I BEGAN MY CAREER AS A PROFESSIONAL DANCER. Since I couldn’t sing and was too short for Broadway, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue work. As I transitioned from dancer to Pilates instructor, there was an interim when I was doing both. I remember being at my studio, Bodyline, teaching clients in the early morning before going to dance rehearsals for the Oscars. As Bodyline grew, I started studying tae kwon do to keep my body in dancer shape. It provided the flexibility and cardio training that I needed, plus there was a dojo five minutes away. I have held a blackbelt now for more than 20 years and learned some profound lessons along the way. Martial arts has influenced not only what I teach, but more importantly, how I teach. It has also given me the confidence to kick and punch, which are crucial to self-defense.
There is no better training for self-defense than sparring; it’s the part of martial arts that I am the worst at. I still feel my heart quicken every time I square off with an opponent. Sparring puts you into fight-or-flight mode. Moment to moment, you’re choosing whether to strike or step out of the way. Joseph Pilates was a boxer and a pioneer in teaching self-defense. There are many exercises, from punching on the Trap Table to Sword on the Reformer, that reflect his martial arts background.
Moving from your powerhouse is integral to self-defense. Any time you punch or kick, the power must come from the center of your body—not just your limbs. Martial arts focuses on breath (kiai), concentration, control and centering. It requires a strong core and flexibility in all planes. Not only does Pilates make me a better fighter, the focus on core keeps my back safe from all the twisting and impact. Pilates has taught me how to maintain balance in all aspects of my life. Martial arts has taught me how to remain calm when taking a punch, how to know when to attack and when to retreat.
Both Pilates and martial arts build confidence in our bodies and minds. We stand taller and hold ourselves more upright. Just being perceived as strong can help deter an attack. The exercises I have included here are simple strikes using your limbs as weapons. When confronted with an attacker, strike the most vulnerable spots: face, neck and groin. Also remember to stay aware of your surroundings, make direct eye contact with people and stay off your phone, especially when walking alone. Walking with your keys in your hand, to use as a weapon, is always a good idea.
Not only does Pilates make me a better fighter, the focus on core keeps my back safe from all the twisting and impact. Pilates has taught me how to maintain balance in all aspects of my life.
DO'S AND DON'TS
Maria offers quick tips for staying safe.
Use your voice. Make a lot of noise when defending yourself.
Remember to go for the most vulnerable spots: the groin, throat and face.
Keep the movements of your kicks and punches snappy and light. Always recoil your foot and your hand.
Move like a whip: grounded at the source, light at the extremities.
Keep your eyes on your opponent.
Use a powerful pinch behind the upper arm or thigh if you’re trapped.
Punch from your elbow.
Kick from your knee.
Lock your knees.
Lift your chin up.
SELF-DEFENSE Move #1:
GROIN KICK WITH FOOT
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