New York as some of the friends and contacts I had trusted the most let me down. I felt completely lost. And it was during this moment, my lowest moment in New York, that my original question of defining real self-defense was finally answered.
At this juncture, I asked myself, “What’s the point of learning all this self-defense if you can’t be happy and live the most of every moment?” And then it clicked. For the first time I saw self-defense as more than just a means to defend my physical body against violence. I realized then that the definition of “self-defense” should be about attacking life, not letting it attack you. I wanted my self-defense training to protect my state of mind and my positive reactions to life. I wanted it to let me live life not in a constant state of fear, but to allow me to feel vulnerable sometimes, emotionally or otherwise, and to let my guard down so that I would be open to new experiences. I wanted to actually be present for the important moments, instead of constantly looking for an escape or keeping an eye out for threats. This is what I wanted self-defense to do for me, and this is what I realized it could mean for everyone.
I wanted my physical self-defense tactics to protect my life—not just my physical body, but the confidence and courage I needed in order to live a fully open, vulnerable life without having to constantly keep my guard up. In order to make sure my training could protect my life, I had to learn how to live. I had to put an end to the negativity I’d allowed myself to feel ever since my attack and to transition toward valuing and appreciating the life I had been given and the possibilities the future held. So, in my attempts to start living, I found myself training emotionally as much as I was physically and mentally in self-defense. I fought to begin each day in a positive way—even though it usually meant a couple of mental rounds in the emotional ring. As time passed, I began to feel things again and to open up a bit more.
The lesson I learned was this: I’d been labeled a victim, and I’d allowed that label to permeate my sense of self. But I had the power to stop living my life as a victim. I realized that all of my negativity was from the past and that, in fact, I was the only one keeping the past in the present. I learned how to live more in the moment and how to open up to protect the moments in life that I wanted to experience. I stopped worrying about things that were out of my control, and I finally felt that anything was possible.
It was with this profound new outlook that I decided to teach and develop my own way of self-defense for women. I began to test the emotional discoveries along with the physical and tactical discoveries of my evolving self-defense system with others. As I watched my female clients transform, I felt a resurgence of the confident me, the fearless me. It brought me back to life.
MY ASSAULT HAD HAD a profound effect on me. It had brought negativity and fear into every aspect of my life. But against all odds, I had found a way to live with positivity and determination, and I couldn’t wait to share these insights and discoveries with women everywhere. I had found my purpose and a new meaning in life: I was going to help women protect their dreams.
I became dedicated to finding the best physical and emotional tactics for women’s self-defense, and when it all came together, I called it the Soteria Method. I picked the name Soteria, which is the name of the Greek goddess of safety, because it represents the essence of safety, protection, and preservation from harm. I consider all of us to be goddesses in our own right—with the ability to safeguard ourselves and our loved ones.
The Soteria Method is a guide to helping you find your inner goddess of safety. In Weapons of Fitness, my very first book, you will learn how to avoid or physically defend yourself against the threat or act of violence. Incidentally, you’ll also find yourself sculpting a lean, strong physique with the Weapons of Fitness workouts. And most important, you will discover an inner empowerment that will enable you to emotionally let your guard down and begin to create and live a life that you love.
My clients come into my course for various reasons and, no matter who they are, leave the course feeling empowered, strengthened, and much more confident. My client Jessica shared with me that she had never before felt so capable of taking care of herself as she traveled to and from work. Another client, Carol, used her newfound sense of empowerment to take on more challenges in her professional life—and succeeded! A client who had been assaulted as a teenager explained that she finally, after so many years, began to feel like the person she’d been before her attack—and was able to move on with a profound sense of confidence. The Soteria Method can change your life!
My method is simple, effective, and retainable, and above all, it is customizable for who you are and what you want to achieve. On the physical level, you and everyone else who read this book will all learn the same approach to physical protection and fitness. But on an emotional level, your own experience of this book will be unique. It doesn’t matter what your specific goals are—what matters is that you want to bring positive change into your life and that you are the architect of this change. You opened this book with the desire to make a difference in your life, and I promise you, no matter what inabilities or weaknesses you think you have, you are capable of great change and accomplishment.
This unique discovery, and ultimately transformation, comes from the development of the survival mindset for self-defense, which I will teach you and which will allow you to tap into the strong and confident side of your personality. The Soteria Method lets you maintain your femininity, both physically and mentally, while allowing you to hold your own against a larger and stronger attacker.
Table of Contents
Foreword Amanda Seyfried xi
Part 1 Your Mission
Chapter 1 Redefining Self-Defense for Women 3
Chapter 2 A Real Transformation 13
Chapter 3 How It Works 25
Part 2 Molding Your Weapon
Chapter 4 Stances 33
Chapter 5 Upper-Body Combatives 46
Chapter 6 Lower-Body Combatives 81
Chapter 7 Defending Yourself 104
Part 3 Hitting Your Targets
Chapter 8 Weapons of Fitness 135
Chapter 9 Weeks 1 and 2 Workouts 161
Chapter 10 Weeks 3 and 4 Workouts 171
Chapter 11 Weeks 5 and 6 Workouts 181
Chapter 12 Improvised Weapon Bonus Workout 190
Part 4 Protecting Your Life
Chapter 13 Creating and Protecting a life You Love 201
What People are Saying About This
“I have this confidence that I don’t feel I ever had… this is so much more than self-defense.”
“Learning the Soteria Method was the right thing to help me find strength I didn’t know I had.”
“Working out this way makes you feel fierce.”