fighting the lack of good ideas

intelligence and espionage – chapter 13 – the art of war

The Art of War

Chapter 13

Intelligence and Espionage

Generally, raising an army of 100,000 and advancing it 1000 li, the expenses to the people and the nation’s resources are 1000 gold pieces a day.

Those in commotion internally and externally, those exhausted on the roads, and those unable to do their daily work are 700,000 families.

Two sides remain in standoff for several years in order to do battle for a decisive victory on a single day. Yet one refusing to outlay 100 pieces of gold and thereby does not know the enemy’s situation is the height of inhumanity. This one is not the general of the people, a help to the ruler, or the master of victory.

What enables the enlightened rulers and good generals to conquer the enemy at every move and achieve extraordinary success is foreknowledge. Foreknowledge cannot be elicited from ghosts and spirits; it cannot be inferred from comparison of previous events, or from the calculations of the heavens, but must be obtained from people who have knowledge of the enemy’s situation.

Therefore there are five kinds of spies used:
  • Local spies
  • Internal spies
  • Double spies
  • Dead spies
  • Living spies.

When all five are used, and no one knows their Way, it is called the divine organization, and is the ruler’s treasure.

  • For local spies, we use the enemy’s people.
  • For internal spies we use the enemy’s officials.
  • For double spies we use the enemy’s spies.
  • For dead spies we use agents to spread misinformation to the enemy.
  • For living spies, we use agents to return with reports.

Therefore, of those close to the army, none is closer than spies, no reward more generously given, and no matter in greater secrecy. Only the wisest ruler can use spies; only the most benevolent and upright general can use spies, and only the most alert and observant person can get the truth using spies.

It is subtle, subtle! There is nowhere that spies cannot be used. If a spy’s activities are leaked before they are to begin, the spy and those who know should be put to death.

Generally, if you want to attack an army, besiege a walled city, assassinate individuals, you must know the identities of the defending generals, assistants, associates, gate guards, and officers. You must have spies seek and learn them. You must seek enemy spies. Bribe them, and instruct and retain them.

Therefore, double spies can be obtained and used. From their knowledge, you can obtain local and internal spies. From their knowledge, the dead spies can spread misinformation to the enemy. From their knowledge, our living spies can be used as planned. The ruler must know these five kinds of espionage.

This knowledge depends on the double spies. Therefore, you must treat them with the utmost generosity. In ancient times, the rise of the Yin dynasty was due to I Chih, who served the house of Hsia; the rise of the Chou dynasty was due to Lu Ya, who served the house of Yin.

Therefore, enlightened rulers and good generals who are able to obtain intelligent agents as spies are certain for great achievements.

This is essential for warfare, and what the army depends on to move.

(main review)

attacking with fire – chapter 12 – the art of war

The Art of War

Chapter 12

Attacking with Fire

There are five kinds of fire attacks:
  1. Burning personnel;
  2. Burning provisions;
  3. Burning equipment;
  4. Burning stores;
  5. Burning weapons.

Using fire attacks depends on proper conditions. Equipment for fire attacks must be available beforehand. There are appropriate seasons for using fire attacks, and appropriate days for raising fires. The appropriate season is when the weather is dry; the appropriate day is when the moon is at Chi, Pi, I, or Chen. These four days are when there are rising winds.

Generally, in fire attacks, you must respond according to the five changes of fire:
  • If the fires are set inside enemy camp, you must respond quickly outside the enemy camp;
  • If the fires are set but the enemy is calm, then wait, do not attack.
  • Let the fire reach its height, and follow up if you can, stay if you cannot;
  • If the fire attack can be set outside, without relying on the inside, set it when the time is right.
  • If the fire is set upwind, do not attack downwind.
  • If it is windy all during the day, the wind will stop at night.

The army must know the five changes of fire, to be able to calculate the appropriate days. Those who use fire to assist in attacks are intelligent, those who use water to assist in attacks are powerful. Water can be used to cut off the enemy, but cannot be used to plunder.

If one gains victory in battle and is successful in attacks, but does not exploit those achievements, it is disastrous.

This is called waste and delay.

Therefore, I say the wise general thinks about it, and the good general executes it.

If it is not advantageous, do not move; if there is no gain, do not use troops; if there is no danger, do not do battle. The ruler may not move his army out of anger; the general may not do battle out of wrath.

If it is advantageous, move; if it is not advantageous, stop. Those angry will be happy again, and those wrathful will be cheerful again, but a destroyed nation cannot exist again, the dead cannot be brought back to life.

Therefore, the enlightened ruler is prudent, the good general is cautious.

This is the Way of securing the nation, and preserving the army.

