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Sun Tzu Art of War: Complete (Summary) Explanation

Sun Tzu Art  Of War 13 principles and summary
Complete Art Of War Explained

Sun Tzu's Art Of War book, is the most important book ever written, on military strategies.

In this blog, we will share with you who is Sun Tzu and the 13 chapters of Sun Tzu's Art Of War.

You will discover the theories and philosophy behind Sun Tzu's art of war.

Who is Sun Tzu? Why is he an expert in the Art of War?

According to the ancient Chinese historical book of Shi Ji and Hanshu, Sun Tzu's Art Of War book was written by Sun Wu.

His family name is Sun, Tzu is an honorific title of respect meaning "master."

So Sun Tzu can also be called "Master Sun".

He was born at Le'an in the state of Qi. Historians are not able to determine the exact date he was born. What we know is he lived around 500 BCE.

Sun Tzu had an ancestor by the name of Chen Wan, who lived in the state of Chen. Chen Wan left his hometown and went to the state of Qi because there was social unrest in the state of Chen.

He changed his surname to Tien. He then served in the military of Qi and because of his meritorious service in attacking the state of Ju, he was given the surname of Sun.

Sun Tzu's father was also a senior officer in the state of Qi. His name is Sun Ping.

Many of Sun Tzu's family members were military officers and state officials. Naturally, Sun Tzu became an expert in military affairs.

At a very young age, Sun Tzu became a very knowledgeable military scholar.

When the state of Qi was having an internal conflict, Sun Tzu ran to the state of Wu and settled down there.

That was when he wrote Sun Tzu's Art Of War treatise which consists of 13 chapters.

According to the ancient Chinese historical book Shi Ji, he befriended Wu Zixu who was the advisor to King Helü. And Wu Zixu recommended Sun Tzu with his Art Of War methods to King Helü.

That was the beginning of Sun Tzu's career in the military, in the state of Wu.

Sun Tzu and Wu Zixu together served the Wu sovereign and defeated the powerful state of Chu in the west, and conquered the state of Yue in the south.

The state of Wu became a great power during that time.

Sun Tzu was not only a brilliant military scholar but also a great military commander.

Let's discuss the Sun Tzu's Art Of War Treatise

Chapter 1: Foundation Plans

The concept of Sun Tzu's Art Of War is trying to overcome the enemy through wisdom, and not by force alone.

Military warfare is not just about two opposing parties fighting but it involves a combination of politics, economics, diplomacy and military force.

Sun Tzu believes you have to be extremely prudent, and serious when it comes to war.

Sun Tzu said, "The Art of War is of vital importance to the state.

It is a situation of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruins, it is a subject of inquiry that needs to be studied carefully."

"The five heavenly factors are to be taken into account in one's actions when determining the situation on the field.

These are the Moral law, heaven, earth, the commander, and method and discipline."

Moral laws are rules, customs and culture set so that people and leaders can work or live together in harmony.

Heaven represents the environment in which the leader does have no or not much control, like the economic environment, weather, or natural disaster.

Earth is the geography or territory.

The Commander is the leader himself. What are his capabilities, strengths and weaknesses? Which covers the leader's virtues of wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage and strictness.

Lastly is the method and discipline, which covers the managing of the military and the art of disciplining the team or troops.

So all planning must be in detail and based on the five heavenly factors and with that one is on the road to victory.

How do you determine if you can win over your competitors or enemy?

Based on the 5 heavenly factors, do a comparison with your competitor.

"1) Which of the two rulers possesses the Moral law? 2) Which of the two generals is more capable? 3) Who has the advantages gained from Heaven and Earth? 4) On which soldiers are the most disciplined? 5) Which army is stronger? 6) Which side has more highly trained officers and soldiers? 7) In which army is there is both reward and punishment being enforced?

From these considerations, I can forecast who will win or defeat."

From a comparison with the enemy's capabilities, you will know the possibilities of winning.

In engaging in a War, hiring the right general for the mission is important.

The general must listen and carry out the instructions of his superior which is the commander. If the general can't do that, the commander must dismiss him.

When it comes to planning, be ready to change and modify one's plan according to the situation.

Sun Tzu says, "All warfare is based on deception"

"When capable to attack, we must seem not capable; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away we must make him believe we are near."

Trick the enemy with baits and pretend to be disorganised and crush the enemy once they are in your trap.

"If your enemy is established at all points, be prepared for him. If he is stronger, evade battle."

Psychological strategies should be used in battles. If your opponent is quick-tempered, pursue to irritate him. Pretend to be weak so your opponent may be arrogant and let his guard down.

Constant harassment should be applied to make the opponent tired.

If his forces a concentrated, you will want to divide their army.

Always remember, to engage in any war, always plan, calculate your financial budget, the profit to be gained, how fast to recover your profits, and the risk involved.

War is not always about direct head-on battle.

The Art of War consists of using diplomacy, politics or negotiations to your advantage to win.

If you have to fight, always strategise to win at ease by deceiving and taking the enemy by surprise.

Chapter 2: Waging War

In any war operation, you will require a lot of your resources. And it will affect your state's daily cash flow.

In any war you engage, you must gain profits or positive cash flow as soon as possible. And never prolong the war.

Sun Tzu says,

"The objective is to be victorious in war. If it is a prolonged war, the men's weapons will grow dull and their enthusiasm will be dampened. And the siege will exhaust your strength."

