Who Punches The President?
June 11, 2009 12:38 PM   Subscribe

does the president of the u.s. receive any self defense training? and, if so, what sort and from whom? and are there any good articles or books on that subject?
posted by artof.mulata to Law & Government (32 answers total)
My guess would be - no. But he probably train evasive moves with his personal body-guards from time to time.

On a side-note, it is said that the Dalai Llhama's closest men are trained in the chinese internal art of Paqua (sister of Tai Chi Chuan and Hsing-I).
posted by Rabarberofficer at 12:46 PM on June 11, 2009

Likely he gets an overview of what to expect his guards will do and when they are in charge no matter what he thinks or wants. See the video of Reagan getting shot, those guards shoved him into that car door pretty fast and with enough force to do the job. Also a large number of weapons appeared from concealed locations fast, very fast.
posted by Freedomboy at 12:55 PM on June 11, 2009

wouldn't it make sense, though, to teach these old men how to throw a punch or escape from a choke hold? who knows what kind of weirdness could arise when you're the potus?

personally, i would have loved to have been gw junior's trainer... "mister president! please don't use your head to block these punches! now let's try that again and again and again..."

(i know that the dalai lama's brother got trained by the cia; heard a great interview with him on npr or pacifica about that years and years ago. he provided images of tibetan freedom fighters parachuting from the heavens with machine guns and black-ops suits silently descending to rout the chinese occupation forces. lovely.)
posted by artof.mulata at 1:16 PM on June 11, 2009

It's unlikely that you'll find books or articles about this - for still-living former presidents or the current one, anyway - as the Secret Service does not discuss presidential security measures. Whatever info there is out there is either historic or made up.
posted by rtha at 1:17 PM on June 11, 2009

wouldn't it make sense, though, to teach these old men how to throw a punch or escape from a choke hold?

Not really, no. You've been watching too many movies. The president is never far enough away from armed secret service agents for his ability to throw a punch to make a difference.
posted by dersins at 1:28 PM on June 11, 2009

I'd bet his training consists of "You will do what the Secret Service agent says to do, NO MATTER WHAT!" Simple, but easily remembered when the shit hits the fan.

Engaging in self defense comes with the assumption that you stand a good chance of being hurt, even if you prevail in the end. I doubt the Secret Service would consider that a good idea.
posted by tommasz at 1:34 PM on June 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

just because no president has had to engage in active engagement in a very long time (ever) doesn't mean that the possibility is ruled out. i mean shouldn't all the bases be covered? what if rahm flipped out or cheney somehow got back on the grounds? wouldn't our master oyabun want to defend himself in all manners possible?

this is a serious question, though. i just assumed that fellows at this level should have at least been trained to fall properly or how to break a hold. what if one of their bodyguards were to go rogue; sure would come in handy to know some small judo or aikido tricks.
posted by artof.mulata at 1:39 PM on June 11, 2009

i will say that W ducked way quick the shoe was thrown - but by all accounts he's an incredibly fit man.

but, yeah, i'd guess it's more training the president to take direction from the secret service, no matter what.
posted by nadawi at 1:41 PM on June 11, 2009

Roosevelt had a lifelong interest in pursuing what he called, in an 1899 speech, "the strenuous life." To this end, he exercised regularly and took up boxing, tennis, hiking, rowing, polo, and horseback riding. As governor of New York, he boxed with sparring partners several times a week, a practice he regularly continued as President until one blow detached his left retina, leaving him blind in that eye (a fact not made public until many years later). Thereafter, he practiced jujutsu and continued his habit of skinny-dipping in the Potomac River during winter.