(main review)

the nine battlegrounds – chapter 11 – the art of war

The Art of War

Chapter 11

The Nine Battlegrounds

The principles of warfare are:

There are

  • Dispersive ground
  • Marginal ground
  • Contentious ground
  • Open ground
  • Intersecting ground
  • Critical ground
  • Difficult ground
  • Surrounded ground
  • Deadly ground.

Where the rulers do battle in their own ground, this is called dispersive ground.

Where one enters the other’s ground but not deep, this is called marginal ground.

Where it is advantageous if you occupy it and it is advantageous if the enemy occupies it, this is called contentious ground.

Where one can come and go, this is called open ground.

Where ground is surrounded by others, and the first one to reach it will gain the support of the masses, this is called intersecting ground.

Where one enters deep into enemy ground, with many walled cities and towns to his back, this is called critical ground.

Where there are mountains and forests, defiles and ravines, swamps and wetlands, and places difficult to pass, this is called difficult ground.

Where the entrance is narrow, the exit circuitous, allowing the enemy to attack his few to our many, this is called surrounded ground.

Where if one who does battle with full force survives, and one who does not do battle with full force perishes, this is called deadly ground.

Therefore, on dispersive ground, do not do battle.

On marginal ground, do not stop.

On contentious ground, do not attack.

On open ground, do not become separated.

On intersecting ground, form alliances.

On critical ground, plunder.

On difficult ground, press on.

On surrounded ground, be prepared.

On deadly ground, do battle.

In ancient times, those skilled in warfare were able to prevent the unity of the enemy’s front and back, the many and the few, the noble and the peasants, and the superiors and the subordinates. Have the enemy be separated and unable to assemble; if the enemy is assembled, it should not be organized. Move when advantageous, stop when not advantageous.


If the enemy is large in number and advances, what should be the response?

I say:

Seize what he values, and he will do what you wish.

The essential factor in warfare is speed. To take advantage of the enemy’s lack of preparation, take unexpected routes to attack where the enemy is not prepared. Generally, the Way of invading is when one has penetrated deep into enemy ground, the troops are united; the defender will not be able to prevail. If you plunder the fertile fields, the army will have enough provisions. If you take care of your health, avoid fatigue, you will be united, and will build strength. When moving troops and calculating plans, be formless.

Throw your troops into situations where there is no escape, where they will die before escaping. When they are about to die, what can they not do? They will exert their full strength. When the troops are in desperate situations, they fear nothing; having penetrated deep in enemy ground, they are united. When there are no other alternatives, they will fight. Therefore, though not disciplined, they are alert; though not asked, they are devoted; though without promises, they are faithful; and though not commanded, they are trustworthy.

Prohibit omens, and get rid of doubts, and they will die without any other thoughts. The soldiers do not have wealth, but not because they dislike material goods; they do not live long, but not because they dislike longevity. On the day the men are issued orders to do battle, the sitting soldiers’ tears will soak their sleeves, and the lying soldiers’ tears will roll down their cheeks. However, if you throw them into a desperate situation, they will have the courage of Chuan Chu or Ts’ao Kuei.

Therefore, those skilled in warfare are like the shuaijan. The shuaijan is a serpent on Mount Chang. If you strike its head, its tail attacks; if you strike its tail, its head attacks; if you strike its middle, both the head and tail attack.


Can forces be made like the shuaijan?

I say:

They can.

The men of Wu and Yueh hated each other, however, encountering severe winds when crossing a river on the same boat, they assisted each other like left and right hands. Therefore, hobbling horses and burying chariot wheels are not enough.

The Way of organization is uniting their courage, making the best of the strong and the weak through the principles of Ground. Therefore, one who is skilled in warfare leads them by the hand like they are one person; they cannot but follow.

It is important for a general to be calm and remote, upright and disciplined, and be able to mystify his men’s eyes and ears, keeping them ignorant. He changes his methods and plans, keeping them from knowing. He changes his campsites and takes circuitous routes, keeping them from anticipating. The day the general leads his troops into battle, it is like climbing up high and throwing away the ladder. He leads his troops deep into enemy ground, and releases the trigger. He burns his boats and destroys the cooking pots. He commands his troops like herding sheep; being herded to and fro without them knowing where they are going.

Assembling the masses of the army, and throwing them into danger are the responsibility of the general. Adaptations to the nine grounds, the advantages in defensive and offensive maneuvers, and the patterns of human emotions must be examined.