A long war, will not only drain your resources, but there will be others that will take advantage of your situation.

To preserve your state resources and leverage on the enemy resources.

"Hence a wise general makes sure his troops feed on the enemy. One cartload of the enemy's provisions is equivalent to twenty of his, likewise, a single picul of his provisions is equivalent to twenty from one's own store."

Profits made from your business or War operations should be reinvested to wage the war further.

"To kill the enemy is because of a burst of rage, but to take advantage from defeating the enemy is to gain over their wealth."

"This is called leveraging, using the conquered foe to strengthen our force"

"Thus it may be known that the general is the arbiter of the people's fate. On him, it depends whether the nation shall be in peace or in peril."

Chapter 3: Attack by Strategem

In war, it is a principle to make a profit. Sun Tzu recommends in every war, you must capitalise on the use of human resources, natural resources and infrastructure of the conquered territory.

In terms of war strategies, Sun Tzu says,

"Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting."

"Thus the highest form of generalship is to baulk the enemy's plans; the next best is to disrupt the enemy's alliances by diplomacy;

And the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities"

Diplomacy and the use of methods to disrupt the enemy's plans are part of the art of war strategies.

A classic example of using diplomacy was back in 1939, when Joseph Stalin from the Soviet Union made a Non-Agression pact with Hitler.

Before World War II, the Soviet Union tried their best to do an agreement of mutual assistance with Britain and France to prevent the invasion of Nazi Germany.

However, Stalin felt that Britain and France were attempting to redirect the invasion of Germany towards the east which was the Soviet Union.

After several talks, the agreement between Britain, France and the Soviet Union did not materialise.

The Soviet Union then decided to look towards Germany to make a non-aggression agreement. The agreement was done from the 23rd to the 24th of August 1939. It was called the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

This stopped the German advance for a good 2 years and that gave time for the Soviet Union to prepare for war.

This is how Stalin used diplomatic ways to delay attacks from Hitler.

This was a wise military strategy through diplomatic means.

Sun Tzu says,

"The rule is, not to besiege walled cities, if it can possibly be avoided. The preparation of mantles, movable shelters, and various implements of war, will take up three whole months. And the piling up of mounds over against the walls will take another three months more."

Sun Tzu mentioned if possible, not to attack the strong points or walled cities because you have to consider the time, effort, cost and risk.

In any strategy, it also depends on the general's temperament. He should be able to control his emotions.

And not to make rash and emotional decisions.

"Therefore the skilled General subdues the enemy's troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without prolonged operations in the field."

The general's leadership plays an important role in executing the strategies.

The army must be able to obey and carry out the orders.

Managing an army cannot be managed like managing other departments. Or else it will cause the soldiers to lose confidence in the leadership.

All top leaders must assign the right team leaders to lead on a proper hierarchy system. Without proper management systems, this will create doubts amongst the officers or team leaders.

"If the army is restless, and distrustful, it will be difficult to lead an army that is disorganised to victory."

"There are five fundamentals for victory: 1) He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight. 2) He will win who knows how to handle superior and inferior forces. 3) He will win whose army is united throughout all its ranks. 4) He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.

Hence the saying "If you know yourself and know your enemy, you will fear not the result of a hundred battles. If you do not know the enemy but know yourself, you will win some and lose some. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will be in danger in every battle."

Chapter 4: Tactical Disposition 

This has nothing to do with military formation or where to place your army geographically.

It's about knowing when and how to utilise the army team's power to win the war and yet at the same time win with ease.

The military strength is the foundation that must be built. It does not mean you can and should wage a war.

One should wait for the right timing and opportunity to strike when the enemy is vulnerable.

"The strong defence against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself."

Even if you know how to conquer, does not mean you can do it.

It depends if your army has the resources or strength. Your team should be in a defensive position if not strong enough.

Only when you have the resources and strength then you can attack.

"A general must make no mistakes and win at ease."

"In the Art of War, first is Measurement; second is, Calculations; third is, Quantification; fourth is, Comparison; fifth is, Possibility of Victory."

In every battle, planning and calculations are done before any battle. Be sure that you can win first before engaging in a battle.

An unskilled General will fight the battle and see how to win.

Once the decision has been made,

"Every battle must be like the bursting of a dam of water into a chasm a thousand feet deep."

Chapter 5: Energy 

Sun Tzu says,

Managing a large army or a few soldiers is the same. It is how you divide them based on the team's task.

However, when managing a large army, every division must work hand in hand.

Formations and communications between the divisions are important.

Also, the general must make sure his coordination and communication are clear to lead his divisions of the army.

When going to battle, there is never one method.

"The use of both direct and indirect methods are used in engaging in battle with the enemy. This is needed to ensure victory."

"All battles are won through the direct and indirect method with an element of surprise."

"...yet these two combinations give rise to an unlimited series of manoeuvres."

When it comes to making your decision to attack, it must be well-timed and must be deadly.

In the eyes of your opponent, your army must look as though it is disorganised and weak.

Deceive your opponent, and surprise your opponent by outmanoeuvring them with speed and perfect coordination.

"The energy developed by a good fighting man is as the momentum of a round stone rolled down a mountain thousands of feet in height. So much on the subject of energy."

