Let a man never stir on his road a step
without his weapons of war;
for unsure is the knowing when need shall arise
of a spear on the way without.
Though I do agree with the literal interpretation of this passage, there is far more wisdom in it than the bare surface reading would suggest. This is a proverb of preparedness. While the terms “weapons of war” and “spear” certainly carry their obvious meaning, they also stand as metaphors for any tool which might aid one in a struggle. This applies just as much to knowledge and wisdom as to weaponry; it refers to planning one’s finances as much as planning for a fight; it’s as applicable to a good pair of boots just as much as to a spear.
Now, obviously, one cannot be prepared for all situations at all times, but the more one considers his own preparedness, the better he will be when necessities arise. Personally, I find this passage to be extremely poignant with respect to one’s understanding of his own philosophy. As someone who engages in conversation and debate rather frequently over the subject, I have found myself often calling on some esoteric body of trivial knowledge which many people would wonder that I had bothered to learn in the first place: the incredible examples of Corvid intelligence, the strange implications of a particular grammatical construction in ancient Greek, the intricate symmetries of the openings in a game of Go, and many other beautiful– but peculiar– bits of knowledge. These are all things which a person could well live without knowing, and yet each of them has been incredibly useful to me in philosophical discussions on subjects which are seemingly unrelated to those bodies of knowledge.
I have never in my adult life been in a fight outside of the parameters of my martial arts. And yet, my Jiu-Jitsu training has been immensely useful in many other aspects of my life. Though the passage explicitly mentions “weapons of war,” the need of a spear does not necessarily refer to a martial need. Yes, a spear can be used for war. But it can also provide food. It can steady a weary tread. It can lever a wheel out of the mud. It can perform any number of tasks beyond its primary intention. The same is true for all weaponry, whether made of wood and steel or knowledge and wisdom. Never step onto the road without your weapons.