in: Manly Know-How, Podcast, Skills

• Last updated: September 30, 2021

Podcast #513: Be Your Own Bodyguard

If you’ve ever been at an event with a prominent person like a politician, celebrity, or business executive, you’ve likely noticed the dudes wearing sunglasses and sporting an earpiece, trying to look as unassuming as possible while vigilantly keeping an eye out for their client, or “principal.”

These guys are part of a personal security detail, and their job is to protect VIPs from harassment and harm.

Most of us will likely never be able to afford our own bodyguard, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use the same mindset and skills these professionals use to protect their high-powered clients, to protect ourselves and our loved ones. 

Today on the show, I talk to former executive bodyguard Nick Hughes about his book How to Be Your Own Bodyguard. We begin our conversation discussing Nick’s stint in the French Foreign Legion and how that transitioned to his work in executive protection. We then discuss how a bodyguard’s primary focus is to prevent violence or altercations from occurring in the first place and the tactics that can accomplish that goal. Nick walks us through how criminals pick out their victims, and how to avoid being targeted. We then discuss how to verbally defuse a situation before it turns to blows and the legal ramifications of self-defense. We end our conversation with tactics you can use to stay safe, whether you’re vacationing abroad or driving the streets of your hometown. 

Show Highlights

  • Nick’s experience in the French Foreign Legion 
  • The realities of bodyguarding as a profession
  • Why prevention is the first key to keeping yourself safe 
  • What can people do to increase their chances of not being selected as a victim?
  • Developing your situational awareness
  • The problem of task fixation 
  • Defusing verbal altercations 
  • The importance of having a full range of self-defense tools 
  • Getting the lay of the land in a new environment 
  • Isn’t all this stuff a form of paranoia? 
  • Imagery rehearsal 
  • The legal ramifications of self-defense 
  • Staying safe in your hotel room 
  • Maintaining situational awareness while driving 

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

Book Cover of "How to be your own bodyguard" by Nick Hughes.

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Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness Podcast. If you’ve ever been in an event where there’s a prominent person like a politician, celebrity, or business executive, you’ve likely noticed the dudes wearing sunglasses and sporting an earpiece trying to look as unassuming as possible while vigilantly keeping an eye out for their client, or what’s also called the principal. These guys are part of a personal security detail, and their job is to protect VIPs from harassment and harm. Most of us will likely never be able to afford our own bodyguard, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use the same mindset and skills these professionals use to protect their high-power clients, to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

Today on the show, I talk to a former executive bodyguard, his name is Nick Hughes, about his book How to Be Your Own Bodyguard. We begin our conversation discussing Nick’s stint in the French Foreign Legion and how that transitioned to his work in executive protection. We then discuss how a bodyguard’s primary focus is to prevent violence or altercations from occurring in the first place and the tactics that can accomplish that goal. Nick walks us through how criminals pick their victims and how to avoid being targeted. We then discuss how to verbally defuse a situation before it turns to blows and the legal ramifications of self-defense. We end our conversation with tactics you can use to stay safe whether you’re vacationing abroad or driving the streets of your hometown. After the show is over, check out our show notes at Nick joins me now via

All right, Nick Hughes, welcome to the show.

Nick Hughes: Thanks, mate. Great to be here.

Brett McKay: You wrote a book, How to Be Your Own Bodyguard. Before we get to the content of that book and how we can do a better job of defending ourselves and our family, let’s talk about your background, because it’s really interesting. You served in the French Foreign Legion. This is a military organization that I think a lot of people have heard of. I mean, I’ve seen it just referenced in pop culture. I think there was a Pepe Le Pew cartoon where he joins the French Foreign Legion. But a lot of people don’t know a lot about it, so what is the French Foreign Legion?

Nick Hughes: Well, in a nutshell, it was set up in 1831 by King Louis Philippe in France. The French, like a lot of other countries, the English, the Dutch, the Portuguese, were all running around the world setting up their empires. The French were all through Africa. War was wiping out the troops and so was malaria, which they didn’t know what the cause was at that point, but it was decimating their garrisons and the king went, “We need more soldiers, and we can’t get them.” He said, “What if we use foreigners?”

His advisors said, “Why the hell would a foreigner want to come and fight for France?” He said, “Well, we’ll set up a legion of them, and we will give them a fresh start. They can be wanted for murder, they can be wanted for any sort of crime, on the run, for anyone who wants a second chance at life. We’ll give them a fake name. And if they serve for five years with us, they get the right to French citizenship. That wasn’t promising a lot in those days because most guys didn’t make it through the five years.

That’s essentially how it started, and it’s been around ever since.

Brett McKay: Are those rules still in… I mean, that’s a myth around it that you can have any type of background and you can join. Is that still in place?

Nick Hughes: Yeah, that changed. Warfare changed. You now need guys who are a hell of a lot more smarter than fix a bayonet and run at a machine gun nest. They got the opportunity to pick and choose. They no longer take murderers. If you’re guilty of any sort of felony, basically, anywhere in the world, the Legion works hand in glove with Interpol and the French gendarmes. We’d have guys try and join, and they usually tell them, “Look, you can turn yourself in, and that’s going to go better for you, or we can turn you in.”

The French government still works on that basis that they used to do here and in England, where you get convicted of something, shoplifting, steal a purse, steal a car, and the judge would offer you, “Look, you can go join the military or you can go to prison.” Of course, a lot of guys would opt for the military. The French still do that. But capital crimes, yeah, you can’t get in. That is one of the myths.

Brett McKay: But it’s still a legion that’s just for foreigners, correct?

Nick Hughes: Yeah, they say that. Legally, a French kid is not allowed to join, but the Legion is made up of about, when I was in there, about 40% of them are French. The way they get around that is they give that kid an ID card saying he’s from Belgium or he’s from Switzerland or he’s Canadian. That way, if he’s stopped on the train by a guard and he starts talking perfectly fluent French, that explains why.

Brett McKay: What drew you to joining the French Foreign Legion? How old were you when that happened?

Nick Hughes: 24. I was with a karate organization in Australia that their whole focus was on security and self-defense and the practical side of martial arts as opposed to tournaments. We had schools across the country. We did all the crowd control work, had pretty much every single nightclub in every major city in the country. Our guys were the bouncers. We did bodyguard work for every visiting rock and roll band, and some of those guys are still working with those bands to this day.

I got into that side and loved it, but I wanted to go to the next level, which was diplomatic protection. We didn’t have any in Australia at that time. Even the prime minister of Australia had an old retired cop walking around with a wheel gun was his whole security, because we’d never had any terrorism or anything. Everyone told me who was in the industry, “You’re going to have to go to America or Europe because that’s where the market is.”

I landed in England because my grandparents are English, so it was easier to get into there than the States. I went around to a couple of agencies that furnished these bodyguards for people and found out that they only hired people who were ex-special forces, which makes sense when you think about it. I arrived black belt in hand thinking I was ready to go, and they laughed and said, “Come back once you’ve been through the military.” At that point in time in England, this was ’84, so massive unemployment all through Europe, and to get into the British army was about a one-and-a-half-year waiting list to even apply, and then another one and a half before your training started.

I bumped into this Irish guy on one of the bodyguard teams, and he said, “Mate, I was in the Legion.” He said, “If they take you, they’ll take you straightaway.” Popped across, rolled up in the fort in Marseille, and was in three days later.

Brett McKay: Wow. What did you do during your tenure there?

