Executive Protection Academy

Executive Protection Academy

Why don't protectors react as trained in real situations?

Article written by
Ivan Ivanovich and Dr. Cecilio Andrade.

For decades, the training that has defined executive protection has been the use of firearms and hand-to-hand combat techniques. Course advertisements are replete with practitioners firing with all types of weapons and practicing various martial techniques, from krav maga to Brazilian jujitsu. These basic trainings are mandatory for all protectors, from employees of small security companies to members of renowned protection institutions such as the U.S. Secret Service, Israeli Security, British Security, Japanese Security, to name a few.

But what happens to all these outstanding protectors when faced with a surprise attack at close range in real situations, such as public events or other types of exhibitions? One would assume that these highly trained agents would draw their weapons and fire effective shots, or use some of the techniques of krav maga or aikido to subdue the aggressors. However, this does not happen in real situations.

We have analyzed 132 cases of attacks against prominent public figures in the last 123 years in 60 countries, and to our surprise, we found that in the cases where there was a surprise attack at close range none of the protectors analyzed, including the most famed members of the US Secret Service or Israeli Security, failed to draw their weapons to defend their protégés or use any of the sophisticated martial arts techniques they had been taught. They all did only one thing: they rushed at the armed attacker, even when he was shooting at their protégé (or even after he had killed him), and knocked him to the ground American soccer style, without using any particular technique. This happened in Russia in 1918, in Japan in 2023, in Italy in 1926, in Germany in 1990, in the United States in 1933, in Israel in 1995, in South Africa in 1960 and in France in 2002, to mention just a few examples that show that, regardless of their nationality, distance in time, country, continent, type of training, type of weaponry, operational conditions, age, etc., they all carried out the same action, totally opposite to what they had been taught.

It is relevant to mention that, despite the great danger this represented and how exposed they were, none of the protectors were injured or killed when executing this action, and they always succeeded in subduing the aggressor, although in many cases the aggressor had already killed the protégé, as in the case of the Prime Minister of Israel Yitzah Rabin in 1995 and the former Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe in 2022.

Simplifying, we can say that there are two types of reactions: learned reactions and instinctive reactions. Learned reactions are those that protectors acquire through practice and repetition. These are the reactions of drawing the weapon and firing, blocking and striking, or performing a key or control technique, among others. Instinctive reactions are those that come to us from the dawn of humanity, where the most primitive system of the human brain acts, which focuses mainly on activating our arms and hands to put them between the threat and the rest of our body in order to protect it (of course there are many other instinctive reactions, but we highlight this one for the purposes of this brief informative article).

What is evident is that, in such rapid attacks and at such short distances, the most primitive system takes over, blocks all other learned reactions and activates the most primitive reactions to eliminate the threat. Without time to think, analyze or even assess the danger, the protector lunges at the attacker with the instinct of a predator, just as a lion pounces on a gazelle, knocks it to the ground and overpowers it. The study shows that no matter how much training is done in these specific situations, all training will be blocked and the most primitive reaction will prevail.

It is important to adapt the training of executive protection agents to take into account these primitive and evolutionary reactions. We cannot control these impulses, but we can manage them and redirect them toward more effective responses. It is necessary to look for ways of training that allow us to direct these instinctive impulses toward more appropriate actions in real executive protection situations. Achieving results in these trainings is certainly difficult, but not impossible.

We need to base both our operations and training on real studies and experiences, to abandon the movie fantasies that have caused so much damage, and to create a real and effective training and operation that will make this profession more effective and safer for both protectees and protectors.


These reactions occur in the specific operating conditions described above. In other situations and circumstances the learned reactions are effective and necessary.

This article is made in collaboration with Dr. Cecilio Andrade, a recognized international expert in security and executive protection of Spanish origin.