Chapter 6: Weak points and Strong points

"Whoever is first on the battlefield to await the coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field has to hasten the battle, and will arrive exhausted."

The idea is to set up or negotiate and get the opponent to meet at your terms. Make them come to you.

Sun Tzu says,

"By holding out advantages for the enemy, similarly he can cause the enemy to approach of his own accord"

There are many ways to lure your opponent out. You may also set a bait, provoke him, or starve him by cutting his food supplies.

When in war always look for the enemy's weakness.

To win in a battle, you must only attack places that are undefended or poorly defended.

And at the same time take care of your safety by holding positions that cannot be attacked.

When it comes to any battle strategy, Sun Tzu says...

"A General is considered skilful in attack if the opponent does not know what to defend,

and the General is skilful in defence when the opponent does not know what to attack."

If you want to force the enemy to come and fight, what you need to do is attack or take hostage of something that he is obliged to come out of his relief.

If you are not ready to do battle, what you can do is to create a diversion by throwing something in his way.

This is a delay tactic to keep your enemy distracted or busy while you buy time to prepare or retreat.

All your plans, strategies and tactics, must be in total secrecy.

When the opponent does not know where you are attacking, he has to divide his army into many areas to guard. That's how you divide the opponent's attention and prevent him from concentrating his army.

Look for the opponent's weak point then concentrate our forces and attack the weak point.

It is important to test the opponent.

Find out the weakness and strength of the opponent against yours.

Provoke him, and learn to understand his movements. Force him to reveal himself, so as to find out his strength and weakness.

Sun Tzu says,

"Victory is won from the enemy's mistakes"

All your plans must be in total secrecy and nobody must know your plan.

Your commanding style must be unpredictable and nobody can predict your style or pattern.

"Never repeat the tactics that got you one victory, but let your methods be based on circumstances using infinite ways."

Chapter 7: Maneuvering 

Maneuvering is all about managing your troops.

First, before a general can mobilise his army, he must receive his command from the ruler.

All the general's troops under his command must be disciplined, able and will take orders from the general. Both the troops and the general must be in harmony.

Then the general is ready for battle.

On your journey to battle, it is sometimes best to take the longer route. It may be long but safer.

Throw some distraction to the enemy with some bait to distract and delay him.

This will help you march your army to your destination smoothly before the enemy. This is part of military manoeuvring.

Keep your army on a very tight discipline. It is very dangerous if your army has no discipline.

Always travel lean, light and be practical. Carrying heavy equipment will only slow you down. You will never be able to reach your destination.

You will run on a loss in terms of resources and you will tire your men.

Never tire your army by travelling fast and covering a lot of distance with full body armour.

A tired army will never be able to fight. Your strong soldiers will be in front and your weaker soldiers will be left far behind.

The further the distance you march your army into enemy territory, the more soldiers you will lose.

Some will resign and desert you or some die of exhaustion.

At the same time without equipment and food, your army cannot survive the journey.

So it is important to study, plan and understand the route you are travelling.

In your route, there are a lot of obstacles like the mountains, marshes, swamps, rivers and forests.

You have to hire local guides who understand and have been through the journey you are taking.

Also, make allies or friends when you are passing their territory or crossing their path. Before you make allies or friends, know more about them beforehand.

To be successful, important to conceal your thoughts, intentions and feelings. No one must know your plan or direction.

Only move when the timing is right and when there is an advantage to be gained.

In terms of tactical battles, you may concentrate or divide your troops according to the situation.

When it comes to engaging in a battle, Sun Tzu says,

"Be swift as a wind, compact as a forest. In raiding and plundering, be like fire. And stability like a mountain"

When it comes to planning your battles,

"Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night when you move, strike like a thunderbolt."

Always remember, in every victory, you have to reward your soldiers accordingly and fairly.

When it comes to managing your troops, effective communications are essential. Your multiple types of communication methods that fits the situation.

Make sure all your troops are focused on the directions given to them.

Always pay great attention to your army's morale. Keep them motivated and high in spirits.

Also, attack your enemy when they are mentally vulnerable.

Sun Tzu believes in keeping your team calm and patient. Keep their morale and discipline in check.

Sun Tzu recommends launching an attack when the enemy is tired, hungry, impatient, and low in morale.

"Do not engage with the enemy whose banners are in perfect order, refrain from attacking an army drawn up in a calm and confident array. This is the art of control circumstances"

War is all about deception. Be careful about your enemy's next move. Keep a lookout on their moves.

Do not take their baits or fall for their deceptions.

That's the art of manoeuvring.

Chapter 8: The Nine Variables

After the topic of managing, next comes military operations.

Only through the mandate of the sovereign, did the general receive his commands and gather his troops.

A general must understand and know how and when to use all the types of tactics available to him.

Tactics will be based on the types of situations he knows that can happen.

Here is Sun Tzu's quote on the nine variables of ground battle,

1.. When in rough grounds, never encamp.

2. In the ground where high roads intersect, keep in contact with your allies.

3. Do not linger in dangerous isolated ground. Quickly get away.

4. In hemmed-in situations, you must resort to stratagem.

5. In death ground when in a desperate position, you must fight to the end.

6. There are some roads that must not be followed.

7. Armies that must not be attacked,

8. Towns that must not be besieged.

9. Positions that must not be contested.

There are also commands of the sovereign that must not be obeyed. Meaning, do not take orders blindly. Observe the situation and send feedback to the sovereign.