Nick Hughes: Well, wanted to be a paratrooper and a medic. I figured those would be the two best things for my future career. I ended up in the parachute regiment, despite being way too big for French parachutes. I was too heavy. I was over the safe weight limit by about 20 kilos, and I could only just fit inside the harnesses at 6’8″. I’d be the last one out of the door of the plane; I was still the first guy to hit the ground, so I started breaking my feet. At that point, they said, “This isn’t worth it,” and I volunteered to go out to Africa.

When I was in the parachute regiment, I was in their equivalent of the Navy SEALs. We were recon divers. When went to Africa, I got stuck in the same role. I was supposed to go to my medic training out there and ended up getting shoved onto a signals course instead because they were a man short.

Finished the contract five years later and rolled out. I had a job ready to go. When I was on leave, I’d done a bodyguard training course with a group in England run by some ex-SAS guys, and they told me, “When you get done, give us a call.” We were writing back and forth as the end of contract approached, and I had a job waiting. Pretty much two days after I got out of the camp, I was working on a gig in London.

Brett McKay: Before the French Foreign Legion, you said you were doing bodyguard stuff for rock bands and things like that, and you wanted to get into the diplomatic sphere. Did that happen after you finished your contract with the French Foreign Legion?

Nick Hughes: Yes. Yeah, those guys in England, it’s a whole different ballgame. There’s two aspects of bodyguarding. You’ve got the guys that work executive protection, diplomatic protection, so they’re looking after politicians and businessmen. Then you have these guys that look after celebrities. They’re almost two completely separate industries.

I was one of the rare few that could cross over. I looked after a bunch of rock and roll bands, both in London and over here in the States. I could also go and work with the executives and the corporate and the VIPs. I did a lot of work for the Saudi royal family, and I’d look after a band like Warrant a month later. Then I was in Russia looking after Peter Max, the artist.

I could sort of flip back and forth. I think that was largely because I’d done the rock and roll stuff in Australia, so I knew what was required. Then I got trained up in the VIP executive protection stuff by the SAS guys, so I could slide into that role too.

Brett McKay: Are you still doing bodyguard work?

Nick Hughes: Mate, no. I’m too old. I was born at a very early age, and I got out of that industry a long time ago.

Brett McKay: Yeah, I imagine it’s a young man’s game.

Nick Hughes: It is. The other problem with it is… It’s one of those things. I’m sure a lot of us do this. You have this idea in mind of what it’s going to be like to do a certain job, and then when you get into the job, you find out what you imagined it to be and the reality are two different things.

The problem I had with that is you don’t know where the money is coming from. You also have no life of your own. When I was in the Legion, I knew every month I would get X amount of money, and I knew where I was going to be every week and when I’d be back from a mission and when I’d go on a training course and how long I had in this particular regiment. With bodyguarding, you’re sitting around waiting for the phone to ring, you get a job, it ends, you’ve been paid, but now I have to figure out, does this money got to last me for a day because I got another job tomorrow, or does this got to last me for a year and I’m going to have to get some sort of side hustle? Then they don’t tell you when the gig is going to finish, and so the money is hit and miss.

What I meant by you have no life of your own, you know, if I want to go and eat pizza and sit on the beach and the boss wants to go skiing and eat Chinese, guess what we’re doing. I came to the conclusion five or six years later of working on it that it just wasn’t as much fun as I thought it was going to be.

Brett McKay: You transitioned to training people on self-defense.

Nick Hughes: I actually started tattooing people first. I had met a tattoo artist when I was looking after Warrant. He came out on the road and would tattoo all the band members. I do art. I’ve done it my whole life. I’ve actually sold watercolor paintings. He looked at my sketchbook and said, “Man, if you ever want to learn how to tattoo, I’ll teach you.” I sort of stuck that in the back of my head, “Yeah, well, when am I ever going to do that?”

When I got out of bodyguarding, I thought, “Well, hell, I’ll go back to the Legion,” because I enjoyed it. You’re being paid to live and work in the south of France and Africa, and you’re being paid to jump out of planes, shoot, and scuba dive, and all that stuff that people pay a fortune to do on civvy street. I thought, “Man, if I could learn to tattoo and do that while I was in the Legion, I have my equipment under the bed and then after hours, work on guys, that would be my side hustle.

I called him up and he said, “Yeah, get your butt over here,” and I ended up in the States. Plan was to work with him for three months, learn the ropes, and go back in the Legion. Then I met my now-ex-wife, and that changed the whole thing.

Brett McKay: Sure. Let’s get to your book, How to Be Your Own Bodyguard, because this is basically you’ve taken your insights you’ve learned from firsthand experience from the French Foreign Legion and doing bodyguard for VIPs and how just regular citizens, civilians, can apply this to their own lives. I thought what was great about your book is that you spent a lot of time talking about self-defense before the altercation occurs. I think a lot of people when they talk and think about I got to learn how to defend myself, they think about the actual moment of physical altercation, the punch, someone draws a weapon, but you’ve highlighted in the book, as a bodyguard, your job is to even just prevent that from happening in the first place.

Nick Hughes: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. When I went through bodyguard training and we’re doing so much of the focus… Again, this is that image we have, right? I’m going to learn how to shoot guns, I’m going to run cars through roadblocks, jump out of helicopters, do all this crap. You’re in there, and you’re learning pretty much the entire job is about avoidance.

So I’m going to take a client down, someone from an American company is going to open up a factory in South America and they’ve got to go down there and do the ribbon cutting, well, the risk there is he’s going to get kidnapped. Of course, it’s announced in the local newspapers that he’s going to be visiting. So we have to have an advance team go down, and you do a threat analysis and you try and work out who the bad actors are down there. It’s all about preventing any sort of conflict whatsoever.

I’m comparing that to all the self-defense. I’d trained, lived in, and worked in 26 different countries around the world, and everywhere I went, I would find the local martial arts school and train. I’ve trained in judo, jiu-jitsu, aikido, karate, 50 different styles. Everywhere I’d lob up, I’d train with them, and it’s always the same thing. You start with the attack.

I was sitting there in the bodyguard course, one of them… I’ve done three. I’m sitting on the course one day going, “Why is no one teaching this to civilians? Why are they all learning, oh, the guy has got you in a headlock or he’s strangling or he’s coming at you with a knife, when so much of it starts way before that?”

I started to analyze it all, and I thought, why not give this knowledge to the people that need it? The average person goes on vacation and they’re going to be targeted, and they can’t afford a bodyguard team. We’re expensive.

So I decided to put that information in for them, and it comes in… If you’ve read the book, you’ve read the bit about SIVA, which was the acronym I came up for. All crime essentially starts with… S stands for selection of the victim, and then they isolate the victim, then they use some sort of verbal patter to approach close enough to launch their attack.

If you break it down that way, 75% of self-defense is learning how not to be selected, being careful when you’re isolated or alone, how to deal with that verbal altercation. Only 25% is the actual what we call hard skills or fighting your way out of something. I figured, just like in bodyguarding, if you do the 75% correctly, the chances of you needing the hard skills are almost nonexistent. That’s what the book is bat.

Brett McKay: Well, let’s walk through that SIVA acronym. Selection. What can people do to increase the chances that they’re not selected as a victim of a crime?

Nick Hughes: Okay. The first thing I would recommend is you read a study by a couple called Grayson and Stein. That was fascinating. They filmed 100 people walking down the street. They took the film, and they went into people who prey on other humans. They went into the prison system. They interviewed murderers and rapists and muggers, and they arranged time off their sentence if they took part in the study.

They showed the film of these people walking, and they had a little clipboard, and under each person is a number. They’re like, “Tell us who you would pick as victims.” They were stunned when they got the sheets back from a couple hundred of these guys, and they had all picked the same people.

