Wednesday, July 23, 2014

An Open Letter to Anshu Christa Jacobson of Budo Ryu Ninjutsu Dojo

This is an open letter to Anshu Christa Jacobson of the Budo Ryu Ninjutsu Dojo.

Can we talk, female martial artist to female martial artist?

Like you, I'm a mom (I have two daughters), and I'm a martial artist, and heck, although I'm in Texas now, Kansas City is my adopted home town (Missouri side), so we have that in common, too.

In some ways, I admire you.  You choose to live your true self in the face of what is usually a pretty hostile society for transgender people, more so in the very conservative martial arts world.  I also admire the fact that you choose to do so in a pretty conservative place - Kansas City KS is not exactly known for being on the leading edge of progressive thought.  

So, on that score, anybody who criticizes you based on your gender gets a bitch slap from yours truly.

I have a lot of practice bitch-slapping.
I'm also cool with the mixture of Wicca with your martial arts.  Many martial artists mix religion and the martial arts, from eastern religions to western - this is a long tradition.  I'm not particularly religious, and honestly, it's something that would drive me out of a martial arts school if it was too heavy handed, but that's my personal preference. I don't think it's any different than the plethora of Christian martial arts schools and organizations out there.

But let's talk about the mix of your two businesses - your Budo Ryu Ninjustsu Dojo and your escort service.

Separated, I have no problem with either... well, I do have a problem with some of what you teach in your Dojo, as I have watched many of your videos and frankly, I find some of what you teach suspect, putting it kindly.  I also fundamentally disagree that anyone can learn the martial arts in any effective way via online instruction only.  That is another post for another time.

But I don't have any problem with the idea of your Dojo - if you want to do ninja stuff in Wyandotte County Lake Park, be my guest, have at it.

I also believe if you wish to engage in an adult business, that's your prerogative.  I believe such things should be completely legal among consenting adults.  I hope my children would not choose sex work for a profession  and I bet you agree with me. As moms, it's just not in the top ten of things we would want for our children. I don't believe that sex work is inherently sinful, and I don't believe that sexuality is evil.

But I have to say - it makes me extremely uncomfortable that you deliberately mix the two together.

Your Facebook Page Header

You know, or you should know, that it's not always easy being a woman in the martial arts.  It is not an uncommon experience for many women to be repeatedly propositioned by male peers when training.  It's not unusual for female martial artists to be sexualized versus respected for their martial arts skills, especially outside the dojo.

I think most women would agree that when we are in the dojo, we are there to train, not date or meet guys, and definitely not to get groped (as sometimes happens - it's rare but it happens).  We want to be honored and respected for our skills and hard work and knowledge, not for how pretty we are, or how nice our boobs are, or how sexually desirable we may be for the men training with us.

While the dojo is typically more woman-friendly than many environments in my experience, it's still a problem and many women regularly cope with it in their training.

As someone who asserts leadership in the martial arts and promotes herself as such across multiple social media channels, you are a role model for not only your own students but others - for all students of the martial arts.  By mixing pornographic and/or sexualized images of yourself in your social media channels with your martial arts stuff, you are basically saying, as a leader, that this is how it should be - that this is what women in the martial arts are.

You are saying that women in the martial arts should cater to this image of the woman warrior who's always ready and willing to serve a man sexually.  That young men in the martial arts can and should expect this from the women they train with.

Look, there's all sorts of fantasy martial arts girl pinups out there in our culture, ranging from big-boobed scantily clad super heroines (Power Girl, anybody?) to nearly naked ninja and barbarian women swinging swords.  That's clearly fantasy and make-believe and nobody except the most immature of us believes that has any basis in reality.

We shouldn't have it on the walls of the real-life, actual martial arts school or training  hall.  That's what you do when you mix your sex work with your martial arts - you put up the role model of what a woman in the martial arts should be (the fantasy version) in a place that should be far removed from fantasy.

I don't know about you, but when I put on my gi and step on the mat (wherever it may be), I mean it.  I'm not a woman or a sex object when I'm doing martial arts -  I'm someone who can and will inflict bodily harm upon another person, and I am not kidding, one iota.

Women are a very small minority in the martial arts world, so this issue becomes amplified even more as a result.

