Ah Ching, the heroine of Jin Yong's short story, Sword of the Yueh Maiden, is not that well known to mainstream Jin Yong enthusiasts. The story is set in the 5th century B.C. around the time of the Warring States period in Chinese history.
Note: The "Yueh" character is the same as the "Viet" in present day Vietnam, as the kingdom of Yueh was formed by aboriginal peoples in Southern China. Many scholars believe that the present day Vietnamese are the descendants of the kingdom of Yue. Therefore, Yueh Maiden Swordsmanship is not connected to the Yueh Maiden Heart Sutra or Yueh Maiden Swordsmanship of ROCH and XAJH. That "Yueh" character refers to "jade".
Continuing on, many dismiss the swordsmanship displayed by Ah Ching to be quite elementary, and not exceeding the level of around a 3rd generation Taoist of Quanzhen (around Wan Ziping's level). The arguments they bring forth are that there were no true martial arts displayed in that story and furthermore, she definitely had no internal energy cultivation and all her martial arts were merely external sword stances. I will proceed to argue that those points are completely incorrect and that Ah Ching was not only a prolific martial arts expert but also a martial arts prodigy in her own right.
The first point we have to take into consideration is that there was no real "wulin" or "jianghu" during the Spring and Autumn and Warring States period. The entire world was engulfed in war and kingdoms rose and fell in a matter of years. Many of the wuxia stories we are accustomed to have a "wulin" community because at the very least there was a single government which was set in place. If the entire world was engulfed in constant warfare, most likely all the adept and skilled fighters of the time would choose to side with their native kingdoms and serve in their own kingdom's armies. They didn't have the luxury of forming sword schools or sects and clans as in the later dynasties, because every day their lives were at stake. At any time, another kingdom could be knocking at their door asking for invasion. Thusly, it is very logical to conclude that there existed no real "wulin" underworld community and all the skilled fighters of the era were in the service of their kingdom's military.
In the first half of the story, eight swordsmen from the Kingdom of Wu visited the Kingdom of Yueh and thoroughly embarassed all the swordsmen there. The Wu swordsmen fought in formations which coincided with Sun Tzu's Art of War where a few would specialize in defense while the rest focused on offense to outnumber the opponents. It was said that their swordsmanship was invincible during the era.
When Ah Ching first makes her appearance, she bests all eight of them effortlessly making each one of the battle-hardened veterans lose an eye. Her movements were described as too fast for the eye to perceive and her technique was similar to the theories of Dugu Jiujian in which she used simple moves which perfectly countered her opponent's attacks. In addition, she did all this with just a bamboo stick.
The next instance that we see Ah Ching in action is when she practices with her Grandpa White. It turns out Ah Ching claims that her sword skills were not taught to her at all. She just started stick fighting with bamboo sticks against a giant white ape at the age of 13. They would try to score hits on each other and at first Grandpa White would win but after a while, Ah Ching won every contest. When Feng Li sees Ah Ching and Grandpa White spar, it was described as just a green blur and a white blur encircling each other. This type of description warrants incredible lightness skill. Similar comparisons of a person being described as a blur moving around were used for Dongfang Bubai and Little Dragon Girl, who are both considered TOP experts in speed. But that is not the extent of Ah Ching's swordsmanship. At one point, Grandpa White sped up his attacks even more but Ah Ching then slowed down her attacks by standing still. Each attack that Grandpa White made, Ah Ching was able to thrust first and force Grandpa White to retreat. Her sword technique seemed VERY similar to Dugu Jiujian in that it always attacks and perceives holes in the opponent's moves and exploits them, forcing the opponent to have no choice but to retreat or defend.
Ah Ching was next summoned to the court of the Yueh kingdom to spar against 20 of their best swordsmen, she defeated them singlehandedly. She then defeated another 30, and another 30. Those swordsmen, who were able to just merely experience her sword technique, experienced enough to slightly mimic her and teach the rest of the Yueh soldiers. With that miniscule amount of Ah Ching's swordsmanship, the Yueh soldiers were able to easily crush the Wu army, the strongest army at the time.
At the conclusion of the story, Ah Ching assaults the palace of Feng Li which was heavily guarded by 1000 armored soldiers and 1000 elite swordsmen. All Feng Li heard when Ah Ching stormed in were the sounds of weapons dropping. In a matter of moments, Ah Ching swept through all of them singlehandedly, 2000 soldiers were not enough to stop her.
This is one of the rare occasions where we actually see a single fighter take on literally thousands of troops. Although many instances, it is mentioned in novels that a person is the equivalent of several thousand troops, Ah Ching actually DOES it and takes down 2000 soldiers singlehandedly and without breaking a sweat, also in the matter of moments. It wasn't like she was just defending either, she was the one ATTACKING and sweeping through the thousands of soldiers. We can only guess as to how many thousands of soldiers it would take to even make Ah Ching flinch. All this again, with a BAMBOO STICK.
One other instance of thousands of soldiers versus martial arts experts was in the ending chapters of DGSD. A group of several hundred wulin fighters assembled to help free Xiao Feng from the Liao palace. Even in that fight, the several hundred soldiers struggled to keep back the several thousand Liao soldiers. We can use this as a point of comparison as to just how high Ah Ching's martial arts level was.
To answer the last question about Ah Ching not having internal energy, when Ah Ching finally breaks through to Feng Li's room where his beloved Si Shi was held, she points the tip of her bamboo stick towards Si Shi. Ah Ching then marveled at how beautiful Si Shi actually was and decides to leave the couple alone. Later, Si Shi reached at her chest where Ah Ching pointed, and it CLEARLY states that even though Ah Ching's bamboo stick never touched her, the pure sword chi which emanated from her bamboo stick had injured her. Ah Ching was able to generate sword chi which is an obvious sign that her internal energy cultivation was quite high. Not even many of the top tier swordsman in the other JY novels were able to generate sword chi.
Now for the most shocking part. Ah Ching was described as a young maiden. She was most likely in her late teens, early twenties. To be THAT young and have that kind of incredible martial arts skill, sword chi, speed is ridiculous. The more amazing part is that she had NO MASTER who taught her and NO MARTIAL ARTS MANUAL to learn from. All her skills were gained from playfighting with the white ape, and from that in a few years she was able to derive godly high levels of sword technique, Dongfang Bubai levels of speed and lightness skill, and even sword chi, all at such a young age. Moreover, she created these skills HERSELF. The ape and her both were not adept at the sword when they first started playfighting, so this is NOT a case similar to the Condor teaching Yang Guo. Ah Ching created her Yueh Maiden Swordsmanship herself through practice and sparring witht the ape.
What other characters were this prolific in the martial arts that, in the span of at MOST ten years, created their own sword techniques from basically nothing. Ah Ching is one of the greatest martial arts prodigies of Jin Yong's canon. She is my favorite Jin Yong heroine and I hope after reading this, you will see her in a whole different light as well. Thanks for reading!