In this interview, Kasia and Jill dish on the ways their conservative Manhattan girls' school prepared them to become rebel women, the way Daoism applies to life in the dungeon, and what men have in common with canines (psst... it's not what you think). Later, Academy co-founder Ruben joins Kasia to tell the epic origin story of The Academy.
Jill: Dude, okay so we just established that Kasia and I both went to Spence–the same all girls uniform school where we would roll up our uniforms. We were just talking about kids dressing like sluts.
Jill: I'm obsessed with this story. And then I want to hear about The Academy and everything, but I want to hear it in chronological order.
Kasia: Oh, okay. I think there's a difference between lifestyle dominatrices and the BDSM scene and especially the women who went into that work at the time that I did.
Jill: You were kind of ahead of your time. I feel like it's more common now. Cause the internet normalizes everything, whereas you went into the Village Voice.
Kasia: Yeah, but also ... Yeah, I went to the Village Voice.
Jill: So amazing because I used to read those ads. I used to like comb through all the ads.
Kasia: Girls needed, ask no questions. Show up. Yeah.
Jill: I used to read those like for fun. It's fascinating, so you were like, "Yeah, I think I'd be good at..." See, I think I'd be good at being a dominatrix too.
Kasia: You probably would, I can tell by your eye contact.
Kasia: Yeah, you have very dominant eye contact. Very penetrating.
Jill: Oh, I thought that they're like on all fours and you're wiping them and stepping on them and stuff.
Kasia: Well that's one side of it, but I learned really quickly that I wasn't going to be able to stay in that line of work for very long if that's all I was going to be doing, 'cause initially it was for money. At that time there was this huge IT boom and there was these nerdy guys who were into fantasy who suddenly had money.
Kasia: And so the nature of that work was professionally changed 'cause all of a sudden there were all these nerdy girls who were able to like ...
Jill: Keep up intellectually?
Jill: So it was less violent?
Kasia: There was a huge clientele that was less violent, more imaginative, and that's sort of where I stepped in. And at the time I was also obsessed with Taoism and Taoist spirituality, and studying to be a Taoist Nun, so I had this dual life for 12 years.
Jill: Shut the fuck up.
Kasia: Serious. I was in monasteries and convents.
Jill: But does that mean you can't bone?
Kasia: No, Taoism is pretty cool that way. You just have to bone in a particular way.
Jill: Oh okay. Like position?
Kasia: Energetic practices, so you have to be really aware of your breath-
Jill: Oh I thought you were going to say breasts. I'm like, “well that's his job too.”
Kasia: Oh yeah, well that too.
Jill: So you're oscillating between a Taoist Monastery in China?
Jill: And then like tying people up and shit.
Jill: And do you think that each extreme helped balance the other in a way?
Kasia: Very smart question, because absolutely. They don’t just balance, but inform the other. In my Taoist studies I was studying martial arts: you have to be able to anticipate the intention of somebody energetically when they move, before they move, and fast. And [I studied] medical diagnosis: Chinese medicine, and knowing what's up with somebody's body. So, I became very, very focused on the submissive man's experience. And understanding what words, what language, what energy did what, moved what, where. So, it was deeply psychological and deeply energetic, and very early on I was so successful that I was asked to train other dominatrixes.
Jill: No way.
Kasia: Yeah, I was like a big part of ...
Jill: So you're like a prodigy.
Kasia: Yeah. I was really, really good. And I noticed these patterns, especially these girls who were starting to work and really their need was financial. These patterns that they had that made it hard for them to do what I was doing, and they were all the things that I saw my entire life.
Jill: What kinds of patterns?
Kasia: Difficulty actually penetrating the space of another person, I mean invading their space, looking at them. The difference between a dominatrix standing there and having all of her attention on herself and saying, "You've been really bad."
Kasia: And looking at them, really looking at them ...
Jill: Especially with tech nerds who have their face in an iPad all the time.
Kasia: Yeah. One of the biggest breakthroughs I had was when I was reading Cesar Millan's book on dog training. All of that authority is transmitted not through the words you say, but through the energy and how you say it and through the attention. And the self-consciousness that women have, and the energy and the attention staying inward, ended up being a pattern that I saw throughout.
Jill: What do men have in common with dogs? What did you takeaway? What was the overlap?
Kasia: This is becoming less and less true, but they tend to have a greater peace with and understanding of hierarchy.
Kasia: Whereas women have a tendency to not want to seem above anyone and not seem below anyone, which compresses them a lot, creates a lot of tension. When you're in charge you're in charge. You're in fucking charge, and you're responsible for the person you're leading, so you have to be willing to reach out, look at them, instruct them, see how to move them from point A to point B in a way that women tend to retreat from. Even when they're loud. Even when they're authoritative. It's really about letting your energy and attention really penetrate the other person.
