Tag Archives: bodyguards

Q&A: The One Armed Bodyguard’s Greatest Foe: Doors

I have a character who is a skilled warrior (guard for the royal family’s children) and was born without their left arm. They mostly fight unarmed, however, I don’t think that would be super effective against someone with a sword. Are there weapons that someone could use efficiently with one arm?


“They mostly fight unarmed?” I think I see what you did there.

You’re correct that an unarmed fighter would be at a significant disadvantage when going up against someone armed with a sword, or anyone with an extra arm they can use to strike with while parrying an incoming blow.

The hard thing with questions like this stems from a misunderstanding about combat. Combat isn’t about being, “good enough,” it’s about leveraging any advantage over your foe.

A sword vastly increases one’s reach and lethality. As we’ve mentioned before, reach is an incredibly important part of combat, but is frequently overlooked in entertainment. If someone can kill you at a distance where you cannot respond, you have no path to victory.

You’ve heard the cliché of bringing a knife to a gunfight, and that’s because of range. The problem is, while it’s a less extreme example, bringing a fist to a swordfight will be just as suicidal.

So, what weapons can someone use effectively with one hand? Well the sword comes to mind immediately. Most swords are usable one handed, even the large two handers, such as the zweihander or claymore. The two-handers will be more awkward in a single hand, but they are usable.

Competitive fencing is no stranger to one armed duelists. Particularly with weapons like the rapier or foil, your off-hand is primarily used for balance, and a one-armed fighter, who can adjust to their lack of an arm, is not at any real disadvantage.

In fact, loss of the non-dominant arm in fencing is not enough to make someone eligible for the Paralympics. As far as Olympic and Paralympic rules are concerned, a one armed fencer is not considered disabled. There are even a few very successful examples, such as the elusive Al Snyder, who was the 1944 US National Foil Champion. From what I can understand, he lost his right arm to a shotgun blast as a child, and took up fencing in college (at Stanford) with an exceptional competitive record.

It’s been less than two months since we last mentioned Götz von Berlichingen, but if we’re on the topic of one armed soldiers, he is an important example.

If all of this sounds unusually positive, I do have an issue, and it’s a big one.

(guard for the royal family’s children)

I have absolutely no problem seeing someone like this as a swordmaster or master at arms. I could see someone like this training members of the royal family in the use of the sword. Possibly even see them as the commander of the palace guard. It would depend on personal history, but these are all (conditionally) plausible.

As a minor nitpick, I think it’s more plausible if they lost their arm in combat, rather than as a congenital defect, simply because that would smooth the line for how they got into their position. It makes a lot of sense for a member of the royal family to keep someone around who’s been their trusted personal guard for the last 30 years, and lost an arm defending against a failed coup a decade back, while moving them into a position where they’re still as valuable. It makes less sense for the master of the guard to look at a one armed kid who wants to sign up, and say, “yeah, we’ll take you.”

The problem is the job itself. It’s not that I don’t think the character can fight. It’s that I know they cannot open a door behind them while keeping their weapon trained on the assassin who just burst through the window.

That may sound petty, but it’s the tip of an iceberg. You have a character who cannot use their off hand to take any action while they have their weapon drawn. (Because the off-hand doesn’t exist.)

The example above is one of the more glaring issues: They cannot open a door or operate any machinery without putting away their weapon. In a situation where seconds matter, that could easily be fatal for the children. Relying on the children to keep their cool during a crisis is an incredible gamble.

Similarly, when faced with an opponent armed with a shield or parrying dagger, they are in extreme jeopardy. If their strike is blocked or deflected, they have no defense against a riposte. This is not a consideration in fencing, because, in a sport environment, competitors have standardized equipment, and rules designed to ensure a fair match. None of this is true when your character is in an actual battle (or fending off assassins.)

Now, if the question is, do I think a sufficiently hardened one-armed swordfighter could safely dispatch a four limbed assailant? Yeah. Absolutely. However, assigning them as the personal bodyguard (no matter how good they are) would be irresponsible for several reasons.

First, that door example means they can’t evacuate the children from a dangerous situation without dropping their guard. This is more universal than the specifics would suggest.

Similarly, they can’t carry an injured child to safety and open doors on the way. Realistically, that’s a much more pressing concern. It’s unlikely that the royal children are presented with attempts on their life on a regular basis. However, the risk that one of the kids is injured by… anything, and incapacitated is a real danger.

Those kids are not just kids. In a, hereditary monarchy, they are simultaneously, and incredibly valuable diplomatic resource, and the continuity of government. Only giving them a single guard collectively, no matter how many limbs they have, is extremely concerning.

Again, I could see a one-armed veteran guard acting as the head of their security detail, but that would be talking about your character having a squad of guards at their command, not simply being, “their personal guard.” Particularly, if your one-armed character is (almost) always accompanied by a subordinate.