Generally, the Way of invading is:
  • When troops are deep in enemy ground, they are united;
  • When troops are not deep in enemy ground, they are scattered.
  • Where you leave your country, and lead the troops across the border into enemy ground, this is called isolated ground.
  • Where there are four sides open, this is called intersecting ground.
  • Where you penetrated deep in enemy ground, this is called critical ground.
  • Where you penetrated little in enemy ground, this is called marginal ground.
  • Where the back is impassable and the front is narrow, this is called surrounded ground.
  • Where there is nowhere to go, this is called deadly ground.


  • On dispersive ground, I have my troops united.
  • On marginal ground, I consolidate my troops.
  • On contentious ground, I hurry my back.
  • On open ground, I pay attention to our defenses.
  • On intersecting ground, I strengthen our alliances.
  • On critical ground, I maintain continuous supply of provisions.
  • On difficult ground, I press on quickly.
  • On surrounded ground, I block off openings.
  • On deadly ground, I show the troops our resolve to fight to the death.

Therefore, the nature of the army is:

  • To defend when surrounded, to fight hard when there are no other alternatives, and to obey commands promptly when in danger.

Therefore, one who does not know the intentions of the rulers of the neighboring states cannot secure alliances.

  • One who does not know the mountains and forests, gorges and defiles, swamps and wetlands cannot advance the army.
  • One who does not use local guides cannot take advantage of the ground.
  • One who does not know any one of these matters cannot command the army of a ruler.

When the army of a ruler attacks a great nation, the nation’s masses cannot assemble. When its power overwhelms the nation, alliances cannot be formed. Therefore, one does not contend for alliances with other nations. One does not foster the power of other nations. If one pursues his aims, overwhelming the enemy, then, he can take the enemy’s cities and overthrow kingdoms.

Give out rewards transcending law, give out commands transcending policy. Command the masses like commanding one person. Give your troops tasks, but do not reveal them your plans. Get them to face danger, but do not reveal the advantages. Throw them into danger and they will survive; put them on deadly ground and they will live. Only if the troops are in situations of danger will they turn defeat into victory.

The concern of warfare is that operations are in accord with the enemy’s intentions. If one then concentrates his strength on the enemy, killing his general a thousand li away, this is called achieving objectives through wit and skill. Therefore, on the day war is declared, close off all borders, destroy all passports, and do not allow their envoys to pass.

Go through your plans in the temple and bring about the execution of those plans. If the enemy presents an opportunity, take advantage of it. Attack what he values most. Do not advance on any fixed day or time; calculate and adapt to the enemy to determine the matter of doing battle.

Therefore, be like a maiden; once the enemy opens the door, be like a scurrying hare. The enemy will be unable to prevail.

(main review)

situational positioning – chapter 10 – the art of war

The Art of War

Chapter 10

Situational Positioning

The grounds are:
  • Accessible
  • Entrapping
  • Stalemated
  • Narrow
  • Steep
  • Expansive

If you can go through but the enemy cannot, it is called accessible. For accessible ground, first take the high and the sunny side, and convenient supply routes. You then do battle with the advantage.

If you can go through but difficult to go back, it is called entrapping. For entrapping ground, if the enemy is unprepared, advance and defeat him. If the enemy is prepared, and you advance and are not victorious, it will be difficult to go back; this is disadvantageous.

If it is not advantageous to advance or for the enemy to advance, it is called stalemated. For stalemated ground, though the enemy offers you advantage, do not advance. Withdraw. If you strike them when half has advanced, this is advantageous.

For narrow ground, we must occupy it first; be prepared and wait for the enemy. If the enemy occupies it first, and is prepared, do not follow him. If he is not prepared, follow him.

For steep ground, if you occupy it first, occupy the high on the sunny side and wait for the enemy. If the enemy occupies it first, withdraw; do not follow him.

For expansive ground, if the forces are equal, it will be difficult to do battle. Doing battle will not be advantageous.

These are the six Ways of ground. They are the general’s responsibility, and must be examined.

In warfare, there are:
  • Flight
  • Insubordination
  • Deterioration
  • Collapse
  • Chaos
  • Setback.

These six situations are not caused by Heaven or Ground, but by the general.

  • If the forces are equal, and one attacks ten, this is called flight.
  • If the troops are strong but the officers weak, this is called insubordination.
  • If the officers are strong but the troops weak, this is called deterioration.
  • If the officers are angry and insubordinate, doing battle with the enemy under anger and insubordination, and the general does not know their abilities, this is called collapse.
  • If the general is weak and not disciplined, his instructions not clear, the officers and troops lack discipline and their formation in disarray, this is called chaos.
  • If the general cannot calculate his enemy, and uses a small number against a large number, his weak attacking the strong, and has no selected vanguard, this is called setback.

These are the six Ways of defeat. They are the general’s responsibility, and must be examined.

