Fans of Dr. Laura Schlessinger know she often advises callers to sign up for martial arts lessons. In this exclusive interview, the hapkido and taekwondo stylist reveals why she's such an advocate.
Dr. Laura Schlessinger, known to her millions of fans as simply “Dr. Laura," is a radio and Internet problem-solver who doles out practical, no-holds-barred advice for extinguishing life's emergencies. In between her probing questions and cut-to-the-chase admonishments are almost daily recommendations to sign up for martial arts lessons.
In this exclusive interview, the Southern California-based author and black belt recalls her experiences in the arts and her reasons for recommending them to her legions of listeners.
Why did you decide to take up the martial arts?
Dr. Laura: Most little girls love ballet dancers in froufrou costumes. I loved the beauty of Bruce Lee's moves — guess it's the tomboy in me. However, this was not the thing for little girls to do “in the day," so I never had training as a child.
When my son was 3-1/2 years old, I decided to start him in the martial arts. I took the leap and signed myself up at 41.
Which arts did you study?
Dr. Laura: Hapkido and taekwondotaekwondo. I have not trained for eight years; I switched over to weightlifting and power walking because I didn't think that the pounding and kicking was doing my body any good after my 50th birthday party.
What's your rank?
Dr. Laura: I earned a black belt. When I asked my teacher about second degree, he explained something about me running across the studio, running up the wall and then turning in the air to kick a bag. I thought about that and decided black was black.
During my black-belt test, my teacher made me do takedowns with a blindfold. I had never done that and was upset at first — until I started to fight and realized that I could “see" him in my mind's eye. Fascinating. I did well.
My black-belt test was about eight hours. The first thing I did was put my wrong leg out front [during] my staff form and clobber my knee. I was blindfolded then, too, although I hadn't quite gotten the calm-down-and-focus thing at that point. I did the whole day in pain. Makes me even more proud of my accomplishment.
What was your training regimen like when you were practicing?
Dr. Laura: I do everything 250 percent. I would work out every day, either at home or at the studio. [Sometimes] I would work an hour at home and several hours in the studio.
Has your martial arts training influenced your attitude about fitness, discipline and self-defense?
Dr. Laura: I have never stopped being physically active: bicycling, power walking and weightlifting. Now I race sailboats with a crew — it requires legs and arms like crazy.
I didn't need to learn discipline; I am hardwired that way. I loved the formalities and having goals that I couldn't obtain just with IQ: grit, stamina, coordination. I was so happy to finally learn how to breathe in order to keep my balance on one leg. People are still amazed that to tie my shoe laces, I don't sit down or bend over. I bring my foot up to me and tie the laces with only one foot on the ground, without wobbling.
I did a photo shoot with yoga poses for an ad about “strong and flexible" for my radio program. I started doing — after all of this time — front, side, spinning and crescent kicks. I was happy to see I still had it, although my side kick is down from over-my-head level to chest level. Hey, I can still do damage at that height, although I would probably go for the knee.
You frequently mention the martial arts on your program. When do you advise people to start training or enroll their kids?
Dr. Laura: I push parents to put all their children from age 3 and up into martial arts.
What physical and interpersonal skills do children and teenagers take away from martial arts training?
Dr. Laura: Discipline, perseverance, respect for self and others, exercise, self-defense, focus, a sense of accomplishment. Along the way, children develop maturity, camaraderie, self-control, confidence, competency at something that requires their mind and body, coordination, respect for authority — which they often don't have at home, sadly — and so forth. For many children with absent fathers and chaotic home situations, the martial arts studio is where they learn to settle down, focus and feel a part of something special.
You mentioned that the martial arts help a person develop self-respect. What are some specific ways training can improve low self-esteem?
Dr. Laura: My definition of self-esteem is a respect for the self, earned by accomplishment and perseverance. I tell people that self-esteem does not come from empty pats on the head from adoring parents; it comes from impressing oneself with one's courage and fortitude. Getting through a martial arts program is one great way to obtain that at any age.
You have addressed school bullying often. How can the martial arts help kids deal with bullies?
Dr. Laura: [Martial arts training] is ultimately about violence — not for its own sake but for righteous reasons. I give the strong and direct message: Never hit anyone first. When/if somebody hits you, take 'em down hard and fast with at least twice the power that they came on to you.
I also admonish children and adults to always be willing to intervene and stand between evil and the innocent. This is a martial art, not a dance class. No young lady with a junior black belt will be date-raped, [and] no young man with a junior black belt will be bullied more than once.
Interview by Sara Fogan
(Photos Courtesy of Dr. Laura Schlessinger)