Initially, you’re thinking, “Okay, I bet they’re all tiny,” and they weren’t. Or “I bet they’re all women,’ and they weren’t. Some of these guys they chose were big guys. Some were women. It had nothing to do with color. It had nothing to do with size. It had nothing to do with religion. It was purely based on how you carried yourself.

That dovetails with something that’s close to my heart, which is bullying. I have a teen class at my Krav Maga school because I was actually bullied when I went to school. One of the things I know with the anti-bully movement here that’s largely ineffective is these parents get angry that the school isn’t doing enough and they take the kid out of the school and put him into another one, and what do we know happens? Two months later, that kid is being bullied again. You can put him in six different schools, and he’s just going to get bullied every single time he goes somewhere new and shows up, because of this study, that he’s carrying himself the same way, which is a trigger to the bullies.

Further to that, there’s a more recent study now out of England where someone said, “Well, does bullying stop when you leave school?” They tracked all these kids that had been bullied at school and found out that they were victims of bullying in the workplace, cyberbullying, they were more likely to be mugged, they were more likely to have their houses broken into, and so on.

Number one is the way you carry yourself. There’s a bunch of stuff in the study that, if you read it online, goes into the details of the things they found. Basically, these people don’t walk at the same pace as other people and they don’t have the same gait that other people have. That’s one part of it.

Another part is fairly obvious, trying to be the gray man, which is a term that comes from the spook industry. You want to be the guy that doesn’t stand out, doesn’t draw attention to himself, flits into somewhere. He’s at the party for a couple of hours meeting everyone, getting information. He leaves, and no one ever remembers what he looked like or who he was.

Then there are some more obvious ones like leave the valuable jewelry at home. Don’t go rolling into some third-world, very, very poor country with gold Rolexes on and great big cameras hanging around your neck because you’re setting yourself up. You’re advertising, basically, “Hey, take me.”

Another thing is pay attention to your surroundings. That’s probably one of the biggest. Criminals are looking for opportunity. We call it task fixation. If you’re sitting there staring at ATM screen, staring at the gas nozzle that you’ve got in the car while you’re pumping gas, if you’re looking down at your phone, it makes it very easy for the bad guy to approach and take your stuff. One of the biggest things is just pay attention to your surroundings at all times.

Brett McKay: I imagine you can apply this selection idea to your house, as well, to prevent burglaries and home invasions. You want to present your house in a way that it’s not robabble, or it doesn’t look desirable to rob or whatever.

Nick Hughes: Yeah. All crime fits that parameter. It doesn’t matter if it’s an attack on a person. We teach it that way because the students that come to me are primarily interested in self-defense of themselves. Yeah, every single crime, whether it’s a carjacking or a burglary, it starts with choosing what sort of a car do I want to jack or what house am I going to break into.

One of the ways they’ll go for your house, for example, is… This is one of the ones we talk in isolation in SIVA. If you go to a big box store to buy your 60-inch TV, pay particular attention when you’re driving home that you’re not being followed, because this is how these guys go shopping. Sells it at the big store, they watch you come out with the TV, put it in, and they follow you home. Now they know you’ve got a brand-new TV inside the house, and that’s obviously going to make you a target.

There’s parts of the country where that’s massively prevalent. They’ll even hit you in the driveway when you get to the house. They don’t even wait to break in. They just walk right up on the driveway, pull guns, and take the stuff and drive away.

Brett McKay: Geez. Related to that, one tip I’ve heard is at Christmastime, be careful of putting boxes out on your driveway.

Nick Hughes: Yep.

Brett McKay: You’re basically advertising, “Oh, I got this thing and this thing and this thing.” Don’t do that.

Nick Hughes: Yeah. Cut the boxes up. Get a box cutter, cut them up into small pieces, and stick it inside black trash bags. Don’t stick the big box. That’s absolutely correct.

Brett McKay: All right. Let’s move on to isolation. That’s just a matter of don’t become isolated because that’s dangerous.

Nick Hughes: Well, I mean, it comes down to the old saying, right? There’s safety in numbers. I tell my female students, if you’re going to go shopping, call up one of your girlfriends and go with her. It’s a lot harder as a predator to control two people than it is to control one. Controlling three becomes even more problematic. That’s taken straight out of scuba diving, the old buddy rule.

The other thing is practice a lot of what we call countersurveillance and situational awareness when you’re in that situation because it’s when most people tune out. A lot of crime happens on the periphery of tourist events. If you’ve got a fireworks display downtown, for example, criminals will go there because it’s like the watering hole on the African plains. Predatory animals go to the watering hole to get dinner because all the animals are going to be at the watering hole.

Criminals who are going to target you will go to where there’s a crowd event like that, and they love it when your attention is distracted. You’re sitting there looking at the fireworks and all that stuff, so they’ll pick you out.

Now you leave to walk… This is where all the crimes happen. You cut through the alley to the parking lot to go where you parked your car, and this is when most people switch off. The fireworks display is over, the nightclub shut down, now they’re walking along checking the messages on their phone again, and they’re oblivious to the fact that the guy comes up and gets them.

That’s telling, because I work with a lot of law enforcement officers and I’ve trained some of the local SWAT teams on executive protection, and one of the things we’re always talking about is how many victims of crime will say, “Oh, the guy came out of nowhere.” Merlin the Magician isn’t running around mugging people. It appeared as if he came out of nowhere because you had your head up your ass and the guy was able to approach you because of this task fixation problem. Had you been paying attention, had you had your head up and been looking around, he wouldn’t have been able to do it and he would’ve picked someone else.

Brett McKay: Sometimes criminals, they will just maybe pickpocket, steal from you without even talking to you, but that SIVA part, there is often a verbal interview that occurs. What is the criminal trying to do with that verbal interview?

Nick Hughes: Well, let me go back to the pickpocket thing. It’s actually funny. Pickpockets will use verbal. A lot of times, they won’t. The actual pickpocket, what they call a dip, will come up and bump you and take your stuff.

But there have been many instances where, and this is a classic, the guy will be on the subway and he’ll yell out to the entire carriage, “Hey, everybody, check your stuff. I’ve just noticed I’ve had my wallet picked.” Of course, everyone on the train now pats their pocket to make sure their wallet is there. Well, that guy is part of a team, and they’re all watching everybody on the train to see where they pat.

If we watch you pat your back pocket, and your wife lifts her handbag and looks inside, and someone else pats his jacket pocket, now we know where the wallets are, so we don’t have to waste time; we can just go right up against you when the train stops at the next garage and everyone is getting out. Those guys are that good. They don’t care that they forewarned you.

I mention in the book there’s a sign in India across the alleyway between all the American hotels, and it’s written in about 50 different languages, that said, “Watch out for pickpockets.” It was the pickpockets who put the sign up, because, again, you do that same thing. You see the sign, and you go, “Oh my God,” and you pat wherever your wallet happens to be. All you’ve done is told them where it is, so you just make their job easier.

Back to the verbal, yeah, it’s used as a distraction technique. I was talking to some of the local cops that were doing undercover work about eight years ago. We had a spate of muggings downtown when people were leaving the nightclubs, and so these cops would put some money hanging out of their pocket, pretend they were drunk, stick a gold Rolex on, and stumble down the road. They had earpieces and microphones waiting to catch these guys.

But when they talked to the victims, they found out that a lot of these guys were still using the classic “Have you got the time?” Of course, if you ask me that, I’ve either got to look down at my watch or, if you’re a member of the Snapchat generation, you pull your phone out and look at the screen of the phone. Again, you’re taking your attention away from them and looking at something else, which gives them the opportunity to launch.

