Fortunately, my computer had some issues the past few days, and I was in Houston all weekend at the IBJJF Houston Open. Otherwise I might have completely lost my shit in public about this incredibly stupid post by Keith Owen, in which he muses that women might not really be able to handle BJJ (though at the end he fatuously proclaims that Gracie Jiu Jitsu is made for us! hooray!)
Now, having had a few days to calm down... I can say this:
WHAT CRACK ARE YOU ON, KEITH OWEN? All the women quit, so it must be all of them, not you or your school???? And how do you explain the growing popularity of womens jiu jitsu around the world? the growing numbers of women competing? the growing numbers of female black belts? Are they not really women?
1. How is it that you find women "demanding" to take your class? I've never once felt the need to "demand" anything from a regular business. Usually, they WANT me to purchase their product or service. All I have to do is hint that I might be interested and some salesperson follows me around the store, chirping happily in my ear about their sale, etc. This right away tells me you might have a problem when women come in the door. Are you pushing them away? what kind of conversation happens first before they demand... are you encouraging them to try out something like your cardio kickboxing class at noon? (That's about the only thing that would make me feel like I had to demand a trial class in BJJ. If you said something even more insulting, like "Oh, are you looking for the scrapbooking store? it moved..." then I would just turn and walk out.) And just why do you think they don't already know they'll be grappling men? why the need to make such a case out of it? surely they have eyes and watch a class or part of one when they come in to check it out?
2. How do you know your guys are nice, respectable gentlemen? Is it because they're not hitting on you? I can tell you, I have trained in many academies across the country-- from east to west coast, north to south, from big name schools like Marcelo's, Drac's, the Gracie Academy etc to small places in garages and strip mall storefronts with classes taught by no-name blackbelts, brownbelts, purple belts. I have honestly never come across men who were NOT nice respectable gentlemen while training or rolling. Maybe I'm lucky! Sadly, though, I have heard from enough women who have had to train with guys with poor judgment, lack of brains, and even guys who are sexual predators. Oddly enough, the assholes don't wear rashies that say "asshole" across the front. In fact, the assholes are often well-liked by the other men in the team. So I'm not impressed that you think your guys are nice. They wouldn't be pinching your you-know-what or making you feel uncomfortable.
3. You say you treat the women the same as the men-- and then you say they don't have to roll until they're comfortable. Is this the rule for men? Somehow I doubt it. Somehow, I think you're probably making different rules for the ladies, which sets them apart and creates a pink ghetto-- "the ladies" who are too delicate to roll. This not only makes the women feel different, it makes the men see them differently. Treat women the same as men, and tell your students to roll with control against anyone significantly smaller or less-experienced than they are, regardless of gender. Common sense.
4. You've never had a complaint? ANYONE who has run any kind of business or school for any length of time knows that complaints are common. If you're not getting complaints, you're either missing them (they're not always heralded with a "hey, I need to complain about something privately") or you're deterring them. You have to pay attention to body language, nonverbal communication, and your students' behavior both on and off the mats. You have to make yourself available for communication-- not just on the side of the mat during class, but before, after, by email, by phone, etc.
5. How many men have started to train at your academy? how many have stayed? How many women have started? how many have stayed? Let's put some hard numbers in here. Both men and women move... Those women who "quit" by moving to another location might have continued training and don't belong in your blanket statement about "all" ultimately quitting.
6. Damn those stupid bitches for getting pregnant (from their husbands or boyfriends... which I assume you need to point out, lest we gasp in horror at the thought of them getting pregnant some other way--) and not training until birth. I guess you've been reading those grocery store tabloids with photos of women stick-skinny 2 weeks after delivery? In the real world, women need a year to recover physically from birth. Also, they work full time, have children, no nanny or housekeeper, and are expected to survive with maybe 15 minutes a day to themselves, if that. Where will she fit BJJ? Oh, well, maybe she'll come back when the munchkin is in elementary school. Maybe she hasn't actually quit. Maybe she actually switched schools!
7. How accessible is your academy? I looked at your schedule, Keith. Not impressive. 9:30am on weekdays, many women are at work. 7:30pm weekdays, many women are getting dinner on the table and/or putting babies to bed. So that leaves one 11am class on Saturday. Nothing on Friday or Sunday either. So how realistic is it? How about having a 6am adult class so women can stop on the way to work? or how about two, three classes on weekends? or even a noon class?
8. "It then makes me want to do a male only class because we don't want to waste time on someone who is just going to quit." You sexist bastard. You have already judged "all" women as being "quitters" who aren't worth your time. And you think this attitude doesn't come across loud and clear to the women at your academy? How about doing a "no quitters" class instead? only how would you know who to let in? You can never know who will quit ahead of time. You can't teach anyone at all with this perspective because EVERYONE might quit-- move-- get injured badly-- get pregnant-- lose a job-- develop new interests.
9. Why do you think teaching jiu jitsu is a waste of time if someone doesn't continue taking classes, from you, for the rest of their life? don't you see that it produces many wonderful benefits even if you only take it for a year? six months?
10. "My male students are usually married and take a bit of a risk with their spouses by wrestling around with the opposite sex." What poppycock! What information do the spouses have access to-- aside from their husbands and possibly you? You're either part of the problem or you're part of the solution, Keith. If the spouses of your students are apprehensive or threatened, you are obliged to correct their perception of jiu jitsu. Ultimately you are the blackbelt and you are the captain of the ship! You need to sit your students down and tell them how to address this issue with their wives/girlfriends. You need to bring some women in from other academies, if need be, and have a "demo night" with rolling and drilling, that the students' wimminfolk can attend and observe, so they can see that really, there's no funny business going on no matter whose legs are where with who. After all if your female students' significant others need to be comfortable with them in a class full of men, then your male students' significant others need to be comfortable with a class containing women, too.
