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Exploring Weaponry Culture and Context with Butterfly Swords in 'The Final Master'

Embark on a journey through 'The Final Master,' where butterfly swords take center stage, influencing character dynamics with their historical roots, cultural symbolism, and crucial plot roles. This essay delves into the analysis of these iconic weapons wielded by the protagonist–the butterfly swords–providing insights into the director's intimate relationship with martial arts and his deliberate selection of weaponry. As we navigate this exploration, a nuanced convergence of history and storytelling unfolds, enhancing the narrative's depth and shedding light on the cultural significance of the martial art style of Wing Chun.


As the central figure and protagonist in 'The Final Master,' Master Chen Shi stands as the last practitioner of Wing Chun, driven by an unwavering commitment to preserve the form and style of this martial art, ensuring its legacy for future generations. In his pursuit of his goal, Chen proves to be a character of complexity and intrigue. Unconstrained by traditional notions of virtue, he adopts unconventional methods, including manipulation, to achieve his goal and duty. Chen's journey unfolds in the city of Tianjin, where he arrives alone to promote the Wing Chun style of Kung Fu.  

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However, being an outsider, he faces the challenge of integrating into Tianjin society, recognizing the value people place on those with local history and familial ties. To establish his presence, Chen embarks on a multifaceted strategy, involving marriage to a local woman and recruiting a native apprentice, Geng Liangchen. The narrative takes an intriguing turn when, precisely at Chen's hour of need, Geng confronts him, drawn by the allure of Chen's captivating wife, Zhao Guohui.


Chen's signature weapon is known by various names such as húdiédāo (蝴蝶刀) or butterfly swords. Within the specialized Kung Fu style of Wing Chun that Chen practices, these swords bear the name Baat Jaam Do (八斬刀), originating from the system's 'Eight Chopping/Slashing Knives' form.

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Designed with precision, these weapons are tailored for strikes directed at the wrist, elbow, knee, and ankle, embodying the Wing Chun principles. Crafted for parrying, disarming, and cutting, the butterfly swords align seamlessly with the purpose of Wing Chun—maiming, not killing.

Described simply, the Baat Jaam Do are a pair of single-edged short broadswords that fit into a single scabbard; featuring knuckle bows that cover the fingers when holding the sword to protect the hands in close combat. 

The name 'butterfly swords' is aptly derived from their appearance when presented together, crossed in a manner resembling a butterfly's wings. These weapons not only echo the practical and effective principles of Wing Chun but also highlight the necessity of hand protection crucial for their application in this Kung Fu style.

Crafted not for killing but for maiming, the characters for 'knife' (刀) in Baat Jaam Do (八斬刀) symbolize any blade designed for cutting and slashing, regardless of length. These swords are symbolic of Chen defeating the warlord but at great cost—his disciple. 

The value of not to kill, just maim resonates profoundly in a climactic scene where Chen confronts three master swordsmen wielding formidable weapons in an alley. Following the intense encounter, one of the defeated swordsmen acknowledges Chen's approach long after he has left the scene, stating that he 'fights to maim, not to kill,' echoing the core tenets of Wing Chun.

The Final Master 1:39:50

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The Wing Chun style itself was developed by one of the Five Elders, Ng Mui—a female Shaolin Master. Her journey began with a recognition of the imbalance in armed and unarmed sparring against male combatants, prompting her to refine the method. Ng Mui's innovative approach led to the creation of the Wing Chun technique, emphasizing technical skill over brute force to address the disparities in size and strength during combat. 

The style, named after her first student Yin Wing Chun, initially aimed at assisting her in deflecting unwanted attention from a suitor. Despite its origins in countering male combatants, Wing Chun is a versatile style suitable for all, regardless of size or gender—a practical and effective self-defense system.

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Parallels between Wing Chun's origin and Geng learning Wing Chun in the film. 

The style, named after her first student Yin Wing Chun, initially aimed at assisting her in deflecting unwanted attention from a suitor. Despite its origins in countering male combatants, Wing Chun is a versatile style suitable for all, regardless of size or gender—a practical and effective self-defense system.

With an unyielding determination to establish a Wing Chun-focused fighting academy in Tianjin, Chen employs any means necessary to achieve his goal. 

His embodiment of Wing Chun, coupled with his status as a man, fortifies the martial art's versatility across sexes and genders, emphasizing its practicality. This practicality is intricately woven into Chen's steps and the execution of his goal, reflecting the Wing Chun principles of efficiency, effectiveness, simplicity, and directness, where only necessary motions are utilized.

While Chen employs indirect methods, manipulating individuals to navigate Tianjin's intricate social landscape–like not telling his disciple he will be banished from TianJin after he defeats the eight required academies–his use of force is strikingly direct and purposeful just like his chosen fighting style. This duality in his approach is evident, whether wielded as a necessity or employed as a teaching tool, as seen in his initial encounter with his disciple, Geng.

Throughout the film, the butterfly swords become symbolic companions, accompanying both Chen and his disciple on their journey, embodying the essence of Wing Chun and underscoring its significance in the narrative. 


The roots of Wing Chun extend back to the Qing Dynasty, but before was the Ming Dynasty where General Qi Jiguang played a pivotal role by formulating a martial arts training program for force-recruited peasants. Emphasizing the crucial connection between individuals and their chosen weapons in arms training, Qi Jiguang tailored the arsenal to match the capabilities of each recruit. 

Shields and broadswords were designated for the young and agile, while sturdy and mature adults were equipped with langxians—special defensive weapons, possibly designed by Qi himself. 

Long spears were reserved for daring men in their early thirties filled with spirit, while those without certain qualifications wielded short pole weapons such as tridents, halberds, and staves.

This historical context further illuminates how weapons and personal character are related like with Chen in ‘The Final Master.’

Spear techniques from General Qi Jiguang's Book of Effective Discipline.

In the selection of iconic kung fu weapons for the film, director Xu Haofeng delves into the symbolic meanings associated with each choice. The protagonist, Chen, hailing from the south and venturing into the north, accentuates the differences between these regions, a contrast that manifests in the weaponry. The Wing Chun style, Chen's expertise, finds its roots in Southern China, another layer of social and cultural nuance.

Xu Haofeng, in an interview with Kung Fu Kingdom, explains the symbolic distinction further: 

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Director Xu Haofeng

“Since Northern China has been the center of political power for centuries, the shape of its blades are solemn with a need to reflect etiquette and customs. In the South, blades are more simple in design without this need for symbolism.”


In essence, 'The Final Master' goes beyond the realm of martial arts cinema, offering an exploration of tradition, sacrifice, and the enduring legacy of Wing Chun. The butterfly swords become more than tools for combat; they serve as extensions of characters, embodying the complexities and conflicts within the story. Chen's unyielding determination and strategic use of force, mirrored in the Baat Jaam Do, emphasize the practicality and directness inherent in Wing Chun. As the film concludes, the echo of clashing swords lingers, leaving audiences with an appreciation for the artistry and depth embedded in every swing of the Baat Jaam Do.

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