Maura Barclay

Be An Unbreakable Human

Compassionate self-defense is more relevant than ever.

Maura Barclay grew up terrified of being attacked—a fear that motivated her to become a martial arts instructor, body builder, firefighter, and yogi. But even at the peak of her strength and toughness, Barclay didn’t feel any safer. She realized that intuitive intelligence and awareness were her best weapons so she launched the Unbreakable Woman program in 2004 to teach compassionate self-defense and empowerment. Based on her book of the same title, it’s a keynote she delivers in group settings in which she explains to women how to tap into their “authentic power.” Now 14 years later, Barclay talked to Furthermore about its evolution in the age of #MeToo and why men must be part of the solution.

What inspired you to launch Unbreakable Woman?

I felt there was a disconnect in martial arts and self-defense classes. Fighting felt counterintuitive and I wanted more risk reduction strategies, so I did a ton of research and created the training that I was hungry for.

You talk about the importance of being able to mentally defend yourself—what does that mean?

For women, our power is about 99.9 percent a mental game. The vast majority of women have more than enough natural strength to get out of a physical confrontation. All they need is basic human movement applied at full force by landing hard body parts (hands, elbows, knees) on soft targets to create an opportunity to escape—but it takes a mindset that’s willing to do it. 

To be mentally prepared you need to be present, situationally aware, have a clear set of boundaries, and be mentally tough enough to withstand the emotional discomfort of being assertive when boundaries are crossed. This is all much more important than focusing on how to land a round-house kick. Women’s power comes from our belief in it and our willingness to use it.

Do we all innately have intuition?

Intuition is a primary survival mechanism that stems from the animal [limbic] brain. The main purpose is to identify potential threats, so ignoring, rationalizing, or denying this instinct could be a fatal mistake.

But what if listening to that instinct makes you come across as rude?

Be rude, unhelpful, unpleasant, or a bitch. If you’ve made a mistake, you can always apologize—something we seem to be doing for everything anyway, so finally you have a legitimate reason to say you’re sorry.

What’s the best practical advice that you give at your seminars?

It depends on who’s there because every woman comes with her own story and experience. My goal is to provide every single person with something that resonates and helps them immediately and in the long term. The best physical advice I can offer is to help women give themselves permission to physically hurt a man, especially someone they love (like in domestic abuse cases). 

Why does #MeToo make Unbreakable Woman more relevant and important than ever?

It is more relevant than ever because I believe that men are NOT the enemy—they are the solution and they must be included in the education process. I’m all about empowering women and educating men in a compassionate way that’s collaborative, and free of judgment or blame. 

What do you think about all these women speaking out against harassment?

I’m excited. But not because we have these amazing, powerful, and smart female voices coming from so many different places. I’m excited because for the first time, these voices are getting heard, and they’re making a tangible impact that’s creating a powerful legacy for all women and girls.

How have you adapted the program in this new era?

I haven’t needed to. I’ve only expanded it to include men so they can feel valued, heard, and respected in the education process. #MeToo created an economic and risk management imperative for corporate senior leadership that’s accelerating the openness to programs like mine. 

What’s next for Unbreakable Woman?

I’ve an opportunity to partner with Equinox to expand the brand and scale of the Unbreakable Woman program nationally both at the member and corporate administration level, which is going to be amazing. Plus the corporate training programs I offer are finding traction in the security and technology industries, so I fly around the U.S. to service those clients. Next up is finding a publisher to help me launch the books I’ve got in the pipeline, so there’s exciting and busy times ahead.