You have probably heard the word SISU used in a Finland related context at some point. Sisu as referred by Wikipedia is a Finnish concept described as stoic determination, tenacity of purpose, grit, bravery, resilience and hardiness and is held by Finns themselves to express their national character. It is generally considered not to have a literal equivalent in English.
If you watch the video above, you can clearly see this crazy looking sailor-like swearing man doing some "yard work" in his home. Basically what he is doing is telling the dirt to not mess with him because no matter what, he will build what he has planned. THAT is SISU. If you look at the picture above you see a lonely man holding on with the last shreds of his being while training on the swamp. THAT is SISU. That man was training to be the best cross-country skier in the whole world. And for a while he was the best until he was caught doing doping in 2001 and was suspended for 2 years. He got involved in alcohol-related problems and on July 5th 2011 he was found dead at his home at the age of 41. His name was Mika Myllylä and even with doping history, HE HAD SISU.
Walking home in the middle of winter
Let's share a personal story from our dark minded Perkele Shop owner. This happened long time ago when he was a young man. He was at a nightclub in Helsinki partying with his friends and since he lived bit further from Helsinki he had a designated driver with him. At some point in the evening his friend wanted to leave and since he was his ride home he should have taken that ride. Right? Well he didn't because it was still too early for him. Instead he partied all his money and ended up outside the nightclub in the middle of the night with no money and no ride. But worry not, he decided he would WALK home. It was the heart of winter and definitely not dressed for the hike, he started his journey, determined he would make it. That determination was mostly because he was still drunk. Everyone must have a story or two of poor decisions done when drunk.
The walk home from Helsinki was around 27 kilometers (~17 miles) so the distance wasn't the problem for this young and determined drunken Finn. The problem was the cold and the way he was dressed. He didn't have gloves or hat and shoes were not proper winter shoes. After all, he was dressed to party and not a 27 kilometer walk. The first 10 kilometers went fine but during that he pretty much sobered up so now he started feeling the cold breeze getting through his clothes. He remembered he had a friend living nearby so he could perhaps walk to his house and get a hat and gloves. But it wasn't on his path so he had to make a detour of 4 kilometers, which he did. The surprise on his friends face when our dark traveler knocked on his window. "What the fuck are you doing here at this hour?" his friend asked. "I am walking home so I came to borrow a hat and gloves". "Don't be an idiot, stay for the night and we will figure this out in the morning" his friend continued. Only thing our Finn heard was that his ability to make this trip was questioned so he got a little upset. "Just give me the hat and gloves so I can continue my walk".
It didn't take very long for our determined not anymore drunken Finn to realize that this decision to walk home from Helsinki wasn't a wise one. He wasn't even half way home yet. This was the turning point on his journey that started hours earlier. He was walking and feeling very cold. We don't suffer dilemmas like that these days because we have mobile phones and everything but back then there was no mobile phones so there was no way to contact anyone. In that moment of desperation where he felt he had taken a bigger piece than he could swallow, SISU took over. He focused on each step that would take him closer to home. He didn't focus on how much there was left, only focus was taking one step at a time. It took overall of almost 8 hours to make that walk in the heart of winter but eventually he came home. In retrospect one could think that doing something like that was utter stupidity and maybe it was. But on that trip he found his SISU and that would have carried him even longer.
Vocalist showing Sisu during concert
Timo Kotipelto, the vocalist of Finnish power metal band Stratovarius had an accident while they were performing in Wacken Open Air Germany in 2000. You can see the accident on the video on 1 minute mark. Front pyros go off and Timo Kotipelto stands in the wrong place. You can just see Kotipelto running off the stage. It took him no more than 30 seconds to return and continue the song. Well not just the song but the entire set. He had said afterwards about the incident that it was a shock but luckily he had his hand in front of his face and it prevented more severe injuries. About continuing the set Kotipelto had stated that "you can't leave a concert half way but I was taken to a hospital after the concert". What others would say was adrenaline from the huge crowd in Wacken and the concert situation we would say it was Finnish Fucking Sisu that carried Timo Kotipelto through the concert.
Driving to a hospital with a collapsed lung
Let us welcome back our dark humored Perkele Shop owner and another story. They say a vacation is in top-5 stress related events in peoples lives. Well this was proven on a very cold winter morning when our dark traveller enjoyed his morning coffee on his first vacation day. He was on his backyard, sipped his coffee and took a deep breath and he felt this pain under his armpit. He finished his coffee and cigarette and went back inside. He took a painkiller and laid on the couch to wait if the pain would go away. He fell asleep for maybe an hour or so and when he woke up he already had problems breathing. He said to his girlfriend that something is wrong and that he would go to the hospital. Girlfriend wasn't happy because it was close to christmas and we were supposed to deliver xmas gifts that day to our friends. But of course she couldn't stop him so she just said "Well take the kids to my mom first at least". He packed his kids in the car and started driving towards their grandma. Upon arrival grandma look at our dark traveller and said "Oh my God why are you white as a sheet?" He explained as he could and left the kids and started driving towards the nearest hospital. He drove with one hand using the steering wheel and gear stick and pressing his throat with another because it made breathing slightly easier. After arriving to the hospital he checked in and waited over 4 hours before anything happened.
But after his chest x-ray was taken, things started to happen, and fast. The result was Pneumothorax and they needed to insert a chest tube through the chest wall and into the pleural space. And then the tube was hooked to a one-way valve system that allows air to escape, but not re-enter the chest. So after that it was one week in the hospital just waiting for the lung to heal. Still to this day there is no specific reason available as why this freak accident happened but it made him avoid vacations for a while.
In this example Finnish Sisu represented itself during the drive to the hospital. Imagine breathing through a straw that has been squeezed shut. Then put yourself to a car, driving the car in the winter on very slippery road. And only able to use one hand maneuvering the vehicle since the other hand squeezed the throat. After he got medical assistance there was no need for Sisu anymore. Just patience to spend a week in hospital and of course small fear of the thing happening again. He did quit smoking eventually because that was one of the biggest possibilities why it happened.
So what is Finnish Sisu?
Above examples are all about Sisu. But those are also examples of Sisu on individuals. There is also collective Sisu for instance when Finland was at war with Russia. It was called Winter War and it was between 30 November 1939 - 13 March 1940 so it was only 3.5 months long. Finland was facing an enemy that was so much bigger in every sense and in theory Soviet Union (Russia) should have walked all over Finland but little did they know about the persistence of Finnish people and the Sisu in their heart.
Now understand that this is not boasting about casualties or how many tanks were destroyed. No, this is simply to give you an understanding what Finland was up against with Soviet Union and what kind of damage this huge underdog was able to do. Finland didn't win the war because we ended up giving a lot of land to Soviet Union but it was a moral victory for sure. And all those numbers were done in the span of 3.5 months.
So what is Sisu? It is a special thing that is reserved for especially challenging moments. When we feel that we came to the end point of our preconceived capacities. You could say that sisu is energy, determination in the face of adversities that are more demanding than usual
Finnish Sisu in Perkele Shop
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