Under: Self-defense
5 Sep 2010

When I was in Junior High School I took an opportunity to take Chito Ryu karate lessons from a teacher’s assistant (TA). You see he had heard me and a few other students talking about how we wanted to learn karate. We (the students) found out that the TA had attained a brown belt in Okinawa while we was in the military. I think classes lasted about three months before he left but that was my first exposure to martial arts proper (if you don’t count books and movies)!

That first exposure to martial arts came in handy because I learned the basics of throwing kicks and punches as well as the importance of self-restraint and discipline. It was kind of funny but karate was not normally taught in school and would not have at my junior high unless the volunteer promised not to do any real sparring. You see wrestling and boxing were taught in physical education (PE) because they were generally accepted forms of fighting that were well understood by most males.

I was very happy to learn that California state senator, Christine Kehoe introduced Senate Bill 1290 to put self-defense training (of any type) into California school’s PE curriculum. Read the legislative analysis above to see details of the bill if Governor Schwarzenegger signs it into law:

SB 1290, as amended, Kehoe. Physical education: self-defense and safety instruction.


Existing law requires that all pupils in grades 7 to 12, inclusive, except those excused or exempted pursuant to a prescribed provisions of law, attend physical education courses for a total period of time of not less than 400 minutes each 10 schooldays. Pursuant to its authority to issue program guidelines to serve as models or examples, the State Board of Education has adopted physical education model content standards for California public schools.


This bill would require the State Board of Education and the Curriculum Development and Supplemental Materials Commission to include self-defense instruction, as defined, and safety instruction, as defined, in the next revision of the physical education framework for pupils in grades 7, 8, 9, 11, and 12.

In this post I will talk about the wisdom of teaching all children basic self defense moves and why doing this in junior high and high school is the perfect opportunity. My guess is you can already see my bias but I will try to frame this argument within the urgent need for our children to have an idea of how to keep safe in light of the rash of child abductions. Also I do not have a preference of the type of self defense as I think boxing, wrestling, karate, judo, jiu jitsu or mma could all give children an edge if accosted.

Take a look at this video with California state senator Kehoe being interviewed by Chrissy Russo (Fox 5 – San Diego) to set the stage for this discussion.




Later in high school I started driving up to NAS Miramar (now MCAS Miramar) to take advantage of free Lima Lama karate lessons. What I liked about these lessons is I actually got a chance to wear hand and foot pads and spar! After just a little experience fighting, I did not have any more self defense worries because I now had an idea of many ways to mount a successful defense.


Governor Schwarzenegger must have had a similar path as he took up weight lifting at some point and eventually came to America to become a famous body builder! I can imagine as he bulked up – he had very few concerns about self defense. I would say most guys in sports that increase their strength or agility would gain ancillary benefits of some mitigating strength, speed or skills by taking football, wrestling, or track and field training.


But what about the rest of the kids? Most kids will not become jocks. The reason I mention all of this is the fate of this bill rests in the governors hands. California is having budget issues as unfortunately is normal but in this recovering economy – money for new a project is hard to come by.


Recently Amber Dubios and Chelsea King murderer was convicted of his crimes. One other girl (at least) was able to get away by fighting back against this monster. Kids today are not ever really safe as you cannot lock them up in your home and not let them participate in normal activities. So you are left with trying to teach your kids how to be safe. Many people nowadays try to teach their children self defense at home or enroll them into commercial school or even martial arts clubs.


I applaud these parents that take proactive steps to help their children take some responsibility for their own self defense into their own hands but as so often happens – there are too many competing priorities for parents to deal with so often basic self defense training does not happen. 


Another consideration is how many kids grow up in a vacuum. I mean kids are taught how the world should work and not how the world actually works. Often times a strong protective father or mother will take on a lot of the responsibility for the children so the kids do not ever realize why thay are allowed to go to some places and not others. I think it is one thing to be protective but quite another to not give the kids the tools to face reality!


