Cobra Kai in Schools: Should Martial Arts be Compulsory for Kids?

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

When I look back on the most significant, powerful and transformative moments in my life, few can come close to when I first walked into a Shotokan Karate dojo.

I was a weak, somewhat weird, high-energy 11-year-old. My dad had started going to Karate lessons and wanted to take me along too. I honestly had no idea how much it would change my life.

I had watched Daniel Larusso’s epic stories in the original Karate Kid series as a small child. Sometimes I would try and copy the moves, making loud ‘Hiiii-Yaaaaaaa’ noises, which usually triggered a fight with my younger brother, and a subsequent ‘grounding’ from mum. I was hooked from an early age, and attending my first Karate class with my dad at age 11 (in 1994) was also like re-living the Karate Kid fantasies I had as a 5-year-old.

Now, with the massive popularity of the Cobra Kai Netflix series (I’m a big fan too, I’ll admit), Karate is seeing a long-awaited resurgence in interest, albeit misinformed (perhaps). As an experienced Karateka I watch Cobra Kai with much amusement: the students make progress way too quickly (performing advanced moves like spin kicks and spin sweeps after seemingly only a few months training); the big school fight is exciting, but unrealistic (it’s unlikely that on-duty teachers would allow that to happen) and parents would be kicking up a massive fuss if kids were coming home battered and bloodied from the Cobra Kai dojo (there’s one scene in Season 3, for example, in which Eli “Hawk” Moskowitz takes another kid to the ground and repeatedly punches him in the head, MMA style, until he’s very bloodied. John Kreese smiles, doesn’t intervene, and when the pounding has finished he says words to the effect of “Will someone pick him up?” In real-life, parents and probably the police would have intervened and the dojo may have been temporarily closed.).

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My karate lessons were (and are) exciting, fast-paced and painful. I and the other white belts had to do lots of stretching, hold fixed stances for long periods of time, perform basic movements (kihon) with power and aggression and perform well in sparring (kumite). There were no mats on the floor and we didn’t wear pads or gumshields – this was old school, traditional Karate, done on hardwood school-gym floors. We respected each other, and aggression was always controlled. If things ever got out of hand (which rarely happened), it was seen as a moment of shame and embarrassment. And as for Karate competency – it takes years and years to get ‘good’ at Karate, even with daily training. Real karate isn’t like Cobra Kai (sorry).

When I first started Karate my body was uncoordinated and unconditioned. After around one month, however, I was performing techniques with some accuracy, had made friends at the club (and later, within the larger Shotokan community as a whole) and was seeing some (albeit minimal) progress. And that’s what I believe initiated the other changes I saw in my life: seeing the progress I made.

27 years later and I’m still training daily. Shotokan Karate has given me so much to be grateful for, including:

  • Self-discipline: Progressing through the belts required hard-work, real perseverance (especially when my sensei would criticize my movements, and I had to keep going and not just simply give up) and sacrifice: I could have stayed at home and watched cartoons instead.
  • Friends: Meeting and socializing with other kids who had a common interest with me really boosted my confidence. I was bullied at school by a small group of boys, and I really valued my support network at Karate class.
  • Mentorship: My Karate sanseis didn’t just teach me techniques to use in a fight – they would often give advice about how to work hard at school, the importance of creating a good life for myself and how to have goals and work towards them.
  • Health and fitness: I hated P.E. (Physical Education) classes at school, and I was terrible at football (a British school staple). Karate gave me an intense workout that I enjoyed, despite the pain that came with the training.
  • The ability to defend myself: Admittedly, this took many years to develop (martial arts’ practitioners will often claim that MMA, boxing or Brazilian Ju-Jitsu will get you to a level of ‘street competency’ quicker), but I did get there. There have been a number of occasions in my life (a small number, thankfully), where I have had to use my Karate skills to get out of a bad situation. One key skill that Karate taught me was situational awareness: knowing how to spot trouble before it happens, and how to avoid it.
  • Spirituality: Karate training involves meditation and reflection (when done properly). As a teenager, these exercises were instrumental in helping me to maintain a positive attitude when life got tough.

