Leo Istas Abstract, July 2017 Conference

Martial Education in German Curricula: From Nazi Reich to Present Day

Physical education curricula have a long tradition in the history of the German public school system. Although military exercises and marching were part of German curricula long before Hitler’s rise to power, martial arts – in particular boxing – were first introduced under Nazi rule in 1937. With the collapse of the Reich and the subsequent division of the remains of Germany, the national curriculum for physical education was replaced by a variety of different curricula. Whilst the curricula in the federal West German states did not include martial arts for several decades to come, the East German curriculum early promoted martial arts as an important feature of socialist education. In the West, martial arts were first reintroduced in the 1980 curriculum of North Rhine-Westphalia, which officially made judo and fencing optional subjects. In 1999, nearly one decade after the reunification of East and West Germany, North Rhine-Westphalia spearheaded a new wave of curricular revisions which led to an ongoing reconsideration of martial arts in all federal states.

Apart from highlighting important events in the historical development of German curricula, the presentation will address political, pedagogical and societal perspectives on martial arts in physical education.


Leo Istas (born 1986) studied history, physical education and English at the University of Cologne and is currently working on his doctoral thesis at the German Sport University Cologne. Since 2014, he is an active member of the German Society of Sport Science’s Martial Arts Commission and has researched and published on martial arts-related developments in North Rhine-Westphalian curricula. Besides researching for his stipendium-funded dissertation project, in which he analyzes the status quo of martial arts in North Rhine-Westphalian physical education classes, he teaches boxing classes at the German Sport University Cologne.