At VioDy, one of the guys asked me a few questions about Women Self Defence. I’m a bit slow at the best of times and I had the plague, so I’m not sure I really answered them. Basically we were talking about whether WSD is/should be its own thing, whether the gender of the instructor is/should be an issue, etc.
My stock answer to this kind of question is: it depends. No, really; that’s the best answer I can give. I’m not very good at gender politics, and I’m painfully aware that my point of view is wonky because statistically I’m not ‘a normal woman’: the stuff I’ve needed to use and the stuff I enjoy doing are both non-standard. I’m also aware of the fact that women are not all that homogeneous. This seems to baffle some people, but we’re actually individuals, with individual preferences, talents, abilities, attitudes, wants, needs, etc.
The way I look at the issue to fit it in my head is to reverse the questions. Can useful SD be taught to women in a mixed class? Can male instructors teach women? For me, that hinges entirely on the instructors.
I’m going to pick on Kasey Keckeisen now, because he is the ideal example and he’s very, very far away and busy, so he’s unlikely to hop on a plane just to slap me upside the head if he doesn’t like what I have to say.
Kasey and I have a lot in common: we’re both bipedal, bilaterally symmetrical, and warm-blooded; we both drive a meat-covered skeleton made of stardust; we both like Batman.
We also differ on a few, teeny tiny details. For instance, he’s male, and I’m not. He’s nearly a foot taller than me. He’s roughly twice my weight, and most of his is muscle while mine’s, well, not. Is chest is as deep as my shoulders are wide. Although we’re a similar age, he started training martial arts in ’82 and has been training consistently ever since, while I have trained patchily and badly for a total of maybe two years. He’s a Police Officer for the Mounds View Police Department and a Tactical Team Leader for the Ramsey County SWAT Team, while I make a living playing with puppies.
It should not come as a shock to anybody that when it comes to interpersonal conflict and violence, Kasey and I don’t tend to face the same problems. It should also not come as a shock that we don’t really fit the same solutions. Does that mean that Kasey can’t teach me? No, it does not. Not a bit. In fact, he’s one of my favourite trainers.
I like training with Kasey because he’s, well, not full of shit. He is aware of the fact that he doesn’t share my problems. He realises that I would struggle to use his solutions. He’s willing to help me find solutions that actually work for me, even though they may be nothing like what he would do. He’s not so invested in his answers that he ignores the fact that they don’t fit my needs.
None of this should make him special, because it’s all damn obvious, really. But if I had a penny for every time a male instructor tried to tell me the problems I face, and what solution I should use, and would simply not listen when I’d tell him that what he was saying didn’t fit my reality… then I could put all those pennies in a sock and make me a pretty good cosh. Which would be a hell of a lot more useful than most of the SD those guys tried to sell me.
So, can a strong, fit, trained man teach a small, injured, untrained woman useful self-defence? Yes, he can. Can he do it well? Yup. Does it work for everybody, every time? Nope. Sometimes, maybe more often than not, it ends up totally sucking. But I don’t believe the problem is systemic, or unavoidable, or in any way dependent on the genitals we sport. Intelligent, courageous, imaginative, honest people make intelligent, courageous, imaginative, honest teachers. I think that’s about it.