Six Combat Lessons from the Navy SEAL Behind ‘American Assassin’

Joost Janssen, a former Navy SEAL and current instructor at the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) school, was the military advisor for the film American Assassin, which released in September. He trained Michael Keaton for his role in the film as a CIA operative. Though Janssen is not an assassin, he did share some words of wisdom about combat.

Janssen shared six combat lessons based on his 13 years of experience as a US Navy SEAL that can help anyone up their game. According to Popular Mechanics, here’s what he said.

Start Slow

Janssen stated that one of the SEAL training mantras is “slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” He mentioned that, when people are trying to learn combat skills, they often focus on being quick. But the results are less than ideal, leading to jerky movements that are usually less accurate and ultimately inefficient.

Pistols are Indoor Weapons

A handgun isn’t particularly accurate at long range, so they aren’t effective in sniper situations. However, if you’re indoors and “your rifle misfires or runs out, you transition immediately to your pistol.”

Hand-to-Hand Combat Can Be Exhausting

Janssen asserts that, in close-quarters combat situations, “there is no 35- to 90-second exchange of sweeping kicks.” Hand-to-hand encounters are tiring, and many people will be worn out in as few as 10 seconds.

The Carotid Isn’t an Ideal Target

In the original script for American Assassin, Keaton’s character was supposed to tell the trainees to “go for the carotid.” However, Janssen informed them that this wasn’t ideal as slicing or puncturing the carotid can create a mess and may give the target an opportunity to call for help. Additionally, the fight could continue for an additional 30 to 40 seconds after the injury was sustained.

Instead, Janssen recommended puncturing the trachea.

Train Yourself to React

Navy SEALs are trained to react quickly using a process referred to as the hooded box drill where a trainer uses a string to remove a hood covering the trainees head to present them with a variety of situations.

“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,” said Janssen. “You just have to deal with it.”

Learn to Handle Pain

To be effective in combat situations, it’s helpful to be able to ignore pain. In the film, the training is exaggerated, showing trainees being shocked by electrodes during a combat simulation, but, during his time as a Navy SEAL, Janssen was taught to handle physical pain during exercises where he was shot with paint-filled bullets.

Janssen asserts that untrained civilians who go through the same drill would shut down, saying, “Their brain has already told them, ‘If you’re hit by something from a gun, you’re out,’ and their bodies automatically do that.”

For someone dealing with a life-threatening combat situation, that instinct could spell trouble, making the ability to handle pain an obvious must-have.