To illustrate the problem, I found this image at a vanilla stock photo site, Getty Images.  It's a shot of a pretty woman in heels and lingerie brandishing weapons.

This is obviously a fantasy shot, maybe even from a movie or tv show.  However, what you and I do is supposed to be serious business - not fantasy, not television or movies, but real life martial arts.  Is this the sort of  image we want to put out there as serious martial artists? Really?  Is this how someone should dress when training?

How different is that image above (except maybe being a little less explicit) from what you do in your social media channels with your own images?

One of your own images, Anshu.
Look, I know that ideally, this shouldn't be an issue.  But we don't live in an ideal world.  By mixing images of blow jobs with martial arts manuals, you say, as a leader, that this is what all of us should do and aspire to do - women to serve men in this way, and men to expect it.

You can't Google search your name without the escort service Twitter feed coming up in top results.  Image searching yields the same problem.  Looking at your Twitter feed for your escort service, you regularly cross promote martial arts training with messages about how much you enjoy different sexual positions.  Even in your martial arts oriented channels, you advertise your escort business (to a lesser extent) and you regularly post shots that are sexual in nature (but thank goodness, aren't usually as explicit).
From the KCGeisha Twitter feed. Ninja mask added by me.
I have seen the claim made that you don't do this when you train - that your escort business has zero cross over with your dojo.  Let's grant, for a moment, that it's completely true. If this is true - why do you advertise as if there is crossover? If people are getting the impression that you do indeed include escort and adult entertainment with ninjutsu - how do you think they get that impression?  Perhaps it's by looking what you, yourself, advertise in your own websites and social media channels?

There is no coherent way to separate the two "sides" of you in the way you portray yourself publicly.  None. You, yourself, have tagged both channels with keywords for both businesses, so it's impossible to escape one if you're looking for the other.

As a result - I don't care how skilled you ever become, you will never, ever be taken seriously in the wider martial arts world.  You will always be seen as a dilettante and a parody of a leader in the martial arts.   That's a shame, because you could be more, if you choose to be more.

So, how can you turn this around?  Well, I have a couple of suggestions that might help.

Stop cross promotion of your two businesses across your brand channels.  Stop using "Anshu" on your escort service channels (that seems to be a huge keyword) and remove any references to your martial art by name there.  Keep the two worlds separate. It's not like we can't see/find both "brands" if we want to, and it's not like you're HIDING it, just put up a wall between the two in your marketing

If you do this, it will make it harder for you to send the message to young men and women that female martial artists are to be considered sex objects first and foremost.  That is the message you're sending, and I'm not entirely sure that's what you intend to say at all.  But intent or no, that's the message coming out.  It will also eliminate the idea that you include the escort business with the dojo, and they will become truly separate entities.

In my opinion, this is one huge contributing factor as to why you don't get much respect in the larger martial arts world.  People have a very hard time looking past the cheesecake and pornography to consider your skill.  You can say, "Well, that's their problem" and on one level, you are right.  But it's also your problem, because if you wish to be taken seriously by people you consider your peers, you're undermining yourself by sexualizing your martial arts image.

One last note - there's another reason people don't take you seriously, and that is that you use your Dojo channel for your video log about daily life. I know the purpose, but honestly, it doesn't support the idea of your being a serious martial arts leader.  It makes you look frivolous and silly, and in the martial arts world, nobody respects someone who comes off that way in a leadership position, male or female.

I hope you'll read what I've written here with an open mind. I've written it with sincerity and honesty, and I think it would be a good thing for all women (and transgender people, for that matter) in the martial arts if you heed my advice, if you are the leader you say you are, that you seem to want to be.

Thanks for reading.

WARNING:  Any comments on this post that are transphobic or slurs towards Ms. Jacobson's art or profession will be removed.  Keep to the facts and be respectful.

Update 10/10/15: In case you were wondering, I've never had a substantive response to this post.  The most that's happened is that I was blocked from her @kcgeisha Twitter account.  When I have viewed the account recently, it has not changed in content, although I understand at one point she scaled back on the porn business.  I do know she continues to advertise and act as a prostitute and escort in the Kansas City area.