Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Re: Keith Owen's "Can women really handle BJJ?"

I'm going to offer my opinion on the 'controversial' blog post by Pedro Sauer black belt, Keith Owen entitled:

 "Can women really handle Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?".

This will be largely irrelevant if you haven't read his post. So, read this first: http://keith-owen.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/can-women-really-handle-brazilian-jiu.html
It's only short. Don't be so lazy. Do it.
When I read this blog post, I felt like I had read the frustrations of a guy who has nothing but respect for womens jiu jitsu, and is confused as to why no women seem to stick at it (at his gym). That's pretty much what I read. Maybe I'm not reading enough into it, because he is getting ripped apart by ladies online over how sexist his post was.
Ok, so the title is a little controversial. Would you have read it if it wasn't? Probably not? If you share the same attitude as me, you would have read that title and said "Yes. Yes we freakin' are", and continued on with your day.

It reminds me of the old Yorkie bar adverts:
Mmmm.. Yorkies are Paleo, right?
In response to witnessing the advert, you could either;
a) Cry about it, then play the sexist card or
b) Say, "Screw you, Imma have a yorkie whenever I damn well want one."
It depends on your outlook. Your mentality. I find myself rolling my eyes at petty excuses for "sexism". Ultimately girls, you're entering into a predominantly male dominated sport. As such, you will be probably be exposed to male banter. Male banter is fantastic, and often quite sexist.
Last year I lived in London. Whilst there I trained at Mill Hill under Nick Brooks (Roger Gracie). I remember sitting on the mat waiting for class to start, when Nick looked down at the mat, saw me and Sophie there (the only 2 girls) and shouted "What the f***?! 2 f***ing girls?! That's 2 too many!".

If you're a delicate wallflower, you might have burst into tears and thrown around your sexism card (again). It made Sophie and I both smile, and then the class began. Sexism? No. Banter? Yes. I freakin' love banter.

But this post isn't about banter. It's about serious sexism. *Serious face*.
So anyway, let's look at each section of his post and try to work out why exactly so many women have their tails in a twist.

"Make no mistake, I WANT women students in my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu program. The problem is that they never seem to stick. They will even come in and DEMAND to try it out. I politely let them know what BJJ is and what it's all about up front. I let them know that they will be grappling with men. Many of them say they understand, but when they get on the mat and I’m not sure they really do."

- Fair enough. He makes it clear that no extra special measures are taken because she is a women, the expectation that she will be rolling with men is made very clear at the start. Neeeeext.

"My guys are very nice, respectable gentlemen (some schools are not) and treat the ladies with respect (or I’ll kill them). I treat the women students like any other male student, having someone show them the positions of Jiu-Jitsu and showing them basic moves. They know they will typically be the only ladies in the class. I never force them to roll until they are comfortable. I let the ladies know that they can ALWAYS confide in me if a man does something that makes them feel uncomfortable. I have never had a complaint!"

- Again, fine. Not forcing them to roll until comfortable, but will still be expected to ultimately roll with men. Sounds about right to me.

"The ladies always stay for a short time but they ultimately quit. Some of them have gotten pregnant (from their husbands or boyfriends), some move and some just find out, just like the men that it’s very hard to do Jiu-Jitsu (even though my class is very technical) and they simply quit."
- Fair enough. *Nods*.

"I find this disheartening because if any women can get a black belt, it’s from me. I have given out a number of blue belts to women as a matter of fact. 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 even though we are excited to have her and we try to take care of her and make her feel welcome. My male students are usually married and take a bit of a risk with their spouses by wrestling around with the opposite sex. But I always seem to accept women into the fold and try to do my best hoping that they will be the kind of person that can handle the challenge of Jiu-Jitsu"

-This section seems to be the one that has caused a bit of upset. I read the first sentence as a;

"I promote and support womens jiu jitsu, and if anyone would give a talented, hardworking chick a black belt, it would be me- only problem being none stick around long enough to earn one from me!".

However, many girls have read it more like this;

"My standards are so diabolically low, that even a woman can get a black belt from me! (A WOMAN!) ".
It depends on how much of a chip on your shoulder you have. I don't have one. So I don't read that statement as remotely insulting/offensive/sexist. State of mind again?

The only part that is a little dodgy is the whole- married men taking on a "risk" when rolling with women. As if we might pounce on them whilst rolling and steal them away from their wives.. Uh, nah mate. Not really. Not at all in fact. Neeeeext!
"Now, You know I'm not the kind to sugar coat things. If you’re a women taking BJJ, you need to be tough! You need to be committed to getting your next belt. You need to take lessons from an instructor that is on your side and wants you to succeed AND COMMUNICATE WITH THEM. Your significant other has to be comfortable with you being in a class full of men. You need to understand that certain men are not good to roll with because of their ego and you should be discerning about how you choose to roll with. You need to realize that you are going to get grabbed in places that you might not want to be grabbed or have someones face in an awkward place as they try to pass your guard. You will have a man in-between your legs (that guard again) for much of the time because he is stronger. You have to be good at being drenched in male sweat from an exhaustive roll, The challenges are many but I believe it is exactly what you need in order to survive a self-defense street encounter."

