IMPOSSIBILITY IS A CHALLENGE
Fifteenth in the series of alternative learning from Krav Maga.
(This is my narrative of an old war incident. This is my retelling.)
MY SOLDIERS LAY DEAD
All our attacks had failed.
Have I failed my men? And my leader?
Udaybhan Rathore is at an advantage. He holds the mountain heights and the Lion fort (Sinhgad). A fort built on top of a mountain, with only one way in and one way out. It was a strategic fort that controlled most of the region. Surrounded by steep cliffs on three sides, it was insurmountable.
He repels every attempt of mine. The archers attacked from the ramparts of the fort. His men pour hot oil on my forces, who come too close to the fort wall.
This is a war to retake our country from the usurpers. For us to rebuild a new country.
I will not lose.
The scene in front doesn’t look pretty, though.
We had lost the fort a few years ago. Let me not get into that story. My blood boils every time I think of it. Jijabai, my commander, and King Sivaji’s mom wanted this fort back. Sivaji and I had fought many battles together. You can call us blood brothers, each ready to give his life for the other: a bond that surpasses time and distance.
I know when he needs my help. I just know. And I go to him.
It was the same with this quest. Sivaji wanted the Lion fort back. He picked me to lead the army and get it done.
It was a one-line instruction. Four words, actually. Sivaji came over to me and placed his hands on my shoulder.
“Sinhgad, go get it!”.
Now that you know the backstory let’s get back to the present. My men lay dead before me. I needed to do something before they get demoralized.
That’s a big challenge as a leader. To keep the men in high spirits, we need to show positive movement — little wins leading to the big victory.
Here I was, though, staring at defeat. A loss that would resonate across the entire kingdom. Such a failure would embolden the Mughal King Aurangazeb to attack all our regions. This battle, it wasn’t just to save face; it was to make a point. To show our enemies what we are capable of.
All of this came down to me.
Sinhgad. We knew the fort. I called in my senior commanders, including two who had served in the Lion fort when it was ours.
“Is there any other way to attack?” that was the point of discussion in the war tent. There was some deliberation and then Silence.
IMPOSSIBLE, was the answer that came through.
An answer I could not take! This was a moment where there was no retreat and no surrender. One of the soldiers made a scale model of the mountain and the fort. We pored over it until the same soldier picked a stick and pointed to one side of the mountain. Steep, craggy, dangerous. He traced a path from the bottom to the top.
The problem was the first one-third of the mountainside. It was as if that entire face was made of marble, hardly a foothold possible. Before my commanders could reject it, I requested all of them to sleep over this possibility.
I couldn’t sleep. The moon was high up in the sky when I walked around the mountain to a spot that gave good visibility. As I reached the “vista point”, I was pleasantly surprised to find my commanders and the soldier already there. They were all studying the mountainside. There’s something about a team that is aligned towards one objective. It filled my heart with pride and rebooted my confidence in the cliche that “nothing is impossible” especially when I had a team like this!
What was the point of going back to sleep? We spent an hour there and went into the war tent. For some reason, most of us were grinning. Perhaps at the thought of what we were attempting to do.
Udaybhan was cocky. He was the fort keeper under a king who was a vassal for the Mughal emperor Aurangazeb. Udaybhan had repelled us earlier and knew there was no way we would mount another direct attack. His troops were already in a party mood. His advisor, Alauddin, kept sane counsel. He kept advising to double the guards all around the fort. Udaybhan shooed him away. “The only way they will attack us is through the front. There’s only one way in and one way out. And that’s where I will focus and position my guards.”
All we needed to sort out was how they were going to cross the marble face of the mountain. A crack team was selected, and the first few attempts were made. It was near impossible to scale this part without assistance from the top. Somebody had to climb solo, with no support, and find a perch or position to lay a foundation. They could only attempt this at night and they failed two nights in a row. The men were getting agitated. The initial euphoria was fading away. There’s got to be another way.
A commotion broke in the camp early in the morning. Someone had come in. A messenger from Sivaji had come in, bearing a gift! As folks started congregating around my tent, I stepped out. I said that we had received a message from Sivaji that tonight will be the attack. We have received supplies!