What should happen is parents and kid should talk about how much to trust adults. If  any adult steps beyond the bounds of common courtesy – the kid should tell them no and they will check with their parents. Many parents blindly tell kids to trust uncles, neighbors, teachers, policemen, and other adults rather then just show common courtesy and say no to any requests out of the ordinary – check with the parents. If the adult insists – run away fast and tell! Sadly this does not always happen because the parents mistakenly trust others sometimes and do not really think because nothing ever happened to them – that their kids will be ok.


My first argument here is that PE is the proper place to talk about self defense strategies and later some moves and escapes because one teacher can affect a lot of kids thinking about self defense. For instance screaming “fire” and running if someone advances too close after you have already warned him off is reasonable!


A class of kids can see how each of them handle bad situations and get out of it using physical techniques (so they can run to safety). Peer pressure should not be under estimated and soon all kids will be striving to get good at escape techniques. It is fun to see a kid that does not know he or she can use an elbow strike or groin kick to get out of a bear hug learn that yes – he/she can getaway! With a little empowerment a kid can learn if everything goes bad – he or she does have a plan B! That is important.


Now I bet you are thinking that I am going to favor my style of karate? Nope… sure it is as good as any but I do not favor any type of fighting used for self defense. Do you know why? Think back to the days of the first UFC challenge. Do you remember practitioners of boxing, wrestling, savate, judo,  jiu jitsu, karate, kung fu and such met and tried to duke it out to find out which style was the best? Was there a clear winner? Maybe to some but it sure highlighted some styles of fighting that were ignored – turned out to win the competition (read jiu jitsu).


After 118 UFC challenges I would argue that no one style has come out on top. Muay Thai, Karate, Jiu Jitsu, Wrestling, Boxing are all part of a successful MMA champion today but even sport fighting is not the same as self defense (where no holds are really ever barred) and one might have to defend against multiple opponents (like I have on a few occasions over my lifetime).


What is the point I am trying to make? I don’t care what kind of self defense instruction a school is comfortable with but rather that they embrace something and teach kids the basics that are applicable to self defense along with avoidance, confrontation, fighting and running! All fighting is about the same and is a matter of preference. True one will find some types of fighting better for certain situations but in other situations other types of fighting will be better.


There is no super fighting system that is better than everything else. No magic. No secret stuff. No Master Splinter to teach our youth. There is a terrific opportunity to teach California’s youth how to better protect themselves in any situation by giving them some of the basic tools to empower and defend themselves!


I think our Action Superhero Governator (term meant with respect) should take action and save California’s kids against evil! I found this funny Arnold Gym ad on youtube… I don’t really think it will be a conflict of interest. :)




But seriously I know the governor has always thought that physical fitness for kids was a top issue. I remember that he was appointed to President George Bush’s President’s Console of Physical Fitness and Sports and I was happy to learn that the Arnolds Sports Festival includes many martial arts. Here are some of martial arts highlights.




Ok the real issue is not if the governor thinks self defense training would help kids but if the state has the money. If this cannot be paid for now – the govenor should not pass this bill; but I can only hope that is not the case. I can think of a couple ways this can be implemented at a low cost.


  • Adopt a self defense curriculum already in existence from an organization. Many organizations might donate the materials for California’s youth.
  • Ask police for basic self defense training – many police organizations may already have a community outreach program with a self defense curriculum.
  • Leverage off of teacher experience in boxing or wrestling to develop self defense training.
  • Ask commercial schools to volunteer to teach teachers the basics.
  • Ask women’s self defense experts to teach the teachers the basics including avoidance and verbal confrontations.
  • Ask the YMCA & YWCA to help designing a self defense curriculum.


While many of these ideas might work – they would take considerable coordination and mean the individuals would have to put off their self interests to help design a curriculum that could be widely adopted for no financial gain.  


Based on all of this my guess is this bill will be vetoed. Too many people do not have a good idea of why self defense is important and there would be too many competing interests vying to get their view/solution of self defense instruction adopted. 


