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Dugu Qiubai's Martial Arts Philosophy

Mentioned both in the Return of the Condor Heroes (ROCH) and the Smiling Proud Wanderer (SPW), the master pugilist Dugu Qiubai was more "heard of" than "seen".  Yet, his legacy proved invaluable to Yang Guo and Linghu Chong.  What exactly is Dugu Qiubai's martial philosophy that resulted in exquisite weapons and techniques like the Heavy Blunt Sword and the Nine Swords of Dugu?


Dugu Qiubai wrote about himself (this is what Yang Guo read at the Dugu's grave):
"Having roamed the martial arts world for more than thirty years, I have killed all my villainous foes and defeated all heroic champions, Under Heaven there's no one who can be my equal. Without any other choice, I could only retreat and live in seclusion in this deep valley, with a condor as my companion. Alas, throughout my life I searched for a good adversary but in vain, I am truly lonely and saddened. DEMONIC SWORDSMAN DUGU QIUBAI"

In his Sword Tomb, it is stated:
"The Demonic Swordsman Dugu Qiubai has become the invincible and unchallenged warrior under Heaven, he therefore buried his swords here. Alas, the heroes of the realm bowed down before me, now my long sword is of no use anymore... the agony!"

"Fierce and aggressive, able to penetrate every obstacle. With it, I competed with the heroes of the Northern Plains during my teenage years."

"The Violet Flexible Sword, used it prior to the age of thirty. I accidentally wounded a righteous man with it, it turned out to be a Weapon of Doom. I felt great remorse and abandoned the sword in a deep valley."

"The Heavy, Blunt Sword, complexity is useless. Before I reached the age of forty, I used it to roam the entire Empire under Heaven."

"After the age of forty, I no longer relied on weaponry. Trees, bamboo and rock can all be my swords. From then on, the essence of my cultivation slowly reached the level of overcoming the sword without a sword."


To explain this, I will use certain abstract principles, excerpts from the novels and some of my own views:


Dugu Nine Swords favors formlessness so that it can assume all forms and, since it has no style, Dugu Nine Swords uses all ways and is bound by none and, likewise, uses any techniques or means which serves its end. In this art, efficiency is anything that scores.

Expression is not developed through the practice of form, yet form is a part of expression. The greater (expression) is not found in the lesser (expression) but the lesser is found within the greater. Having "no form", then, does not mean having no "form". Having "no form" evolves from having form. "No form" is the higher, individual expression.

In Dugu Nine Swords, all technique is to be forgotten and the unconscious is to be left alone to handle the situation. The technique will assert its wonders automatically or spontaneously. To float in totality, to have no technique, is to have all technique.


Example: Smiling Proud Wanderer, chapter 10 -
Feng Qingyang said: "... Master Dugu was a man of superior intellect. To learn this sword method, emphasis must be placed on UNDERSTANDING, not on memory or imitation. When you understand the intention of these Nine Swords, you can apply them in every situation. Even if you forget them totally, it will not be a problem. When facing an opponent, the more you forget, the less you will be obstructed by the original sword style."

Dugu Nine Swords, as it was taught to Linghu Chong by Feng Qingyang, was just a way to grasp the deeper aspects of sword fighting. The original Nine Techniques are therefore only the BEGINNING and the TOOL, not the end or final goal. In other words, it is the "form" from which one can develop "no form". After mastering these Nine Techniques, they must be forgotten and abolished. The application of the principles then differs with each individual, Linghu Chong's style differs from Feng Qingyang's, Feng Qingyang's style differs from Dugu Qiubai… This is the way of individual expression.


The knowledge and skill you have achieved are meant to be "forgotten" so you can float comfortably in emptiness, without obstruction. Learning is important but do not become its slave. Above all, do not harbor anything external and superfluous - the mind is primary. Any technique, however worthy or desirable, becomes a disease when the mind is obsessed by it.