11. Both men and women get grabbed in places that, in a different context, are usually sexual in nature. We get over it. I was never given any kind of "speech" or "talk" when I started jiu jitsu-- I just did it. I think I might have been more nervous hearing about it before I felt it. When I felt my first "hand touches boob" moment, it was immediately and obviously not sexual so it didn't bug me at all. After all, my bra and my shirt both touch my boobs all day long. When I hug a friend, my boobs touch their chest. BIG DEAL. Sounds like you have more of an issue with it than we do.
12. Have you asked women who left your academy why they're not training with you any more in an open, accepting, non-confrontational manner???
13. I totally disagree with all-women's classes. My personal experience with them has been negative. I only speak from my own experience, of course, which was that the higher belt women at the school (a brown, a purple, and myself and another blue) either had to give up our productive time training with other (male) students or we had to give up more of our own spare time. That would have been fine if I had gotten anything at all out of training with the newbie women. Clearly I didn't expect to get great rolls out of it-- but I didn't even feel like I learned as a teacher or that it was useful for the women, because they were either sporadic in attendance (thus they got nothing out of it, stayed fat and noodle-like and completely lacking in any resistance) or they were regulars, who quickly graduated to the co-ed classes and stopped attending the waste-of-time womens' class. Just sayin'.
*** edited to add: I realized, thanks to a comment from a reader, that I failed to be precise and complete with my language in this paragraph. I was rushing, angry, and time-pressured when I wrote this post, but that's no excuse! So let me clarify: I do not have a bias against whitebelts in general, of either gender. I am often still just as "new" and clueless as any whitebelt, and regardless of belt color, we're all still learning (especially me.) When I was taking the womens class, I was not a teacher per se. I did not expect to be teaching, and I did not expect to roll beyond positional sparring in the class, much less go hard. It is true that every extra rep I did was good for me-- except that drilling a technique on a completely limp partner is often not super useful. Except for two women, the class (in total, 4 to 7 ladies including me) was roughly approximate to the "regular" classes in terms of the students' interest level, aggression, and willingness to work hard. (So I did get just as much out of working with those ladies as I did from working with guys.)
However, two whitebelt women in particular were frustrating because they did not work hard, did not seem motivated, and only attended sporadically. They wore baggy t-shirts that snagged fingers and toes, and loose sweatpants that were always coming down, necessitating adjustments, and were overly warm in our non-air conditioned academy. As a result, they were uncomfortable and unhappy. They did not make progress, and they described themselves as "fat" and "noodle" like. These descriptions were fair. The other ladies, who put up with wearing loaner gis until buying their own, would have done just as well in bjj if there hadn't been a women's class, if not better, because the regular class was longer-- 3 hours compared with 1 hour. So in the end, based just on my own experiences with the women's class I attended and helped out at, I concluded that women who are going to like jiu jitsu will like it in a co-ed environment (as I did) and women who need a little gentler introduction can get it in the co-ed class. The women who don't need a women's class aren't terribly helped by it while the women you'd think would have quit but for a women's class quit anyway because even an all-women environment wasn't enough to save it for them. And creating a "women's class" seemed to set up an environment where women had permission to be sloppy (if they wanted to be) and if they relied on that class alone, they wouldn't make progress at the same rate as people in the other classes because there were some 20+ hours of regular classes a week available, and just 1 hour a week of women's class. So why bother, in other words.
To me the alternative my academy implements is superior. Any new student (male or female) takes their first class strictly with one upper belt who goes through a set introductory lesson on position and a basic technique or two. Female new students are introduced to any women present at that time as well. The next time they come, they are integrated into the "on ramp" classes, which all of our beginners go through for about 4-6 months before being permitted to take our other fundamentals classes. The "on ramp" is just what it sounds like, technique-wise, and often we have a few browns, a purple or three or five, and lots of blues as well as whitebelts. So it's a great training environment, 45 min to 1 hr long 3 times a week, with positional sparring but no "rolling," and women are usually paired up with upper belts. No one is overwhelmed or overfaced, but no one is specifically set aside because of their gender. It, like Julia's post pointed out, acknowledges that being a beginner is what is usually the toughest part, not being female.
Again, I don't have a problem with whitebelts of any gender. I love whitebelts, I'm no longer afraid of them unless they're Hulk-smash roid-heads, and I don't dismiss them because they're not precocious berimbolo-ers or whatever. They're great partners for when I need to practice new stuff, even old stuff, and they keep me humble because they're definitely not pushovers. They're often the only people I can get sweeps on and even then I have to really work for it. They let me take time to think through stuff and they're wonderfully sweet about whatever few words of advice I can share. I think I get more out of showing someone how I did something (and the resulting analysis as I struggle to put something into coherent sentences) than I do out of getting smashed by a fellow blue belt (purple belt, brown belt) etc.
14. Why aren't blue belt women just as special and awesome? why do you assume that blue belt ladies haven't legitimately tapped men? God the stupidity.
15. After writing such a provocative post, Keith then (again fatuously) responds to every comment on his page with "Thanks!" By failing to engage with your critics, you display a notable condescension that I feel is likely to be in your other interactions. So I'll again make the offer- bring me to Boise, and I'll train at your academy a few days with an open mind. I'll let you know if I see any reasons a reasonable woman wouldn't stick with it or you.
Edited to add: Keith has two women instructors at his academy. Kristin is a black belt in "Adult Sport Jiu Jitsu" and is "considering" getting a blue belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu. QUALITY. Alanna is also a black belt, presumably in "Adult Sport Jiu Jitsu" since her name was on the sport jiu jitsu page as well. There are no female instructors in the Brazilian jiu jitsu program-- two have Owen as surnames so I imagine they're Keith's sons?