Honestly, it is very difficult to learn how to do judo properly, and I think the President has a lot more stuff to worry about.
posted by Comrade_robot at 1:46 PM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Doubtful. He's very busy and surrounded by armed men. He's probably the person least likely to need hand to hand combat skills as no one can really get close to him. He is probably instructed what to do if he hears gunfire or sees a knife, that sort of thing.
posted by chairface at 1:47 PM on June 11, 2009

here's a pretty neat article/slide show of obama's secret service during the election. when he was just running he had about 40 according to the article. i'm guessing it's many, many, many more now (i mean, hell, the white house has guys on the roof as an anti-sniper squad). in all of your "why he'd need to know hand to hand combat" scenarios, there would be so many men in suits and earpieces taking care of the situation long before the president could even consider doing anything. the less trained he is, the less likely he's going to try to be a hero.
posted by nadawi at 1:50 PM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

this is a serious question, though. i just assumed that fellows at this level should have at least been trained to fall properly or how to break a hold. what if one of their bodyguards were to go rogue; sure would come in handy to know some small judo or aikido tricks.

If one of their bodyguards "went rogue" any/all of the other dozen or two would quickly handle the situation.

Maybe for lack of imagination, but I cannot think of a single situation in which self-defense training would be even remotely useful for the President.
posted by toomuchpete at 2:08 PM on June 11, 2009

Obama apparently knows Tae Kwon Do. It's not the same as being trained on the job, but I suspect the man could deliver a reasonable roundhouse.
posted by ellF at 2:11 PM on June 11, 2009

it's not presidential to fight back. sounds kind of stupid, but true. the president is expected to maintain his dignity through anything ... and throwing a punch or other defensive measure will counteract his image. he should do as little as possible and let the secret service goons take care of things.

even the abovementioned teddy roosevelt didn't fight back when he was shot in milwaukee. he could have gone down and kicked the guy's ass ... but didn't.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 2:13 PM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

If there is any form of self-defense training, it would be in the form of ducking and taking a fall only. Any form of physical resistance would be futile, as most modern Presidents have been aged, infirm, or out of shape enough that a strong man in the prime of his life would overpower him. Even in the case of fit Presidents like Obama and W. Bush, the Secret Service is trained to handle that for the President.

A quick run-down of how to duck or fall is hardly out of the question, Presidents do exercise regularly. While any details would naturally be classified, logic would suggest that a trained close combat instructor in a military branch who holds very high security clearances would cover this, or a specific member of the Secret Service. It wouldn't be particularly thorough due to time constraints. If Obama were to wind up in a scuffle without his agents, he'd probably be without any specific training in that area. This would naturally be classified, and any books on Presidential self-defense would probably point out that any President whose materials are declassified was either too infirm to defend himself reasonably even with training or already a war-trained master of destroying people.

However, I would like to imagine all Presidents are trained in the art of kicking ass by the ghost of Teddy Roosevelt, whether they like it or not.
posted by Saydur at 2:20 PM on June 11, 2009 [3 favorites]

i mean shouldn't all the bases be covered?

For someone who's time is scheduled by the minute? How many bases do you prefer that they cover? I mean, yes, I guess his Secret Service protection detail could attack him. But really, what's a few days, weeks, months of self-defense training going to do against someone who's motivated, more physically conditioned than you, likely armed, and ridiculously more trained? Thinking a judo kick is going to help is like thinking that you're going to beat Mike Tyson if you could just get a punch in. Maybe they need to have snipers that cover the snipers that cover the snipers? I really think you might be the person to write the book on this, or submit a proposal. I hear the Obama administration listens.
posted by mrmojoflying at 2:24 PM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

[artof.mulata, you really need to not try to turn this into a what-if bull session. Asking is fine, hectoring people for not giving the non-answers you want is not, so please nix the followups unless you actually need to clarify your question.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:32 PM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Granted, Obama is younger and fitter than any president in a long long time, but for most presidents I think the risk of heart attack or other injury *while training* would outweigh the chance of them saving themselves in combat by a factor of at least several thousand.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:49 PM on June 11, 2009

drjimmy11 - he's fitter than W?
posted by nadawi at 3:06 PM on June 11, 2009

My guess is that if the President asked for some training like that he'd probably get it (because he is the President, after all, and therefore probably gets pretty much everything he needs), but it probably isn't offered as standard. My reasoning being, if the Secret Service offered the President self-defense training "just in case", it could likely diminish the President's confidence in his security detail. He'd be thinking "they're training me because they can't absolutely guarantee my safety all of the time", whereas I imagine the Secret Service would want the Prez to be thinking "I'm safe all the time because of my security detail."