To address teaching children in schools – I think there need to be standards and a curriculum created that will meet the criteria of teaching children to manage a self defense situation. I think it is ok to have more than one solution that can include many forms of self defense so long as the criteria is consistent.


I do not think that a quickly put together self defense class that was not tailored to teaching kids to protect themselves should be adopted as these classes would be all over the map. I also think this will have to be created like any other academic course – by committee – selecting what should be included and what should not – and then tailor the instruction to follow the curriculum.


While I applude Senator Kehoe’s attempt to get self defense training included in California’s PE classes – I think this may not have been the best way to go about adding self defense instruction to PE classes. I don’t see how the govenerator can sign it unless the costs are known and paid for somehow.


What do you think? Do you think basic self defense instruction should be made part of the California’s PE classes? I do and I would be glad to debate the merits of this with you or hear your thoughts. 

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26 Responses to “Self Defense in Schools? California Bill to Governator!”

  1. Adam @ Low Tech Combat Says:

    I most definately think martial arts/self defence should be taught at schools. The benefits speak for themsleves. And I think a Martial Art approach rather than just self defence aproach would be much more productive. Side benefits of the martial arts such as instilling modesty, quiet confidence, respect, manners and honour are all things that are sadly very much missing from much of the youth today.

  2. T.J. Says:

    Great to see a government official take self-defense seriously!

    I teach self-defense in high schools here in Canada.


  3. John Nottingham Says:

    I’m glad to see self defense being taught in schools. My only concern is the government mandating or getting involved in the process. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I also really enjoyed your blog article on adrenaline. -jn
    John Nottingham recently posted..One Size Does Not Fit All for TrainingMy Profile

  4. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hey Adam!

    I tend to agree that teaching a martial art would be beneficial. Do you know of any school districts doing that? I’m hoping that self defense can happen as it would be great to give everyone exposure for some strategy and moves if they need them.

    Hi T.J.!

    Thanks for your comment… great to hear from instructors on this issue.

    Hello John Nottingham!

    Agreed on mandates… like everything else in government one would have the weigh the cost versus the benefits. I’d be happy to see any kind of self defense instruction because so many people do not understand any personal defense strategy.

    Thanks for your insight!

  5. Matt Klein Says:

    Sorry John, but I’m going to disagree with you on this one. Am familiar with this issue as I have taught in the schools here in Australia. If you give away something for free it devalues it. Children who come to a proper dojo to learn are there because they want to be there—their parents pay because it is something of great importance to them. In my experience, particularly at the high school level, many of them hate physical ed, and will goof off a good part of the class. How will you enforce discipline at the school? You can’t sit them out, because many of them want that anyway. You can’t make them do push ups, because that is considered corporal punishment in many states, and besides, it’s not good practice anyway as it teaches kids to hate exercise. How do you keep bullies from learning with the rest of the class? At least in the dojo we can weed them out.

    From a business owner’s standpoint, why would a master black belt with many years of experience invested want to go into a school and make peanuts? Very few of the students actually convert to members of our schools, so what motivation is there for the best instructors to participate in this? I stopped doing it for all the above reasons, and have never looked back.

    Why add another layer of bureaucracy on to a state that is financially in the red? I don’t see the wisdom in that either? Who is going to pay for this? Why put the state in the martial arts business? Leave it to the experts who can make sure something this important can be done right.
    Matt Klein recently posted..Martial Arts Classes- 79 Reasons Why Kids Love ThemMy Profile

  6. Adam @ Low Tech Combat Says:

    Hi John, no I do not know of any districts ding it I am sorry.

    @Matt, you raise some excellent points and you know what? I never thought of that before. I can see some kids would just upset the whole class environment. Perhaps the solution would be to make the subject an elective subject so only students that WANT to be there are there. I am sure if students in school are given the option, some would take it up who otherwise would not make the effort to go to a traditional dojo or dojang. I still think that in itself could reach out to some kids and make a positive impact on their lives when they are at an nfluential age.