As soon as it was dark, my crack team and I stood at the foothill. We prayed together and then opened the gift from Sivaji. It was Yashwanti, his pet monitor lizard. The men were perplexed. They looked at the lizard and then at me. My commanders figured it all out and were smiling. While others were still wondering, I tied a rope around the lizard and pointed it up the marble face. The hill surface looked smooth to us humans. It wasn’t so for a monitor lizard, especially one trained for such a task. Yashwanti scrambled its way up, found a suitable perch, and gripped it.
With all crazy ideas, it comes down to the leader — to lead by example. And yes, this is my story, and so I will be the center point, right! So, I pulled the rope tight, checking if it would hold. I then hoisted myself and started climbing the mountain face. There was no support below. These are moments when you put your trust in blind faith. Faith that the lizard will hold its ground, that it can hold my weight. That I can climb up to that point and set up a foundation. Impossibility, is a challenge. Most of us give up. A few don’t. I am part of the few. I reached the top and threw down the rope ladder for others to follow.
One by one, my men climbed up as we inched our way to the top. There were a couple of casualties, but my men fell to their death without a word coming out of their mouths. My men and their love for our bigger goal! We were as stealthy as we could. The first batch climbed over the fort wall and spread across. We were armed only with a sword and a war knife. Our job was to find the sentries and take them out, silently. As the entire crack force assembled on top, we crept through the fort and moved forward.
Udaybhan and his army never bothered looking behind. Their eyes were peeled upfront, gazing into the darkness. They grinned and gave each other that victorious look! You wonder why? One small band of my men were making enough noise and were attacking them from the front. They were putting on an act of attacking. This distraction was enough for my guerrilla team to overpower Udaybhan’s army and take over the fort.
We lit a fire on top and raised our flag. My men were cheering and dancing. Sivaji, who was located on another fort, could see our victory, but something troubled him.
I was looking at my team and our performance that night. Impossibility, is a challenge. Some of us love these challenges. As I was ruminating, I heard a rustle behind me. Before I could turn, I saw a sword come out of my stomach. While we were gloating, we missed securing all the enemy forces inside the fort. This soldier was hiding behind something. We overlooked that, and I paid the price for it.
Sivaji was far away yet he broke down crying as he knew our bond was transcending time, literally.
“We won the Lion fort. I lost my lion.” were his words to my victorious men when he met them much later.
I died looking at our flag flying high and with the satisfaction of achieving our mission.
Impossibility is a challenge,
Until it is surmounted!
Once you have neutralised your assailant, get out of the area.
DO NOT STAND AND GLOAT.
A very practical Krav Maga lesson.
It is human nature to bask in the glory, mostly when we have done something right. In street attacks, though, once you have put down the attacker, it makes sense to scan the environment immediately and get out of the area. Standing there and gloating will provoke the attacker, and we don’t know who else is hiding around.
It is the same with marketing and business. Once we win market share or achieve our objective, we tend to relax. We think there’s no way competition will catch up to my move. We believe it is impossible. Our competitors may take up this impossibility as a challenge. What then?
On another note, let’s look at the story from a leadership perspective. Sivaji picked the right person, Tanaji, to lead the army. The objective was clear, get me the fort. Then Sivaji left it to Tanaji. There was no micromanagement (maybe there was, but humor me here. We didn’t have emails or WhatsApp then!).
Tanaji came up with guerrilla tactics to enter the fort. His commanders and army trusted him implicitly to follow. He leads by example. He trusted a soldier to show one of the ways up.
— — — —
This is the fifteenth in the series of learning from Krav Maga.
- A fully extended arm is useless
- Find the weak spot
- Violence: Avoid it as much as possible!
- You many not have started the fight, BUT
- The meditating monk
- The only mindset that counts
- Action Reaction
- When DONE is DONE! Is it ever?
- Which shoe to buy? I have several!
- Can you escape career quicksand?
- Anger Anger
- Show as little as possible
- The need for an Outlier coach
- Why we do what we do
Pravin Shekar is an outlier marketer, parallel entrepreneur and a raconteur.
mic @ PravinShekar.com .
For creative collusions, join: http://bit.ly/JoinMyOutlierTribe
Pravin is the author of seven books: Devil Does Care, Marketing lessons from Mythology, Getting paid to speak, a Virtual Summit Playbook, Climb your way out of hell & a collection of travel pics/romantic poems, and stories from the heart!
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