Tips for Incorporating Self-Defense in PE!

The term “self defense” conjures many different pictures in a physical education teachers mind.
We often start by thinking of combat skills and martial arts, which is a scary thought for a teacher with 50 middle or high school students, especially if the teacher has limited knowledge of the skills. It can make teaching PE self defense quite the difficult task.

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However, I believe that avoiding the subject entirely is a mistake.

Self-defense can be as simple as a one day lesson educating students about potential dangers and awareness skills, or as extensive as a week-long unit including physical skills and protective life skills. Either way, I believe a self-defense unit, of some manner, should be included in physical education and/or health classes everywhere.

Here are two examples of how the subject matter meets National Physical Education and Health Standards:

Standard 5:  “Demonstrates responsible personal and social behavior in physical activity settings”

Health Education Expectation 3: “Students will practice behviors that reduce the risk of becoming involved in potentially dangerous situations and react to potentially dangerous situations in ways that help to protect their health” 

My colleague and I have put together what we feel is an effective self-defense program for 8th grade students. We started by attending a Play it Safe teacher workshop. Play it Safe is a program designed for children and young adults. The program focuses on behaviors and practical physical skills necessary for self -defense and confidence building such as:

  • How to recognize and avoid bullies
  • The different types of bullying behaviors
  • How to counter teasing and meanness
  • Setting boundaries & projecting confidence
  • Stranger awareness, “Good vs Bad”
  • Trusting instincts
  • Inappropriate behavior and common child lures
  • The importance of reacting quickly and using your voice to attract attention
  • Escaping a bad situation
  • Age appropriate and practical physical skills for Self-Defense

It has been our experience that the ideal situation for teaching self-defense, to students age 12 and up, is to separate the boys and the girls. There are too many gender specific topics that you can’t effectively talk about to a mixed audience of this age.  During our self-defense unit we looked at our schedules and manipulated them  so that we had 4 days of gender specific groups.  Second, we decided what to focus on for the time we had allotted.  Some topics are appropriate for both groups, while some are not.  The information chosen for the girls was more extensive than the boys, which makes sense due to the significantly higher percentage of crimes against women. Finally, we determined what physical skills we were comfortable teaching. Those skills included: 1) How to get out of hand holds, body holds, and choke holds and 2) How to hit and kick vulnerable areas of an attacker

We placed our high jump mats on their sides against a wall to use as hitting and kicking targets, and used floor mats for release skills.  We divided our time between the workout room and the classroom giving both gender groups equal time in each modality. We provided a packet for students to take notes and to share with family or friends.  All in all, the unit required very little equipment and planning once we put together the basics.

The Play It Safe curriculum is easy to disseminate for your specific needs and grade levels. I highly recommend this curriculum and encourage all physical education teachers to think about including elements of PE self defense into their annual  teaching plan.


One Response

  1. Hello! I am a junior in Colorado and I am working on a project for school where I am trying to persuade my school to start offering self defense classes at our school. I have been doing a lot of research, but I am wondering how you would be able to grade the students in a self-defense class and if it should be a mandatory class or just an option along with other PE credits like weight lifting and things like that. I would really appreciate hearing your thoughts on these things. I’m so glad you are encourperating self-defense in your classes, it is a really cool idea!

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