My own experience speaks for itself on this matter, but I’m not the only one who sees the benefit of martial arts training for schoolchildren. Keri Wilmot, an occupational therapist who works with children of varying ages and abilities in all areas of pediatrics, identifies nine benefits of martial arts training for children:

  • Self-improvement: Martial arts focus on individual growth.
  • Goal-setting: Kids work through different coloured belts at their own pace (in many martial arts). This can boost self-esteem (I can personally vouch for that).
  • Repetition and routines: Sets, katas and basic movements are broken down into manageable parts that students can digest at a realistic pace.
  • Self-control and concentration are encouraged: One of my Karate senseis would often say that “This will help you with mathematics”. I believe he was right.
  • Coordination is improved: I think Keri puts this perfectly when she writes that “Doing martial arts movements can help kids get a better feel for their body in space.”
  • Boundaries and rules are in-place: These are constantly reinforced by (good) instructors.
  • Martial arts provide a safe outlet for excess energy: This is great for adults and children. Excess aggression, anger and even exam-stress can be dissipated in a martial arts workout in a controlled way.
  • Respect is at the core: In most martial arts’ dojos, students have to show respect for their sensei and for each other. The Cobra Kai dojo is clearly an exception to this rule.
  • Martial arts are cool: I’m taking this word-for-word from Keri, because I can’t rephrase this in a better way. Kids feel special and cool when they’re wearing their martial arts’ gear. To add to Keri’s excellent description I will also say that this adds to a sense of community, and this can be a great esteem-booster for children. As I mentioned earlier: a good dojo can also provide a good support network and social circle for kids who might not have such close ties with friends at school.

Are there any countries or schools where martial arts training is compulsory for students?

Yes! Tai Chi is a compulsory course at Zhenbao primary school in Jioozuo in Central China, for example. The aims are to strengthen students’ physiques and to promote Traditional Chinese culture.

This school, however, is the only example I am aware of. If you know of any others, then please do feel free to comment in the comments’ box at the bottom of this page.

Have people advocated for compulsory martial arts classes in schools before?

Many celebrities, politicians and former athletes have called for compulsory martial arts classes in schools in the past:

  • In 2016, centrist French politician Jean Lassalle called for the introduction of compulsory martial arts classes in schools to combat France’s “culture of fear” that had developed in the wake of recent events at that time.
  • Tiffiny Hall, former Biggest Loser trainer and Taekwondo black belt spoke out about the benefits of martial arts training for school students in 2018. “All I’m asking for is an hour in the PE curriculum in schools to teach kids basic self-protection and self-defense”, she is quoted as saying by Radio 3AW Melbourne.
  • In 2019, martial arts instructor Neha Shrimal set up a petition (which garnered around 137,000 signatures) to include martial arts as a compulsory component of school curricula in Maharashtra State, India. She is quoted by India Today as stating “In India, over 53 per cent of children face sexual abuse. Whenever any such incidence happens, we just look at police and legal system for help. We never imagine that a girl can also have power to deal with such situations, I believe that every child should be trained to protect themselves from an early age. I am asking Maharashtra Government to make self-defence training compulsory for all the students from 5th standard onwards”.

Bibliography and references (in order of appearance)

  1. ‘This Number Shows Why ‘Cobra Kai’ Could Be Netflix’s Most Popular Show Since ‘Outer Banks’ And ‘Tiger King’’. Forbes. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/travisbean/2020/09/23/this-number-proves-why-cobra-kai-could-be-netflixs-most-popular-show-since-outer-banks-and-tiger-king/
  2. ‘Netflix’s Cobra Kai making karate more popular in Edmonton: dojo owner’. CTV News Edmonton. Available at: https://edmonton.ctvnews.ca/netflix-s-cobra-kai-making-karate-more-popular-in-edmonton-dojo-owner-1.5257790
  3. ‘9 Benefits of Martial Arts for Kids Who Learn and Think Differently’. Understood For All Inc. Available at: https://www.understood.org/en/friends-feelings/child-social-situations/sports/9-benefits-of-martial-arts-for-kids-who-learn-and-think-differently
  4. ‘Taichi becomes a compulsory course in Henan primary school’. CGTN. Available at: https://news.cgtn.com/news/3d3d414d3155444f32457a6333566d54/index.html
  5. ‘French MP calls for schools to have compulsory martial arts’. The Local Europe AB. Available at: https://www.thelocal.fr/20160822/french-mp-calls-for-compulsory-martial-arts-in-schools
  6. ‘Self defence should be compulsory in schools: Martial Arts expert Tiffiny Hall’. 3AW News Melbourne. Available at: https://www.3aw.com.au/self-defence-should-be-compulsory-in-schools-martial-arts-expert-tiffiny-hall/
  7. ‘Maharashtra government to include compulsory self-defence classes in school curriculum’. India Today. Available at: https://www.indiatoday.in/education-today/news/story/maharashtra-government-to-include-compulsory-self-defence-classes-in-school-curriculum-1457713-2019-02-16

Have a great week of teaching everyone! Don’t forget to comment below or contact me if you have any questions or comments – your feedback is my lifeblood! 