-WORRRD. The part about being discerning about who you roll with is 100% right. Quite often, the odd prick will turn up at training. Y'know, the type of guy who refuses to roll with you because you're a girl. They are a minority, and they rarely stick around. If I get refused a roll by  that dude, do I cry? No. Do I play my sexism card? No. I think "Screw you blud, I'd smash you anyway" and then roll with someone who I enjoy rolling with, someone who I gain something from rolling with. Simple.

"I know that many of you will say, “You should start a women’s only class” but really I don’t have the time in my schedule and I’m not sure I can attract enough women to take the class when I have a stand up martial arts program that most women seem to like better. I’m to the point now where I just say “I will do my best to take care of you and make your experience a safe one while you’re here but you need to look internally to see if you can handle wrestling with men.”

- If I owned a gym that had no girls, I wouldn't spend my time creating a girls only class. It's a stupid idea. They only work once you've built up a solid base of girls at your club. That base of girls could then invite their friends/sisters to a womens only class to introduce them to BJJ. That's how I would imagine those types of schemes would work. Again, not really my thing. In fact, I view womens only classes as inverted sexism (Nope, not reverse, I prefer inverted).

Why? Because we moan and moan and moan about wanting to be treated like the guys. As a woman, rolling with men is and should be an expectation every instructor enforces at their club. To go on about being equals, and then demand womens only classes does nothing but boggle my mind. The same girls would go ape over the thought of a male only class!

What I do support are "women open mat" sessions which many find important when training before bigger competitions. We need to get used to rolling with other girls before a competition. This sort of thing isn't really necessary for guys, because they have a chunk of guys to train with at the gym, whereas a female may not. I view womens only classes and womens open mats as too very different things.

And finally,

"If you are a women and you get a purple belt or above in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu then I want you to know that you are a very special and awesome person because you have the intestinal fortitude to be able to stick with something that’s difficult for many stronger men let alone a women. Some will ask, "Why a Purple Belt?" because no one gets a purple belt without being able to tap others out. This means tapping men...So...Go tap some men.

Remember ladies it ain't easy but stick with it. Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is made for you!"

 - If anything in this paragraph offends you as a woman, then I've lost a little hope in womankind.

To conclude:

If I was this guy, I'd feel like I can't win! This article is about
retaining WOMEN practitioners.
Not men. So the argument some women are making about loads of white belt men not sticking to jiu jitsu either (so why are you picking on us girls) is irrelevant. He acknowledges that some men find it too tough and therefore quit. It's much more apparent in us women because there are fewer of us training to begin with. I don't find that insulting or sexist. I consider it a valid observation.
How could this guy retain more women? That is the essence of this post. He could have just thought "Oh man, women don't seem to want to stay in Jiu Jitsu. Lame". And done nothing about it. Instead, he wrote something, essentially asking for input from the jiu jitsu community. Yet, all the women seem to be doing is stabbing the guy in the face with a blunt instrument (electronically speaking). 
Could someone please enlighten me. What is the real problem with this article? Have I totally misread it? Is any of this article really sexist? Or are people getting a little too easily offended?
If it is the latter, I appeal to women in the jiu jitsu community to MTFU. Please please please stop being so damn sensitive. You enrage my soul.
.. If you found that last bit offensive. Then, tough.
Turbo Facepalm

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  1. Ya know...I read your post and wondered if we read the same responses. But then I realized the exact purpose of Keith's post was to polarize and limit the discussion of women in jiu jitsu to women running crying off the mats and amazonian tough girl stereotypes standing toe-to-toe with "the guys".

    Kind of like that Yorkie bar ad you cited, there are way more than two possible responses...one of them being asking why this issue was presented the way it was in the first place.

    What the original post to me SCREAMED was a shortcoming as an instructor being not-so-cleverly-cloaked in imagined reasons of fault on the part of his former students...intentionally done in a way to provoke responses of the "sexism card" (are we playing poker?) in an effort to distract from real criticism of him as an individual.

    Women leave BJJ for myriad reasons and the fact that he cited not one actual experience and instead made assumptions spoke volumes. To quote Ryron Gracie, "If a student quits, it's your fault."

    Maybe we can have a real discussion about this once we hear actual facts about why people (men and women) are quitting his classes and not just self-interested guesses.

    1. Hi Megan,

      You're right. It's a guessing game at the moment. I know nothing about this guy. I'm basing everything I wrote on his post. As it stands, I believe he is doing everything right when it comes to setting up a BJJ club atmosphere to welcome both guys and girls.

