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What You Should Know about Self-Defense Seminars for EMS Providers

Effective self defense is easy to learn, easy to remember and easy to execute in a stressful situation. (Photos by the author.)

As violent encounters continue to threaten the safety and well-being of EMS personnel across the country, self-defense seminars marketed specifically to EMS have become increasingly popular. Is it possible, however, for someone without any previous training to be able to defend themselves against a violent patient after attending one of these seminars?

Or do these seminars offer nothing more than a dangerous false sense of security? This article looks at the physical and mental aspects of self-defense, so that you can make an informed decision as to the practicality and reality of defending yourself after participating in one of these seminars.

Whether on or off duty, you have the legal right to protect yourself from harm by use of reasonable force. Effective self defense consists of four elements situational awareness, mental preparation, physical conditioning and self-defense techniques that are easy to learn and practical for your skill level. If any one of these elements is missing from your training or are not given enough time to develop, self-defense is unlikely to be successful.


Although situational awareness is not innate, we develop this survival skill over time through education and experience. The first rule of self-defense is avoidance. We continually avoid dangerous or potentially dangerous situations by simply recognizing them and averting the situation. However, we don’t always have that option when seemingly routine calls can quickly turn violent.

Being cognizant of people, situations, the environment, as well as having the ability to recognize cues or behaviors that may lead to violent outbursts, helps to keep crews safe. Situational awareness is perhaps the easiest and most effective skill that can be taught in a self-defense seminar, as it does not require physical conditioning or skills to utilize. 


To be mentally prepared to defend yourself means that you have resolved any internal conflicts that would prevent you from inflicting harm on another person to protect yourself or someone else. Self-defense requires a quick-spirited response to ward off an attacker. Unresolved conflict can result in hesitation or panic resulting in inaction, which can have devastating consequences.

Just as the military mentally prepares soldiers for combat, self-defense instructors must also mentally prepare their students to defend themselves. Any self-defense training that does not stress the importance of mental preparation should raise a red flag.

There are several ways that instructors mentally prepare students to defend themselves. Regardless of which one is taught, the goal is to change a person’s mindset from that of a victim to one where a person will aggressively defend themselves without hesitation.


Physical conditioning is necessary in order to possess the speed and power required for self-defense techniques to be effective. Physical conditioning includes exercises to improve strength and drills to develop speed, power and accuracy. Physical conditioning takes time to develop and requires regular training to maintain.  


“Under pressure, you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training.

That’s why we train so hard”. This quote by an anonymous Navy SEAL applies as much to self-defense training as it does to Navy SEAL training. Because you react as you train, training must be as realistic and practical as possible, so that you can defend yourself without hesitation in stressful situations.

One of the most effective types of self-defense is termed hit-and-run self-defense. Hit-and-run self-defense utilizes fundamental techniques against an attacker’s anatomical weak points. The techniques are easy to learn, easy to recall and easy to execute under stress. The objective is to disable an attacker just long enough to be able to escape danger and summon help.

Anatomical weak points are targets that can incapacitate an attacker without having to generate a huge amount of force. (Illustration by the author.)

Situational awareness and simple uncomplicated techniques are the hallmarks of hit and run self-defense. To be effective self-defense techniques must be practiced repeatedly. Repetition builds speed, power, accuracy and muscle memory. Muscle memory allows for self-defense techniques to be executed quickly without conscious thought (an unconscious competence).

In addition to the techniques themselves training must be realistic. Realistic training places a person in situations that elicit an acute stress or ‘fight-or-flight’ response. When a person feels scared or threatened, the body reacts by activating the sympathetic nervous system which causes both physiological and psychological responses. These responses include an increase in alertness, heart rate, respiratory rate, muscle tension, and sharper senses, particularly sight and hearing.

Training to react under realistic stressful conditions is called stress inoculation. Stress inoculation training is common in the military, law enforcement and firefighting. The intent of stress inoculation training is to recognize and manage the stress response so that fear and panic don’t overwhelm a person and prevent them from being able to defend themselves.

If you have had no previous self-defense or martial arts training, you should have realistic expectations as to what can be accomplished in a self-defense seminar. Situational awareness, learning fundamental striking and a few basic escapes are a good start. However, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

Knowing what your limitations are can prevent you from having a false sense of security and placing yourself in unnecessary danger. There are no short cuts. Training to learn how to defend yourself takes time and dedication. Self-defense seminars are structured more toward individuals with previous martial arts training. If you have no previous training and would like to learn to defend yourself consider joining a martial arts gym or a Krav Maga class. Not only will you learn and be able to maintain self-defense skills, but it’s a great way to stay in top physical condition.