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Good Teachers Are Also Good Students

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Accompanying video:

I have always loved mathematics, but I’ve not always been ‘good’ at maths. I got a grade A for GCSE Mathematics when I was 16 years old (a grade I worked really, really hard for) but I struggled with mathematics at ‘AS’ and ‘A’ – Level (the UK’s pre-university qualifications). 

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“An AMAZING Book!”

It just so happened that mathematics wasn’t a subject I needed as a prerequisite for my university course anyway. So, in a sense, I committed the cardinal sin of thinking that it ‘didn’t matter’. I was planning to study molecular biology at university, and my admissions tutors were mainly interested in my biology and chemistry grades.

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I achieved my goal of going to uni and doing my PGCE in order to become a fully qualified Science teacher in 2006. I was happy for several years, but my failure to complete my mathematics education at school kept gnawing at me like an annoying itch. I needed to do something about it. 

I decided to complete the Certificate in Mathematics course with the Open University in 2009, after three years of being a full-time science teacher. This course covered everything in my ‘A’-Level syllabus with some extra, university-level topics thrown in. It was challenging and offered me just what I needed: closure. As a distance-learning course, it also offered me the chance to study and work as a teacher at the same time. 

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As I started studying the course and handing in assignments (which had to be snail mailed to the UK  – I was living in Thailand at the time), I began to realise how much I had become disconnected from the student experience as a teacher. It had been around three years since I had ever studied anything seriously, and this mathematics course was teaching me how difficult it was to:

  • Meet deadlines
  • Seek help when in doubt
  • Have the self-discipline needed to study at a regular time-slot each day

These skills were, of course, things I had to do whilst completing my degree course and schooling earlier in life, but it had been a few years since I had been immersed in serious study like this. I was slowly losing empathy for my students: that was until this course gave me a wake-up call. 

Another big thing I took from this experience was just how stressful it can be to prepare for a difficult exam (and to complete it). I had to fly to the UK to take the end of course mathematics exam (a three hour beast), and along with the intense revision that came in the few days running up to the exam I had the misfortune of not sleeping so well the night before the big day. And then, once sat down and actually completing the paper, three hours felt like it went by in an instant.

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I guess I’m trying to make a number of points in this trip down Memory Lane – namely that by immersing ourselves in the ‘student experience’ we can, as teachers:

  • Regain, or enhance, our true understanding of just how many hurdles await our students on their race to the exam finish-line.
  • Learn new skills and concepts that can be applied to our roles as classroom managers, leaders and ‘purveyors’ of specialist knowledge.
  • Build self-discipline, and pass on the lessons learned to our students in our roles as mentors, homeroom teachers, form tutors and coaches.

One final point to stress is that, whilst we can study almost any subject we want via online platforms like EdX and Coursera these days, it’s also important that we take the time to thoroughly reflect on a regular basis. Keeping a journal of things we’ve done well, and things we messed up, can be a great way to have a written record to read over when we want to celebrate successes and remind ourselves of lessons we have learned on our journeys as educators. This video I made a few years ago goes into this in more detail:

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Coronavirus: Supporting Students Online When Schools are Forced to Close

An article by Richard James Rogers (Bestselling author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

Accompanying video: 

The recent outbreak of the 2019 novel coronavirus has caused concern for many school leaders, parents and educational authorities. Just this week, for example, we’ve seen parents pulling their kids out of school at Howard Springs, Australia (where a makeshift coronavirus quarantine center was setup nearby), and schools in the French Alps close due to a localized outbreak.

Other concerning developments regarding the novel coronavirus and its recent impact on schools include:

  • British schools have issued warnings to parents to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus after fears that it could be picked up on half-term holidays to the far east. 
  • St Mary’s Independent School in Southampton, Hampshire (United Kingdom) is currently closed (as of February 10th 2020) after the family of some of their pupils were put in isolation over fears they may have contracted the coronavirus.
  • More than 14,000 people have signed a petition calling for one California school district to temporarily close all schools due to the outbreak. 