Formations of the ground assist the army. To calculate the enemy, create conditions leading to victory, calculating the dangers and distances.

They are the Ways of the superior general. Those who do battle and know these are certain for victory. Those who do battle and do not know these are certain for defeat. Therefore, if the Way of warfare indicates certain victory, though the ruler does not want to do battle, the general may do battle. If the Way of warfare indicates defeat, though the ruler wants to do battle, the general may not do battle.

Therefore, the general who does not advance to seek glory, or does not withdraw to avoid punishment, but cares for only the people’s security and promotes the people’s interests, is the nation’s treasure. He looks upon his troops as children, and they will advance to the deepest valleys. He looks upon his troops as his own children, and they will die with him.

If the general is kind to the troops, but cannot use them, or if the general loves the troops, but cannot command them, or if the general does not discipline the troops, but cannot establish order, the troops are like spoiled children and are useless.

If I know the troops can attack, but do not know the enemy cannot attack, my victory is half. If I know the enemy can be attacked, but do not know the troops cannot attack, my victory is half. If I know the enemy can be attacked, and know the troops can attack, but do not know the ground in battle, my victory is half.

Therefore, one who knows how to advance the army is limitless when taking action. Therefore I say, if you know the enemy and know yourself, the victory is not at risk.

If you know the Heaven and you know the Ground, the victory is complete.

(main review)

movement and development of troops – chapter 9 – the art of war

The Art of War

Chapter 9

Movement and Development of Troops

Generally, on positioning the army and observing the enemy:
  • To cross mountains, stay close to the valleys;
  • Observe on high ground and face the sunny side.
  • If the enemy holds the high ground, do not ascend and do battle with him.

This is positioning the army in the mountains.

After crossing a river, you must stay far away from it. If the enemy crosses a river, do not meet him in the water. When half of his forces has crossed, it will then be advantageous to strike.

If you want to do battle with the enemy, do not position your forces near the water facing the enemy; take high ground facing the sunny side, and do not position downstream. This is positioning the army near rivers.

After crossing swamps and wetlands, strive to quickly get through them, and do not linger. If you do battle in swamps and wetlands, you must position close to grass, with the trees to your back. This is positioning the army in swamps and wetlands.

On level ground, position on places that are easy to maneuver with your right backed by high ground, with the dangerous ground in front, and safe ground to the back. This is positioning the army on level ground.

These are the four positions advantageous to the army, which enabled the Yellow Emperor to conquer four rulers.

Generally, the army prefers high ground and dislikes low ground, values the sunny side and despises the shady side, nourishes its health and occupies places with resources, and avoids numerous sicknesses. These factors mean certain victory.

Where there are hills and embankments, you must position on the sunny side, with the hills and embankments to your right back. These are advantages to the army.

Use the ground for assistance. When the rainwater rises and descends down to where you want to cross, wait until it settles. Where there is ground with impassable ravines, Heaven’s Wells, Heaven’s Prisons, Heaven’s Nets, Heaven’s Pits, and Heaven’s Fissures, you must march quickly away from them. Do not approach them.

When we distance from them, draw the enemy to approach them. When we move to face the enemy, he will have them at his back. When the army is flanked by high ground, wetlands, tall reeds and grass, mountain forests, or areas with thick undergrowth, you must search carefully and thoroughly, because these are places where men lie in ambush or where spies hide.

If the enemy is close and remains quiet, he occupies a natural stronghold. If the enemy is far away and challenges you to do battle, he wants you to advance, because he occupies level ground that is to his advantage.

If trees move, he is advancing; if there are obstacles placed in the undergrowth, he wants to make us suspicious; if the birds take flight, he is lying in ambush; if the animals are in fear, he is preparing to attack; if dust is high in straight columns, his chariots are advancing; if dust is low and wide, his infantry is advancing.

If the dust is scattered, he is gathering wood; if the dust is sparse, coming and going, he is encamping.

If he speaks humbly, but increases warfare readiness, he will advance. If he speaks belligerently and advances aggressively, he will retreat.

If he speaks apologetically, he needs a rest. If his light chariots move first and take position on the flanks, he is setting up for battle. If he seeks peace without a treaty, he is calculating.

If he sets up his troops rapidly, he is expecting reinforcements. If half of his troops advances and half of his troops retreats, he is trying to lure you.

If the troops lean on their weapons, they are hungry. If the troops who draw water drink first, they are thirsty. If he sees advantage but does not take it, he is tired.

If birds gather, he is not there. If his troops cry at night, they are afraid. If the army is unsettled, the general is weak. If the enemy’s flags and pennants move about, he is in chaos. If the officers are irritable, they are exhausted.