      I don't know if guys are leaving his gym as well, and I don't know if he ACTUALLY does any of the stuff he says he does. If he is doing what he says he is, do you agree with his approaches?

      I disagree with the Ryron quote though. About 3 girls quit our club, back when there was 2 of us. New ones turned up, stayed a month or two, then left. We now have about 6, so it almost certainly is not down to the instructor. Just down to the fact BJJ wasn't for them. The ratio of women to men in BJJ in so skewed that it's hard to see that the numbers of beginner girls dropping out to beginner guys is probably the same.

      But maybe there is something I am missing. Again, I don't know the guy. I'm judging him based on the article he wrote, and by me assuming he teaches in the way he says he does.

    2. To answer your question, I will say that I have nothing to agree or disagree with because he has told us nothing that he actually does. He's regurgitating happy-snuggly ideas around women training, hoping that we'll infer he applies these ideals and then says that he simultaneously pulls women aside, but then treats them no differently than men. Which is it? The post tells us zero of his application or his results which is MAD fishy.

      Regarding the Ryron quote, while it's a bit extreme, Keith has claimed that he's having blue belts quit, which at that point, there likely were things he could do to have kept someone training. Even in your situation, why did the 3 quit? If Keith is doing nothing to find out why his women are quitting, then that's his bad and he could be much more proactive in retaining women than throwing up an emotional blog post with an inflammatory title.

  2. Nothing that he does? He's told us lots that he does (or at least claims too). Unless we pop down to his club, we will.never know whether he does what he says he does. Until then, all we have to go on is what he's said. You, and other ladies, seem very skeptical. It makes me wonder if you know something about this guy that I don't..

    A handful of whitebelt girls quit due to Fo travelling, and it just not being for them. 2 blues quit due to injury. Then all the time out from training, they get into a routine with friends/partners and often don't come back. Still in contact with them, but they just don't have the buzz anymore.

    Do instructors really have to spend time wondering/questioning past members why they don't train anymore? Seems a little cultish. People come and go. No different for girls. It's just way mote obvious because the numbers are so low to begin with. Doesn't necessarily mean he's doibg anything wrong. Once one girl turns up, sticks at it and trains loads, I would almost guarantee that more and more girls would stick at it. It's about havibg that base there already. It's hard being the first girl. But once you have one, you'll get more. It's just a waiting game. It seems unjust to blame an instructor for not having any girls stick. UNLESS the instructor is a jackass. Based on this dudes post (which is all I have to go on) I still think he is doing everything right.

    And I found his title less inflammatory and more of a query. Just my opinion and the way I read it. But its great to hear others opinions on the article :)

    1. I went back and re-read the post to make sure I didn't miss something.

      The only thing I actually see him say he does that will make the environment welcoming to women is that he tells them they'll be grappling with men. That's far from "doing everything right". I'm not going to call the man a liar...I'll even accept that he's doing everything he claims in his post. My point is that he claims almost nothing that isn't contradictory. If by "doing everything right" you mean he isn't being a complete, raving jerk, then ok, but I'm not seeing "lots". Bare minimum at best. I'd really like to ask what the "lots" you're seeing are.

      I have almost no knowledge of Keith save this post. I didn't even read any other of his posts before commenting. Maybe other women did, but I think it's more likely that they picked up on the tone of the post that screams a lack of personal responsibility. I don't hold every instructor responsible for welcoming women or going above and beyond to get them and keep them in a gym...BUT...once you claim that you want to encourage women to train, I'll take you at your word. When you then provide flimsy and contradictory evidence, take no responsibility as a leader, and proceed to insinuate that an entire gender isn't tough enough without providing info on why they drop off...that's when doubts start popping up for me.

      Wondering why people leave is basic business. Websites ask that all the time why you quit/unsubscribe. Is that cultish? No, it's how you make a better product. Anyone who truly wants more women to stay and come will ask that question because that's where the answer is. Anyone who claims they want more women to stay, but does not ask why they leave is being dishonest somewhere along the line. If he asks it of neither men, nor women, fine, but then why assume women are the ones quitting because BJJ is rough? That's where the issue is. It's not that he's doing something wrong. It's that a problem is going on and he blames his students instead of taking personal responsibility to do something right. Not a mark of quality leadership. It's a mark of prejudice if you don't blame all students guilty of the same action of the same thing.

      You stated yourself that the title is controversial, which I think is much closer to inflammatory than a simple query.

      What I really think Keith is saying is "I'm not a Jackass and I'm polite...that should be enough!". Fine, but that does not then constitute encouragement or effort. If he simply failed to articulate what he does, again, fine, but he needs to put that out there if he truly wants to improve the women situation at his gym. The post as it stands sounds like an instructor blaming women students for quitting while ignoring all the men that don't come back. Why doesn't he also blame small men or overweight men or old men or men with families? Maybe he does, but I didn't see that blog post.