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Much is still unknown about nCoV2019, but one thing is becoming clear: person-to-person spread is occurring. The latest situation summary updates are available on the CDC’s web page: (2019 Novel Coronavirus, Wuhan, China).

The forecast for this new virus is unclear, and in my personal opinion school leaders would be well-advised to prepare for possible closure. 

I believe I have come up with a simple method by which teachers and schools can support students with their learning when they are working from home. And I believe that simplicity is key – simple systems make life easier for everybody.

Advice for parents is given at the end of this article.

The Online Learning Journal [A suggestion for schools]

Step 1: Every student in the school creates a website that will act as an ‘ePortfolio’ or learning journal. Each website should contain a separate page for each subject the student learns. Google Sites is amazing for this (it’s very user friendly), but Wix, WordPress and Blogger are also good (and free) alternatives. Just make sure the students are using their school e-mail addresses to sign-up to these platforms.

Step 2: The URL for every ePortfolio for every kid in the school is kept on a centralized spreadsheet (e.g. a Google Sheet or an MS Excel sheet) that every teacher has access to.

Step 3: Work is set by the teacher through the school’s online Virtual Learning Environment or MOOC (such as Google Classroom, Firefly or Moodle) or even via e-mail. Students are required to complete their work on their website (e.g. by writing notes on each page, uploading photos of work that’s handwritten, embedding Google Slides, etc.)

Step 4: Teachers simply need to click on the URL for each website of the kids they teach and check their work. Feedback can be written on the website itself (Google Sites makes this very easy, but the student needs to click ‘share’ and share it with the class teacher), or feedback can be directly e-mailed to each student. 

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In my opinion, this method is much better than just using your school’s online learning platform and e-mail to set work because:

  1. All of the work is kept in one place. Every teacher has access, but students cannot see or edit each other’s sites.
  2. Work is less fragmented, as it’s all in one place. With Google Classroom and GMail alone, for example, it can be hard to organize the work one has to mark.
  3. ePortfolios provide amazing evidence of learning, output, creativity and feedback for school inspectors.
  4. Every teacher has access, potentially providing a healthy sense of competition between subjects.
  5. Students can embed Google Docs, Slides, Sheets and Forms to their Google Sites. Other platforms also have amazing features that can enhance learning (e.g. news tickers, forum building and link sharing). 

I think it’s important for schools to ‘make hay whilst the sun in shining’ – get your kids set up with all of this now, so that it becomes easy to assign and mark work if your school is forced to close (for any reason, not necessarily because of the novel coronavirus). 

Advice for parents

It can be difficult to support children when school is closed, especially if both parents are working. However, where possible, try to follow these tips:

  1. Make sure your child wakes up at an appropriate time each day and starts the day properly. This is particularly important for older teenagers who have upcoming exams, as productivity can be greatly affected by a slow and late start to the day.
  2. Access your child’s work that has been set by school. Make sure you have your child’s password and username for their online learning platform (if they have one), so that you can determine what work is being set.
  3. E-mail teachers and school leaders and keep in touch with key people in your child’s education. E-mail questions, queries or concerns you have – school’s are usually very happy to assist parents in supporting their children.
  4. Read ahead in your child’s textbooks, so that you can explain concepts and knowledge when you have the time.
  5. Check your child’s work, and make sure quality is high. It may take some time for teachers to provide detailed feedback if school is closed, so provide feedback in the interim (see my blog post about The Four Rules of Praise here). 
  6. Limit social interactions where possible, and make sure that gatherings have a purpose. For older teenagers, again, hanging out with friends can result in low productivity and loss of revision-time. On the other hand, a productive revision session with friends can be very useful. As a parent you will need to gauge the responsibility level and maturity of your own child.
  7. Follow the recommendations of local authorities.

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On Gender-Neutral Toilets in Schools

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

‘Gender-neutral’ or ‘mixed-gender’ toilets: A trend that seems to have hit British, Australian and American schools with thunderclap speed, taking even the professionals like me by surprise.

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12-years-ago, when I was last teaching in the UK, this topic wasn’t even a topic. People were happy with toilets the way they were: male and female. A recent spate of moves to appease the transgender community have changed all that, however, with a lot of controversy and anger being stirred-up along the way.