Kasia: And the other thing is that women don't want to be seen as less than.So, following orders becomes difficult because it's compromising, it means something about them. So, a lot of the things we do at The Academy have to do with unpacking that so that they can be really in charge when they want to be in charge, and really effective. And also when they want to surrender and they want to receive and they want to be adored, and loved, and worshiped, they can let that guard down, and know how to elicit the kind of attention they want so that they can feel adored and safe, and worshiped in a way that they like, and have it not mean anything about them. It's so important.
Jill: I feel like you're like a scientist about all this. You know it so well and you're so eloquent about it, but I've never heard it described this way it's so fascinating. So how did you meet Ruben and tell me about The Academy?
Kasia: Oh, well hi Ruben.
Jill: Hi Ruben. Ruben is in the house. Ruben was in Medecins sans Frontieres, is that right?
Kasia: That's right.
Jill: And so, you're dealing with like warlords in third world countries?
Ruben: Yeah working in conflict zones and a lot of times negotiating without a shared common language.
Jill: So you're both dealing with like the physical and the eye contact.
Kasia: Well that's exactly what happened, is like when we met it was pretty much a non-stop six month conversation full of sleep deprivation. Because it was like everything I understood about power, and power dynamics, and being a woman, and learning this on the fringes of sexuality and spirituality came into direct conversation with somebody who had been at war in conflict zones dealing with violence. And both of us understanding that there's a form of primal communication that happens, and trying to break down what that means in terms of gender dynamics. It was like a drug, and out of that drug a school got started.
Ruben: Yeah people literally just started coming to our living room to talk to us, and they were like, "When are you teaching a class?"
Jill: Wait, do you live together?
Ruben: At the time we did.
Kasia: At the time we did.
Jill: Okay, so you started teaching this class and it's like word of mouth, sold out, written up in New York all the time, people are obsessed with it. And how did you say, "We're going to take this conversation about these fringes in conflict zones ..." You basically both were in your own version of dungeons. How do you then say, "We're going to create this and spread this kind of alternate gospel."
Kasia: It was responsive, it wasn't active.
Ruben: It wasn't a decision.
Kasia: I'd posted online a little bit about it, and people started asking hundreds of questions, so I started a small advice column. Then they were asking for a workshop we said, "Hell no, we're not teaching. We're never teaching. Let's do a Q&A since that'll be useful information if we ever want to write a book." And it was like ...
Jill: I think you have to write a book.
Kasia: We are.
Jill: Okay, you have to. You're going to come back when you're promoting it 'cause I have a thousand questions.
Ruben: And then it was just one thing after the other, and the biggest thing was when Trump gets elected basically our students go, “okay enough, enough of the small in very exclusive word of mouth, the world needs this.”
Jill: Kick the doors open, empower people.
Kasia: It was especially frustrating since they were using the power dynamics techniques watching the debates to exactly analyze that Hillary was losing, and my school knew that was happening, because of the body language, because of the way the sentences were phrased. They were like, "There's no way this is going to hold up." So they were exceptionally angry and pissed when it happened. And felt really like activated.
Jill: That's good. Well then that's a silver lining then.
Kasia: And then MeToo happened and forget about it because we were in the middle of teaching a verbal self defense workshop. We were in the middle of teaching verbal self defense in the context of sexual harassment when the Harvey story breaks.
Ruben: Literally that's... it broke on like a Thursday and the class, that section was happening on a Friday night.
Kasia: We were having men come in and...
Ruben: And so, we had the men coming in we were going to role play this, it's how we train our students. It's literally like a dojo and so we just bought a bathrobe and there was the transcript, the literal transcript of what he said.
Jill: No way. So, someone played Harvey?
Ruben: So there's a man playing Harvey.
Kasia: A lot of people played Harvey and we were like use The Five Academy Techniques, how are the five different ways you could have dealt with this particular situation? We even had a potted plant.
Jill: Oh for him to jizz in?
Ruben: It was so much fun.
Jill: Didn't he wack it into the... like jizz into the plant?
Kasia: Oh God I don't know.
Ruben: Disgusting. Monster.
Jill: Oh my God that poor plant has like a MeToo post. So, what are other classes you teach? Do they all have titles or some of them are just like a general you go with the flow, it's more like academic? Well I guess it's called The Academy.
Ruben: We teach a series of like single evening classes.
Jill: Like what are some examples?
Ruben: Verbal Self-Defense, just like a basic introduction of power dynamics.
Kasia: How to have a political conversation, which is the one that we were doing a lot of.
Ruben: How to play with hearing no.
Kasia: Power with Money. Power with Men. Foundations of Unshakeable Power, which is our long course.
