Tag Archives: sun-tzu

weaknesses and strengths – chapter 6 – the art of war

The Art of War

Chapter 6

Weaknesses and Strengths

Generally the one who first occupies the battlefield awaiting the enemy is at ease; the one who comes later and rushes into battle is fatigued.

Therefore those skilled in warfare move the enemy, and are not moved by the enemy.

Getting the enemy to approach on his own accord is a matter of showing him advantage; stopping him from approaching is a matter of showing him harm.

Therefore, if the enemy is at ease, be able to exhaust him; if the enemy is well fed, be able to starve him; if the enemy is settled, be able to move him; appear at places where he must rush to defend, and rush to places where he least expects.

To march over a thousand li without becoming distressed, march over where the enemy is not present.

To be certain to take what you attack, attack where the enemy cannot defend.

To be certain of safety when defending, defend where the enemy cannot attack.

Therefore, against those skilled in attack, the enemy does not know where to defend; against those skilled in defense, the enemy does not know where to attack.

Subtle! Subtle! They become formless.

Mysterious! Mysterious! They become soundless.

Therefore, they are the masters of the enemy’s fate.

To achieve an advance that cannot be hampered, rush to his weak points. To achieve a withdrawal that cannot be pursued, depart with superior speed.

Therefore, if we want to do battle, even if the enemy is protected by high walls and deep moats, he cannot but do battle, because we attack what he must rescue. If we do not want to do battle, even if we merely draw a line on the ground, he will not do battle, because we divert his movements.

Therefore, if we can make the enemy show his position while we are formless, we will be at full force while the enemy is divided.

If our army is at full force and the enemy is divided, then we will attack him at ten times his strength. Therefore, we are many and the enemy few. If we attack our many against his few, the enemy will be in dire straits.

The place of battle must not be made known to the enemy. If it is not known, then the enemy must prepare to defend many places. If he prepares to defend many places, then the forces will be few in number.

Therefore:
  • If he prepares to defend the front, the back will be weak
  • If he prepares to defend the back, the front will be weak
  • If he prepares to defend the left, the right will be weak
  • If he prepares to defend the right, the left will be weak
  • If he prepares to defend everywhere, everywhere will be weak

The few are those preparing to defend against others, the many are those who make others prepare to defend against them. Therefore, if one knows the place of battle and the day of battle, he can march a thousand li and do battle.

If one does not know the place of battle and the day of battle, then his left cannot aid his right, and his right cannot aid his left; his front cannot aid his back, and his back cannot aid his front.

How much less so if he is separated by tens of li, or even a few li.

Based on my calculations, though Yueh’s troops were many, what advantage was this to them in respect to victory? Therefore I say, victory can be achieved.

Though the enemy is many, he can be prevented from doing battle. Therefore, know the enemy’s plans and calculate their strengths and weaknesses.

Provoke him, to know his patterns of movement. Determine his position, to know the ground of death and of life. Probe him, to know where he is strong and where he is weak. The ultimate skill is to take up a position where you are formless.

If you are formless, the most penetrating spies will not be able to discern you, or the wisest counsels will not be able to do calculations against you. With formation, the army achieves victories yet they do not understand how. Everyone knows the formation by which you achieved victory, yet no one knows the formations by which you were able to create victory. Therefore, your strategy for victories in battle is not repetitious, and your formations in response to the enemy are endless.

The army’s formation is like water. The water’s formation avoids the high and rushes to the low. So an army’s formation avoids the strong and rushes to the weak. Water’s formation adapts to the ground when flowing. So then an army’s formation adapts to the enemy to achieve victory. Therefore, an army does not have constant force, or have constant formation.

Those who are able to adapt and change in accord with the enemy and achieve victory are called divine. Therefore, of the five elements, none a constant victor, of the four seasons, none has constant position; the sun has short and long spans, and the moon waxes and wanes.


(main review)

strategic military power – chapter 5 – the art of war

The Art of War

Chapter 5

Strategic Military Power

Generally, commanding of many is like commanding of a few. It is a matter of dividing them into groups.