So, what could the use? A sword. But, that’s not the biggest issue here.


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On Writing: Bodyguards


Has your character ever needed a bodyguard?  Yes?  Did you think that the job of a bodyguard was limited to walking next to someone while wearing sunglasses and having sexual tension/banter?  Well then, we need to talk.

  • Bodyguarding is a regulated profession.  Technically, you don’t need to go to a class to follow someone around and promise to beat up whoever hassles them.  On the other hand, if you do that, your paycheck can’t say “bodyguard” on it.  Every state has different requirements, but all of them include “take at least some sort of class and get a license.”  You have to take a class to be a security guard.  You have to take a different class to be a bodyguard.  You have take more classes to be an armed guard.  You have to take a separate, unique class for each type and caliber of weapon you want to be licensed for.  Now, like everything else, there are good and bad schools for this sort of thing, and with very little searching you can probably find a “school” that will take your money and give you a license at the end of the day, whether you paid attention to the class or not.  But the fact still remains that you can’t just turn to any random person and call them a bodyguard.

Read More

We’ve talked about bodyguards before, but this write up by readingwithavengeance is a great place to start when trying to avoid the cliches. I also humbly suggest looking at Man on Fire as a reference.


I have a character who’s been in the bodyguard/private military business for at least seven years, with no prior military or law enforcement training. Would it be realistic to assume that they’ve picked up enough experience to know what they’re doing?

Yes. Anyone who’s been doing their job for seven years should have a solid grasp of what they’re doing. This is just as true of bodyguards as restaurant waitstaff.

I know for a fact Bodyguard training programs exist for individuals with no prior experience. I suspect the same is true for PMCs. What I can’t tell you is if their PMC actually put their bodyguards through a competent training regimen. But, yeah, unless their training was faulty, they should know what they’re doing.


How does one write a convincing (seventeen-year-old female) bodyguard character?

By waiting until she’s an adult. A bodyguard that looks like a seventeen year old girl is perfectly plausible. There are a lot of reasons why you might want to stick a protection detail on someone that doesn’t look like a swarm of shaved gorillas in suits. But, the skillset, and the general maturity you need for a good bodyguard just aren’t things a teenager will have had the time to acquire. Sorry.

If they’re not actually a bodyguard, and it’s an ad-hoc, “I can keep you safe”, kind of situation, then that’s not an issue at all. They may even think of themselves as a bodyguard. That’s perfectly reasonable, and you have a lot of latitude on what is, or isn’t, a convincing outlook, because your character is setting the range for their own behavior.

But, keep in mind, they wouldn’t actually be a bodyguard, so, if their protectee is someone who would need a real security detail, then they’d be shut out.

If the protectee is someone who’d fall under the protection of the Secret Service or the DSS, then your character wouldn’t even be allowed inside the security envelope, unless there was some specific reason. Such as a close, longstanding personal friendship, or if they’re an immediate family member. Even then, there’s no way they’d be part of the security detail. In fact, if they were an immediate relation to someone under either Secret Service or DSS protection, they’d be protected by members of the same agency.

Again, the FAQ on FBI.gov will give you a good idea of the requirements for a Federal Agent. Since 2007 or 2008, former Presidents can opt out of permanent Secret Service protection, though, if they do, they’re required to maintain their own security detail.

I’m bringing up the Secret Service and DSS because they’re the most likely to employ people who look like teenagers. But, the people they’re hiring are going to have Bachelor’s degrees, and (usually) a history in law enforcement or the military.

Most major metropolitan police departments will have a VIP protection squad, though, the name will vary. A lot of times these aren’t dedicated units. I’m aware of one case where the anti-gang taskforce, the VIP protection team, and the vice squad were actually the same set of officers.

Corporations that hire bodyguards for their executives, draw from PMCs or security companies that provide bodyguard services. Lower ranking corporate officers might hire bodyguards of their own. This is somewhat more common in developing countries. But, in these cases, the  shaved gorillas in suits, are more likely to appeal. Depending on the PMC or security firm, their personnel will also skew for ex-cops and ex-military, with some mercenaries, and depending on how rigorous a company is, some “ex-special forces” wannabies.

As a general rule, ex-cops make for really good bodyguards, the rest less so. The police skillset transitions into bodyguard work very well. Ex-military bodyguards can usually get the job done, and in rougher countries, they can be preferable, but they’re just not trained for the specific kind of threat assessment bodyguards need.

I’d recommend the 2004 version of Man on Fire with Denzel Washington, and any episode of the West Wing involving the Secret Service Agents (there’s a lot of them.) Particularly the episodes with Jorja Fox as Agent Gina Toscano.

I’ve trashed it before, but Taken does show a good martial form for a bodyguard, even if it’s egregiously out of place for Liam Neeson’s character.