By understanding these nine variations, a general will know how to handle his troops.

If the general doesn't understand the nine variables but knows ls the five ground has no advantage.

If the general understands only one of the variables and knows all the five grounds will fail to make the best for his troops."

When a wise General plans, he will look at the advantages and disadvantages.

Sun Tzu says,

"When considering the advantages, he makes his plan achievable.

When considering the disadvantages, he finds ways to extricate his way from difficulties"

To conquer the rulers in the hostile neighbouring state, and inflict damage on them.

If you want to control them, create trifle affairs and keep them constantly troubled.

You can offer them fake enticement and make them rush for it.

Sun Tzu believes one should always prepare the army to be deployed. Keep them ready and disciplined. Do not let your army rest for too long. Keep them busy with tasks to do and regular training.

Never assume the enemy will not attack. Make our position unassailable.

There are five flaws that a general must not possess.

1. Recklessness is based on emotions which leads to destruction.

2. Cowardice which leads to surrender.

3. Short termper which can be provoked by insults.

4. Excessive care to public opinion.

5. Overcompassionate which leads to worry and being harassed or misled by subordinates.

These five flaws will get the army defeated and the General killed. A lot of thought needs to be given.

Chapter 9: On the March 

When marching to a battle, know where to position yourself to an advantage against your enemy.

When you position your army and confront the enemy, always observe and evaluate the enemy's situation against yours.

In this chapter Sun Tzu's Art Of War talks about ground warfare strategies.

So Sun Tzu says the following.

1. Do not fight uphill. Only fight downhill. That is the mountain warfare.

2. After crossing the river, you should stay away from it. Never confront the enemy near a river.

When an invading force crosses a river in its march, do not engage him on midstream. It will be more advantageous to allow half his army to get across and then you can attack.

Take a higher ground with a wide commanding view. That is the positioning strategy near a river.

3. Cross salt swamps quickly. Avoid the area. If you have to fight, keep close to the trees and grass behind you. That is swamp warfare.

4. On level ground, stay on higher ground, with heights on your rear and right side. So when the enemy confronts you in the front, your rear is safe. This is positioning on level ground.

These four advantageous principles for positioning in these situations enabled the Yellow Emperor to conquer four sovereigns which was over 3000 BCE.

All armies prefer high ground to low, and sunny places to dark. If you are on higher ground, make a camp there.

All generals must know the art of positioning their army and must be aware of the enemy's positioning.

When you are marching your army, make sure you feed your army well and build their strength so they will be free from any diseases. This will ensure victory as they are strong and ready to fight.

Always position your army behind the sun. These are all the best positions gained from ground positioning.

When rain falls in the upper reaches river, lots of foaming water will descend. If you wish to cross the river, wait for the water to subside, before marching ahead.

When there are precipitous torrents like Heavenly Wells, Heavenly Prisons, Heavenly Nets, Heavenly Traps and Heavenly Gaps, move away quickly and stay away from them.

(Waterfalls, high cliffs and ravines, well...)

Stay away from these places, but we lure the enemy to approach them.

Face the enemy and force them to put their back on these torrents.

When your army is marching, and if you pass through difiles or ponds, with aquatic grass and reeds, or forested mountains filled with thick undergrowth.

You have to be on the lookout.

For these places where the enemy can lay ambushes or insidious spies may be lurking.

When the enemy is nearby, remain calm. He is depending on his favourable position.

When the enemy challenges you from afar, he is trying to lure you to advance as he is on easy ground and he must be in an advantageous position.

When there are movements amongst the trees, it shows that the enemy is advancing.

If there are many screens that have been set up by the enemy in the undergrowth, it is for the purpose of deception.

When birds rise in flight, it is a sign of the enemy hiding in an ambush position.

When wild animals are startled and run, a surprise attack is coming.

When dust rises in a high column, it's a sign of chariots advancing. When the dust is low but spread over a wide area, means infantry is approaching.

When dust rises in scattered areas, means the enemy is collecting firewood. When many small patches of dust come and go, means they are encamping their army.

When the enemy's envoy speaks in humble ways, but they still continue their preparation, means they will attack.

If strong language is used and they pretentiously advance, it is a sign that the enemy will retreat.

When light chariots come out first and position at the flanks, means the enemy is ready for battle.

A peace proposal without a formal agreement indicates a plot.

When there is much running about and getting into formation means a critical moment has come.

When half of the forces move forward and the other rear half retreats, means the enemy is attempting to lure you into their trap.

When enemy troops lean on their spears, they are tired and hungry.

If those who are sent to draw water begin drinking themselves, means his troops are suffering from thirst.

If the enemy sees an advantage but makes no effort to advance, means the army is exhausted.

If birds gather around the camp, it's unoccupied.

If there is a disturbance in the camp, the general's leadership is weak. If the banners

and flags are shifted about, the troops are in disorder

If his officers are noisy and angry. This means they are tired.

When an army feeds its horses with grain and kills its cattle for food and when men do not hang their cooking pots properly nor return to their tents means they are desperate.

When troops gather in small groups whispering indicates that the general has lost control of his men.

Too frequent rewards signify that the enemy is losing control over his men. Too many punishments show him in acute distress.