Doing battle with a large army is like doing battle with a small army. It is a matter of communications through flags and pennants.

What enables an army to withstand the enemy’s attack and not be defeated are uncommon and common maneuvers.

The army will be like throwing a stone against an egg; it is a matter of weakness and strength.

Generally, in battle, use the common to engage the enemy and the uncommon to gain victory.

Those skilled at uncommon maneuvers are as endless as the heavens and earth, and as inexhaustible as the rivers and seas.

  • Like the sun and the moon, they set and rise again.
  • Like the four seasons, they pass and return again.

There are no more than five musical notes, yet the variations in the five notes cannot all be heard.

There are no more than five basic colors, yet the variations in the five colors cannot all be seen.

There are no more than five basic flavors, yet the variations in the five flavors cannot all be tasted.

In battle, there are no more than two types of attacks:

Uncommon and common, yet the variations of the uncommon and common cannot all be comprehended.

The uncommon and the common produce each other, like an endless circle.

Who can comprehend them?

The rush of torrential waters tossing boulders illustrates force.

The strike of a bird of prey breaking the body of its target illustrates timing.

Therefore, the force of those skilled in warfare is overwhelming, and their timing precise.

Their force is like a drawn crossbow and their timing is like the release of the trigger.

Even in the midst of the turbulence of battle, the fighting seemingly chaotic, they are not confused.

Even in the midst of the turmoil of battle, the troops seemingly going around in circles, they cannot be defeated.

Disorder came from order, fear came from courage, weakness came from strength.

Disorder coming from order is a matter of organization, fear coming from courage is a matter of force, weakness coming from strength is a matter of formation.

Therefore, those skilled in moving the enemy use formation that which the enemy must respond.

They offer bait that which the enemy must take, manipulating the enemy to move while they wait in ambush.

Those skilled in warfare seek victory through force and do not require too much from individuals.

Therefore, they are able to select the right men and exploit force.

One who exploits force commands men into battle like rolling logs and boulders.

Logs and boulders are still when on flat ground, but roll when on steep ground.

Square shapes are still, but round shapes roll.

Therefore, those skilled in warfare use force where the troops in battle are like boulders rolling down a steep mountain.

This is force.


(main review)

tactical dispositions – chapter 4 – the art of war

The Art of War

Chapter 4

Tactical Dispositions

In ancient times, those skilled in warfare make themselves invincible and then wait for the enemy to become vulnerable. Being invincible depends on oneself, but the enemy becoming vulnerable depends on himself. Therefore, those skilled in warfare can make themselves invincible, but cannot necessarily cause the enemy to be vulnerable. Therefore it is said one may know how to win but cannot necessarily do it.

One takes on invincibility defending, one takes on vulnerability attacking. One takes on sufficiency defending, one takes on deficiency attacking. Those skilled in defense conceal themselves in the lowest depths of the Earth. Those skilled in attack move in the highest reaches of the Heavens.

Therefore, they are able to protect themselves and achieve complete victory.

Perceiving a victory when it is perceived by all is not the highest excellence.

Winning battles such that the whole world says “excellent” is not the highest excellence.

For lifting an autumn down is not considered great strength, seeing the sun and the moon is not considered a sign of sharp vision, hearing thunder is not considered a sign of sensitive hearing.

In ancient times, those who are skilled in warfare gained victory where victory was easily gained. Therefore, the victories from those skilled in warfare are not considered of great wisdom or courage, because their victories have no miscalculations.

No miscalculations mean the victories are certain, achieving victory over those who have already lost. Therefore, those skilled in warfare establish positions that make them invincible and do not miss opportunities to attack the enemy.

Therefore, a victorious army first obtains conditions for victory, then seeks to do battle. A defeated army first seeks to do battle, then obtains conditions for victory.

Those skilled in warfare cultivate the Way, and preserve the Law, therefore, they govern victory and defeat.

The factors in warfare are:
  1. Measurement
  2. Quantity
  3. Calculation
  4. Comparison
  5. Victory.

