You Are Hired: Bodyguard Kung Fu

 art_bodyguartd_3_wuhuiqingPut 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.

actionshot_3In 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.

art_bodyguartd_2Bagua, 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.

actionshot_2The 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 art_bodyguartd_1conditions 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.

9 Responses to “You Are Hired: Bodyguard Kung Fu”

  1. Thomas Kiefer says:

    What a wonderful article–thank you!

    P.S.: What was the weapon of choice for bodyguards, esp. Baji and Bagua guards? Or were bare hands enough? I also wonder, was there a protocol like, “hands first, weapons last”? Or was it the other way around, weapons first, and then, if they’re disarmed, then hands?

  2. Rich Mooney says:

    Thomas: weapons are just an extension of your hand or arm. In this day and age firearms are the first choice of many. Learning and training in any good martial art, to an instinctive proficiency can take a long time.
    A few months of dedicated training with a handgun can make just about anyone fairly proficient in basic firearms operation and targeting. I have been shot twice. The person who shot me is dead. I carry, but would prefer that my sidearm be the court of last resort, and that my martial art skills would carry the fight for me. It all boils down to force escalation. They use their fists; you use your fists and legs, they bring out a knife, you pull out your firearm. They pull out a firearm, hope that you are better skilled. There are many stories of the favorite weapons that the old Masters used, in many different books and oral histories. Good luck to you, in your training. May you never have to use it.

  3. Plum Staff says:

    Good question, Tom!

    Of course, for personal bodyguards, short weapons were the choice, often paired, such as the deerhorn knives and judge’s needles (both bagua weapons), not to mention the twin daggers and the very scary sleeve knives, which were hidden inside the cuffs of their jackets.

    Bodyguards on commercial trips, and such, relied on more typical kung fu weapons, especially the spear (the main baji weapon). While grappling and empty-hand striking might have been alternatives, serious confrontation were decided by weapons. However, in reference to more humane approaches, some bodyguards were experts in rope restraint and steel whip usage (concealed beneath their sashes).

    Keep on practicing!

  4. Thomas Kiefer says:

    Thank you both for the comments and advice. It’s greatly appreciated!

  5. Rich Mooney says:

    Dear Thomas;

    In our modern era, aside from typical knives; i.e., Buck Knives, Kerambits, Bowie Knives, Switchblades, straight razors, box cutters, etc., and the wide range of guns available, a person can look to common, every day items for use in self defense. While carrying a chain whip might be a bit over the top in some localities, and others such as the nunchaku which are illegal in a number of States, I am a great fan of expedient weapons. These can be no less less deadly than a typical weapon which might harken back to the old days: A common pen or pencil can be used to inflict lethal results if used against soft targets of the body; the eyes, going into the brain, the tops of the lungs, causing an atypical sucking chest wound (If the opponent cannot breathe or see, their combat effectiveness can be maximally reduced to them slowly dying on the pavement. Targeting the attackers throat or jamming a steel barreled pen into either ear opening, to pierce their eardrum, and destroy their balance. The belt you wear about your waist can be used in an offensive and defensive manner against many situations, as you might use a chain whip, yet is completely legal and quite ubiquitous. Depending on the construction of the belt, the buckle at the end can be used similar to a meteor hammer, and may inflict similar injuries. If you wear a traditional Tie to work, it may also be employed to trap punches, or use for strangling an opponent, should the occasion ever arise. When I travel nationally or internationally, I bring along my trusty fighting cane. I have never ever been stopped and asked why I carry it, as it’s common use is well known, and many are unaware just how lethal a hickory fighting cane can be, in the right hands. Heavy steel or silver wallet chains can also be useful for trapping and binding the incoming punch of an attacker, or swung at the orbital sockets of their eyes, or whipped onto their esophagus or trachea. These are just a few examples of being able to carry and use an openly carried weapon, that few know the ulterior usage capabilities of. Of course Bricks, Garbage Cans and stray cats have their expedient uses too, but go beyond the scope this particular discussion. Best wishes!

  6. Jeff says:

    Ted, your comment about a possible link between Bagua and Aikido is interesting. It is known that the founder of Aikido spent some time in China in the 20s while on his way to Mongolia, and later, during the war, in Manchuria. I should think it is possible if not probable that he was exposed to Bagua during these times.

    What do you think about possible links between Xing Yi and Karate? The White Crane/Karate connection is well known, but I have read that Chatan Yara studied Xing Yi in China. Yara instructed Tode Sakugawa (Tode means ‘China Hand’), who instructed Bushi Matsumura, who instructed many of the grandfathers of karate.

  7. Plum Staff says:

    Wow, Rich, that covers a lot of ground. It also reinforces the idea that, at short distances, the most powerful weapon is determined by your assessment and imagination. Whatever is at hand is the best choice.

    Students are always wondering why there aren’t more forms for short stick, and nunchaku and yawara. But all of these are subsumed by other weapon skills. When I teach my students a broadsword set, for instance, I also teach short sticks when doing applications. Because of this, you don’t need a form for chopsticks, pencils or skillets (outside of a Jackie Chan movie). The rule is ‘when in close, grab what’s nearby.’

  8. Plum Staff says:

    That’s a distinct possibility.

    I remember working out at the local college where the only other person in the martial arts room was a young Japanese man doing marching basics. Up and down the mat he went, with the same punch, over and over. After a while, I just watched his form and realized it could be Xing Yi, practiced in exactly the same manner. The choice of Xing Yi for Okinawan martial artists to study would be highly appropriate.

    Just a side note: we are soon to release more information on our new acquisition, the Bubishi (Wubeizhi), yet another possible station on the China-Okinawa road.

  9. Jeff says:

    Ted, I have an older version of McCarthy’s translation. It is interesting, though somewhat mystifying. I really do believe there is a link between Xing-Yi and karate.

    In addition to Xing-Yi connection, I have read that Aragaki Seisho studied Arhat boxing. Although he didn’t go on to found his own ryu, he was a tremendous influence on those who did.

    Then there is Passai kata, said to be a very old form. Some suggest it may have come from Lion boxing, though I don’t see that, but it certainly has elements that look and feel like the Tan Tui you have in your videos on the site.

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