Karate for GCSE and A Level?

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It was once possible to choose karate or judo as a PE module for GCSE and A Level certification. The grade required in karate for GCSE was 8th to 7th kyu (yellow or orange belt) and the grade required for A Level was 6th to 5th kyu (green or blue belt).

Sadly these options were scrapped in February 2015 along with a few other subjects which the government felt were too niche and difficult for teachers to assess. It’s also difficult to find full time instructors, like myself, who will teach karate during the day.

But with karate included in the Japan 2020 Olympics, and Great Britain having some of the best karateka (karate students) in the World, there’s a strong case for it return to the school PE syllabus. There are many associations currently lobbying the government and hopefully karate will be reinstated before long.

In some countries, karate tuition in schools is very popular. In Canada, High School teacher Andy Allen, was asked by his principle to develop a credit course called Martial Arts 11. In the province of Nova Scotia, Canada, all high school students must have one physical education based credit in order to graduate.  Students at Charles P. Allen High School  can choose from mainstream Physical Education, Physically Active Living, Dance, Yoga, Fitness Leadership or Martial Arts.

What’s so different about Martial Arts 11 is that it’s not just a physical education based course. Obviously much time is spent on perfecting the physical skills, techniques and conditioning expected of a good karateka. However part of this course is academic and includes dojo kun (the guiding principles of karate), Japanese history, bushido, haiku poetry and conflict resolution.

Karate is an ancient form of combat developed with underlying principles of self-discovery and self-improvement. The ultimate aim of karate training was to aspire to live by a set of core beliefs and values including courage, loyalty, self-control, honour and justice.

These guiding principles, taught in dojo kun, are an important element in karate training but they seem to be have been lost over the years as more clubs steered away from the development of character and more towards sport karate and the pursuit of medals.

Sensei Andy Allen has found that it’s not usually the naturally gifted athletes who sign up for Martial Arts 11. Many of his students have previously struggled with physical activities so it’s highly rewarding to help them tap into undiscovered talents and develop new skills.

It’s well documented how karate training has helped many children develop confidence, self-control, discipline, fitness, co-ordination, respect and an inner stillness. With the problems our youth currently face on the streets, I think bringing back karate as a PE module is definitely a step in the right direction.


Sensei Stephen O’Brien