I’ve mentioned Kasey in past blogs. I shall probably mention him again, because he’s an impossibility. He defies the laws of sociology and marketing. He succeeds where other people fail, and he does so by doing everything wrong wrong wrong.
One of the most common gripes in self-defence is how hard it is to get women involved. I haven’t seen any statistics, but I get asked for help with this problem a lot, and women are a minority in the vast majority of schools I visit. Vast efforts have been expended in trying to work out how to attract and retain women students; even vaster efforts have been expended in moaning and groaning about the situation.
A lot of people have worked out lists of solution to this problem. These range from the fairly obvious (present a relevant curriculum) to the fairly obnoxious (pink everything up). When it comes to results, though, they all seem to be a bit hit-and-miss. An instructor could do everything on any given list and still fail to get a reasonable proportion of women students.
Then there’s Kasey. Kasey does everything wrong. It’s like he’s not even looked at all those lists. He doesn’t present a women-specific curriculum. He’s a force use professional (SWAT, for heaven’s sake), i.e. utterly unrelatable for most of us. His social media presence looks like a cross between the Ride of the Brohirrim and an explosion in a comic book shop. He swears a ton. He teaches seriously rough stuff, stuff that can kill people to death, and he doesn’t dress that up. I’ve not seen a bit of pink in any of his advertising. For changing rooms he offers a very small bathroom in a basement. There isn’t a single chocamochafrappuccino available on site. And he looks like this:
Yet it’s not uncommon for over half of the participants to his classes to be women, and older women at that – and no, I’m not being ageist. Older women are an even tougher demographic to crack in this context.
According to popular wisdom, Kasey’s dojo should be a sausagefest, but it’s not. One would think that someone out there may bother to ask the dude how he actually does what he does to see whether it can be replicated, but that doesn’t seem to be happening.
I’ve been observing the guy from a distance for some time, chatted to some of his students, and trained with him a few times. I now have a working theory about Kasey’s magical powers.
The first thing Kasey ever said to me was “Hey, Anna, what’s this? It’s a fuckunicorn.” With hand gestures. I eyerolled so hard I nearly detached a retina. I wasn’t really offended; I just enjoy eyerolling. But I think we can all agree that that’s not the way an instructor is encouraged to greet brand new middle-aged women students, or in fact any students at all.
The second thing he said, though, was “I’ve never been a small woman, so you need to tell me if this doesn’t work for you and we’ll find something that does.” And all the way through the training he listened to me about my back problems and let me decide what to do and what to avoid. As if I was an actual grown-up person with a brain.
Turns out that having an instructor who’s willing to admit that his stuff may need tweaking in order to suit me is kind of a big deal for me. It shouldn’t be – it should be How Things Are Done – but it isn’t. It’s not quite as rare as fuckunicorn poop, but it’s rare enough. And it turns out that that’s what actually matters to me: finding an instructor who’s honest, helpful, treats me with respect and consideration, and prioritises my learning over his ego. I’ll put up with a whole herd of fuckunicorns for that. Kasey’s student demographics suggest that I’m not the only woman to feel like this.
What I hear from Kasey’s students confirms my theory. We don’t like training with him because he makes a conscious effort to be inclusive. We like training with him because he’s a genuine human being who treats everyone, regardless of their gender, like human beings, and pushes them to be more than they are. We like training with him because he provides useful material; material that lets smaller and weaker people win. We like training with him because he doesn’t treat being a woman as a learning disability or a condition requiring special treatment.
I’m sure I’ll get a lot of people trying to convince me that it’s just not as simple as that, and I’m sure that they believe it. Yes, there’s a lot of other stuff that goes into a successful school; but the way in which the students are treated, whatever their gender, does matter. If that’s out of kilter, doing everything else right will probably not bring much of a result.
Maybe finding a solution to this conundrum requires less thinking about “what women want”, and more introspection, more honesty about instructor-student interactions. But that would most likely result in finding out some unpleasant truths and coming up with solutions requiring real change. That kind of stuff is hard. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
It’s much easier to faff around with yet another rebranding and to search for some “diverse” stock photos to paste in our advertising. And when that doesn’t work, we can all just chalk it down to the perversity of women. Can’t help some people.
(Kasey is also the unsung hero of this book. Speaking to him way back when, it emerged that he had never accidentally triggered a student. So I asked him a bunch of questions about how he does what he does, reverse-engineered the principles, added some other stuff, and wrote it all out using fancy words.)