If the officers first treat their men harshly and later fear them, it shows the officers really lack intelligence. Always treat your men fairly and you will gain their respect.

When facing enemy troops march angrily and remain facing ours for a long time without either joining the battle or taking themselves off again

Having more soldiers does not guarantee victory.

Never attack relying solely on military strength.

All you need is to concentrate your strength, estimate the enemy's position and seek his capture. That's all that is needed.

He who lacks foresight and underestimates his enemy will surely be captured.

Secure the loyalty of the troops first before punishing them or they will not be submissive. If they cannot obey, you cannot employ them.

However, if the troops are attached to you but discipline cannot be enforced, you cannot employ them.

Therefore, soldiers must be treated kindly and kept under tight discipline. This is a secure road to victory.

Orders got to be consistently and regularly carried out, to instruct the troops. This is to ensure troops stay disciplined.

If orders are consistently and willingly carried out, it shows the relationship of the commander with his troops is satisfactory.

Chapter 10: Terrain

In any battle, your strategies will depend on your terrain.

There are six types of terrain:

1. Open ground

2. Entangled ground

3. Inconclusive

4. Narrow

5. Precipitous

6. Distance from the enemy

Grounds that can be travelled by you and your enemy are called open ground.

In this type of terrain, arrive before your enemy in occupying the higher ground which has the sun facing your back and secure your lines of supply like equipment and food.

Then you will be able to sustain and fight with advantage.

Ground that is easy to enter and hard to retreat is called entangling.

In this terrain, if your enemy is unprepared, you may move forward and defeat him.

But if the enemy is prepared for your coming, and if you fail to defeat him, disaster awaits you as it is difficult to retreat in this terrain.

When you are in a position where neither side will gain by making the first move. It is called inconclusive ground.

In this ground do not be lured by the enemy to move forward in to their trap.

But rather retreat and lure the enemy and lure the enemy to move forward into our trap.

One-half of his enemy has to come out, then we may attack.

For this situation, you can take a look at the classic example of the Battle of Changping.

The army of Qin was trying to invade the Changping from 262 to 260 BCE.

General Lian Poh of Zhao State knew that his army had no chance against the Qin army on the open battlefield.

So built fortified barriers at the foot hill that would make the Qin army exhausted if they marched through the barriers.

Neither the Qin army nor Zhao army could move forward. The barriers built between them keep each other armies from advancing. The battle was a stalemate for over two years.

However, the stalemate ended when General Lian Poh who built the defence barriers was dismissed by his King as he was accused of being a coward for not fighting.

It was the Qin forces that bribed the Zhao courtiers to backstab General Lian Poh.

After that, the new general of Zhao State was hired, and without studying the situation, made a hasty decision to immediately attack the Qin army on the flank.

The Qin army already anticipated the move and set a trap. The Qin army has three groups.

While the Zhao army was attacking, one group of the Qin army would confront the Zhao and pretend to retreat to draw more Zhao army.

The other Qin army group blocked the Zhao army's retreat and food supply route. And the other blocked all possible communications between the Zhao army and their allies.

The Qin army encircled the Zhao army and finished them.

The Qin General Bai Qi, also known as the Human Butcher, took the opportunity to slaughter every soldier from the Zhao state.

In narrow passes, you must occupy them first, barricade the passes and await

the advancement of the enemy. If the enemy occupies the pass first, do not go after him if the pass fully is barricaded and build his strong defence there.

In precipitous heights, it's a must to occupy the higher ground first and the sun is at our back, then wait for the enemy.

If the enemy occupies first, set a bait or entice him to leave his position but never confront him.

If you are situated at a great distance from the enemy, and the strength of the

two armies are equal, it is not easy to engage in a battle, and fighting will not be to

your advantage.

In Sun Tzu's principles, he mentioned about Earth.

So these six grounds are the principles connected with Earth. The general’s

responsibility is to analyse and study the terrain before marching his army.

The general is at fault if his army (1) flees; (2) insubordinate; (3) collapse; (4)

fall, (5) disorganised; or (6) rout.

This is within the general’s control and does not arise from natural causes.

When conditions are equal, if an army is outnumbered ten to one times its

size, the smaller will flee.

When the soldiers are strong and their officers weak, the result is insubordination.

When the officers are strong and the common soldiers weak, the result is


When the senior officers are angry and insubordinate, and fight to meet the

enemy at their own account without being told by the general whether or not

they are in a position to fight, and the result is defeat.

When the general is

1. morally weak and lacks authority;

2. when his orders are not


3. when no fixed duties are assigned to officers and men, and

4. the ranks are formed in a disorderly manner,

The result is disorganization.

When a general is unable to estimate the enemy's strength.

They end up allowing a small force to engage a larger one, or send a weak detachment against a powerful one,

and neglects to place picked soldiers in the front rank, the result must be a rout.

The soldiers will give up fighting and run.

These are six ways of courting defeat, which must be carefully noted by the

general who has attained a responsible post.

The natural terrain of the country is the soldier's best ally; but the power of

estimating the adversary, of controlling the forces of victory, and of shrewdly

calculating difficulties, dangers and distances, constitutes the test of a great


He who knows these things, and in fighting puts his knowledge into practice, will

win his battles.

He who knows them not, nor practices them, will surely be defeated.

For certain decisions made by the General, he may have to make a decision that may differ from the ruler's orders. It very much depends on the situation.

