The Gordian Knot Explained
Originally posted in 2013, revised in 2017 & 2020.
I have no problems admitting that I’m a history nerd. Everyone has be a nerd about something, I suppose. That is a point that probably needs to be prefaced (pronounced pre-faced, if you prefer) for this story. Rewind about a decade again to when I first started Competitive Outcomes, I was a poor college kids looking to share my passion for drill and ceremonies with the world. A graphic designer was sitting on a couch with me in Orlando, Florida. She was asking me what I wanted for the logo, crossed rifles, swords, axes – something drill related. Of course we are a drill team & honor guard training company; our logo HAS to be drill related, right?
Everyone uses crossed rifles, or swords, or shields, or camo… the list goes on and on, but my point is they don’t really mean anything anymore. They just represent the military, but have lost their deeper meaning and heritage. We never wanted Competitive Outcomes to be just another training company, being the biggest wasn’t what our goal was either. From day one we have strived to be the BEST. The phrase ‘The Elite of the Elite’ is something that we borrowed from working with some Marines from 2nd Recon Battalion. The mentality never left.
I told her, very matter of factly that we should use the Gordian Knot. She gave me that ‘what the hell are you talking about’ stare that I have become so accustomed to in my life. In this situation repeating ‘Gordian Knot’, only louder most certainly was not a better way to explain.
This knot isn’t just any jumble of rope but a very specific knot inspired from a legend that dates back more than 2,000 years to tales of Alexander the Great and King Midas.
There has long been a legend that in the town of Gordium, lied a knot that was impossible to untie. Gordium is located between Europe and Asia in present day Turkey, serving as the gateway between the two continents for any would be conqueror. Scholars, warriors, and kings from all around came to Gordium for one reason – to try to untie the knot. It was said that whoever could untie the knot was destined to conquer the world.
The Gordian Knot as it came to be known, had no loose ends. Nothing was exposed that could be pulled on used to untie it. It was a tightly bound mass of rope. All those that came through tried to unfasten this infamous knot. They would all fail. Well, all but one great warrior.
As the young Alexander was building his empire, he came through the city of Gordium where he began hearing of the legend. He found the knot outside of the Temple of Zeus, binding together the body of an ox cart (though often portrayed in art as a chariot, symbolic of power & military readiness). It is said that the knot itself was tied there by King Midas himself.
Alexander the Great was a brilliant tactician, warrior, and leader. He was tutored by Aristotle until he was 16 and by the age of 30, he had conquered the known world. Alexander might have been the ultimate ‘one upper’ of his day.
After hearing of the legend, there was only one thing on Alexander’s mind – untying the knot. All of his own soldiers and generals were against the idea. They didn’t want a bad omen to spread through the ranks. They thought he was destined to fail, just like all those who had tried before him. The task was deemed both impossible to complete and foolish to attempt.
Against the wishes of his men, Alexander decided to undo the knot. He woke up the next morning and headed down to the Temple of Zeus. His mission was not to try to untie the knot, or attempt to find a solution – He woke up having already decided that he would be the one to undo this knot. All others might have already failed in the attempt, but he would be different. He knew he was the one destined to conquer the world, now he just had to show it to all those around him.
With his generals at his side, Alexander took a walk around the Gordian Knot. There were no ends to pull on, nothing lose, no visible solution. He knew it was here that all the other great men before him had failed. He needed ends to untie the knot. So in one fell swoop, Alexander reached into his scabbard and pulled out his sword. With a violent slash, Alexander cut the knot in half and exposed the ends he needed to untie it.
Alexander of course went on to conquer the known world.
This is a story about thinking outside the box, going against the odds, and stepping into the unknown – fearlessly.
I told her the story of the Gordian Knot and never looked back. The knot represents everything you are going to encounter both during and after one of our training missions.
There will be challenges that may seem impossible, but you will conquer them. People will doubt you and tell you things cannot be done, but you will prove them wrong. Your team will look to you for solutions, and we will find the answers outside the box.
You will go on to conquer your destiny!
- Bill Owen
Bill Owen is the founder and lead trainer managing and conducting: Competition Drill Team Training Camps, Military/Police/Fire Honor Guard Training Courses, Funeral Operations Seminars, Coaching/Train The Trainer Seminars, and Leadership Devolvement with Competitive Outcomes - an International Drill & Ceremonies Training Company.