One of my favourite lines from the movie “The 13th Warrior”:
Herger gives Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan a Viking sword
Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan: “I cannot lift this.”
Herger: “Grow stronger.”
It the matter of fact way in which Herger gives his advice as he strolls past that make the scene for me. In my view, he is not being uncaring but offering what he feels is the obvious solution. Why I like this is I feel he is showing his “warrior thinking” by suggesting the solution is found in rising to the challenge, as opposed to asking for the challenge to be made easier.
Herger’s advice is not comforting, and it does nothing to provide an immediate solution. It is, however, something all us martial artists can relate to. Our chosen passion is physically and mentally very demanding. By attempting to rise to the challenge we grow. Reducing the challenge ultimately makes us weaker than we would have been.
This desire to grow stronger, as opposed to having the task made easier, is one place where the “jutsu” and the “do” fuse together: it applies to both combat and everyday life. In living a “warrior’s life” we aim to embrace hardship as a means to greater strength … and I think this very short scene captures that brilliantly.
Later in the film Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan finds a metal worker and grinds down the sword to make a scimitar. He shows it to Weath (another of the Vikings) who comments, “We give him a sword and he makes a knife.” In response Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan cuts through a thick wooden pole and states, “It works!” He then spins the blade around in all directions very quickly and then holds the blade to Weath's neck. Weath smiles and says, “When you die, can I give that to my daughter?” At which point both men start to laugh.
I like this scene too because it is the counterpoint to what came earlier. While Herger’s advice is undoubtedly correct, it does not mean we should face problems unintelligently. Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan realises that the sword used by the much larger Norsemen is unsuitable for his small frame, so when a metal worker and his tools becomes available, he uses his intelligence to find a solution that works for him. Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan ends up with a sword he can use. There is a life lesson here too I feel.
While we should always wish to grow stronger and more able; strength used unintelligently is no better than weakness. Sometimes all we can do is endure and in the process grow stronger and better able to face current and future challenges. Other times we need to take honest stock of a situation and use our intellect to look for opportunities and to find the best solution. Either way, the thing we don’t do is fail to meet the task.
The bottom line is this is a very cool movie which is based on the book “Eaters of the Dead” by Michael Crichton. And those who know their history will recognise the book and film draw heavily for inspiration on the poem Beowulf and Ahmad ibn Fadlan’s encounter with the Rus. Well worth watching if you’ve not yet seen it.
All the best,