[[quoteright:350:[[Manga/ASilentVoice http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/koe_no_katachi_s2_c0_7.jpg]]]]

->''"Individually we are weak, like a single twig, but as a bundle we form [[HaveAGayOldTime a mighty faggot]]."''
-->-- '''Martin Prince''', ''TheSimpsons'', "The Haw-Hawed Couple"

An old story, OlderThanFeudalism. The story goes something like this:

There is a king, said king has several sons. They [[CainAndAbel don't get along]]. Fearing for [[SuccessionCrisis the safety of his kingdom]], the king decides to teach his sons a valuable lesson.

So he gathers his sons together and he tells them that he has a task for them: the son who can complete the task shall succeed him. He then takes out a bundle of spears (alternatively sticks or arrows) and asks his sons to break them. When none of his sons succeed he then takes the spears one by one and breaks them, thus impressing on his sons that in unity there is strength.

This is, as said, an old story, and various versions exists. It is also one that is relatively often referenced in various media.

Compare ThickerThanWater.


[[folder:Anime and Manga]]
* ''Anime/GenesisOfAquarion'' mentions the Japanese version by name.
* In ''Manga/ASilentVoice'', the teacher explains with chop sticks how the whole class is stronger if they hold together and include the deaf-mute NewTransferStudent Nishimiya.
-->'''Teacher''': "This single stick is easily snapped in two. But if you bundle all the sticks we call "classmates" together, you'll create an unbreakable rod."

[[folder:Comic Books]]
* When {{Tintin}} first meets Chang, the latter cites this as a Chinese proverb.
* Adam Susan in ''Comicbook/VForVendetta'' makes reference to the Roman version of this trope (see Real Life below) during an internal monologue to justify the Fascist dictatorship he has forced upon the British - as one arrow will snap easily but a bundle will not, the survival of Britain as a whole must always come before the rights and freedoms of individual citizens.

[[folder:Films -- Animated]]
* In ''WesternAnimation/{{Brave}}'', Elenor illustrates the point to Merida with the story of the four brothers. A king left his kingdom to his four sons to rule together. She sets up a chessboard supported by four pieces to represent the four brothers holding up the kingdom. When one brother became greedy and sowed discord and fought with his brothers, the kingdom fell. She knocks one of the pieces out and the entire board falls over.
* ''WesternAnimation/ABugsLife'' uses a variation with pieces of grain. Hopper, the grasshopper villain, tosses a seed at a henchman, saying "Let's pretend this grain is a puny little ant." It bounces off the mook's chest, and he's fine, because grasshoppers are much bigger than ants. Next, Hopper triggers a slide of grain onto another henchman, crushing him, to demonstrate the power ants have in groups. Given that the film is a loose adaptation of Kurosawa's ''Film/SevenSamurai'', this is probably a ShoutOut to ''Ran''.

[[folder:Films -- Live-Action]]
* In Creator/AkiraKurosawa's ''Film/{{Ran}}'', Saburo, the youngest son, shows that with a little more effort, he ''can'' break the bundled sticks (he holds each end of the bundle in one hand, then drives them downward against his stiffened leg), using this to attempt to drive home that Hidetora's plan to divide his territory among his sons is still a Bad Idea. For this concern, he gets disinherited. ''Ran'' being ''Theatre/KingLear'' [[RecycledInSpace IN MEDIEVAL JAPAN!]], this move turns out to be a huge mistake--especially with Taro and Jiro more than proving that Hidetora's hopes for their cooperation were without foundation.
* ''Film/RiseOfThePlanetOfTheApes''. The Roman usage of this trope (see below under RealLife) makes the name 'Caesar' a very [[MeaningfulName meaningful one]].
--> '''[[TheSmartGuy Maurice]]:''' *signing* Why [[DefeatMeansFriendship cookie]] [[TheLancer Rocket]]?
--> '''[[TheHero Caesar]]:''' *signing* Apes alone *breaks a stick* weak. *struggles to break a bundle of sticks* Apes together strong.
--> *Some Apes start fighting among themselves*
--> '''Maurice:''' *signing* Apes stupid.
* Used as a metaphor for family in David Lynch's ''Film/TheStraightStory'', with Alvin convincing a pregnant teenage runaway to go back home to her family, who will eventually understand. Within Alvin's own narrative, it reinforces his plot-driving need to reconnect with his estranged brother.
* Done in ''Film/RedCliff'', by Zhou Yu with a handful of reeds intended to be woven into footwear, using the resulting strength of woven sandals as a metaphor for Shu and Wu banding together against Cao Cao's forces.
* ''Film/{{Together}}'' is set in a Stockholm commune where [[PovertyFood cooked porridge]] is served on a regular basis for economical reasons, much to the kids' dismay. Goeran tries to sugarcoat the meal to them by comparing the porridge to commune life:
--> '''Goeran''': You could say that we are like porridge. First we're like small oatflakes. Small, dry, fragile, alone... but then we're cooked with the other oatflakes and become soft. We join so that one flake can't be told apart from another. We're almost dissolved. Together we become a big porridge... that's warm, tasty and nutritious, and yes, quite beautiful, too.