Measurements are derived from Ground, quantities are derived from measurement, calculations are derived from quantities, comparisons are derived from calculations, and victories are derived from comparisons. A victorious army is like a ton against an ounce; a defeated army is like an ounce against a ton! The victorious army is like pent up waters released, bursting through a deep gorge.

This is formation.


(main review)

strategic attack – chapter 3 – the art of war

The Art of War

Chapter 3

Strategic Attack

Generally in warfare, keeping a nation intact is best, destroying a nation second best; keeping an army intact is best, destroying an army second best; keeping a battalion intact is best, destroying a battalion second best; keeping a company intact is best, destroying a company second best; keeping a squad intact is best, destroying a squad second best.

Therefore, to gain a hundred victories in a hundred battles is not the highest excellence; to subjugate the enemy’s army without doing battle is the highest of excellence.

Therefore, the best warfare strategy is to attack the enemy’s plans, next is to attack alliances, next is to attack the army, and the worst is to attack a walled city.

Laying siege to a city is only done when other options are not available.

To build large protective shields, armored wagons, and make ready the necessary arms and equipment will require at least three months.

To build earthen mounds against the walls will require another three months.

If the general cannot control his temper and sends troops to swarm the walls, one third of them will be killed, and the city will still not be taken.

This is the kind of calamity when laying siege to a walled city.

Therefore, one who is skilled in warfare principles subdues the enemy without doing battle, takes the enemy’s walled city without attacking, and overthrows the enemy quickly, without protracted warfare.

His aim must be to take All-Under-Heaven intact.

Therefore, weapons will not be blunted, and gains will be intact.

These are the principles of planning attacks.

Generally in warfare:

  • If ten times the enemy’s strength, surround them;
  • If five times, attack them;
  • If double, divide them;
  • If equal, be able to fight them;
  • If fewer, be able to evade them;
  • If weaker, be able to avoid them.

Therefore, a smaller army that is inflexible will be captured by a larger one.

A general is the safeguard of the nation.

When this support is in place, the nation will certainly be strong.

When this support is not in place, the nation will certainly not be strong.

There are three ways the ruler can bring difficulty to the army:
  • To order an advance when not realizing the army is in no position to advance, or to order a withdrawal when not realizing the army is in no position to withdraw.

This is called entangling the army.

  • By not knowing the army’s matters, and administering the army the same as administering civil matters, the officers and troops will be confused.
  • By not knowing the army’s calculations, and taking command of the army, the officers and troops will be hesitant.
  • When the army is confused and hesitant, the neighboring rulers will take advantage.

This is called a confused and hesitant army leading another to victory.

Therefore, there are five factors of knowing who will win:
  1. One who knows when he can fight, and when he cannot fight, will be victorious;
  2. One who knows how to use both large and small forces will be victorious;
  3. One who knows how to unite upper and lower ranks in purpose will be victorious;
  4. One who is prepared and waits for the unprepared will be victorious;
  5. One whose general is able and is not interfered by the ruler will be victorious.

These five factors are the way to know who will win.

Therefore I say:
  • One who knows the enemy and knows himself will not be in danger in a hundred battles.
  • One who does not know the enemy but knows himself will sometimes win, sometimes lose.
  • One who does not know the enemy and does not know himself will be in danger in every battle.

(main review)

waging war – chapter 2 – the art of war

The Art of War

Chapter 2

Waging War

Generally, the requirements of warfare are this way:

  • 1000 quick four-horse chariots
  • 1000 leather rideable chariots,
  • 100,000 belted armor,
  • transporting provisions one thousand li,

The distribution of internal and on the field spending, the efforts of having guests, materials such as glue and lacquer, tributes in chariots and armor, will amount to expenses of a thousand gold pieces a day.

Only then can 100,000 troops be raised.

When doing battle, seek a quick victory.

A protracted battle will blunt weapons and dampen ardor.

If troops lay siege to a walled city, their strength will be exhausted.

If the army is exposed to a prolonged campaign, the nation’s resources will not suffice.

