Karate is an unarmed form of self defense that is intended to be used to protect yourself against an untrained person trying to cause you harm. Okinawan masters such as Motobu Choki, Mabuni Kenwa, and Gichin Funakoshi all agreed that this was the purpose of karate, and it is absolutely true. That said, history tells us that there is most certainly more to it than that–there is evidence that supports the use of karate–or, at least, Shuri-Te based karate–as a method of protecting others as much as for protecting yourself.
The Pechin Purpose
The Shizoku class of Okinawa consisted of noble scholars of various levels, and today the most commonly known group of Shizoku-class officials were the Pechin. These nobles were responsible for learning, developing, teaching, and employing the most effective martial arts systems of the kingdom. Notable members of this group include Takahara Pechin, Sakugawa Kanga, Bushi Matsumura Sokon, and Bushi Tachimura. Most karateka should recognize at least most of those names, and the reason for this is the fact that they all had a major impact on Shuri-Te, and they all contributed to the protection of the Okinawan king. Bushi Matsumura Sokon, in particular, was the chief bodyguard of the king, and responsible for training both the other bodyguards of the king, and the king himself.
The Shuri-Te Kata Trinity
It is sometimes said that Matsumura created the kata Passai, Kusanku, and Naihanchi, although it is more likely that he learned all three from Sakugawa Kanga–it is difficult to find two scholars that agree on who truly created them. What is known, for certain, is that both Bushi Matsumura and Bushi Tachimura (a contemporary of Matsumura) taught these three kata in conjunction with each other. It stands to reason, then that these kata contain not only techniques for self protection, but also techniques for the protection of another, as that was within the responsibilities of the Pechin class. Each of these three kata can be used individually as an effective fighting system, but together they are far more complete, as each one builds on the techniques of the others.
The Techniques of the Past and Present
The responsibilities of bodyguards have not changed much over the centuries that the role has existed all over the world. Firearms and motor vehicles have added some new problems to deal with, but just about every other threat has been being dealt with for just about as long as someone needed to protect someone else. Over the course of history, bodyguards have been able to determine the best techniques, principals, and methodologies for what they do, and they have passed those on to the people who would take their place. Since the human body can only be used in so many ways, there is a great deal of similarity between combative systems the world over, and in the realm of bodyguard duties, the same is true. Prime examples of a few of these techniques are present in all three kata in the Shuri-Te trinity.
The Hands-Ready Position
The “hands-ready” position is a passive posture of readiness where the hands are held in front of the body where they can be relaxed, but ready to be employed at a moment’s notice. Variants of this posture can be seen nearly any time you see a bodyguard on duty, and they can also be found in the yoi (ready position) of Naihanchi, Passai, and Kusanku.
The wedge, as the name implies, is a technique for separating–in a self defense context, it can be separating the arms of an attacker, but in a bodyguard context it can be separating multiple attackers, or even a crowd that you are escorting a person through. If you ever watch a group of bodyguards trying to get their client through a group of people, you will often see the person in the lead form a wedge with his arms in order to help them slip through the crowd, and you will also see the same position in Kusanku, and some versions of Naihanchi and Passai.
The dive is a technique for putting yourself between a threat and the person you are protecting, whether that threat is a weapon or an empty-handed assault. Sometimes, the dive is also used to push the person you are protecting behind or under cover. These days, it is most common to see this done whenever a weapon is drawn or displayed in the presence of someone being protected, such as public officials, but it can also be seen when bodyguards protect famous people from over-zealous fans. The most obvious example of this is found in kata is at the very beginning of Passai, where you leap from a “hands-ready” position into a defensive technique. The beginning of Naihanchi, where you step sideways into a defensive technique from a “hands-ready” position, can also be seen as diving between an attacker and someone you are protecting. The same type of leap that is found in Passai can also be found in Kusanku, although it is not at the beginning of the kata.