[[folder:Folk Lore]]
* The Georgian version comes from the fable of Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani.
* A similar story is told about Genghis Khan, and how he used it to demonstrate that the mongol tribes were stronger unified than divided.
** And that story in turn had existed in Chinese literary circles for a long time, and originally concerned a Hunnish king.
** Or the one teaching the lesson is Genghis Khan's mother, Hoelun, to the young Temujin and his brothers after they are cast out from their tribe.
* There is a Japanese version concerning a feudal era warlord named Mori Motonari and three arrows.
** And possibly in relation to this: Ooka Tadasuke (1677 - 1752) was a Japanese judge who became legendary. One of the stories about him involves two of his nephews who constantly fight with each other. So Ooka hires a boy in the village to act as a bully and pick on them. When they complain about it, he gives them each a small stick. They say how the stick is too small to protect them. He then puts the sticks together and explains that it would be more effective that way. The boys then gang up on the bully and defeat him. This teaches them the idea of cooperation and they become friends.
* There is a Slavic version concerning the three (although in reality he only had two) sons of Prince Svatopluk I of Great Moravia, the story can be found in a Byzantine chronicle.
* The Bulgars have a cautionary variant: The sons *didn't* listen and the great Bulgarian empire of Kubrat broke up.
* There are also legends associated with this motif concerning the founding of the Aztec Triple Alliance.
* Literature/TheBible: [[Literature/BookOfEcclesiastes Ecclesiastes 4:12]] - Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

* The [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pseudo-Plutarch Pseudo-Plutarch]] tells this story as performed by King Scilurus of Scythia.
* In ''[[Literature/HandOfThrawn Vision of the Future]]'', the batlike alien Qom Jha quote a proverb at Luke and Mara to the tune of many vines woven together being far stronger than the same number of vines used separately.
-->'''Luke''': "I think there must be a variation of that one on practically every planet in the New Republic."

[[folder:Newspaper Comics]]
* ''Brevity'' began what looked like a straight version of this, but the kids weren't able to break the individual twigs either. They wound up hitting each other with them, and the parent gave up.

[[folder:Video Games]]
* ''[[VideoGame/{{Touhou}} Great Fairy Wars]]'': The Three Mischevious Fairies [[ComicallyMissingThePoint completely miss the point]]:
-->'''Luna:''' The three of us are as one!
-->'''Sunny:''' Though a single arrow is broken easily, if you bundle three together...
-->'''Star:''' You'll run out of arrows three times as fast!
* The Motonari Mori example mentioned in Folk Lore above gets PlayedForLaughs in ''VideoGame/SamuraiWarriors 3'' when he tries it on the Tachibana, only to have Ginchiyo grab them and break them as well with little effort. Motonari continues to explain, but Muneshige tell him his wife is just being intentionally belligerent.
** This version is also PlayedForLaughs in ''Sengoku Rance''. Motonari uses the single spear with his daughters and breaks it easily, but when he tries the many spears binded together...he still breaks it because he's so freakishly strong. His daughters tell him that it's ok, they understand what he was trying to tell them.
* In the first ''VideoGame/GalaxyAngel'' game, Tact tries to use this metaphor with arrows in a scene with Ranpha, trying to explain why they fled from a battle hoping for reinforcements. Ranpha, however, is strong enough to [[SubvertedTrope break the bundle as well]], and she instead takes heart from the assurance that next time, she's strong enough to plow through the enemy and any of their reinforcements, no matter how many of them appear. Tact simply rolls with it.
* In ''VisualNovel/DanganRonpa'', during the fifth trial, Touko Fukawa references this proverb when the group discusses how the titanium arrows could have been bound together and made into a bludgeoning weapon.

[[folder:Western Animation]]
* ''WesternAnimation/TheSimpsons'' in "The Haw-Hawed Couple".
* In ''WesternAnimation/TheMummyTheAnimatedSeries'', Alex is training with some other Medjai and they're given a bundle of arrows and told to break it, which none of them can. This does not work; a JerkJock keeps setting Alex up to fail training exercises until a real problem comes up and they become FireForgedFriends.
* In ''WesternAnimation/TheSmurfs'' episode "The Smurfs' Time Capsule", Papa Smurf has Hefty gather a bundle of sticks due to the riddle in the time capsule saying "A stick by itself is too weak; it's sticks in a bundle you seek". With the sticks, Papa Smurf has Hefty break one of the sticks, then him trying to break the whole bundle at once. When Hefty finds out that he can't, Papa Smurf discovers the meaning behind the riddle, that in the unity of the Smurfs there is strength to resist.

[[folder:Real Life]]
* The Roman ''fasces'', a bundle of reeds, draws on the same symbolism (one reed breaks, a bundle doesn't). (The widely-known variant with the axe inside wasn't strictly required, and indeed the blade had to be removed in certain parts of Rome.) These ''fasces'' were carried by the Lictors, consular bodyguards. This had a peculiar impact later on: On one hand, the association of Rome with [[UsefulNotes/TheRomanRepublic republicanism]] and its embodiment of a republican principle (that the people together are stronger) led various modern Western republics (including France and the United States) to adopt the fasces as a symbol of republican (as opposed to monarchical) values; many of these symbols remain today (including the [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_emblem_of_France French national emblem]], the [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seal_of_the_United_States_Senate Seal of the US Senate]], and the [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mace_of_the_United_States_House_of_Representatives Mace of the US House of Representatives]].[[note]]It also shows up subtly in the Lincoln Memorial: look at the arms on Uncle Abe's chair.[[/note]] On the other hand, it is also the origin of the word 'fascism', an ideology that puts a lot of emphasis on enforced unity.
* One etymology has the name of the Hungarian confederation (originally seven Magyar and three Turkic tribes) as the "Ten Arrows" ("An Ogur") for similar reasons.
* Try the metaphor for yourself. A group of sticks working together is indeed far harder to break than a single one of the same type, not because of ThePowerOfFriendship, but that each stick only bears a mere fraction of the breaking force. (This is often demonstrated in science class by putting a board on top of a sufficiently large number of eggs as to hold the weight of a student standing on them--find enough eggs and they can hold up an entire ''car''.)