When weapons are blunted, and ardor dampened, strength exhausted, and resources depleted, the neighboring rulers will take advantage of these complications.

Then even the wisest of counsels would not be able to avert the consequences that must ensue.

Therefore, I have heard of military campaigns that were clumsy but swift, but I have never seen military campaigns that were skilled but protracted.

No nation has ever benefited from protracted warfare.

Therefore, if one is not fully cognizant of the dangers inherent in doing battle, one cannot fully know the benefits of doing battle.

Those skilled in doing battle do not raise troops twice, or transport provisions three times.

Take equipment from home but take provisions from the enemy.

Then the army will be sufficient in both equipment and provisions.

A nation can be impoverished by the army when it has to supply the army at great distances.

When provisions are transported at great distances, the citizens will be impoverished.

Those in proximity to the army will sell goods at high prices.

When goods are expensive, the citizens’ wealth will be exhausted.

When their wealth is exhausted, the peasantry will be afflicted with increased taxes.

When all strength has been exhausted and resources depleted, all houses in the central plains utterly impoverished, seven-tenths of the citizens’ wealth dissipated, the government’s expenses from damaged chariots, worn-out horses, armor, helmets, arrows and crossbows, halberds and shields, draft oxen, and heavy supply wagons, will be six-tenths of its reserves.

Therefore, a wise general will strive to feed off the enemy.

One bushel of the enemy’s provisions is worth twenty of our own, one picul of fodder is worth twenty of our own.

Killing the enemy is a matter of arousing anger in men; taking the enemy’s wealth is a matter of reward.

Therefore, in chariot battles, reward the first to capture at least ten chariots.

Replace the enemy’s flags and standards with our own.

Mix the captured chariots with our own, treat the captured soldiers well.

This is called defeating the enemy and increasing our strength.

Therefore, the important thing in doing battle is victory, not protracted warfare.

Therefore, a general who understands warfare is the guardian of people’s lives, and the ruler of the nation’s security.


(main review)

detail assessment and planning – chapter 1 – the art of war

The Art of War

Chapter 1

Detail Assessment and Planning

Warfare is a great matter to a nation.

It is the ground of death and of life.

It is the way of survival and of destruction, and must be examined.

Therefore, go through it by means of five factors – compare them by means of calculation, and determine their statuses:

  1. The Way is what causes the people to have the same thinking as their superiors; they may be given death, or they may be given life, but there is no fear of danger and betrayal.
  2. Heaven is dark and light, cold and hot, and the seasonal constraints.
  3. Ground is high and low, far and near, obstructed and easy, wide and narrow, and dangerous and safe.
  4. General is wisdom, credibility, benevolence, courage, and discipline.
  5. Law is organization, the chain of command, logistics, and the control of expenses.

(main review)

the art of war by sun tzu

The Art of War by Sun Tzu is one of the oldest texts in the world, and the oldest known treatise on warfare. It has become de rigueur in war colleges, business schools, and other venues.

Most people have incorporated at least part of Sun Tzu’s teaching and thinking in their lives as leaders – whether they know it or not.

It is available in a variety of formats online, so I’m not adding a whole lot of ‘new’ insights, here, more just my thoughts and reactions to the text.

I first read The Art of War online several years ago – it’s an extremely quick read, but it’s very dense, too. I also have it as an audio book (read, sadly, in a near monotone) – and listening to it while driving or at work has been enlightening.

Chapter List

(see alternative headings here)
  1. Detail Assessment and Planning
  2. Waging War
  3. Strategic Attack
  4. Tactical Dispositions
  5. Strategic Military Power
  6. Weaknesses and Strengths
  7. Military Maneuvers
  8. The Nine Variations
  9. Movement and Development of Troops
  10. Situational Positioning
  11. The Nine Battlegrounds
  12. Attacking with Fire
  13. Intelligence and Espionage

Other References

Interestingly, The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene covers some of this same ground (no surprise, since his work is based on observations through history).

Today, none of the content of Sun Tzu’s efforts seems surprising: but I can only imagine how revolutionary his work must have been some 2500 years ago.