Lessons from an assassin
Even if you aren’t working to become a killing machine like the guys in the new movie American Assassin, you can still learn a lot from the man who trains them.
How a pro would do it
JOOST JANSSEN is not an assassin. Real assassins don’t tend to respond to interview requests. But he is a close second: a US Navy SEAL for 13 years, and currently an instructor at BUD/S, the school that SEAL candidates attend. He’s also the military adviser for American Assassin, a brutal thriller about a CIA recruit whose fiancée is killed in a terrorist attack. That man is trained by a legendary operative played by Michael Keaton, and Keaton was trained by Janssen.
Janssen says one of the mantras of SEAL training is “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” People trying to learn combat skills aim to be quick, especially actors who want to seem lethal. But the jerky, stuttering movements of someone trying to go too fast are less efficient and accurate.
Save your pistol for indoors.
Pistols are ineffective at long range, so don’t bother with them in sniper situations. But “indoors, if your rifle misfires or runs out, you transition immediately to your pistol”, Janssen says.
Hand-to- hand combat wears you out.
In actual close-quarters combat, Janssen says, “There is no 35- to 90-second exchange of sweeping kicks.” You’ll get exhausted, often in as little as ten seconds.
Don’t go for the carotid.
In the original script, Keaton’s character ordered trainees: “Go for the carotid.” Janssen pointed out that this would make a mess, possibly allow the victim to call for help, and leave them with the potential to fight for another 30 to 40 seconds. Instead he suggested puncturing the trachea.
Train yourself to react.
The SEALS use a training process called a hooded box drill: the trainer uses a string to raise the head covering of a hooded trainee, suddenly presenting him with an unexpected situation. “It could be a young woman asking you for directions to Mcdonald’s, or it could be ten guys, one with a fist already halfway to your face,” says Janssen. “You just have to deal with it.”
Handle the pain.
In American Assassin, the trainees wear electrodes that shock them if they shoot virtual good guys or innocent bystanders. The technology is an exaggeration, but in real life, Janssen learnt to ignore pain in exercises with live weaponry firing plastic, paint-filled bullets. Civilians put through the same drill shut down. “Their brain has already told them, ‘If you’re hit by something from a gun, you’re out,’ and their bodies automatically do that,” he says. Good way to prematurely-end a career as an assassin.