Of course, the reality is that there could always be a "what-if" situation where the President could benefit from self-defense training, but again, I don't think that the Secret Service wants him thinking there's any chance they could let him down because it would affect his confidence and his ability to perform in public, so unless he asked for it, I doubt they'd offer it.

Plus I never saw President Bartlett get personal defense training, and The West Wing is pretty much my yardstick for all things POTUSA-related.
posted by Effigy2000 at 3:41 PM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think the Secret Service likely trains the President in contingency procedures, not self-defense. "Here's what we're going to do if someone lunges at you. Here's what you should expect to see if XYZ happens. Here's how we're going to tackle you and throw you into a car if ABC happens. Here's what's going to happen to your wife/daughters in any of the above situations."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:03 PM on June 11, 2009

the secret service doesnt want him to defend himself - they got it covered. mr. president, you duck and get out of our way, and we will kick ass - and we dont want you jumping into the fight
posted by Flood at 4:59 PM on June 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

If you were assigned to protect someone, would you want that person to suddenly go ninja and start fighting their assailant(s)? No, you would want them to get the hell out of the way so you can do your job. The president sticking around fighting people means that he is remaining a target for anyone else taking part in the attack.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:50 PM on June 11, 2009

Or, what flood said.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:51 PM on June 11, 2009

If an assailant gets close enough to the president
to require him to defend himself, you, as a personal
protector, haven't done your job right.

Furthermore, in every single possible situation,
the best option is to flee. If someone gets close
enough to get the POTUS in a choke hold, he
is likely dead already.
posted by Sully at 6:34 PM on June 11, 2009

I would imagine that, if they trained for anything, it would be for Obama to go limp in the expectation that eight burly, ear-pieced men were going to manhandle him to safety, and it's probably better for him to not instinctively resist that.

That would be pretty funny actually. An agent carrying a stopwatch yells "bang!" and times how quickly Obama hits the floor for the inevitable pig-pile of agents.
posted by fatbird at 6:53 PM on June 11, 2009

If an assailant gets close enough to the president to require him to defend himself, you, as a personal protector, haven't done your job right.

True, but learning a good choke-hold worked for another world leader.
posted by Adam_S at 8:15 PM on June 11, 2009

Paragraph three recounts some of this, sort of.
posted by gjc at 8:15 PM on June 11, 2009

Nadawi - it sounded like Obama plays some pretty physically competitive basketball (even if his skills aren't the greatest) against twenty-something former Duke baller Reggie Love. And of course there was that pic of him with his shirt off that graced the cover of Washingtonian Magazine - he looked pretty cut. He's also fully fifteen years younger that Dubya. The only thing Bush might have on Obama is that the latter still apparently smokes once in a while.

All in all, while Bush may be very fit, I'd go with Obama being fitter. But no matter how fit either man was or is, I agree with everyone who said here that the Secret Service's operational rule is "Do whatever the hell we tell you to, Mr. President."
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 8:45 PM on June 11, 2009

No matter what self-defense training you could give the president, it really would never have time to kick in. Secret Service agents aren't just trained in several different ways to kill you three times before you hit the ground - they are also perfectly aware that they are disposable if that's what it takes to protect the president. The amount of force it would take to get within physical reach of the president is so massive that it would be likely that he would already be dead.

I was at a speech that Bill Clinton gave a few years ago, and I was standing about 40 or so feet from where he was speaking. A few minutes before he was done, two Secret Service agents walked up next to me, one on either side just behind me. You don't understand just how intimidating they can be until you experience something like that. They have a very forceful presence about them.
posted by azpenguin at 11:22 PM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'd bet "some small judo or aikido tricks" aren't going to be terribly effective against would-be presidential assassins, who generally aren't planning to take on their targets mano-a-mano, bare-fisted.

More like what happened in the assault on President Reagan, instead what happens in Steven Seagall movies, for examples.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:38 AM on June 12, 2009

Former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien once choked a protester who got too close.
posted by ewiar at 4:12 PM on June 12, 2009

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