Here is Sun Tzu's quote,

"If fighting is sure to result in victory, then you must fight, even though the ruler

forbid it."

"If fighting will not result in victory, then you must not fight even at the

ruler's orders"

The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing

disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for

his sovereign is the jewel of the kingdom.

Consider your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the

deepest valleys; look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by

you even unto death.

Do keep in mind when Sun Tzu says "Soldiers as your children" is a metaphor. You have to treat your soldiers well, generous and fair, then they will be loyal to you.

If, however, you are kind and generous, but unable to make your authority felt, then you are unable to enforce your commands when there is disorder.

Your soldiers are likened to spoilt children and they become useless.

If we know that our own men are in a condition to attack, but are unaware that

the enemy is invulnerable to attack, my chance of victory is half.

If we know that the enemy is open to attack, but are unaware that our men are

not capable of attacking, my chance of victory is half.

If we know that the enemy can be attacked, and also know that our men are capable of attack, but are unaware that the nature of the ground makes fighting

impracticable, my chance of victory is half.

Hence the experienced soldier, once in action, never makes mistakes; and never


Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will

be undoubted; if you know Heaven and know Earth, you may make your victory


CHAPTER 11: Nine Situations 

In any warfare, you are required to have different strategies for different situations.

The Nine Situations

1. In the art of war, there are nine types of ground: (1) Dispersive ground; (2)

frontier ground; (3) key ground; (4) open ground; (5) intersecting high-ways; (6)

serious ground; (7) difficult ground; (8) enclosed; (9) death.

1. When a ruler fights in his own territory, it is dispersive ground.

On the frontier ground, do not stop, continue to invade further into the enemy territory.

2. When he has penetrated into hostile territory, but to no great distance, it is

frontier ground.

When on frontier ground, continue to invade deeper into enemy territory.

3. Ground that gives advantage to either warring parties, is key ground.

If an enemy has already occupied key ground, do not attack.

4. Ground that is accessible to both warring parties is open ground.

On open grounds, do not break up our formations into separate units and concentrate your forces.

5. The ground that is enclosed by three states and anyone that occupies the three states will have the most empire at his command, is the intersecting ground.

On the ground of intersecting highways, join forces with your allies.

6. When an army has advanced deep into the heart of a hostile country, leaving a

number of enemy cities in its rear, it is serious ground.

Plunder in the serious ground. What is plundering? Plundering in war in the old days was the legitimate and expected confiscation of personal property and enslaving of defeated people following a military victory. When the fighting ended, the victors gathered and inventoried the goods.

7. Mountain forests, rugged steeps, marches and fens—all country that is

dangerous to march is difficult ground.

In difficult ground, don't stop, continue on the march.

8. Ground which is reached through narrow access, and tortuous twisty and winding exit, whereby a

a small number of the enemy can crush my larger force in enclosed ground.

If you have to cross the enclosed ground, resort to the use of military intelligence and strategies.

9. The ground on which only a desperate fight may offer survival is death ground.

The only answer is to fight.

When it comes to war tactics, those skilful leaders of old know how to split the enemy's front and rear.

When the enemy forces are united they are very strong. That's why you want to split them.

There are many ways to split the enemy army and create confusion among them.

1. Disrupt their communications to ensure miscommunication amongst their army. Also set up baits, create diversions like smoke bombs,

Like during the World War II, inflatable tanks, and dummy parachutes were used to divert the enemy atten and forces.

2. Prevent cooperation between the enemy's large and small divisions;

3. To hinder the superior troops from rescuing the inferior, and soldiers from taking orders from their officers.

4. Disperse the enemy troops and prevent them from assembling; even though his

soldiers are united, they will be disorder.

5. When the enemy's men are scattered, this prevents them from concentrating, even when their forces were

united, they will be in disorder.

According to Sun Tzu,

Move forward when there is an advantage to gain;

Stay put when there are none.

If asked what to do when facing a large and organised enemy troop?

I should say: "Begin by seizing something which your enemy holds dear; so that he has no choice but will be amenable to your will.

Speed is the essence of war.

Take advantage of the enemy's unpreparedness, make your way by unexpected routes, and attack undefended spots.

According to Sun Tzu, as your soldiers enter deeper into enemy territory, the more united your soldiers will be and the enemy cannot overcome you and your troops.

Sun Tzu calls this "The way of being a guest".

Plunder the fertile country to supply your army with food.

The well-being of your men is important, and do not overwork them. Conserve their

energy and not exhaust them.

Our enemy must not know your troops’


Position your soldiers where there is no escape, and when facing death they will

not run.

If they face death, what is there that cannot be achieved?

Officers and soldiers alike will put forth their uttermost strength. In desperate situations, they will lose their sense of fear.

When soldiers are deep in enemy territory, they will not be afraid, and if no way out

they will stay firm.

When in a desperate situation they lose the sense of fear. If there is no place of refuge, they will stand firm in position, If there is no help, they will fight


Thus, without waiting to be supervised, the soldiers will be constantly on guard;

without being asked, and they will support their general. With our being ordered they

trust and are faithful to their general.

Sun Tzu does not believe in any superstitious beliefs and rituals. War should be fought based on intellectual facts and strategies.

Then, until death itself comes, no calamity need be feared.

Sun Tzu says

"If our soldiers are not overburdened with money, it is because they are not

attached to riches.

