The Art of War by Sun Tzu

Despite the book being about war and war tactics, it is remarkable how much of it may be applied to our daily lives. This ancient book has explored human nature in such detail that whenever one may need to fight against an enemy (human or not), there will be bits in this book which may prove useful.

Rating 8/10. Finished 2010-12-26

Notes & Clippings

I’ve only read a few pages of the book Sun Tzu on the Art of War. And already, in those few pages, I’ve experienced something remarkable happen to me. My mind has completely emptied itself and wants to focus on every word that I read.

Chapter I: Laying plans talks about five factors to be taken into account in any deliberation by the general of an army.

  1. The Moral law: causes the people to be in complete accord with their leader
  2. Heaven: signifies times and seasons
  3. Earth: understanding of the terrain that will affect the chances of life & death
  4. The Commander: stands for wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage, strictness
  5. Method and discipline: understanding and respecting the hierarchy

And about seven considerations which will forecast victory or defeat:

  1. Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the Moral law?
  2. Which of the two generals has the most ability?
  3. With whom lies the advantages derived from Heaven and Earth?
  4. On which is side is discipline most rigorously enforced?
  5. Which army is stronger?
  6. On which side are officers men more highly trained?
  7. In which army is there greater constancy in reward and punishment?

But what sways my mind the most is Sun Tzu’s words about how to act in a war:

  1. All warfare is based on deception.
  2. Hence, when able to attach, we must seem unable; when using our forces we must seem inactive; 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.
  3. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.
  4. If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him.
  5. If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak that he may grow arrogant.
  6. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest.
  7. Attack him where is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.
  8. These military devices, leading to victory, must not be divulged beforehand.
  9. The general who wins a battle makes many calculations. The one who loses makes a few.

In Chapter II: Waging War, Sun Tzu discusses strategies that should be used when fighting:

  1. Though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been associated with long delays.
  2. It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war that can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on. Being a little ahead of your opponent has counted for more than either numerical superiority or the nicest calculations.
  3. Now in order to kill the enemy, our men must be roused to anger; that there may be advantage from defeating the enemy, they must have their rewards.
  4. In war let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.

In Chapter III: Attack by Stratagem, Sun Tzu discusses the practical art of war:

  1. To fight an conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.
  2. The highest form of generalship is to anticipate your enemy and then attack first; next best is to prevent the junction of enemy’s forces; next in order is to attack the enemy’s army in the field; the worst of all is besiege walled cities.
  3. In trying to find the weak points of the defence which lies beyond the wall, a general unable to control his irritation will launch his men to assault and as a result will lose one-third while the city remains untaken.

There are five essentials 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 both superior and inferior forces.
  3. He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks.
  4. He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared.
  5. He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.

Chapter IV: On Tactical Dispositions

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. Knowing the enemy enables you to take the offensive, knowing yourself enables you to stand on the defensive. Attack is the secret of defense, defense is the planning of an attack.

One may know how to conquer without being able to do it.

Chapter V: On Energy Chapter VI: Weak points and strong

  • In all fighting, the direct method may be used for joining battle, but indirect methods will be needed in order to secure victory.
  • Indirect tactics, efficiently applied are in exhaustible as Heaven and Earth, unending as the flow of rivers and streams; like the sun and moon, they end but to begin anew; like the four seasons, they pass away to return once more.
  • Energy may be likened to the bending of a crossbow; decision to the releasing of a trigger.
  • Amid turmoil and tumult of battle, there may be seeming disorder and yet no real disorder at all; amid confusion and chaos, your array may be without head or tail, yet it will be proof against defeat.
  • Great results can be achieved with small forces.

Chapter VI: Weak points and strong

  1. Whoever is first in field and awaits the coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to battle will arrive exhausted.
  2. Appear at points which the enemy must hasten to defend; march swiftly to places where you are not expected.
  3. An army may march great distances without distress, if it marches through country where the enemy is not.
  4. Numerical weakness comes from having to prepare against possible attacks; numerical strength, from compelling our adversary to make these preparations against us.
  5. All men can see the tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.

Chapter VII: Maneuvering

  1. Maneuvering with an army is advantageous; with an undisciplined multitude, most dangerous.
  2. Presence of mind is the general’s most important asset. It is the quality which enables him to discipline disorder and to inspire courage into the panicstricken.
  3. When you surround an, army leave an outlet free. To make him believe that there is a road to safety, and thus prevent his fighting with the courage of despair. After that, you may crush him.

Chapter VIII: Variation of Tactics
There are five dangerous faults which may affect a general:

  • Recklessness, which leads to destruction
  • Cowardice, which leads to capture
  • Hasty Temper, which can be provoked by insults
  • Delicacy of Honour which is sensitive to shame
  • Over-solicitude for his men, which exposes him to worry and trouble

Chapter XIII: On the use of Spies, there are five classes:

  • Local spies, inhabitants of the district
  • Inward spies, officials of the enemy
  • Converted spies, enemy’s spies being used for our own purpose
  • Doomed spies, doing certain things openly for purposes of deception
  • Surviving spies, those who bring back news from the enemy’s camps
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