Brett McKay: Besides that, as a distraction, you talk about in the book, sometimes they will just yell or try to intimidate you basically.

Nick Hughes: Called fronting, yep. That’s no different again. There’s so many comparisons to wild animals. When a wild animal is about to attack, it does that big screaming roar, and it causes that momentary flinch in its prey and it enables the animal to get close enough.

You’ll get this thing where the guys will start screaming and yelling at you in your face. Again, it’s an intimidation thing. No one likes being yelled at. They’ll scream so violently and stick their chin in your face that the average person who’s not experienced with non-consensual violence freezes and then gets done.

Then there’s a whole aspect of verbal which comes under the heading of social violence. This is what Rory Miller calls the monkey dance. We’ve all done this. If a guy goes to a new school, he goes into a military unit, he goes to prison, he goes to anywhere where there’s a group of guys, a new neighborhood, his parents move, he’s going to have to go through this “Who are the new kids?” He’s going to be the interloper trying to join that group, and someone is going to challenge him. There has to be a fight between two of the kids to establish his position in the hierarchy.

The thing with social violence is there are rules attached to it. No one is going to get seriously hurt. They’ll break it up before that happens. You might come home with a black eye and the other kid has got a fat lip, but both sides have sort of… Even if you lose, it doesn’t matter. You stepped up to the plate and showed that you’re willing to defend yourself, and that’s okay. Now the group accepts you.

There’s a lot. When you walk into a bar, like you’re driving across the country and you stop to get directions or grab a drink, then you’re the interloper in that group. A lot of times you’ll run into these clowns that will bump you at the bar like, “What are you looking at? You’re looking at my girlfriend,” “I saw you take my money of the pool table,” “You knocked my beer over. You owe me a beer.” A lot of this starts with that verbal intimidation again.

We cover how to deal with that because if I can say something in that situation to make it worse, which is pretty easy, I can obviously say something that will make it better. We steal from the playbook of the hostage negotiations guys in trying to use some deescalation.

But there is a caveat in that there are people who teach only that. The reality is there are some guys, they’re not talking; they’re just going to walk up and belt you. We got clip after clip of people. They’re usually mental patients off their meds, but they’ll just be walking down the street and they’ll just start randomly stabbing people, for example. Well, you can work on all the verbal dissuasion techniques you like, that’s not going to do you any good in that situation.

Brett McKay: Right. We can talk about some of those verbal defusion techniques here in a bit. But the last part of the sequence is attack, and that can happen in a variety of ways, a shove, a punch, weapons. It could be anything.

Nick Hughes: Yeah, there’s a whole gamut. Like we said, it can be social, it can be asocial. There can be weapons involved. Weapons can be broken down into categories of impact, edged, projectile, chemical. There can be a mob attack. It can be a mob armed with weapons. That’s worst-case scenario.

That’s why there are people who… verbal judo books and stuff that come from the premise of, oh, I can talk my way out of anything. I run into people at parties that tell me that. You can’t. Then there are people who “I carry a gun. Everything is going to be solved with that,” and that’s wrong. To be truly effective at this, you have to have the whole range.

Brett McKay: Have, yeah, multiple tools. Okay, so we’ve went through how a criminal thinks when he’s going through deciding on which victim to select. Let’s talk more about your experience as a bodyguard. Say you walk into a place, or even before you go to a place, like you said earlier, you do a whole bunch of reconnaissance, you get an idea of the type of people that are going to be there, where the entrance and exits are at.

Obviously, someone who’s just defending themselves, their family, they can’t oftentimes have the time to do all that, so what’s something that people could do similar to what a bodyguard would do? Let’s say they’re walking into a restaurant or a bar, and they want to get a lay of the land so they have an idea, have a plan on what to do to protect themselves or the people they’re with.

Nick Hughes: All right. Well, the first thing I always start with before I do anything physical is I’m trying to establish what we call a baseline. If I am in a library, the baseline is everyone is very quiet. If I go to a rock concert, the baseline is everyone is very loud and they’re holding up… in my day, it was cigarette lighters; nowadays, I think they hold up the flashlight on their phone. If I go to a restaurant, depending on the restaurant, there’s going to be another baseline. If I’m on the beach, there’s another baseline. What we’re looking for is any anomaly in the baseline.

If we go back to the Aurora cinema shooting in Colorado, the guy dresses as the Joker, props the back door open. If the theater baseline is we all walk in, people are sitting there eating their popcorn watching the ads, talking, texting last-minute before the movie starts, if I had been sitting in that movie theater and I see the back door propped open, and I see a guy dressed as the Joker coming in and out of the door bringing in equipment, that’s not fitting in the baseline. That would’ve prompted me to get up, go outside, and ask management, “Is there some sort of a show going on with the movie? Is this normal?” Never ignore that baseline if you see anything out of the ordinary.

In my tattoo shop when I first got to the States, this was about ’95, and in the middle of summer, two guys walk in wearing full-length trench coats and sweating profusely. It’s 99 degrees outside. So what’s the baseline? What’s everybody wearing? They’re all in shorts and wife-beaters.

Here come these two guys walking in in coats. Immediately, that sets off the alarm bells, and we turned around. Fortunately, I was showing a friend a new pistol I just bought. We turned around and looked at these guys, and they’re like, “Oh. Oh,” and they bolted. Two days later, we found out another tattoo shop got robbed by two guys in long trench coats.

First thing I’m doing is establishing that baseline. The next thing I want to do is, where are the exits? I mention in the book we used to play a game. All the bodyguards would sit down after a gig was over in England, and someone coming back from the bathroom would grab you, cover your eyes from behind, and go, “Where are the exits?” If you couldn’t point to them all with your eyes closed, you had to buy dinner. Being aware of where they are is a big deal.

Then the next thing I’m always doing is sitting down… Any girl that’s ever dated a cop or an ex-military guy has run into this. We sit with our back to the wall so we can see who’s coming in and out of the restaurant, again, any advance warning you can get.

Back to that tattoo shop thing, if I see two guys walking in like that and their mannerisms aren’t fitting the baseline, that immediately starts to get my spidey sense tingling and you’re starting to watch. Something’s going down. The more advance warning you can get of that, the better your chances are of survival.

Brett McKay: Right. Yeah, I’ve been doing all those things since I’ve been talking to self-defense guys. I do all those things. When I walk into a place, establishing baseline, looking for anomalies, I try to look for where all the exits are at, and I always sit with my back to the wall. Here’s the thing, it doesn’t… People think, “Oh, you’ve got to be super paranoid about this.” You don’t. Literally, it becomes a habit, and you don’t really think about it.

Nick Hughes: Yes. Yeah, it’s not paranoia at all. Paranoia is an actual mental condition, and someone who is paranoid will be at home hiding under their bed. They’re afraid of everything. They’re afraid they’re going to get attacked everywhere. They’re walking around in this constant state where they’re freaking out because they think everything evil in the world is going to befall them.

Preparedness, which is what this is, is a wholly different thing. It’s got nothing to do with paranoia. It’s got nothing to do with fear. It’s being prepared.

I don’t put my seatbelt on when I drive the car because I’m afraid I’m going to have an accident. I put it on because I’m preparing myself, in the event that one happened, I’ve done something to alleviate it. I’m not afraid. Otherwise, I wouldn’t get in the car and drive it in the first place.

Here’s another thing. I’ve had critics say, “Well, who wants to live their life like that?” I’m like, “Like what?” How long does it take you to put a seatbelt on? A second. How long does it take you to sit with your back to a wall facing the door versus sitting with your back to the door? How long does it take to go into a bathroom and go into the cubicle or the cabinet rather than standing out in the open? All of these things take about two seconds longer, so there’s really no inconvenience.