If they do not expect long lives, it is because they are not attached to longevity."

All humans are naturally inclined towards money and long life. Soldiers need not be attached to money and long lives because of their jobs and

On the day they are ordered out to battle, your soldiers may weep not because of fear but bidding farewell to their loved ones and friends.

But once they are put in a battle where there is no escape, they will show incredible courage like a Chuan Chu or a Ts’ao Kuei.

These two were war heroes living back in the Spring and Autumn period.

The skilful tactician is like a shuairan; is a snake that is found in the Chang

mountains. If you strike at its head, you will be attacked by its tail; strike at its

tail, and you will be attacked by its head; strike at its middle, and you will be

attacked by its head and tail both.

Asked if an army is capable of such instantaneous coordination? I would say “Yes”.

Sun Tzu also says,

"For the men of Wu and the men of Yue mutually dislike each other. If you put them together crossing a river on the same boat and caught in a storm."

This means two groups of people who do not get along with each other will work hand in hand when put in a desperate situation.

"Thus to prevent soldiers from leaving their job, it is not sufficient to rely upon hobbled horses or buried chariot wheels."

As a general, you cannot force your soldiers to work for you.

Achieving a high level of courage in your army depends on good military management.

How to make the best of both strong and weak soldiers, is a question

involving making use of the advantages of the ground.

Thus the skilful general conducts his army just as though he were leading a

single man and being on the ground.

It is the business of a general to be calm and mysterious; upright and just, and

thus maintain order.


He must be able to mystify his officers and men with false reports and

appearances, and thus keep them in total ignorance of his true intentions.

He alters his arrangements and constantly changes his plans, so nobody knows

his plans. By changing his campsites and taking circuitous routes, he prevents

the enemy from anticipating his purpose.

The leader leads his army like a person who has climbed up a height and then

kicks away the ladder behind him. So to put his men in deep hostile territory.

He burns his boats and breaks his cooking pots like a shepherd driving a flock

of sheep, he drives his men this way and that, and none knows where he is


It is the general's business to assemble his troops and throw them into critical

position. Leads them further into the enemy’s territory to further his plans.

It is a must to take different measures suited to the nine varieties of ground;

The execution of aggressive or defensive tactics; and the behaviour of the soldiers are a matter of importance: these are things that must most certainly be studied.

Generally, when invading hostile territory, the deeper one penetrates the stronger the fighting spirit and teamwork.

When penetrating in a short way means soldiers will be homesick.

After learning your home country, march our army across the border, and will be

on frontier ground. When there is convergence of all roads from different

directions, that's open ground.

When you penetrate deeply into a country, it is serious ground. When you

penetrate but a little way, it is frontier ground.

When you have the enemy's strongholds on your rear, and when you face a narrow pass in front, it is enclosed ground.

When there is no place of refuge at

all, it is desperate ground.

Therefore, on dispersive ground, I would give courage to my men with the unity of


On frontier ground, I would see that there is a close connection between all parts of my army.

I would hurry up my rear troops on key ground.

I would keep a vigilant eye on my defences on open ground.

I would consolidate with my alliances on intersecting highway ground.

I would try to ensure a continuous stream of provisions on serious ground.

I would keep on march along the road on difficult ground.

I would block the passes on the enclosed ground.

On desperate ground, I would proclaim to my soldiers the only way to survive is to fight.

It is the nature of soldiers as such: when surrounded, defend; when desperate,

fight; obey promptly when he has fallen into danger.

If one is ignorant of the neighbouring states, one should not make an alliance with them.

Those who do not know the conditions of the mountains, forest, high and

dangerous grounds, defiles, marshes and swamps cannot engage the march of

the army.

Without the use of local guides, we cannot benefit from the advances of the ground.

To be ignorant of the nine of the ground principles does not befit a Supreme


When a powerful king attacks a big state, he makes it impossible for the enemy to concentrate his troops. He overawes the enemy and prevents his allows from joining him. His generalship shows itself in preventing the concentration of the enemy's forces.

There is no need to fight the combined state nor the need to foster the power of

the other states. The Supreme Leader’s army can depend on its ability to

overcome its enemies.

So he conquer the enemy's cities and overthrow the enemy's state.

Bestow rewards without the need to follow customary rules, issue orders

regardless of previous arrangement, and thus you will be able to handle a whole

army as you would one man.

Assign task to your soldiers and without all the details of your plan.

Present the advantages without the dangers. but tell them nothing when the situation is gloomy.

Place your army in a perilous situation, and they will survive; trap them on

desperate ground and they will fight for their lives

When a force has fallen into danger it is capable of turning defeat into victory.

Success in warfare is gained by carefully adapting ourselves to the enemy's

purpose. Once there is a loophole that can be used, concentrate your forces and attack your enemy.

Thus marching a thousand li, you can kill the enemy general.

This is called the ability to achieve one's aim in a cunning and ingenious manner.

On the day that you take up your command, block the border passes, destroy

the official correspondence, and stop the passage of all envoys.

Be tough to the council-chamber, so that you may control the situation.

If the enemy leaves a door open, you must quickly attack.

Seize their place which is of value to the

 enemy without declaring the time for battle with the enemy.

In executing the plan, you should adjust according to the enemy's situation to win the battle.

