The Man: Moshé Feldenkrais
Moshé Feldenkrais was born in 1904 to a Jewish family living in the Ukraine. Shortly after the end of the First World War, at the age of fourteen, he emigrated to Palestine, then under the British Mandate. He worked there as a laborer on building sites and as a surveyor until he was able to go to Paris to study at the Sorbonne; first engineering, later physics. At the outset of the Second World War, he was working with Nobel Prize-winner Frederic Joliot-Curie. He was also an avid athlete. While he was in Paris he became intensely involved in Judo; he was one of the founders of the Judo Club of France. His sports interests contributed another vital element to his development of his method. Playing soccer as a young man, he damaged one of his knees. This was a manageable irritation until several years later when he tore ligaments in the other knee as well. At that time surgery didn’t offer a very promising solution. This pushed him into the investigation that eventually led him to abandon his career in physics in favor of a much less clear path. Perhaps Feldenkrais was made bolder by his contact, through Judo, with a culturally different sense of what might be possible. He certainly achieved an astonishing synthesis of western physics and eastern martial arts. His ideas were cultivated by studies with other movement pioneers of that time (notably Alexander). Moshé’s wife was a pediatrician, and exposed him to the developmental movement patterns of children and the work of Piaget on the developmental patterns of learning itself.
Returning to Tel Aviv in the 1950’s, Feldenkrais left physics and began teaching what he had learned about movement. He worked with people in all walks of life, and his home was increasingly a point of pilgrimage for people from across Europe who looked to him for help with everything from recovery from stroke or other injury, to management of MS or cerebral palsy. He began training students to be practitioners themselves, first in Israel and then in the United States. Although he died in 1984, such training continues in dozens of countries, on almost every continent; there are currently about four thousand practitioners of the Method that bears Moshé’s name.