Dr Moshe Feldenkrais had graduated and was working in scientific research in Paris when it became clear that the Nazi threat was imminent. He was again taken up in the tide of Jewish and world history and forced to flee Paris for England. From 1940 — 1946, Feldenkrais worked as a scientific officer in experimental establishments for the British Admiralty. Here he researched and developed anti- submarine detection equipment or ASDIC- taken from the initials of the Allied Submarine Detection Investigation Committee.
For the lay person the ASDIC is best known as the haunting ‘blip…blip…’ in all those ‘war at sea’ and submarine films. It makes the sound as it sweeps the ocean floor, returning an echo if it hits another craft. During WWII, Feldenkrais worked on updating and improving the ASDIC, taking out two patents. This was his contribution to the allied victory at sea. Once again he would have been in his element, facing a question of how best to get these damn ASDIC things to work.
Already an inventor, a physicist and engineer and by this time publishing his first work on human function, The Body and Mature Behaviour (1948), it’s also worth mentioning that he more than dabbled in a martial art form almost unheard of in Europe or in the West. He was a student of Judo.
He was a close friend of Professor Jigaro Kano, the founder of Kodokan or modern Judo and was again influenced by ideas from an unexpected quarter. The two corresponded regularly and Kano made many visits to France teaching his version of the martial art. Feldenkrais studied with him in Paris, earned his black belt (one of the first Europeans to do so) and eventually opened the first Ju Jitsu Club of Paris. As he put it, Judo is “the art of the highest and most efficient use of mental as well as physical energy directed to the accomplishment of a definite purpose”. He later wrote several books on the subject, the first to be written in English. This passion for Judo provides yet another vital piece in the Feldenkrais puzzle.
It wasn’t until the return of a childhood soccer injury upon his return to post-war Israel that he consolidated all of these interests and experiences. The story of the injured knee is almost apocryphal in Feldenkrais circles. As a boy he had defended a soccer goal with his life and began to suffer for this act of boyish ego years later. When the knee pain returned too severely for him to ignore, the surgeons told Moshe he’d have to be operated on. They said the operation had a 50-50 chance of a positive result. Being a scientist, Feldenkrais announced he would never carry out an experiment based on such terrible odds and decided instead to launch into a programme of self-education in an effort to ‘cure’ himself.
Initially he wished to research ‘knee function, only no such books existed. Instead he read across a wide range of disciplines from anatomy to yoga to biology to cybernetics and systems theory. He approached the problem of his knee like any other physical problem and thus developed a method of self-inquiry and gentle observation or ‘awareness’ that is now known as the Feldenkrais method.
What he did was teach himself new ways to move that allowed his knee to recover. What he did then was teach others the best way for them to move, and he continued to do this for the rest of his life