The original Indian saying (in Tamil) is வல்லவனுக்கு புல்லும் ஆயுதம் (Vallavanuku Pullum Aayudham)

Translation : For the capable, even grass can be a weapon

Meaning: If you have the ability and talent, you can achieve success with whatever (minimal) resources available at your disposal.

Something exactly opposite to the proverbial - "A bad workman always blames his tools"TFD

So what does a good (skilled) workman do?

6 Answers 6


A wise man will make tools of what comes to hand.

It is mentioned as an English proverb in the book The Multicultural Dictionary of Proverbs: Over 20,000 Adages from More Than 120 Languages, Nationalities and Ethnic Groups (by Harold V. Cordry).

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A skilled workman can make anything out of thin air.

Not really a proverb but...

A skilled workman can MacGyver anything.

Make or repair (an object) in an improvised or inventive way, making use of whatever items are at hand:

He MacGyvered a makeshift jack with a log.

He has a shock of short red hair and a pair of rectangular-framed glasses MacGyvered with duct tape
  • 1
    +1 for MacGyver can also polish a turd, redneck rig, hold something together by positive thoughts and good intentions, and the classic duck tape and zip tie method to do 81.5% of all repairs Feb 4, 2016 at 14:14

If you have the ability and talent, you can achieve success with whatever (minimal) resources available at your disposal.

If we are permitted to replace ability and talent with resourcefulness, there's also this idiom, which means to make the most of what one has:

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. - attributed to Elbert Hubbard by wikipedia

Just as the grass in your quote isn't normally particularly valuable as a weapon, lemons in this context refer to what would normally be considered liabilities. The resourceful person doesn't just tolerate or discard the lemons, (s)he turns them into assets, a parallel for the weapons of your quote.

  • 1
    @BiscuitBoy It's not as close as Faemu's "out of thin air", and the lemons do refer to adversity, but the "make lemonade" part is an active interaction with it, not just a stoic acceptance of the problem. The similarity with your quote is that the grass just sits there until the capable person comes along, and the lemon would normally be discarded or tolerated, but the resourceful person turns it into an asset (like the weapon in your quote).
    – Lawrence
    Feb 4, 2016 at 14:27
  • @Lawrence- OK.. I get it now
    – BiscuitBoy
    Feb 4, 2016 at 17:11

I think the English equivalent would be:

You can’t keep a good man down.

The idea is that no matter what the circumstances, a “good man” will still succeed.

Very common expression, at least in U.S. English.


Nothing is impossible to a willing heart:

Someone who is eager, keen and determined can achieve anything.

[English Club]


Although this is not a direct paring with your proverb, it is indirectly opposed to it and in regular use.

We English tend towards self denial and as such do not easily pose prose of such positive reinforcement; Being more familiar it would seem, with self denial - "So very British!" proclaim the French. We do however say the following quite readily:- Necessity is the mother of invention.

Which I believe denotes the same.

And in response to your question ...

The skilled workman is oppressed; such that he can not bare arms, not even a blade of grass, So historically it would seem; He would take to the seas; A reflection of the fact that Britain is a small island nation.

As an edition to my initial response; I can not help but wonder if your Indian phrase is reference to the use of bamboo grass as a pen. If this is so then the phrase:- The pen is mightier than the sword, is a direct reflection of your stated proverb.

I also wonder could this be referring to a bamboo arrow?

  • When you say, "A bad workman always blames his tools.", it doesn't necessarily mean the bad workman didn't have any need or necessity to do something. (S)he does have it, but fails in satisfying it and blames his/her tools. How can "Necessity is the mother of invention" conveys the opposite meaning of "A bad workman always blames his tools"?
    – user140086
    Feb 4, 2016 at 8:39
  • It is not opposed to "a bad workman blames his tools" that is his masters voice. It is opposed yet equivocal to the encouraging voice that says "For the capable, even grass can be a weapon" ...
    – iain
    Feb 4, 2016 at 8:44
  • There is a particularly interesting parallel between the use of Mother in this phrase and the more profound implication of the Deva that is the divine mother; of Indian dissent, I am unfamiliar with that of Tamil.
    – iain
    Feb 4, 2016 at 8:49
  • @iain - I like your reasoning but I am afraid neither of the suggested phrases convey the intended meaning. Simply put, a skilled person can create something out of nothing. In the original Tamil saying, weapon is metaphorical, and it simply means a person can turn even a single strand of grass (or other objects that aren't considered as weapons) to a weapon and make it work in favor of them.
    – BiscuitBoy
    Feb 4, 2016 at 9:59
  • @BiscuitBoy Perhaps one needs an experience of a certain situation, in order to understand a particular perspective, given by any athur of words; One needs then to be "bis cuite" rather than "half baked"; as Abhinagupta has suggested.
    – iain
    Feb 4, 2016 at 10:10

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