There are many stories of the brutality and ruthlessness of the Zulu warrior-king Shaka, and a few of them might even be true.

During his rise to power in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, Shaka introduced a new style of warfare based on hand-to-hand fighting with a stabbing spear. In order to encourage his warriors to use it, he is said to have executed any man who returned from battle without his weapon. Either the man had lost it and was careless, or he had thrown it at the enemy and was a coward.
Also important to this new form of warfare was speed. Thus, when the army marched, Shaka would kill the slowest man.
The above tales may or may not be true; however, one story that is particularly strong in Zulu oral tradition is how Shaka toughened his warrior\'s feet. Shaka would have thorns scattered all over the central cattle pen at one of his royal homesteads. He would then order his warriors to dance around the pen in bare feet. The first man who complained was killed, thus encouraging the rest to redouble their efforts.

- With thanks to Ian Knight (