  7. Chris | Martial Development Says:

    It has been said that, by the time “martial arts” skills are deployed, one’s self-defense skills must have already failed. And I generally agree with that. PE is a small part of real self-defense, and it would be a shame if that point was obscured by the best of intentions, to get kids into some enjoyable and/or practical exercise.

    Matt makes good sense too, as usual.
    Chris | Martial Development recently posted..Quiz- Can You Name This Martial ArtMy Profile

  8. Zara Says:

    I think self defense or even basic introduction to certain martial arts (judo, karate and the like can be taught safely to young children even) and should be an elective in schools PE-programs beside the usual suspects of football, basketball and the like. I know I detested most of the sports offered at my school yet if they had offered some form of martial arts or SD my grades would have been way up. You shouldn’t force it on children as many or their parents might resent violence in any form regardless of the aim of the course but for those who want to it should be available. Of course the main problems are organization and funding but decent suggestions have already been offered, one other possible pitfall I see is that it could actually increase violent and antisocial behaviour at school (you are teaching fighting skills after all and some kids just don’t have the maturity to handle this properly) so known bullies and kids with anger-management issues should be barred from attending as well as those who show behavioral changes after the first lessons. I think the classes should follow the program of women’s SD for the most part: big emphasis on avoidance, recognising warning, signs, verbal SD… taught in classroom-format AND role-playing, only after that has been mastered and the students have a sound grasp of the ethics, laws and dangers of SD should simple fighting techniques be implemented, starting with basic grabs and the like and always, always focussing on getting away asap. In true and effective SD training applied psychology (emotions, body-language, human behaviour in groups, how to tell when people are lying…), criminology (types of crimes, causes, figures, personality traits of both perpetrators and victims…) biology (human anatomy, fear, stress, fight-or-flight…) and law (what constitutes SD, excessive force, weapon laws…) come together with martial arts so you could even make them count for both ‘social sciences’ and PE. You could even include some general background/history concerning MA so those who want to pursue this further have at least a surer footing when making an informed decision and don’t fall prey to the first greedy sob trying to sell them their version of his Über-effective, ninja-killer martial art. If gone about in a thoughtful, intelligent way involving the input of all parties involved (children, parents, teachers, lawmakers, martial arts teachers, various experts on said fields including police and behavioral scientists) I think it’s a good idea that could significantly reduce certain types of crime and teach young children life-skills that’ll help them gain confidence and lead a healthy, productive life. I don’t live in California or even America but they’d certainly have my vote.

  9. Zara Says:

    Hi Matt: I think you’re letting your economic self-interest obscure your vision on the big picture here. Sure from an economic standpoint it might be a bad idea for you as a professional martial arts teacher to get involved in this (too much effort, too little profit) but if gone about in the right way this could yield many benefits including helping to raise more aware, self-confident and responsible individuals and saving lives (maybe even long after graduation), surely you’ll agree this is a worthwhile cause and human life cannot be measured in economic indicators including profit although I do realize everybody has to make money and provide for himself and his family. It’s my view SD has many aspects and should draw from many fields including martial arts: if a well-balanced program can be developed that rests on scientific principles (you could even make passing basic introduction to psychology, sociology and biology mandatory for attendance of the course as well as doing reasonably well in basic PE) and transcend the skills and knowledge of one individual or field alone, including MA. If you can pool the knowledge of behavioral scientists, police, professional educators and experienced martial artists surely you could develop a program that is sound and worth the investment. I doubt it should even cost that much: the theoretical teaching could be done by teachers already on the payroll and PE-teachers could be taught a very basic SD-system à la krav maga, modified for children of course, or something similar (it shouldn’t be too hard to teach a few simple moves to people already well versed in sports and anatomy and physiology) so there would be no need to attract expensive ‘experts’ from outside the school. Sure, in a way this is competition for local martial arts school but SD is so much more than martial arts (of course there is overlap but it’s entirely possible to study a martial art for years and learn zero practical SD-skills) and perhaps through school kids can be reached that would otherwise never have come into contact with either SD or the martial arts.