Example: Return of the Condor Heroes, chapter 16-
... He (Yang Guo) had many extraordinary encounters throughout his young life and it's in his character to like "more", to like "something different". He has indeed learned many different martial arts styles including Quanzhen Style, Ouyang Feng's style, Ancient Tomb Style, Art of Nine Yin, Hong Qigong's style, Huang Yaoshi's style… He learned a bit of this and pieces of that, but in none of the styles did he reached top-level… Suddenly a thought came up: "Why can't I take the best points of all schools and create my own style?"… he couldn't help but to perform punches and kicks. At first it was still clear which technique belonged to Hong Qigong and which one was learned form Ouyang Feng, but at the end it all became chaotic… In these seven days, he passed out five times… But after pondering for days, he saw the light and understood how every martial art can be used, if it can't be combined, why forcing it? When engaged in battle, use whatever is useful. Do not think about the origins of the style, this way it is not much different from a style created by yourself.

Yang Guo at that time wasn't able to create a style of his own but he was beginning to understand the basic principles of Dugu Nine Swords. Yang Guo had already learned a lot of martial arts styles, had knowledge of the more advanced fighting theories and witnessed some extraordinary masters in actual combat. His martial arts knowledge was more profound than Linghu Chong's. Linghu Chong therefore needed to learn Dugu Nine Swords to learn the "form" and the theories, while Yang Guo already had enough "form" and was starting to understand the theories. That's why Yang Guo could skip the stage of Dugu Nine Swords and learn the Heavy Ironsword- the way of expression of Dugu Qiubai in his 30's. The Heavy Ironsword is a more advanced level of Dugu Qiubai's training process, although Yang Guo did not learn the Dugu Nine Swords, the principles of Dugu Nine Swords are already absorbed into the way of the Heavy Ironsword. The fact that Yang Guo could wield the Heavy Sword effectively shows that he grasped the essence of the style of middle-aged Dugu. This fighting style was more "formless" than the Dugu Nine Swords, but even the Heavy Ironsword has to be abolished eventually.


When insubstantiality and substantiality are not set and defined, when there is no track to change what it is, one has mastered the formless form. When there is clinging to the form, when there is attachment of the mind, it is not the true path. When technique comes out of itself, that is the way.


Example: Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre, chapter 24-
What Zhang Sanfeng taught him (Zhang Wuji) was "the intention of the sword", not "the technique of the sword". He must forget all the techniques in order to grasp the essence, in combat the intention guides the sword with limitless variations. But if one or two techniques are not completely wiped out of the memory, than the mind will be obstructed and the sword skills will not be blunt. Experts like Yang Xiao and Yin Tianzheng more or less understand this meaning… This Taiji Sword… can be said to consist of only one technique but this technique alone can be used infinitely… Although the sword is made out of wood, but wielded with the power generated by the Art of Nine Yang it differs not from a steel blade.

The way Zhang Sanfeng and Zhang Wuji performed Taiji Sword gives a clue on how Dugu Qiubai would have fought in his 40's. The movements have been so simplified and sophisticated that just one technique can be used infinitely. Internal power has reached such a level that a wooden sword can be wielded as if it was a steel blade. The Heavy Ironsword, as a tool, has become unnecessary. Zhang Wuji had never trained in swordsmanship, but because of his previous martial arts training, he already understood the principles of Taiji Sword- principles which Dugu Nine Swords shared. Zhang Wuji therefore didn't have to learn a "form" like Dugu Nine Swords to advance to this level, because of his knowledge and internal power, he needed less TOOLS to achieve a higher GOAL.


The martial art of Dugu Qiubai therefore is the art not founded on techniques or doctrine. It is just as you are.


Dugu Qiubai knew more than anyone else that martial arts were a form of individual expression, a view shared by Zhang Sanfeng, Zhang Wuji, Yang Guo, and to a lesser extent, Feng Qingyang and Linghu Chong. Techniques and forms are just tools in order to achieve goals, once a goal is achieved, the tool must be abolished, the techniques forgotten in order to make way for further development. Everything that was learned in the past is forgotten, but is still with you- it has become one with your entire being, it has become second nature. The Heavy Ironsword and the wooden sword of Dugu Qiubai can therefore be seen as higher levels of performing Dugu Nine Swords, yet they are not Dugu Nine Swords. Dugu Nine Swords is everywhere and nowhere, for it has been completely absorbed within the way of the Heavy Ironsword, the wooden sword and the way of "overcoming the sword without a sword"… the form is nowhere to be found, but the principles remain the same.


If people say Dugu Nine Swords is "this" or "that", then let the name of Dugu Nine Swords be wiped out, for that is what it is, just a name.


Tell me more:

Read the  biography of Dugu Qiubai.