Ruben: And then we have month long class called Power with Men 101 and Power with Money 101, so both of those are month long classes, and then we have a semester long course called Foundations of Power.
Kasia: You just mansplained.
Ruben: I did, didn't I?
Kasia: Yes you did.
Jill: Do you guys ever get caught up where you have like power dynamics with each other?
Kasia: We're so good at power dynamics and fighting that we demo our fights to everyone.
Jill: To everyone.
Kasia: And we like outline like what just happened. This is where he diminished me, this is where I emasculated him, this is where I went on top, this where I went on bottom, this is where I got diffused. This is where I use the third part of speech in order to deescalate, it's very structured.
Ruben: We are the living laboratory of what we teach for sure.
Jill: That's cool, 'cause then you're constantly evolving and learning yourselves, right? And you have someone who's listening in the way that you do.
Jill: So you're like adaptive and ever growing.
Jill: That is very Taoist right?
Kasia: Yeah, it is.
Jill: So, how do you use your background in terms of... and I didn't even know there was an all female Chinese monastery so to me I'm having like Kill Bill.
Kasia: Oh my God.
Jill: Acid trip right now.
Kasia: You're not wrong, on a mountain top doing Qigong, looking down at a sea of clouds.
Kasia: Crouching Tiger all the way.
Jill: I love it. Do you still tap into that experience to inform your work at The Academy?
Kasia: I wish I did, I don't do a lot of the Taoist practices I used to do, nor do I work as a dominatrix anymore because this has become so full-time that the living laboratory of the school is almost every waking moment.
Jill: And so, when does the book come out and what kind of things do you explore that people can read about?
Kasia: Well, this is very early on the stage so I don't know when it's going to come out.
Kasia: But it's going to have a handbook for ruthless bad girls.
Jill: Badass. See, I never had a handbook I want it because I know ...
Kasia: We had the Spence handbook.
Jill: Yeah, the Spence handbook with like your curse finger has to be your hem length, right?
Jill: I feel like in a weird way growing up in a conservative all-girls school, that might have pulled the elastic one way for you to snap the opposite direction, or no?
Kasia: Oh, well before I went to Spence I went to a Catholic school, so absolutely.
Jill: Okay. I remember we played Sacred Heart and they would walk in and we would go, "Here come the nuns. Nu, nu, nu, nu." But I feel like you can't really think outside the box unless you know what the box is.
Kasia: Yeah, that's true.
Jill: So it must have informed you.
Kasia: That's true, and I have an incredible appreciation for discipline, and order, and rules, especially when they're created by me.
Jill: Yeah exactly. And so, how can people find you guys or take your classes? Or is it still secret word of mouth?
Ruben: No, they can come to our website: weteachpower.com. We have an online class available, the Verbal Self-Defense Dojo.
Ruben: Yep, our emails are on there, our phones are on there.
Kasia: Wait, you have to see this course, it has creepy guys saying creepy lines and you have to talk back to it like a video game.
Jill: No way.
Ruben: Kasia walks you through it.
Jill: Wait, so this in the online class?
Jill: And it's like video creepy molesters?
Jill: Oh my God you gotta get like a Harvey... I'm picturing like a Claymation Harvey.
Kasia: We have everything from like a massage therapist being like, "Are you married?" You know something lightweight but super uncomfortable to like some heavier hits that women are very, very used to freezing around because the main thing is the way a women's nervous system shuts down when she's put on the spot is the culprit of so many things that people aren't talking about. When a woman freezes and her amygdala gets hijacked she has no access to language, very little access to agency, and will tend to agree with anything.
Jill: That's fascinating.
Kasia: So training women to get off the spot and to unfreeze is more important...
Jill: Yeah, but what if you're buck naked on a massage table?
Kasia: Still, you turn the attention out. "Is that an appropriate question to ask right now? Are you asking because you're taking a census? Are you asking because you want to know if I'm available? Are you flirting with me right now?" Anything that will...
Jill: Shut them down.
Kasia: Especially penetrating questions about why they asked.
Jill: Yeah, why do you ask? Cause then they have to answer and then it's awkward. And then awkwardness makes them maybe freeze up.
Kasia: It also exactly flips the power dynamic because the submissive is always the one where the attention is. So, if somebody puts you on the spot you're the submissive. If somebody's putting you on the spot you're the dominant. So, if they're putting you on the spot and you put them on the spot you're flipping the power dynamic.
Jill: Okay, there's an online class that I'm going to sign up for now, obsessed. You guys have to stay in touch and come back when this book is out because I want my radical bad girl handbook.
Ruben: We'd love to.
Jill: Everybody go check out The Academy at weteachpower.com. And we will be back live on Friday, have a wonderful week.