Did you know that Dune has its own martial arts?
The sandworms, technology, and intergalactic conflicts get most of the attention. But the complex world that writer Frank Herbert created in his six Dune books tackles all sorts of aspects of life and society. And that includes martial arts techniques and philosophies.
So what martial arts are used in Dune? And how do they factor into the new movie? Let’s take a deeper look.
What kind of martial arts are in Dune?
There are two main forms of combat explored in the original Dune book. The first is a self defense technique that involves an intriguing combination of close quarter knife attacks and technologically advanced shields. Paul Atreides practices this martial art early in the story.
The second style is a combat method that Paul teaches the Fremen, based on what he learned from his mother’s Bene Gesserit training. He calls this The Weirding Way. This method is based on voice modulation, expert control of nerves and muscles (called “Prana-bindu” by the Bene Gesserit), close contact combat, speed, and unorthodox weapons use.
What fighting styles are used in the new Dune movie?
Martial arts trainer and stunt coordinator/performer Roger Yuan was in charge of adapting Dune’s combat styles for the 2021 movie. He also worked with the cast and guided the martial arts training that they did to prepare for their roles.
Here’s how he breaks down his vision of the various fighting styles employed in the film in a recent interview with Kung Fu Kingdom:
“Designing the specific fighting styles for the [Padishah] Emperors guard, the Sardaukar, the Atreides, and the Harkonnens were basically the first three things that we focussed on in this first film. […]
“For the Atreides, because their weapons are a bit like a shorter sword, I use more Filipino styles of kali and escrima. The Sardaukar are more a group, like a cross between Viking Berserkers, and the Samurai.
“Finally the Harkonnens, because of their bestial and sadistic quality – I liken more to the barbarians of old, like maybe Genghis Khan and the Mongols even in the way that they move – they’re efficient but they’re not very precise or stylized.
“The Atreides are very precise, and they have techniques that work specifically for the weapons that they use. Those are the three kinds of systems that we wanted to identify, and that will hopefully give the audience something pleasing to look at and something to take away from.”
Yuan says that the first movie doesn’t get into The Weirding Way in much depth, but he promises it will be a major part of the next one.
Did the stunt team of Dune create a new martial art for the movie?
As martial artists, we know that training principles and combat techniques develop in response to circumstances. Villeneuve and his stunt team clearly had this concept in mind when they started to work on the shield defence scene for the movie. If the martial arts equipment and sparring gear involved in this story was unlike anything we’ve seen before, then they way that people fought with it would probably look a lot different, too.
“In this universe there’s an invention: The Holtzman Shield. It’s something that you can wear on your body, and will deflect something fast coming towards you. Only something slow can penetrate that shield. So, it made them use things like bullets less. Humanity went back to close combat, where you fight with knives and blades because it’s the only way you can kill someone through those shields. You can penetrate the shield slowly with the blade, “Villeneuve told EW in 2020.
“I developed with our stunt coordinator and choreographers a way of combat that is closer to a chess game than a fighting sequence. When you fight someone with a shield, the idea is to distract them with moves in advance. You want to distract them with a specific move so you can slowly bring the blade into their body. It’s a totally different way of fighting. It’s a way of fighting that is very fast. It’s like a chess game, you have to plan in advance and distract the adversary. It’s a very specific, new art form of combat.”
While the specific martial art style used in the film is new, though, it does have an earth-based influences. In a video for the New York Times about the film’s combat, Villeneuve made sure to credit both Yuan and the Filipino martial art that inspired him.
“That choreography was designed by Roger Yuan. He developed the Atreides fighting style borrowing from a martial art technique developed in the ‘50s,” he explains. “This technique was called Balintawak Eskrima. It’s a style that involves blocking the opponent’s attack with both a weapon and the free hand.”