The Northman chuckled. “Fearlessness is a fool’s boast, to my mind. The only men with no fear in them are the dead, or the soon to be dead, maybe. Fear teaches you caution, and respect for your enemy, and to avoid sharp edges used in anger. All good things in their place, believe me. Fear can bring you out alive, and that’s the very best anyone can hope for from any fight. Every man who’s worth a damn feels fear. It’s the use you make of it that counts.”
“Be scared? That’s your advice?”
“My advice would be to find a good woman and steer well clear of the whole bloody business, and it’s a shame no one told me the same twenty years ago.” He looked sideways at Jezal. “But if, say, you’re stuck out on some great wide plain in the middle of nowhere and can’t avoid it, there’s three rules I’d take to a fight. First, always do your best to look the coward, the weakling, the fool. Silence is a warrior’s best armour, the saying goes. Hard looks and hard words have never won a battle yet, but they’ve lost a few.”
“Look the fool, eh? I see.” Jezal had built his whole life around trying to appear the cleverest, the strongest, the most noble. It was an intriguing idea, that a man might choose to look like less than he was.
“Second, never take an enemy lightly, however much the dullard he seems. Treat every man like he’s twice as clever, twice as strong, twice as fast as you are, and you’ll only be pleasantly surprised. Respect costs you nothing, and nothing gets a man killed quicker than confidence.”
“Never underestimate the foe. A wise precaution.” Jezal was beginning to realise that he had underestimated this Northman. He wasn’t half the idiot he appeared to be.
“Third, watch your opponent as close as you can, and listen to opinions if you’re given them, but once you’ve got your plan in mind, you fix on it and let nothing sway you. Time comes to act, you strike with no backward glances. Delay is the parent of disaster, my father used to tell me, and believe me, I’ve seen some disasters.”
“No backward glances,” muttered Jezal, nodding slowly to himself. “Of course.”
Ninefingers puffed out his pitted cheeks. “There’s no replacement for seeing it, and doing it, but master all that, and you’re halfway to beating anyone, I reckon.”
“Halfway? What about the other half?”
The Northman shrugged. “Luck.”
-Joe Abercrombie, Before They Are Hanged.