Should the School PE Curriculum Include Self-Defence Lessons?


With the violent gangs blighting the UK, school bullying and childhood obesity affecting young people today, this article discusses the idea of putting self-defence lessons in school.

The physical health benefits of learning self-defence vary depending on the martial art students participate in. Styles such as Kickboxing and Muay Thai have a heavier concentration on cardiovascular exercise than Tai Chi or Judo. As a result, a more energetic form of self-defence could help to reduce childhood obesity. Similarly, a calmer style could offer a gentler form of exercise depending on the needs and ambitions of the participant.

Kickboxing and Thai Chi may differ in their benefits to physical health. However, they have a shared quality in that they are helpful to a participant’s mental health. There is scientific evidence that exercise can reduce the onset and severity of depression (, ‘Exercise and Mental Health’).

Self-defence lessons relieve the stresses of the day. A student may be experiencing problems at home. Consequently, they may demonstrate challenging behaviour in the classroom. By releasing aggressive energy in a safe, controlled environment, students would be less prone to aggression in the classroom.

One Exeter Mixed Martial Arts participant said that “learning self-defence in school would give my children more options when deciding on their future careers”.

Participants would also learn interpersonal skills such as communication, problem solving and decisiveness, and valuable social skills like team work. Some young people feel dispossessed. As a result, they seek an identity within a gang (Kontos et al., Gangs and Society: Alternative Perspectives). Conversely, self-defence lessons in school offer a positive team culture. Young people would learn self-discipline and respect for others in mixed-gender groups.

The safety and well-being of young people is important both within and outside of school. Learning self-defence as part of the PE curriculum would help young people to avoid danger, prevent conflict situations from escalating, and protect themselves and others from harm.

A firm that offers self-defence courses in schools, colleges and universities states that self-defence “can reduce the risk of suffering serious injury from an attacker, greatly increase the odds of preventing a rape, an abduction, a serious assault and even possibly save your life” (

However, there is a risk in teaching students self-defence: they may use it unethically. Some participants might believe that violence is acceptable. Consequently, instead of learning respect, they would temper their aggression with harmful abilities.

In self-defence lessons, though, aggressive students and bullies would have to adapt to a group where the pecking order has changed. The more experienced help to teach their less experienced peers. Trust is vital when learning self-defence or training in a martial art. As a result, the supportive group creates respect, empathy and understanding that has the potentional to benefit other aspects of young people’s lives.

Martial artist Lee Morrison states that “incidents in schools where children are getting stabbed and slashed in class are becoming more and more common” (

While self-defence builds confidence in participants, there is also the danger of overconfidence. Students may injure themselves if they overestimate their ability and enter into violent conflicts. Consequently, self-defence lessons in school would have to ensure it teaches participants self-awareness and humility. Such lessons would also mitigate the chance of violence outside of the lessons since students would understand the responsibility they have to themselves and others.

Adding self-defence lessons to the school curriculum could help to bring back some of the positive qualities society has lost over the past decade. Qualities like common sense, altruism, and respect for the self and others seem to have lost ground to often selfish, irresponsible conduct. Incorporating self-defence lessons into the PE curriculum could help to combat such behaviour with positive life skills.

Please share your thoughts below.

  • Sarah Harding

    I think Martial Arts would be a good idea in the PE curriculum, too, especially as there seems to be more and more violence on the news every day and it would really help people defend themselves and learn that vital respect that is sometimes lacking.