How to Become a VIP Bodyguard

Dan Clark is one of the best executive protection specialists in the business—and now he’s teaching others how to break into the bodyguard game.

Security specialist Dan Clark has guarded mega-rich moguls, heads of state, global celebrities and other high-profile clients — not that he’s willing to name any names. But when the Omaha, Nebraska-based executive protection guru’s company, Clark International, isn’t keeping a confidential roster of VIPs safe, it’s training others how to succeed in the bodyguard business.

Maxim spoke to Clark about becoming a bodyguard, the job’s toughest challenges, and the necessity of protective services in today’s increasingly dangerous world.

You offer a five-day executive protection course.  I imagine firearms training is a priority.

We cover that on day one, specifically the pistol. We have it set up that way because there’s a number of folks that are carrying a firearm, that work in executive protection or some form of protection detail, and they’ve never been through training on how to conceal carry properly, like when wearing a sport coat or a jacket, and how to use low-profile holsters. But before people can go through that course, they must have certification or training in law enforcement or military-type firearms.

What other topics do you cover?

The next four days range from how to conduct an advance to threat management. We teach the traditional formations, but we also do a lot of training with just one or two man details. Teaching how to cover the multiple aspects of detail work when you’re by yourself lends itself to real world applications. Just as executive protection teams have become smaller, the executive protection field has really moved away from that “football player in a leather jacket” kind of bodyguard, to someone who’s very well-rounded, who’s cultured. So we would be remiss to ignore courses on etiquette and professionalism. We really want our agents to be best in class.

Do you also train in real-world locations like restaurants, nightclubs and bars?

Yes, one of the things you frequently do on a detail is accompany your client to a restaurant or dinner venue. So our training puts the agents through scenarios in such venues where the agent has to deal with an intoxicated man who has become fixated on the client and wants to talk to him while the client is in a private meeting. The agents first have to use the verbal skills they learn to de-escalate the situation. If the agitator doesn’t comply with the agents’ request to leave the client alone, they must use techniques learned in the combatives course in a real-life environment.  It really takes it out of the training facility and gets them out in the field where they’re going to experience these things.

Tell us about some of the most dangerous details you’ve been on, and what made them difficult. 

Just within the last year we’ve done details from Mexico to Sao Paolo, Brazil, to Africa, to Afghanistan, protecting clients ranging from business people to political leaders. One of the things that stands out the most is the driving conditions. In some of those areas, it’s just a whole different environment then say Los Angeles or another big city like that. These guys experience what it’s like when somebody comes up and brushes into their vehicle or is trying to take them off the roadway from behind. They’re actually experiencing that situation, so if it happens in the real world, they’ve been there before.

What are the most important things to keep in mind when you’re escorting  a high-profile client like a billionaire CEO,  head of state, or  famous celebrity? 

The thing to keep in mind is what threat level are you operating at, in addition to situational awareness. You just have to be on top of your game when you’re in this capacity. You have to have done your homework so that you know where you’re supposed to be going and who you’re supposed to be meeting with. You need to keep your situational awareness high, always scanning for any potential threats or hazards.

What other weapons do you carry besides a gun?

I carry a utility knife.  It is not just a weapon, but has other applications as a tool. If there’s a bad car accident, we can use the knife to cut the seat belt to be able to extract our client out of the vehicle, or something of that nature. They come in handy all the time.

You’re also a martial arts expert who instructs students in the most effective fighting and self-defense techniques. Are there any  moves specific to protecting clients that you  teach in your dojo?

There’s something called the Crash Technique. If somebody is drawing a firearm or a weapon, we’re practicing how to check that arm down and tackle them using a full body attack. 

When most of us think of professional bodyguards, we picture them protecting  business tycoons, celebrities, politicians.  What other  kinds of clients need protection services?

Well, for example, we partner with companies to provide security for their personnel when traveling overseas. It’s not just their Tier One personnel, but any traveling personnel.  A big misconception is that executive protection agents should just be used for the real high-threat areas, when the reality is, it’s wise to have a security professional with you in other cities as well.  Or if a company is sending a group of people, it’s wise to have security personnel there to accompany your group.  For instance, if you’re traveling to a city like Paris, which was not typically thought of as “high threat” pre-November, and the group wants to visit the sights such as the Flea Market as part of their trip, it’s good to have trained professionals with the group’s security and safety as their main objective. It’s not just about the physical combative skills, the agents are also trained in medical skills and first aid, and they’re very good at working out logistics—such as where is the best hospital to be treated at, etc.  So there are a lot of companies that partner with us to handle their travel needs.

In addition to safeguarding clients and training bodyguards, you also do private investigation work, corporate background checks, and maintain home security systems, correct?

Yes, executive protection and corporate security has been what we’ve concentrated on the most. But the executive protection arena dovetails right into the technology aspects. We have a technology division, and what we’ve tried to do for our clients is really increase security at their houses. Because typically if a suspect is considering conducting an assault or a robbery, they may conclude that there’s security at the workplace, which makes it a harder target there, so they then focus their attention on the house. These people are predators and they’re looking for a softer target. So what we’ve tried to do is come alongside our clients and increase the security at their homes, and that’s always going to involve technology.

How is the executive protection business changing?

A lot of personnel that ended up in the executive protection world came from a law enforcement or military background. But the industry is also looking for people who are going to blend in. There are a lot more female executive protection agents than there were before. The people working with these companies want somebody who’s more of a professional executive protection agent, rather than perhaps what people would’ve considered a bodyguard in the past. So there’s folks that are getting into the industry that have had absolutely no prior law-enforcement or security training. And one of the things people will do is go through a course, like what we offer, as a first step  along the way.