If his horses are fed grain and his men meat, no longer hangs up cooking pots, and does not return to camp, he is desperate. If troops constantly gather in small groups and whisper together, he has lost his men. If he gives out rewards frequently, he is running out of resources.

If he gives out punishments frequently, he is in dire straits. If he is brutal at first, and then fears the masses, he is the extreme of ineptitude.

If he comes with offerings, he wants to rest. If his troops confront you with anger, but do not do battle or leave their position, he must be investigated.

In warfare, numbers may not necessarily be an advantage; do not advance aggressively. It is enough to consolidate your strength, calculate the enemy, and get support from your men. One who lacks strategic planning and underestimates the enemy will be captured.

If one punishes the troops before their loyalty is formed, they will be disobedient. If they are disobedient, they will be difficult to use. If one does not punish the troops after their loyalty is formed, they cannot be used. Therefore, if he commands them by benevolence, and unifies them by discipline, this is called certain victory.

If commands are consistently enforced when training men, they will be obedient; if commands are not consistently enforced when training men, they will be disobedient. If commands are consistently executed, they are in accord with the general.

(main review)

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.

(main review)

military maneuvers – chapter 7 – the art of war

The Art of War

Chapter 7

Military Maneuvers

Generally, the principles of warfare are:

The general receives his commands from the ruler, assembles the troops, mobilizes the army, and sets up camp.

There is nothing more difficult than armed struggle. In armed struggle, the difficulty is turning the circuitous into the direct, and turning adversity into advantage. Therefore, if you make the enemy’s route circuitous and bait him with advantages, though you start out behind him, you will arrive before him.

This is to know the calculations of the circuitous and of the direct. Therefore, armed struggle has advantages, and armed struggle has risks.

If the entire army mobilizes for an advantage, you will not arrive on time. If a reduced army mobilizes for an advantage, your stores and equipment will be lost. For this reason, by rolling up your armor, rushing forward without stopping day or night, covering twice the usual distance for an advantage a hundred li away, the general will be captured.

The strong will arrive first, the weak will lag behind, and as a rule, only one-tenth will arrive. If one struggles for an advantage fifty li away, the general of the front forces will be thwarted, and as a rule only one half will arrive.

If one struggles for an advantage thirty li away, then two-thirds of the army will arrive. For this reason, if an army is without its equipment it will lose; if an army is without its provisions it will lose; if the army is without its stores it will lose.

Therefore, one who does not know the intentions of the rulers of the neighboring states cannot secure alliances.

One who does not know the mountains and forests, gorges and defiles, swamps and wetlands cannot advance the army. One who does not use local guides cannot take advantage of the ground.

Therefore, the army is established on deception, mobilized by advantage, and changed through dividing up and consolidating the troops.

Therefore, it advances like the wind; it marches like the forest; it invades and plunders like fire; it stands like the mountain; it is formless like the dark; it strikes like thunder.

When you plunder the countryside, divide the wealth among your troops; when you expand your territory, divide up and hold places of advantage.

Calculate the situation, and then move. Those who know the principles of the circuitous and direct will be victorious.

This is armed struggle.

The Book of Military Administration says:

It is because words cannot be clearly heard in battle, drums and gongs are used; it is because troops cannot see each other clearly in battle, flags and pennants are used.

Therefore, in night battles use torches and drums; in day battles use flags and pennants. Drums, gongs, flags, and pennants are used to unite men’s eyes and ears. When the men are united, the brave cannot advance alone, the cowardly cannot retreat alone. These are the principles for employing a large number of troops.

Therefore, in night battles, use many torches and drums, and in day battles, use many flags and pennants in order to influence men’s eyes and ears.

The energy of the army can be dampened, and the general’s mind can be dampened. Therefore, in the morning, energy is high, but during the day energy begins to flag; and in the evening, energy is exhausted. Therefore, those skilled in the use of force avoid high energy, and strike when energy is exhausted.

This is the way to manage energy.

Disciplined, wait for disorder; calm, wait for clamor.

This is the way to manage the mind.

Near, wait for the distant; rested, wait for the fatigued; full, wait for the hungry.

This is the way to manage strength.

Do not do battle with well-ordered flags; do not do battle with well-regulated formations.

This is the way to manage adaptation.
Therefore, the principles of warfare are:
  • Do not attack an enemy that has the high ground;
  • Do not attack an enemy that has his back to a hill;
  • Do not pursue feigned retreats;
  • Do not attack elite troops;
  • Do not swallow the enemy’s bait;
  • Do not thwart an enemy retreating home.
  • If you surround the enemy, leave an outlet;
  • Do not press an enemy that is cornered.

These are the principles of warfare.

(main review)