Europe

Polish army to teach women self-defence for free

Polish female army recruits in self-defence class (Polish Defence Ministry) Image copyright Polish Defence Ministry
Image caption Women of Poland's Pomeranian Mechanised Division are shown here in training

The Polish defence ministry is launching free nationwide classes for women to learn unarmed combat.

The classes will start at 30 military facilities, running from 19 November until 3 June. Polish army instructors will provide the training.

The techniques will include defensive postures, how to break holds, and guards against kicks, strangulation and assaults with a weapon.

Some Poles see the initiative more as a way for the army to promote its image.

The ministry says it is the first time the military has offered such a nationwide programme. It is open to all Polish women aged 18 or above who are in good health.

A former special forces commander, Roman Polko, told the Dziennik Polski news website that it was not the army's job to teach citizens unarmed combat. He said it could be a way to spot potential recruits for the armed forces. But learning aikido or jujitsu moves "won't win a war," he said.

Another critic, Krakow journalist Marcin Ogdowski, said the lessons "have a propaganda dimension". He said women's self-defence classes should be run by the police, rather than the military.

Image copyright Polish Defence Ministry
Image caption It is not yet clear how many Polish women will undergo unarmed combat training

Territorial defence

Launching the programme, Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz said the aim was to teach women "basic fighting techniques and, above all, improve overall physical fitness". "We invite the ladies, there are still places - there are no age limits," he said.

Participants must have their own medical insurance and a letter freeing the defence ministry from any injury claims.

Mr Macierewicz is also setting up a 35,000-strong paramilitary Territorial Defence Force. He described it as a defence against Russian aggression and a way to promote patriotism.

Poland and its Nato neighbours in the Baltic region have voiced alarm about Russia's military assertiveness, especially Russia's role in the Ukraine conflict. They fear encroachments like Russia's March 2014 annexation of Crimea.

They are exploring ways to counter "hybrid" warfare of the kind that led parts of Ukraine to break away and pledge loyalty to Russia.

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