Put yourself in the thick of it. What would you do? Your world is split into two—principals and enemies in a constant power struggle. Many hidden factions promote ninja-type fighting skills. You must protect your principal at all costs, yet not every situation requires deadly force so you have to be an expert at making lightning quick decisions. That flash of light may not mean a rifle, but it could mean a deadly weapon, in deadly hands.
Add one more level of strategy and pain: the very act of taking out one assassin might reveal a pathway for the bad guys to capture your principal. You have to keep all balls moving at the same time—your principal’s position, the number of attackers, escape corridors and types of weapons. And, on top of everything else, you may be guarding someone truly important, like the Emperor of China. What do you do? Despite modern scientific methods, many aspects of combat are still squarely resting on human potential and commitment.
In the past, Kung Fu Masters came up with divergent solutions. If you were an expert in Baji Quan—probably the celebrity style for this kind of work—each blow was trained strong enough to literally explode the attacker like a cannon ball, putting him yards away from your principal.
Bagua, which also came to fame from bodyguard practices, took a somewhat different approach, more like Aikido (which may have been influenced by Bagua) making sure there is no part of you to grab effectively and often spinning enough to throw an attacker out of range. As you might do in a gang fight, you enter spinning, already striking one opponent while moving toward another.
Sometimes success can lead to less than desirable outcomes. Bagua became so popular with the royal family after such incidents that my great grand teacher, Gong Bao Tian, was hired in a special capacity: when the Empress was driven around in her carriage accompanied by her four bodyguards, Gong Sigong had the privilege of riding UNDER the carriage as a fifth, “hidden” asset.
It is said that Yang Lu Chan, the creator of Yang style Tai Chi once escorted the Royal Family right through the riotous streets of Beijing by absorbing the attackers’ pressure, pushing them back into the crowd, protecting his principals but harming no one else in the process.
The same thing happened to a friend of mine, Howard Slatoff. While dean at Hayward College during the turbulent Sixties, he was caught on campus in a building surrounded by protestors. The college’s head of security literally parted the crowd and walked him to safety without incident. It was years after we had become friends that I learned the security officer in question was Al Novack, a famous Kung Fu and Kajukenbo practitioner, student of Bruce Lee and stalwart attender of tournaments known for his first aid (Di Da) skills.
There are many reasons to employ bodyguards, and many wrinkles to those reasons. The head of the Hop Sing Tong, Lau Bun—himself a master of Choy Lai Fut—was said to employ Samoan body guards; because of his position as a Tong leader, using Chinese bodyguards of unknown affiliation might have backfired.
What makes a good bodyguard style? Some branches of Kung Fu are ready-made. For some, fitting conditions is top priority. A style perfect for guarding caravans, ala Crouching Tiger, might be a bomb in other circumstances. If you are walking through a bloated alley in Hong Kong, a smart Wing Chun master may be the only logical choice.
No matter how you slice it, the role of a bodyguard demands skills which most of us, thankfully, will never use in our lifetimes.