    2. The second highlighted paragraph is where he states what he does to welcome women to the club.

      I think its catch 22. Some girls ARE going to rant and rave if they are treated exactly the same as the guys (rolling with massive guys, rollin with overly enthusiastic and clumsy guys), whereas other girls will complain that they aren't being treated exactly the same as the guys. It's almost impossible to please both.

      My overall opinion is that too many people have read into his article and lashed out, rather than thinking "Hhmm, I kinda see what he's saying, he did word certain parts a little clumsy, but I understand the general gist of it".

      I could rant and rave at this I guess. I could nit pick every comment and scrutinise every sentence, but has he put as much effort into writing it? Does he realise that that's what women will be doing. Over analysing every sentence? Probably not.

      It just all seems a massive over reaction to me.

    3. In that paragraph (if I'm looking at the right one), he states how he perceives the actions of men in the class (not an action) and then says he treats women the same as men, but then says he doesn't force them to roll until they're ready. If he's not doing the same for men, then something doesn't line up. Not saying he should, but none of that points to him doing lots to keep women around. Again...he doesn't have to...if women are too weak or slow, fine, but keep out men that are weak and slow too.

      I would give him the benefit of the doubt if he actually responded to all of the constructive, non-lashing criticism he did get. When I asked, he said another female blogger would be responding. Honestly, I care WAY more for his opinion than anyone else's when it comes to his school (unless this lady has some kind of insight into the particular situation). That's when my radar went off. I have a strong sense he's being disingenuous.

      As far as the cries of sexism, while I didn't state it outright, until he demonstrates that men AREN'T quitting because BJJ is tough and women ARE, I believe he is simply letting his biases show in his blog.

  3. Good god my phone does some awful auto correct. Hope most of that made sense!

  4. I have to say, when I read the original article, I had many of the same reactions that you had. We often want the double standard - "treat us like one of the guys but never ever forget that we have special girl parts".

    Honestly, I totally understand why gym owners might consider going to a male-only model. It's got to be easier on them all around. I'm thankful that none of my instructors feel this way, but I certainly couldn't blame them (especially looking back on my actions during the first 2-3 years that I did BJJ).

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. See...I'd be ok with it IF they were more expansive with the segregation. If an instructor doesn't want to deal with women because they're too soft, too easily injured, too weak, tire too easily or things get too awkward, then they should also separate out old men, small teenage boys, effeminate men, gay men, men with health issues and overweight guys...and then create a code of conduct which, if any woman can pass, she's welcome...or better yet, set up a survey and physical fitness and character requirement that people have to perform before they are partitioned off into a class.

  5. Okay - Is there a reason some women feel like they need to be treated like one of the guys? We are made differently. That's okay. And, I believe it's perfectly fine to have women-only or men-only classes, as well as a combined class. As you, or someone above mentioned, there is value in training with women before a competition. (I don't really know since my primary motivation for training has nothing to do with competing.)People train in martial arts for a variety of reasons. I already posted my thoughts re: his post, so I'll simply discuss yours. It's great that you feel the way you do. And, it's just as valid that other women don't. It's also valid to read much of what was written as sexist without being accused of playing "the sexist card." There is a difference between "banter," or what I prefer to call, "flipping someone shit," and sexism, but it's a fine line, and in mixed company when you don't know the participants, it might be best to be more respectful. There might be a man who is offended, too. Sweeping generalizations aren't, in my experience thus far, very helpful. The original author could have approached it very differently if he was, in fact, seeking advise. He's also been provided some suggestions. I know I wasn't the only one to post a few.

    1. What suggestions have been recommended? I appreciate that some wording is a little clumsy, but I am intrigued as to how people feel he could have worded the article differently..

  6. I like your response to the post. It's level-headed and addresses the points well. I wrote a piece about it myself, How to Run a Female Friendly Martial Arts School with the goal of helping the situation for everyone. Thanks for writing! :)

    1. Thanks Lori, I'll have a read of your piece too :)

  7. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IrqFqdTG0cA

    He doesn't seem like a douche at all. He was genuinly trying to put the issue on the agenda of the many gym owners!

  8. Everyone has some valid points in my opinion as We are from all different walks in life. But from a self defence point of view which Martial Arts are generally aimed at, You don't get to pick your attacker. I say treat everyone as equals, advise students of protocol & go for it without whinging or any of this sexist stuff. Being Politically Correct all the time has taken the world into a place I don't think We should have ever gone. I have 2 daughters & I will raise them knowing that the world isn't fair & it is hard work not whinging that will take you places. Now stop whinging & start rolling with whoever you can & learn from your failures & also from your success.