Why we need to fight for more self-defense education at Lowell


For sophomore Silas Crocker, self-defense training through jiu jitsu has served as a good source of exercise as well as self-confidence. He has been practicing jiu jitsu for seven years and currently trains at Ralph Gracie Jiu Jitsu in the Inner Sunset. “It’s been really useful because I can walk down the street and feel safe, and it’s not a false sense of security,” Crocker said. “I feel I could defend myself even if I didn’t have a weapon on me or I could defend others in a situation where I wanted to help someone.”

“It’s been really useful because I can walk down the street and feel safe, and it’s not a false sense of security.”

Not everyone has access to similar self-defense training, but Lowell has the ability to successfully make self-defense instruction available for our freshman physical education classes. The effects of teaching self-defense units have the potential to be far-reaching and important, as 97–98 percent of Lowell students graduate and move on to college, where, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 16 men experience sexual assault. Self-defense can significantly reduce the probability and risk of injury for these types of attacks, according to the National Institute of Justice.

In order to meet state standards, Lowell’s freshman PE classes include a variety of athletic activities, from archery to biking and yoga to pickleball. One of these units is combatives, which “Includes self-defense, kickboxing, wrestling, and other forms such as kung fu and jiu jitsu,” according to PE department head Michael Prutz. These forms of combatives fulfill the flexibility, muscular strength and endurance, and aerobic fitness requirements outlined in the state-wide Physical Education Instructional Program.

All ninth grade PE classes currently incorporate combatives’ cardio kickboxing component, but only a handful cover self-defense specifically. “We worked on basic punching and kicking and a little pushing and dodging, but no strictly self-defense work,” sophomore Chloe O’Keefe said, when recalling the combatives unit she took last year.

Though combatives is part of the California Board of Education’s possible curriculum for freshman PE, not all Lowell PE classes incorporate the self-defence aspect of this component into their courses. Due to self-defense’s appropriate athletic rigor and room in the curriculum, all ninth grade PE classes at Lowell and throughout San Francisco Unified School District should be required to include brief self-defense units.


In recent years, several PE teachers have decided to introduce self-defense as part of combatives, and have found their efforts successful. Three years ago, freshman PE teacher Cambria Gersten began tacking self-defense training onto the end of her kickboxing unit. In addition to the ordinary punching and kicking combinations students are taught, Gersten’s classes now also receive specific lessons regarding self-defense topics, such as escape methods to employ when grabbed by an assailant. Beginning last year, she has started bringing in the professional assistance of jiu jitsu instructor Carlos Sapão to lead this portion of the unit. Though Gersten was initially a little nervous about how her students would react to the jiu jitsu, she was surprised at how well it went.

“Lowell is pretty safe, but you never know when you might need to defend yourself.”

Self-defense units such as Gersten’s have been met with positive responses from students. For example, sophomore Brandon Martinez’s ninth- grade PE class focussed on how to block and evade attacks during their combatives unit, and he considers his training worthwhile. “It’s good to be ready for anything,” Martinez said. “Lowell is pretty safe, but you never know when you might need to defend yourself.”