    If you make SD an elective, depending on other subjects (both PE and behavioral sciences) and select people appropriately you’ll both keep out lazy or ill-willed individuals and raise the status of the subject in the eyes of the students. If they’re not interested or they’re only there to learn fighting techniques (which they can learn just as easily through a local martial arts school btw) they can pick something else and so won’t disrupt the people eager to learn. I don’t understand your argument about things needing to cost a lot of money in order to be valuable: in life some of the best things are free and the public schooling system is there to give everybody as much education, knowledge and practical skills as possible in order to maximize happiness and prosperity for all, regardless of the income or social status of the parents. Indeed education is the prime motor for social mobility that is so valued in western societies and rightly so. Some people just don’t have the money to pay for a fancy martial arts school for their children: should these kids really be denied such a great opportunity and run an increased risk at suffering violence because they were born underprivileged?

    Surely if there’s money for extra curricular activities like the chess-club, photography, cheerleading and the like there should be money for a good SD-course (every bit as much a life-skill as learning a foreign language, cooking or fixing a car) and children’s education (the future of any country) is the last place to look for implementing budget cuts. Besides: it’s well-documented that a country’s economic well-being depends largely on the quality of its education system so that’s another good argument for increasing funding for public schools instead of decreasing it.

  10. Matt Klein Says:

    Zara, pardon me if I only scanned your “Thesis on the Theories of the Socio-economic and Behavioral Ramifications of Introducing Martial Arts Classes into Schools in California” above. I am a busy person trying to run a martial arts business. I will try to keep my arguments short. As my best high school English teacher told me, make your writing short, to the point, and real.

    First, your statement about self-interest as my motivation in writing my position on this. Probably at least 95% of my new business comes from age groups other than teens. They are just not that interested. So no one is really taking money out of my pocket with respect to this issue. Many of my peers in this business, however, are probably not excited about the prospect of competing with a new business–government funded, and paid for by the taxpayers, that is giving its products or services away for free. Would you? Is that fair to them? They have to pay their employees and taxes as well.

    We get almost all of our students much younger than the teens, when we still have a chance to impart the values of respect, self discipline, and a “self defense only” mentality. They grow up to be fine young black belts with confidence and an ability to inspire and help others. By then we have weeded out all the bullies and troublemakers, who are there for the wrong reasons. They don’t last in our system. Students are not shown the more “street effective” and hence more damaging techniques until they have proven themselves worthy. This takes years. How are you going to do this in a public school setting? You are teaching kids potentially lethal techniques at an age when their hormones make them unstable, without any underlying long term training in the respect, control, and self-discipline aspects.

    We live in a society where people expect everything to be free—music, movies, books. It’s all on the internet, just grab it. And we want it instantly. No waiting. Your professionals, the ones down at the local dojo, are the best qualified to instruct, but they are busy teaching kids who want to be there, and who are patient enough to spend years learning what the martial arts are all about. You might get free martial arts instruction, but you get what you pay for, and yes, someone has to pay for it. Ask Russia; they provided everything at government expense–until their economy collapsed.
    Matt Klein recently posted..Teaching Children Martial Arts- Exercise as PunishmentMy Profile

  11. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Matt!

    Thanks for weighing in on this… You do make a good point about the commitment level of many teens. What I envision however is teaching self defense of any kind (not necessarily karate) in the rotation with other PE classes.

    I would not be too concerned that kids learn a martial art but rather they gleaned some skills that might come in handy someday. Bullies in school tend to pick on the kids that will not stand up for themselves and one in four women will be molested in their lifetime.

    Short term self-defense classes are not my first choice but I believe they would be a great start. We may have to agree to disagree on this one Matt.

    Hey Chris!

    Excellent point about deploying self defense! Other than when I worked in the bar – I’ve been able to successfully avoid conflict… good to remember the point of learning these skills.

    Hi Zara!

    Thanks for the information! I think you are right about the women’s self-defense format. The thing I like about this is women are taught more than just kicks and punches but more how to manage potential conflicts and yes how to fight too.

