I discovered Nadia on instagram and immediately started following her based on her impressive contortion skills, authenticity, and intriguing reflections. To my delight, Nadia agreed to answer some questions for this blog. Please enjoy reading her perspectives on contortion and martial arts!
Sara: How did you get into martial arts and contortion? Which came first? Did one lead to the other?
Nadia: When I was a child I was always doing contortion without even knowing what it was. Contortion was definitely first since I was doing splits in diapers. But my mom started teaching me various martial arts techniques at the age of two. I took my first official taekwondo class at age 7, but I made it to yellow belt and had to stop. I didn’t start training contortion seriously until I was twelve. But I wouldn’t recommend self-training. Many things can go wrong.
Sara: Do you find that martial arts supports you in your contortion practice or vice versa?
Nadia: Yes, they do complement each other very well. Martial arts has provided me with great balance and core strength. Which are very essential to contortionists for different skills like the needle. And the core has to be engaged in every pose. Contortion has provided me the flexibility needed to throw a high kick and kick my opponent in the head.
Sara: What do you love about martial arts? Contortion?
Nadia: The thing that I love about contortion is the hard work that goes into it. I have done a lot
of things and contortion is the only one that has kept me engaged. No matter how good you get there is always that next level. Martial arts gives you discipline and it’s also good to take classes because you never know when you might need to defend yourself.
Sara: What is the number one challenge for you in martial arts/contortion?
Nadia: My number one challenge for martial arts is not holding back. I hate hurting people so I always hold my kicks and punches. Even though you are supposed hit hard. For contortion conditioning for handstands is the hardest part. Also breathing and holding the pose.
Sara: What are your goals/dreams/visions?
Nadia: My dream is to be happy, but I also want to become a professional contortionist. And maybe a stunt double too. I really want to be able to do one arm handstands one day and own a contortion school.
Sara: What have you observed about the culture of/modern stereotypes and interpretations of martial arts and/or contortion?
Nadia: For contortion, once you get to that next level of flexibility everyone thinks you aren’t human. And of course there is also this idiotic idea that you have to be born flexible to be able to do contortion. That is not the case at all. I’m not sure if there are any for martial arts.
Sara: What did it feel emotionally like when you started to achieve really deep poses in contortion?
Nadia: For me contortion always feels normal, no matter how deep I get. But I’m always elated when I nail a new move.
Sara: What is it like to be a woman participating in the discipline of martial arts?
Nadia: To be a woman in martial arts is just like living life as a woman in general. Male peers will think that you are weak and underestimate you. If you show exceptional talent as a martial artist with a male instructor your talents will be wasted due to your gender. Male students will always be upheld and applauded more than female students, even if you have superior ability. Also, in the martial arts community they fetishize female martial artists. I don’t see the allure, but they are obsessed with feet and being kicked. Just like any other sport or activity the female practitioner will be fetishized.
Sara: Anything else you'd like to add?
Nadia: Thank you very much, Sara for letting me share my experiences on your platform. Happy stretching!
Follow Nadia on Instagram: contortedmartialartist
General Silks Skills & Capacities, why they are important, and how you can cultivate them (crash-course turbo-speed ultra-condensed version!).
Visit this page for aerial instructional videos.
Visit this page for meditation that supports body awareness.
Why: Supports intuitive, efficient movement, safe practice, innovation.
How: Yoga, meditation, visualization of skills, repetition of skills.
Why: Prerequisite for climbs and any intermediate/advanced silks skills.
How: Coffin hang sit-ups, hammock knot crunches, pull-ups, inversions, climbs, shoulder shrugs, anything core-related, hip flexors.
Why: Allows for a more diverse portfolio of tricks, increases comfort in poses, aesthetics.
How: Splits training, backbends, shoulders/hips/hamstrings/spine.
Why: Supports execution of drops and complex wraps. Reduces chance of slipping/mistakes that lead to injury.
How: Slowing down movements when training, being conscious of what exactly you are doing. Think about getting your muscle groups to work together to create an action—notice when you might be literally working against yourself.
Why: Saves energy, aesthetics.
How: Find out how to allow the fabric to support you (where can you lean into it?) Learn to work with gravity. Become aware of what doesn’t look smooth (video yourself) watch lots of videos of professional, skilled aerialists. Find out where you are wasting energy and revise. Identify your weaknesses. Embrace them. Forgive them. Let them deepen your understanding of your body. Then see what you can do about them!
Why: Saves energy, creates better-looking poses, prevents you from losing height.
How: Focus on keeping all wraps close to your body. Avoid creating slack unless the trick specifically calls for it. Minimize hand placements/grip switches. Remember Occam’s Razor—the simplest way is the correct way.
Aesthetics (pointed toes, hands, lines)
Why: Demonstrates professionalism, connects you with your music and your audience in its deliberateness and visual intrigue.
How: Stretch ankles when standing around day-to-day. Practice hand and leg shapes in front of the mirror at home. Watch professional aerialists, dancers, and yogis. Dance intuitively at home to different types of music. Practice flowing to a song on your apparatus when training at the gym/studio. Video yourself training and critique it later.
Why: Prevent mistakes/injuries.
How: Be deliberate in your actions when training. Notice if you become more sloppy as your energy declines. Be careful not to overtrain.
Theoretical/visual understanding of wraps
Why: Contributes to a holistic appreciation of aerial silks and dramatically reduces chance of injury.
How: Look at what your wrap looks like while you are in it as well as from an outsider’s perspective. Take pictures of peers’ wraps if you are a visual learner. Retrace your steps mentally, figure out how exactly you got from point A to point B.
Connection/relationship with the fabric
Why: Supports happiness, enthusiasm, and peace in the silks journey.
How: Intentional hand placement/touch/presence before and after training. Breathe when moving in the fabric. Acknowledge achievements and growth. Be aware of perfectionism and intervene if it is interfering with your enjoyment of aerial arts. Periodically reflect on your aerial journey and what it means to you. Set tangible, specific goals nested into larger principles. E.g. my goal is to perform for an audience by April 2020 – while having fun and not losing sight of how much I love training just for what it is.