Take this recent story of a new, multi-million dollar school set to open in Brisbane this month. Fortitude Valley State Secondary College will be the first secondary school in Queensland that actually forces students to share the same bathrooms. No male, female or ‘other’: everyone uses the same facilities. The only exception will be the changing rooms, which will contain separate male and female toilets.

This has caused outrage in the local community and in Australia as a whole, with parents, politicians, education experts and members of the public venting their anger on social media and through Australian media outlets:

“We already know some really bad things happen to kids in bathroom areas of schools – bullying, sexting, kids recording on mobiles, these things already go on when they’re just within their own sex, and then you’re adding in an extra element.”

Education expert and mum Michelle Mitchell for The Sunday Mail.

Opposition education leader Jarrod Bleijie made his opinion known via Facebook, stating that “boys and girls need and deserve their own privacy at school.”


In defense of the school’s gender-neutral policy, an unnamed departmental spokeswoman said the following via Daily Mail Australia:

“The toilet facilities at Fortitude Valley State Secondary College meet contemporary design standards in relation to accessibility, inclusivity, privacy and safety”

I have contacted Fortitude Valley State Secondary College principal Sharon Barker today with a statement of my concerns regarding the safeguarding of students at her school (particularly teenage girls who will be most affected), along with a request for a reasoned justification behind why the decision to install gender-neutral toilets was made. I shall add her response to this blog post should I receive one.

But what about other countries?

Australia is not the only country in which the common-sense of the masses has clashed with the logic of ‘progressive’ liberals.

Take Deanesfield Primary School (yes, a primary school!) in South Ruislip, West London, where parents launched a petition in September of 2019 in an attempt to ban unisex toilets at the school. Complaints centered around concerns from menstruating girls, who feel like their privacy is invaded when they have to share toilets with boys.

One mother, who has two young daughters at the school, said:

“The cubicles were open at the bottom and top so older pupils can easily climb up the toilets and peer over.”

It’s unclear if complaints have been heeded by the school, and again I shall be e-mailing the school today and should they offer an official response then it shall be posted on this page.

How big is the problem?

Opposition to gender-neutral toilets in schools is so big that this one blog post cannot do the topic justice. Some recent stories that have broke are listed below:

UK Girls Skipping School, Traumatized After Being Forced to Share Toilets with Boys

Gender-neutral toilets don’t help our kids, but threaten them

My thoughts on this issue

A few things:

  1. Schools should always remember that the parents are their key customers. When gender-neutral toilets are introduced in a school, without prior consultation and approval from parents, then a school is acting like a totalitarian dictatorship. I don’t like the arrogance that such schools have when they believe that they do not need to listen to parents – the ultimate, prime educators of their children.
  2. I’ve yet to see any convincing research that suggests that gender-neutral toilets benefit the majority of students at school. I’ll be looking into this further and shall provide a ‘research synopsis’ next week.
  3. Such a tiny minority of school students identify as being ‘transgender’2% in the United States (according to the CDC). Should the majority of students change their routines to appease the minority? How should this minority be catered for in a way that does not negatively affect the majority (e.g. menstruating girls)? The solution, it seems to me, it not to force all students to use gender-neutral toilets but to provide enough ‘male’, ‘female’ and ‘mixed-gender’ toilets for students to choose from. Schools will have to keep and maintain official registries of student genders to achieve this, so that only boys can use the boys’ toilets and only the girls can use the girls’ toilets.
  4. I take issue with small children identifying as ‘transgender’ and then the subsequent push by some parents to provide hormonal supplementation and ‘puberty blockers’ to facilitate a sex-change. In some cases, children as young as 8 or 9 are being treated in this way, with many of the risks being largely unknown:

“The bottom line is we don’t really know how sex hormones impact any adolescent’s brain development”

Dr Lisa Simons, pediatrician at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago (via Frontline)

If a child cannot consent to sexual intercourse or activity, then how can a child consent to having their sex changed? This is an important question that urgently needs to be answered, otherwise we may see many of these children filing lawsuits against their parents when they reach adulthood. We may also see a rise in mental health issues as these children grow and mature, getting older and wiser along the way.

This leads into a much larger debate that goes beyond the scope of simply the installation of gender-neutral toilets in schools. It goes to the core reasoning behind this latest trend, and warrants further exploration in a future blog post.

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