As you said, after a while it becomes your operating norm and you just do these things. Again, the nice thing about it is the bad guys recognize the behavior, and they leave you alone. They’re looking for the victim again who’s not paying attention, who’s not doing those things.

Brett McKay: I imagine, in addition to doing all these things, a bodyguard is also developing plans, multiple plans at the same time based on what-if scenarios.

Nick Hughes: Yeah. I’m going to contradict myself here. We call ourselves professional paranoiacs because we walk around all day, “What if? What if? What if? What if?” if you’re doing the job correctly. I’m driving in the car with the client and I’m sitting there, “What if this truck in front of us stopped and two guys got out with rifles and ran at the car?” Then when I pull up at the club we’re going into, I’m like, “What if we get out here and three guys run out of the crowd and try and stab him?” Then we go into the hotel room. “What if there’s someone waiting inside the room?”

You’re playing these drills all the time in your head. The nice thing about those… The Russians claimed they came up with this things called imagery rehearsal, which every sports psychologist and every tier-one athlete around the world uses now what we call imagery rehearsal. They’ve done studies on this with basketball teams where one team does the physical act of shooting, one team imagines shooting, and one team does a mixture of both, and the team that does the mixture of both outperforms everybody else. Every single professional athlete… Gary Player used to talk about this in golf. They sit there and they visualize the shot before they take it. It’s massively beneficial.

I was pointing out to someone the other day, this is what forms are in Japanese martial arts, by the way. It’s the same stuff, so it goes way back before the Russians in the ’60s. It goes back to the 15th and 16th century. I am running through like someone who dry-fires a pistol or a boxer who shadowboxes. I’m running through in my imagination what will be happening.

Now, what we know is the subconscious can’t differentiate between what’s real and what’s imagined, so as far as my subconscious mind is concerned, I’m actually in a fight if I’m doing one of those forms in martial arts. When I’m sitting in the car with a client and I’m visualizing something that could go wrong, if it does, my subconscious has already dealt with it and I’m moving, rather than the average person who’s never thought about it and all of a sudden they’re attacked.

Here’s the problem with that, is when something happens to you, you got a little guy monitoring, sitting in the front of your head basically, like a security guard with a bunch of camera screens, and he sees this thing going on and he jumps up and runs back to the filing cabinet and goes, “Show me everything we’ve got on someone coming at me with a gun.” Well, the average person has never thought about that, and it’s never happened, so they got nothing. So they basically freeze. That’s what causes that reaction where people freeze and/or go into shock. With someone who’s trained for that, they go back and pull the file out like, “Oh, yeah, I remember this. We did this in so-and-so,” and now does the relevant response.

We’re capitalizing on a principle in psychology which is called recency. If whatever you’ve been thinking about last is going to come to hand first… It’s kind of like having files on your desk again. If the last file I looked at is on top, it’s easier to find than the one that’s buried under the pile. I spend my day when I’m working with a client driving around wondering, “What if this happens? What if this happens?” so you’re mentally prepared.

Brett McKay: This all ties in with… You discussed this in the book. You had a whole chapter dedicated to the OODA loop, the observe, orient, decide, act. That whole what-if scenario, it sounds like you’re basically orienting yourself. You’re giving yourself mental models to work with, so whenever something does happen, you can make a decision and act quickly instead of having to develop the plan on the fly while it’s happening and then try to act.

Nick Hughes: Yes, exactly. It’s preconditioned responses. That’s going to make you a hell of a lot faster than someone who’s trying to guess or make it up as they go along.

If you go into the military and you’re looking at any SF unit that’s worth their salt, during their basic training they’re doing what’s called immediate contact drills or contact response drills, depending on which military you’re in. You’re walking along on patrol, and all of a sudden another squad plane, the enemy, pops up and ambushes you. You drill that again and again and again and again, with the concept being now I’m on patrol in a village somewhere and we’re ambushed, you’re not sitting there like, “Where do we go? What do we do?” Everyone knows exactly what they have to do, and they respond.

There’s a really good book called Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow, and it talks about the difference between the amygdala, which is this part of our reptilian brain that is wired for survival, versus our neocortex, which is using conscious thought. He measures in the book how much faster one is than the other. You just got to drill those responses until they become automated.

Someone talked in a book and said it’s 10,000 hours. I believe the author of that book has since admitted those numbers aren’t necessarily true. As I’ve told people before, you didn’t ride your bicycle for 10,000 hours to get where it was automatic, and you didn’t get kicked in the balls for 10,000 hours before someone goes to throw a kick at your nuts and you pull back. Some of those responses get conditioned a lot quicker. The number we’ve come up with is roughly 300 to 500 repetitions, and it’ll start to get automated.

Brett McKay: Right. I think it’s an important point. I love how you point this out with the OODA loop section. It’s the person who completes their OODA loop the fastest is the person that wins.

Say there’s a bad guy. He’s got an OODA loop going on in his brain, even though he might not know it. He’s at an advantage because he knows already what his plan is. You have no clue that he’s doing that.

So the way you can sort of speed up your OODA loop is have those plans in place. Think about, “Okay, if a guy comes in here, what’s my plan? What am I going to do? If this happens, this is what I would do.” You can make the decision and you can act.

Nick Hughes: People often forget the criminal decides when you’re going to get attacked. You don’t. That’s entirely on him. You’re always playing catch-up. You’re at least a second and a half behind in the whole process. He’s sitting there on a street corner looking for a victim and you come walking past staring down at your phone, and he goes, “It’s you,” and only next minute taps you on the shoulder and punches you on the side of the head. He decided all of that, and you’re trying to come to terms with it and process it and react to it. If you haven’t got a preconditioned response, then, yeah, you’ve virtually got no chance at that point, which is why ambushes are so effective. You’ve got to have that conditioned response hardwired in, and that only comes from training.

I get calls every week, “Do you do a self-defense course?” I’m like, “What are you talking about?” They’re like, “Oh, we want to come in for a couple of hours and learn something.” I’m like, “It’d be like me going to a golf pro and getting two hours’ worth of lessons and putting the clubs in the cupboard, and five years from now I’m going to play Tiger Woods. It’s not going to do me any good. I have to do those 300 to 500 hours of training and build that as hardwired into the system.”

Brett McKay: Again, this what-if scenario, you said you’re a professional paranoid, but you don’t have to be super paranoid about this. It’s just a matter of you’re sitting down and you just quickly… This is what I do, is like, okay, if there’s a guy that comes in, or even if there’s like a fire, this is my plan. It’s a tentative plan. I have something. It literally takes one to two seconds.

Nick Hughes: Yeah. Again, I jokingly use the term professional paranoid, because we’re not. I’m not afraid. I wouldn’t be doing the job. It’s just we’re prepared constantly by thinking about that. As you said, it becomes a habit. I’m not walking around looking over my shoulder every 15 seconds for stuff. It’s actually nicer because I can relax because I’m less concerned about being attacked than someone who has no plan and is fearful for that.

Brett McKay: We’ve walked through some things already that we can do to prevent things from happening, carrying ourselves, dressing in a way where we don’t make ourselves an easy target, positioning ourselves so that we can increase the speed of our OODA loop so we can take action faster.

Let’s say we’ve done all that. We’ve taken precautions to avoid an altercation, but someone starts a verbal confrontation with us. This is the stereotypical, the guy at the bar thing that you were talking about earlier. Walk us through some tactics that we can use to deescalate that verbal confrontation so it doesn’t go further to physical violence.