    Interesting point about including it in social sciences… kind of like drivers education and also training. I like it.

  12. Dorothy Says:

    Self defense should be taught because the world is really becoming more dangerous minute by minute and as always if their is a will, their is a way. Kids should learn self defense so parents at least can be at ease when they need to come home late in the evening because of some extra things to be done in school like practicing for a play or something. I like how you’ve talked about this issue in this post of yours in great detail. Truly enlightening and informative. Great videos too.

  13. Budhido Code Says:

    I had a good friend of mine from China told me that they studied Wushu everyday for physical activity. She told me by the time she had graduated high school, she was well adept in fighting and self defense. I have a Korean friend basically said the same thing in regards to Taekwondo. Many US schools let Taco Bell and Pizza Hut feed our kids; let’s let the local martial arts dojo teach gym!
    Budhido Code recently posted..Focus in Training- Martial Arts- Fitness and SportMy Profile

  14. Dr. J Says:

    My first exposure to the martial arts was for a three month period from a man who had learned in the military in Korea.

    He stressed good values and tradition. I support martial arts training in schools if the teachers do it with traditional values.

  15. Edward Says:

    I would also want training in martial arts to be included in school… It is definitely a great idea. With the increasing rate of crimes happening around us I think it is just but necessary to train some self defense for protection in case of trouble or attack. But of course discipline or good moral character should be also included.
    Edward recently posted..Do What It Takes To Defend YourselfMy Profile

  16. Steven Says:

    Now if we could just protect them from Sacramento…lol

  17. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Thanks Dorothy!

    Hey Budhido Code! Thanks for pointing out yet another way our schools are behind Asian schools! :)

    Hi Dr J! A lot to be said for values and tradition in school. One more reinforcement with an additional benefit would be great.

    Hi Edward, Agreed! I think the crime rate might actually be going down in the US (but if something happens to you – the crime rate won’t matter) :)

    Steven! You ask too much! :)

  18. Phil Says:

    Brilliant discussion! I am a huge fan of Arnold. He is a born politician but understands more than most the importance of focus, discipline and an indomitable spirit. His biography “Fantastic” is an amazing read and really gets you inside his head. I an see why he would be recommending this as the martial arts values/benefits are closely alligned to body building. This is a great step forward…

  19. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Phil! I am also a fan of Arnold. He has stepped in at a difficult time but has done a good job as the governor of California. I just heard he signed this bill today!

    I’ve not read “Fantastic” but it is on my reading list as he is truly a man that has accomplished a lot.

  20. Matt Klein Says:

    Can see I am outgunned and outnumbered. But……remember the Spartans!
    Matt Klein recently posted..Martial Arts Training- The iPhone as a Teaching ToolMy Profile

  21. jenny Says:

    self defence is important in a person’s life to see him/her get out of unwanted trouble when needed. Karate is a mode of self defence that comes in handy when the situation demands . The website gives you wide knowledge how and when to use karate at your disposal.

    Learn Online Karate

  22. “Self Defense in Schools? California Bill to Governator!,” by John W. Zimmer Says:

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  23. Michael Says:

    good! this is how bullying could be eliminated.
    Michael recently posted..An Interview With Psychiatrist Dr Thomas SzaszMy Profile

  24. Ksenia Says:

    I agree with you a 100%. I am surprised that I haven’t heard about this bill in California. Thank you for bringing it up to my attention. Are there any similar bills in other states? Do email me or respond so I can add this information to everything else I am gathering on this topic, I would find it extremely helpful. Thanks again.

  25. Elmer Querubin Says:

    I like the idea of school taking self defense seriously. The past years have been difficult for people going to school. Take columbine and virginia tech for example!

  26. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Michael, Thanks for commenting. I agree.

    Ksenia, Not really sure about other states but if they would have some coed fighting arts training of any kind – that would be a step in the right direction. Thanks for stopping by.

    Elmer, Glad to have you stop by. Your website looks like you are of a like mind.