You should first pretend as shy as a maiden. When the enemy gives you an opening, be swift as a hawk and he will be unable to defend

Access the situation of his force, and secretly establish a date to attack.

During the beginning of the battle, be as coy as a virgin; when the enemy

lowers his guard and reveals an opening, rush in coyness of a maiden, until the

the enemy gives you an opening, rush in like a running hare, and the enemy will not

have time to defend.

CHAPTER 12: The Attack By Fire

There are five methods to use fire to attack the enemy. The first is to burn soldiers in their camp or town; the second is to burn the provisions; the third is to burn equipment;

the fourth is to burn arsenals; the fifth is to burn lines of transportation.

When using fire, some type of medium must be relied upon.

Your equipment to set the fire must be ready.

There is the right weather and timing for using fire to attack.

Dry weather is key. The timing should be when the moon is at the following

positions. “star of the green dragon” (eastern), “star of a martial

enigma” (northern), “star of the white tiger” (western) and “star of the red

sparrow” (southern). For these four are all days of rising wind.

On attacking with fire, one should respond differently according to the five

methods of attack:

(1) When a fire starts out inside the enemy's camp by our undercover spies,

respond at once with an attack immediately.

(2) If there is an outbreak of fire, but the enemy's soldiers remain quiet, wait and

do not attack.

(3) When the force of the flames has reached its height, follow it up with an attack, if

the situation is permissible; otherwise, wait

(4) Make an assault with fire from without, do not wait for it to break out within,

but set fire according to the right weather and timing.

(5) Set the fire to the direction of the wind, not against it.

(6) When windy daytime lasts long, at night breeze will fall.

(7) In every army, you must have knowledge of the five different methods of fire attack; pay attention to the weather and the enemy’s movement.

Hence those who use fire as an aid to the attack show intelligence for the

effectiveness; those who use water as an aid to the attack gain an acquisition of

of strength.

CHAPTER 13: The Use Of Spies

To finance a battle with a hundred thousand men and marching a thousand li entails heavy loss on the people and depletes the resources of the State.

The daily expenditure can amount to a thousand ounces of silver. There will be chaos at

home and abroad, and men will drop down exhausted on the routes causing the

affairs of as many as seven hundred thousand families will be affected in their


It takes one day to decide on a war. But the war with the enemy will take years of striving for victory.

Yet to remain in ignorance of the enemy's position simply because one grudges the giving of a hundred ounces of silver in hours and emoluments, is totally without humanity.

A man who acts in this manner is no leader, is no assistance to his ruler, no master of victory.

What enables the enlightened sovereign and the wise general to subdue and

conquer, and heavenly feats beyond the reach of ordinary men is


Now this foreknowledge cannot be elicited from superstitious beliefs like spirits, gods, past experience, nor by any calculation.

Foreknowledge can only be obtained from men who know the enemy's dispositions.

The use of spies comes in five classes: (1) Local spies; (2) inward spies; (3)

converted spies; (4) doomed spies; (5) surviving spies.

All five classes of spies are deployed simultaneously, and thus the sovereign's top secret system nobody must know.

This is called "divine trickery of the threads”. It is the sovereign's

central intelligence.

Having local spies means spies living in the enemy’s state as suppliers of reliable


Having inward spies, are spies that are disgruntled officials of the enemy whom

we bribe for valuable information.

Having converted spies are enemy spies that are on our payroll. Who will feed

false information to the enemy or make use to spread rumours to lure the enemy to

our traps.

Having doomed spies are our spies who will pretend to turn traitor to supply

wrong information to the enemy or our spies to whom we feed wrong information

and then shall suffer capture by the enemy.

These types of spy will certainly be

executed when the enemy realises the deception.

Surviving spies, are our spies who are highly trained for a very tough and high-intelligence undercover mission in enemy’s territory. The mission is to safely return

with invaluable information.

Hence in the whole army, none are more intimate relations to be maintained

than with spies. Rewards provided to secret agents are more liberal than none

others. In no other business should greater secrecy be kept.

Only one with wisdom and knowledge, benevolence and straightforwardness can usefully employ spies.

Being sensitive and subtle, one can see the truth of their reports.

Be subtle! Be subtle! And anywhere your spies can be used for every kind of


If a secret piece of information is leaked by a spy before an operation, the spy

must be put to death together with whom the secret was told.

Whether you want to crush an army, to storm a city, or to assassinate an individual, you must find out the names of the attendants, the chief assistants, bodyguards and sentries of the general in command. So your spies can be

assigned to acquire these information accurately.

We must find out the enemy spies who have come to spy on us. Bribe them to

serve instead. Thus they will become converted spies and available for our

service. Tempt them with bribes and house them well.

Through the information from the converted spy, we can acquire

spies working in enemy territory or working for the enemy.

It is owing to his information doomed spy to carry false information to trick the


Lastly, it is through his information, the surviving spy can be deployed on

appointed occasions.

The ruler must understand the functions of all the five types of spies, and this

knowledge can only come from the converted spy. It is then essential that the

converted spy be treated with great importance.

Hence it is only the enlightened ruler and the wise general who will use the

intelligence of espionage, and thereby they achieve great results. Spies are a

great importance in the element of war because only through them an army can operate.


Today Sun Tzu's Art Of War treatise is still very relevant and today it is used for business and for personal self-development, as lots of its proven strategies still apply.

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