the nine variations – chapter 8 – the art of war

The Art of War

Chapter 8

The Nine Variations

Generally, the principles of warfare are:

The general receives his commands from the ruler, assembles the armies, and mobilizes the masses.

  • Do not camp on difficult ground.
  • Unite with your allies on intersecting ground.
  • Do not stay on open ground.
  • Be prepared on surrounded ground.
  • Do battle on deadly ground.
  • There are routes not to be taken;
  • There are armies not to be attacked;
  • There are walled cities not to be besieged;
  • There are grounds not to be penetrated;
  • There are commands not to be obeyed.

Therefore, the general who knows the advantages of the nine changes knows how to use the troops. If the general does not know the advantages of the nine changes, even if he knows the lay of the land, he will not be able to take advantage of the ground. He who commands an army but does not know the principles of the nine changes, even if he is familiar with the five advantages, will not be able to best use his troops. Therefore, the intelligent general contemplates both the advantages and disadvantages. Contemplating the advantages, he fulfills his calculations; contemplating the disadvantages, he removes his difficulties. Therefore, subjugate the neighboring rulers with potential disadvantages, labor the neighboring rulers with constant matters, and have the neighboring rulers rush after advantages.

So the principles of warfare are:
  • Do not depend on the enemy not coming, but depend on our readiness against him.
  • Do not depend on the enemy not attacking, but depend on our position that cannot be attacked.
Therefore, there are five dangerous traits of a general:
  • He who is reckless can be killed.
  • He who is cowardly can be captured.
  • He who is quick tempered can be insulted.
  • He who is moral can be shamed.
  • He who is fond of the people can be worried.

These five traits are faults in a general, and are disastrous in warfare. The army’s destruction, and the death of the general are due to these five dangerous traits. They must be examined.

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