Nick Hughes: We actually role-play these. The military over the last couple of years, and so have forward-thinking police departments, realize the massive benefit in what we call scenario-based training. Instead of reading about it or watching a film, you actually set up… The police will set up a car, and they’ll do a vehicle stop. The guy will walk up and they’ll have a cop inside, and he role-plays. He role-plays someone who’s being compliant, and he role-plays someone who isn’t.

We set those up in my Krav school all the time. We’ll go out in the parking lot, and we’ll do parking lot disputes, which are massively common. There’s people actually killed over this crap every single year. You’re driving around for 15 minutes trying to find a space, and you finally see this person walking to their car and you stop and you wait, and they get in the car. They’ve done studies, by the way, when they know you’re waiting, they’re going to make you wait longer. They’re balancing their checkbook and checking text messages, and then they start the car up and check their makeup. They’re going through this whole thing.

Then as that car backs out and you’re ready to go in, someone coming the other way steals the spot. People get irate over that. Next minute, you get out of the car. Now, you haven’t done anything wrong. You didn’t know the guy was waiting for 15 minutes. You just pulled into a parking space. You get out of the car, and here’s this person apoplectic, screaming at you. We rehearse that one.

We do the bar thing. “You were looking at my girlfriend.” “What are you looking at?” “Do you have a problem with me?” all of these things. Yeah, you have to practice them.

The car lot dispute one, we take it a step further than everyone else. A lot of people do those, and they just go straight into I’ll chop him on the neck and kick him between the legs crap. I do things like, yeah, well, let’s role-play this a step further. Who’s in the car with you? Do you have your two-year-old kid in the backseat, and you’re now going to punch this guy that’s mouthing off? Is that the message you want to send him? What happens if he watches you get your ass kicked? Do you have the girl in the front seat that you met last night and this is your first date? How are you going to handle this situation? Are you getting out and it’s one guy, or has he got five mates behind him?

All of this is going to be… In other words, self-defense is all context driven. The elegant solution, and this comes down to Sun Tzu, the best battle is the one you don’t have to fight. You tell him, “Mate, I didn’t know you were waiting. I’ll give you the space.” We role-play this.

You watch people’s expressions. You just take the air right out of them, because they’re preparing themselves mentally for this big “F you!” “No, F you!” You just go, “Dude, I didn’t know you were waiting. Of course I’ll give you the space,” and they just deflate in front of you.

I’ll do a demo where I’ll get a person out of the crowd at a seminar and I’ll go, “Respond to me how you would respond to me.” I’ll put my hands up like I’m shaped up to them, and they immediately respond and pick their hands up. Then I’ll walk up to them and put my hand out as if I’m going to shake hands, and they put their hand out as if they’re going to shake hands. Then they come up, and I get them to do the boxing stance and I throw my hand out as if to shake hands. Everybody shakes hands. All right, so we’re trying to disarm the person.

Our natural reaction if someone goes, “What the hell are you looking at?” “I don’t know. I don’t have my animal book on me.” That’s it, right? That’s going to escalate. Or I can turn around and go, “That shirt, brother. That is amazing. I’ve been looking for one of those for ages. My brother has been asking me to get one, and I can’t find them. Where did you get that from?”

Now I’ve taken him off on a tangent. He’s expecting the aggressive response. It’s all scripted. These guys are like, “You were looking at my girlfriend.” You’ve got two answers. “Yes, I was,” or “No, I wasn’t.” If you say, “No, I wasn’t,” the guy is going to say, “You calling me a liar?” That’s justification in his mind for punching you. Or you say, “Yes, I was,” and that’s justification in his mind for punching you.

Again, you have to role-play those things to figure out, what am I going to say so that I don’t get punched? That’s the key for that one.

Brett McKay: Yeah, I love that scenario you gave of “You were looking at my girlfriend.” You don’t want to disagree with him, because, again, he’ll say, “You’re calling me a liar.” You say, “Well, yeah, she looks like a friend of mine from high school. Is her name Susan?”

Nick Hughes: Yep. “Her name’s Sally, right? She went to so-and-so.” Yeah.

We’ve actually had to do that a step further because one guy threw us a curveball in a seminar. We said, “Yeah, that’s Sally, right?” and he said, “Yes, it is.” We’re like, “Oh.” So we had to figure out, all right, what would we do if that happened? Then, of course, throw up this weird nonexistent last name. “Yeah, Sally Mickelplitz.” He’s like, “No, not Mickelplitz. It’s Smith.” You’re like, “Oh, thought it was Sally Mickelplitz. Man, has she got a twin? Because she looks exactly like this girl. Let me show you a picture.” You start scrolling through your phone.

Again, you’re just using this stuff essentially to distract them and take them off their ABC. You’ve gone ABF. Back to the OODA loop, they’re expecting this preordained, this is how it’s going to roll out, and you throw something, and that’s it. It’s done.

Brett McKay: Let’s say you’ve done that, the verbal deescalation did not work, and they throw a punch or they shove you. What should be your next step? Because this is where things get tricky. You want to prevent it as much as you can, because by preventing violence, you stay out of the legal sphere basically. As soon as there’s a punch thrown by you or the other person, you’re going to be put into civil court possibly and criminal court. How do we manage that aspect of self-defense?

Nick Hughes: Yeah, it’s one of the things we’re probably most famous for in my school. We’re one of the very, very, very few that actually teach the legal ramifications of the techniques we teach you.

There’s a very famous case in self-defense that most self-defense guys are aware of, certainly the Filipino martial art community is aware of it. There was a kid in New York who had been taught Filipino martial arts. For those familiar with it, it’s how to use a blade and how to use a stick. They’re really, really, really adept at flensing meat off people, and they know where all the major blood vessels are in a human body. They’ll stick you 15 times in three seconds with these preordained templates and so on.

Unfortunately for this particular student, no one taught him legally when can I get away with that. This kid is in a bar in New York right after they’ve introduced the no smoking law, and the bouncer came over and told his buddy he had to put his cigarette out. They get into an argument. The bouncer is dragging this kid out, and his mate who is trained in the Filipino martial arts shoves the knife in this guy’s femoral artery and the bouncer dies.

That kid went to jail. One of his friends who helped him get cleaned up and changed his clothes got convicted as an accessory to the fact. I was always surprised that no one sued the instructor for failing this kid and not teaching them, in conjunction with this here’s 50 ways to kill someone with a knife, know when you can do this.

Working as a bodyguard, when I’m looking after the band Warrant, for example, we toured I think 46 of the 50 states, and I can’t possibly pick up the local lores concerning self-defense because there are federal laws, there are statewide laws, there are city laws, there are county laws, and there’s various ordinances, depending on jurisdictions that you’re in. I can’t possibly, as a bodyguard going from six towns in six nights, learn all that, so you apply a general rule of thumb, which there’s two ways to look at it.

The reasonable man defense, which is what the prosecutor is going to ask the jury, right? What would a reasonable person do in the situation you found yourself in? The other one is use the least amount of physical force you can to resolve the situation. If you follow those two guidelines, you’re doing just about everything you can humanly do to reduce your risk of ending up in legal hot water.

We talk about that. I tell my students, “You’ve actually got two fights you have to win. You’ve got to win the physical one. You also have to win the legal one.” There are horror stories in this country. I see them every week, that someone will pull his gun out, shoot someone doing a home invasion or whatever, and next minute he’s being sued.

