Review: Just 2 Seconds


Just 2 Seconds Cover

I’d actually never heard of Just 2 Seconds until a recent podcast interview Sam Harris did with it’s author, Gavin Debecker. As I have long recommended The Gift of Fear to people, this book published in 2008 was a happy find, as it directly addresses key elements I believe crucial to enhancing close quarters capabilities.

The book is fully titled Just 2 Seconds: Using Time and Space to Defeat Assassins and Other Adversaries, and while specifically directed toward those in the business of executive protection, the lessons offered are far broader, addressing things fundamental in all responses to close personal assault, and relevant outside the “bodyguard” field.

As Debecker writes in Chapter 1:

“Professional protectors already know a lot about maintaining physical readiness, but it’s the mind that must first be properly prepared, the mind that controls the hands, arms, legs, and eyes. There are strategies available to help prepare warriors, based upon knowing how the body responds to lethal combat, what happens to your blood flow, your muscles, judgment, memory, vision, and your hearing when someone is trying to kill you. Police officers, soldiers, and protectors can learn how to keep going even if shot, and how to prepare the mind and body for survival instead of defeat. This is much more than mere information; the knowledge itself can be a kind of armor.”  p.9

Just 2 Seconds breaks down thusly:

Table of Contents

Succinct blending of conceptual and practical stuff like this is tactical crack to me…

The first chapter, Now,  discusses what can be gleaned from analysis of history and practical training exercises for dealing with them, laid out in the rest of the book.

Then each chapter starts with a description of it’s Essential Lessons, in quotes below:

Chapter 2, Time: 

“Attackers are profoundly handicapped by time, and ready protectors who are in position to respond can prevail, almost always.”

This chapter addresses the elements of initiative and how space affects them, embodied in a training drill that he puts his protectors through…

Chapter 3, Mind: 

“All attacks happen at the same time: Now. If you intend to meet the attack, you must be there mentally, not just physically.”

Chapter 3 is interesting on several levels. Addressing “Zen in the Art of Protection,” De Becker provides an example of fluid awareness and mindset that should be very familiar to those in both tactical and meditative disciplines. He gives an easily followed description of how the mind should work during threat events. In so doing, he offers workable descriptions of concepts that are known in the Japanese arts as mushin, fudoshin, and zanshin; though he does not refer to them by name in his descriptions, he describes a more practical understanding of things than that of many martial arts “masters” without the benefit of the experience that De Becker and his team have.

DeBecker discusses the importance of what is now widely known as force-on-force (FoF) training with Simunition marking cartridge ammunition. Of course he noted law enforcement was doing such training, but it seems that it was not common within the executive protection world. It appears that they have continued such training as part of their complete preparation.

DeBecker also describes his groups use of dogs as a form of stress inoculation. Here he let’s the cat out of the bag (heh…), indicating that this used to be a secret within their academy – so that their prospective protectors would get the full benefit of the stress.

Of course all their people are wearing bite suits when they are conducting this training, so clearly they know something is coming.

He quotes one student as saying:

“After you’ve fought with a few of those animals, grappling with a man is tame by comparison.” p. 76

Fair enough. I’ve been in a bite suit and worn a sleeve before, and can see some value in it as stress inoculation – mainly for when dealing with a dog. I’m not so sure there is a direct transfer to the experience of hand-to-hand, armed grappling with a human, for a variety of reasons. I wonder whether he’s seen what happen in the Shivworks ECQC courses? There people grapple full contact – often against highly experienced grapplers – while using pistols loaded with marking cartridges at contact distance. This is more stressful and more painful than standard Simunitions drilling, and of much closer relevance to combatives – exactly the kinds of encounters professional protectors will become engaged in.

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These photos are from training conducted after the ECQC model; in this case the attacker, in brown pants, was assaulting an officer on the ground with a small knife.

I’ve helped Craig teach the same classes with marking cartridge loaded rifles. This experience is a gut check for some, and literally a defining moment for others, resulting in soul-searching as to the practical value of what else is offered in the martial and tactical training communities.

Chapter 4, Space:

“Every location contains inherent advantages and disadvantages; whatever hand you are dealt can be improved by advance work, set-up, and positioning.”

Space addresses the larger concerns of a protection detail and situational awareness about surrounding environs, including attack angles. A fascinating aspect of their research demonstrates that with 25 feet of space between a protectee and an attacker, protectee survival is “just about assured.” An interesting discussion of attacks coming from right or left is also presented.

And Chapter 5 See: 

“In every environment, identify and assess the best suspects. They are always there.”

See means basically being suspicious, explained through it’s Latin root suspicere, or “to watch.” In practical terms it is awareness without distraction or fixation, recognizing and trusting intuition, and understanding that the “best” suspect in any environment is the one that most merits attention. Knowing what merits attention is where the other elements coalesce. To put it simply, it’s not just seeing, it’s sensing, feeling, and knowing what you are seeing as it happens, and taking appropriate action.

The Compendium:

The remainder of the book is a lengthy compendium of descriptions of attacks assembled by De Becker and his group. An interesting read, not simply as a study in vulnerabilities, but as a reminder of some incidents that have seemingly been forgotten. Several entries had me  thinking “oh yeah, I forgot all about that one!”

This is followed by appendices of a number of articles from both De Becker’s associates, reiterating concepts in the earlier chapters through examples and interviews, and others discussing different subject matter. For example, Ken Good’s Got a Second?, on the OODA Loop, is here, as is Grossman’s On Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs.which suffers from some editing issues.

My feeling is that I would have rather seen a shorter book, the 142 pages of Chapters 1-5, plus maybe the De Becker appendices, and more explorations of that work. It is of a kind often overlooked in the tactical and personal protection fields – that is, how your mind should work during such incidents. This is often simply shorthanded as “mindset” by industry gurus and the hapless instructors that regurgitate such things, and there is a hell of a lot more to it than that.

Perhaps the Compendium could have been included, but my sense is almost that it could have been a stand-alone book.

The other Appendices are I think unnecessary, and expand the book without bibliography to 676 pages. Again, I’d rather a leaner meal with more meat, but Just 2 Seconds is still very much worth it for Chapters 1-5.

Check it out.









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