There was one I just read the other day. It was a Marine on crutches, went down to tell some drunks in front of his house to move along; he was trying to sleep. The woman said, “I’m going to go get a gun from the car,” and she came back. She actually had a knife hidden down the back of her leg, but she told him she was getting a gun. He shot her. He won the criminal trial, cost him 50,000 in legal fees, and now he’s being sued by her for 100,000. She survived, so civilly she’s suing him for $100,000 for lost wages and medical bills. It’s 150 grand. That’s a lot of damn money if you get this stuff wrong. Yeah, the legal stuff is absolutely huge.

Brett McKay: Right. Yeah, someone shoves you; you’re not going to go to lethal force. That’d be a reasonable threat-

Nick Hughes: Yeah, there’s a thing we teach. Law enforcement has gotten away from it. I actually think it’s still good. It’s called the use of force continuum. It basically lists all the levels of force that the bad guy can use. It starts with psychological, intimidation; the guy is staring at you, guy is wearing gang colors, and so on. Then it goes to verbal; what are you looking at? Now it comes over to the grabbing of the shirt. Then it’ll come to the punch. Then it will come to weapons.

We as civilians on the right side of the fence have corresponding levels of response. You get some guy trying to break into your back door at night, and you go downstairs and turn your light on and shine a flashlight. That’s your psychological intimidation. Now you say, “What the hell are you doing? Go away. I’ll call the cops.” That’s your verbal response.

He comes in and tries to push his way through. A lot of guys are just shooting BS. What if he’s the drunk neighbor trying to get into the wrong house, which happens a lot. Now you grab him and escort him off the property, which is your right, because he’s trespassing, and then he tries to swing or he picks up a golf club and comes back and tries to hit you.

We have these same levels of force that we can respond with, and the law is basically saying, “If he’s pushing me and shoving me, I can’t pull my gun out and shoot him.” There’s too many degrees in there of difference, so I’ve got to try and match tit for tat, or I can go one level above what he’s doing, is what they pretty much give law enforcement the right to do. We just follow those same guidelines.

Brett McKay: Right. I went to law school. I’m going to put on my legal cap. What we just said is not legal advice.

Nick Hughes: No, absolutely not. I tell my students that all the time. In fact, about once a year, I bring a lawyer into the school and I pay him for a couple of hours of his time, and all my students have questions prepared ahead of time and they get to ask him. That is legal advice.

In the interim, we just give them general guidelines and we advise everybody, if you make the decision to buy a gun, for God’s sake, go and talk to an attorney and learn the rules in your particular situation of when and where you can use that. One of the ones we did on the bodyguard course, which is the first time I got exposed to it, is they gave us a wax pistol. This was before Simunitions existed. You had a revolver, and you had these bullets packed with wax.

They said, “All right. You’re looking after a client. You hear a noise in the middle of the night. You come downstairs. We’re going to open up the door, and here’s the scenario.” They open up the door, and here’s a guy holding the TV set. Everyone pulls the gun out and goes, “Put the TV set down,” and the guy goes, “To hell with that,” and walks out of the room. Everybody on the course shot him in the back of the head.

Then they came over and said, “Congratulations, you’re all going to jail.” Everyone is like, “What? No, but he’s in the house taking my TV set.” It’s like, yes, you can’t kill him for that. There were so many people that I run into who think, “I’m going to buy a gun for defense, and if I find someone in my house, by golly, I’m going to shoot them.” Legally, you’re going to end up in hot water.

You go downstairs and that guy is walking out with your TV set, you can’t do anything with that gun to him. You try and shoot him, and you’re going to find out how that works.

Brett McKay: Right. It varies from state to state. Some states, they have the castle doctrine, so it’s like if anyone is in your home and they shouldn’t be there, you can shoot them possibly. There’s some states where they’re like you have a duty to retreat, so even in your own home, you’ve got to go someplace and hide before the altercation occurs.

Nick Hughes: Yeah, and it gets weird. There’s ones where if he’s kicking the door on the other side of the door, I am allowed to shoot him, but now he opens the door and comes inside, now I have to start retreating. It gets really bizarre.

Brett McKay: It also gets bizarre in what is a house. Does it start at your driveway? Does it start at your door? That’s why it’s important, especially in the United States with our federalism, where every state has got different laws, you want to check in on that.

Nick Hughes: Yes, absolutely. You’ve got to know your local laws. There were two people, I read, two years ago went to Washington D.C., I believe, and they were from Tennessee; one guy was from Ohio, went to New York. He’s allowed to have guns at home, and he traveled to New York and he took his weapons with him. He didn’t think there was anything wrong with that because in his state he’s allowed to do it. He left the gun on the bed in his hotel room in New York and went downstairs to get dinner. The maid came and saw it, called the cops, and he got charged, arrested, automatically 12 months in prison due to the Sullivan Act.

Then the other one was a woman from Tennessee that went to see the Washington Monument, and she walked into the guard downstairs and it said no weapons. She pulls her gun out of her pocket and says, “Where do I leave this while I go inside?” She got arrested.

Yeah, it absolutely behooves you, anyone listening to this, wherever you’re living. You want to check because just because your state says something… There’s federal laws about the length of a knife, and then there are state laws that say you can’t have one, then there are city ordinances that might overrule all of that. Again, the guideline we give people is always go with the strictest. In other words, if the feds say you can have a shotgun, and the state says you can’t, then you’ve got to abide by what the state says because it doesn’t matter if the feds say you can if the state says you can’t. Pick the hardest one and abide by that.

Brett McKay: We’ve talked about some just general principles of things that you can do to apply, while you’re out and about to protect yourself, to avoid altercations. I’d like to just end this conversation with a few very context-specific… You did this in the book, which I appreciate. For example, a lot of people travel. They’re staying in a hotel. If you’re staying in New York, leave your pistol at home, because that will get you in trouble. But what could people do to stay safe while they’re staying in a hotel?

Nick Hughes: Man, I could write a book on this one because this is such a big part of executive protection. Traveling with clients, we stay in hotels, right? Here’s a couple of good ones.

One, I always pack a portable burglar alarm, which in my case is a door wedge and a two-foot-by-three-foot piece of bubble wrap. They roll up. The wedge takes up no space at all in your luggage and costs you about… I think you can get a bag of those of three for about $2 at Lowe’s. Your bubble wrap costs you next to nothing. Get that from a UPS store. I roll that up and keep it in my luggage. Then when I’m in my room at night, the wedge gets kicked under the door, and the bubble wrap gets laid in front of the door. Both of those super, super cheap, and it takes care of a lot of the hotels, especially in third-world countries, the maids aren’t paid a lot. They’ll make copies of the keys and give them to their boyfriends, and then your room can get rifled while you’re not there. That’s a good one.

Another one with my clients, we’re never allowed to book a room over the eighth floor because there’s no fire truck in the world can get a ladder up over the eighth floor. People laugh about that and go, “Oh, paranoid much.” I’m like, “Well, go check the fire in Vegas in which 98 people were burnt to a crisp.” Look at the Twin Towers on 9/11. Those fire trucks can’t get that high.

My guidelines with my clients is always floor two or three because if there is a hotel fire or you have to get away, you can drop from those floors with little risk of physical injury. Anything much higher than that, and you’ve got problems. I tell my clients put the do not disturb sign on the door and leave the TV on. I will tip the maid on day one and tell her, “Listen, I’m good. I’ll come see you if I need anything.” That makes the room always look occupied.

Another one is don’t use the hotel safe. People stick stuff in that, and it gets taken all the time. Most of those safes have a manufacturer’s code in them so that if hotel security… You go in there and you can program your own PIN code in. You set the lock and you turn the thing, and you got so many seconds to put your PIN code. People forget that all the time. They call hotel security. They come up and put in four zeroes and open the safe up. Most of them have that back door into them, so things like that.

Now it’s great. You can take a picture of that little map on the back of the door that tells you how many exits to the fire escape and which direction, because people forget if there is a hotel fire and you open the door, the top two-thirds of the corridor are going to be filled with smoke, and all the exit signs are over the doors, so you’re not going to see them. You’ve got to be able to drop on the floor and crawl and count the doors as you’re going past to know which one the exit is in.

Then there are things like be aware of scams. We do a lot of work with lone female executives that travel because obviously, again, they’re targeted. I tell them, if you’re at a conference with your name badge on, the second you leave the conference floor, take your name badge off because it makes it very easy for someone to spot the name, go, “Oh, there’s Sally,” they come up and knock on the door and go, “Sally, it’s us.” She hears her name and assumes it’s someone she knows and opens the door to someone she doesn’t know.

Watch out for scams. I’m a little bit hesitant to say this one because there could be some bad guys listening that go, “Cool way to make money.” But I stand next to you checking into the hotel and I hear the guy say, “Yes, Mr. Smith, blah blah blah blah blah, here’s your keys. You’re in Room 417.” Now I go out in the parking lot or I go over to the courtesy phone, I give you five minutes to get settled, then I call your room and I say, “It’s Michael down on the front desk. Your credit card, it didn’t get processed correctly. Let me save you the trip down. Just give me the numbers again.” Half-asleep and jet-lagged, you just got undressed, and you’re like, “Oh my God, all right. Yeah, cool. Let me just give you the number,” while I’m sitting down in the parking lot writing out your number and then I go on a spending spree.

It’s just being aware of things like that. If they call you from the front desk and say, “Can you come downstairs?” you hang up and you call the front desk and say, “Did you guys ask for me to come down, because that’s how someone got kidnapped out of South America?” They wandered down to the lobby because they thought management had called them, and the team was waiting in the lobby and snatched the guy. Just stuff like that.

This is the hard thing. The criminals are so damn clever and creative that every time they come up with one and we figure out a way to beat it, they’re coming up with another one. They’re so many jumps ahead. I just wish they’d turn that creativity to business, and they’d be multibillionaire damn entrepreneurs.

Brett McKay: Right. Another context-specific situation you talked about was when you’re out in a car driving. What are some things that people can do, easy things people can do to ensure that they stay safe while they’re out driving?

Nick Hughes: Okay, there are bunches. The new empty sign on your car should be the halfway point. I’ve actually had a female client… Took a picture and showed me. She put a little piece of white tape on her gas gauge with an E drawn on where the halfway point is. All the security drivers I’ve ever worked with, we start the day, they got a full tank of gas in the car, because the last thing you want to do is be out somewhere, you spot that you’re being followed or a blue light bandit tries to pull you over, and you’re trying to get away and you’re in a car chase, and you look down and your gas gauge is on empty. That’s horrific.

I tell people, buy an SUV. I know that gets the ire of the earth biscuits, but if they argue with me from an ecologically-friendly viewpoint that SUVs are bad for the environment, I agree. But if my counterargument is from a security viewpoint, there’s no better vehicle. I am higher than every other vehicle. I can see around. I can push other vehicles out the way. I can go over sidewalks and curbstones. There’s a reason, if you look around the world, all the operators in government secret service, CIA, paramilitary, everyone, wherever they’re working, they’re driving those things. They’re not driving Priuses. From a security viewpoint, they’re awesome.

Another good trick is to know your 24-hour safe havens. We mostly do the same five trips every week in the car. Everyone has the same route they go to work every morning. Then they go pick the kids up and drop the kids off at school. They take them to soccer on Wednesday. They go get groceries on Friday. Then they drive to mom’s house on Sunday, or they go to church. It’s typically the same five trips over and over.

Your job is to know on that route where every single building is or institution is that’s open 24 hours that has security guards. This will be things like fire stations, police stations, hospitals. I live near a nuclear power plant. Anything along those lines. There are 24-hour supermarkets. If you’re a lone female at night being followed, you don’t go home, which is your initial reaction. “I’m safe at home if I can get home.” Now the bad guy is following you. Pick one of those 24-hour safe havens and drive right through the front door if you have to, things like that.

Do not do road rage. It ain’t worth it. If someone is doing that, ignore them, drive away, slow down, leave, get on another ramp, whatever. It isn’t worth getting involved in this stuff. Again, every week we see… There was one, it was about two weeks ago, I saw the girl was shot coming on the on-ramp arguing with the guy. They’re both moving, inching forward, trying to fight for who’s going to get in front, and the guy shoots and kills her. He’s in jail for life. She’s dead over what? A public highway. It just doesn’t make sense.

A good rule of thumb is pretend every other single car on the road is being driven by your grandmother. Another one I tell them is when you pull up behind cars in front of you, make sure you can see the bottom of their tires where they make contact with the road. That doesn’t matter what vehicle you’re in. I can go from a Porsche to an SUV. If I maintain that rule, it means if something happens… A guy comes up with a gun at the intersection and starts shooting into cars, or there’s an attempted carjacking, or whatever… I can hook my wheel left or right and drive without fear of hitting the car in front of me, which is just going to complicate things.

It’s just a ton of stuff like that. I think you had mentioned sanitizing the vehicle or keeping the vehicle clean. One of the exercises I do on the live course is we take them out into the parking lot, and I just start going through people’s cars, building up a profile on them. You see those little family stickers on the back. I’m like, “Okay, you’ve got two kids.” I’ve seen those things with the kids’ names written underneath the sticker.

All I have to do is follow that mom home, see where they live, see where the school bus drops the kid off. Now I pull up next to the kid and go, “Susan, your mom told me to get you. Your dad is in the hospital. We’ve got to go right now.” Now, because I know her name, she assumes… Let’s say in the back of the car I’ve seen a saddle or some horse riding gear or lacrosse equipment. I go, “I’m from the lacrosse club. Your mom sent me down to get you. Your dad is in the hospital,” and she climbs into the car. I’ve got all of that just looking at your vehicle.

Someone put a picture on social media the other day of a guy who had put the anti-gun-grabbing sticker across the back of “Come and get it!” Someone broke his back window and got it. The bad guys know if you have an NRA sticker on the back of your car, chances are there’s a gun inside your vehicle. I know cops who have been targeted because they’ve got a police sticker on the back.

It’s just simple stuff. I’ve got so many of the clients, when they pull up, I walk out to the car, and their mail is on the front seat with their home address on it. You can just learn so much just by walking around that vehicle and looking at that stuff. We tell people, sanitize all that crap. Make it so if someone looks at your car, there is nothing they can learn about you.

Brett McKay: Right. Keep it like a rental car basically.

Nick Hughes: Pretty much, yep.

Brett McKay: Yeah. We talked about a lot, but there’s so much more we could talk about. Where can people go to learn more about the book and the rest of your work?

Nick Hughes: They can find the book on Amazon under Then we have a website for the book, which is constantly being updated. When we announce the audiobook, that will be on there. The app is being recalibrated. That’s going to be on there. We’re going to have another live course coming up soon. That’s going to be on there. That’s all on, which is the How to Be Your Own Bodyguard, so H for hotel, the number two, B, bravo, G, golf, dot com.

Brett McKay: Fantastic. Well, Nick Hughes, thanks so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.

Nick Hughes: Likewise, mate. Enjoyed it.

Brett McKay: My guest today was Nick Hughes. He’s the author of the book How to Be Your Own Bodyguard. It’s available on You can find out more information about his work at his website, Also check out our show notes at, where you can find links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic.

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