Book Notes: The Art of War by Sun Tzu

Reading Time: 22 minutes

The Art of War by Sun Tzu

Publisher : G&D Media

ISBN-13 : 978-1722500979

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

💡 3 Main Ideas

  • The best way to win is not to fight. Do not be hasty to pick a fight or jump into battle. As much as possible, battle and violent confrontation should be avoided. War should only be used as a last resort, when diplomacy and all other means have failed. The true purpose of war is peace, so it is preferable to try to seek peace first, without the necessity of bloodshed and violence. And, if you must fight, only enter battles you know you can win.
  • Impulsiveness leads to defeat. Patience, deliberation, the use of deception, and strategic planning are the keys to victory. A clever general first creates plans to ensure victory before engaging in warfare. Never fight a battle out of anger or impulse.
  • Know yourself. Know your opponent. Know your terrain. The possession of knowledge is essential to victory. You must know your capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses, in order to produce a strategy for victory. This requires radical honesty about yourself and your capabilities. Likewise, you need to know the same of your opponent. Having intelligence about your opponent enables you to be flexible and come up with an appropriate strategy for victory. You also need to be knowledgeable about the nature of the battle, ie. the grounds and the terrain, both physical and figurative, on which the battle will be conducted. Fight only if victory is guaranteed by all three.

🔑 Five Key Takeaways

  • War should be avoided, as much as possible. Be patient, not impulsive. Never be goaded into a fight, and never fight a battle out of anger. If provoked, do not take the bait. A wise leader exercises patience so that he has a proper strategy for victory, and enters into battle on his own terms.“ Therefore the skillful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field.” But when you do fight, attack your enemy’s weakest point, and let your power be terrible in its onslaught.
  • Know yourself. Know your opponent. Be clear about your own nature, your strengths and your weaknesses before you engage in warfare. You should also be aware of your opponent’s nature, their strengths and their weaknesses. “If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt; if you know Heaven and know Earth, you may make your victory complete.” pg. 45
  • All warfare is based on deception. You must conceal your strategies, and make sure to keep your opponent confused and guessing. Never give him time to think, and forego obvious moves. By deceiving your opponent, you can attack them when they become confused and unprepared. “Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.”
  • Be organized and plan ahead. Much of victory occurs in the planning stages. The person who makes plans and thinks things through is more likely to prevail than the one who makes no plans and does not think ahead.

    1.26.  Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose. pg. 15

  • When you act, act swiftly. Once you’ve been deliberate and strategic about your plan for victory, be swift to take action. Delay and procrastination are the enemies of victory and success. “Therefore the good fighter will be terrible (ie. fearsome) in his onset, and prompt in his decision.”

✍️ Top Quotes

  • All warfare is based on deception.
  • Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.
  • Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.
  • Hence the saying: 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. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
  • Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.

📒 Summary

The Art of War is a treatise about strategic and tactical warfare written by Chinese military general, philosopher, and strategist Sun Tzu in the 5th century BC.

Even though The Art of War is about military strategy and techniques, it is essentially a book about leadership, and the qualities required to achieve victory in battle or in competition. The main point is that the best way to win is not to fight, and that war (or conflict) should be avoided as much as possible. War is devastating, and should never be pursued lightly. A leader’s goal should be to seek peace.

But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come again into being; nor can the dead ever be brought back to life. (55)

The use of diplomacy instead of war is counseled. War should only be a last resort if nothing else has worked. And, if war cannot be avoided, it should be fought strategically, not impulsively. The Art of War positions knowledge and wisdom as the essential skills required to be a successful leader. A good leader must have profound insight into himself and his capabilities, his allies, the nature of the battle, and the condition of his army. He must also have the same insight into that of his opponent. Possessing this knowledge enables a wise leader to better devise the appropriate strategy for victory.

Another important thing The Art of War states is that actions should be taken out of a position of strength, not weakness. A battle is won when fought on one’s own terms. As a result, it is important to have as much knowledge of the nature of one’s opponent and their plans as much as possible, and as much insight into the prevailing conditions. That way, a leader is not tricked or goaded into taking an action that is actually against his interests.

The Art of War has thirteen chapters, each of which discusses an aspect of strategy and warfare.

I really enjoyed reading The Art of War. Its lessons apply not only to warfare, but to business, politics, sports, and personal relationships. In essence, it is about relationships, and how to achieve difficult goals, especially when others are hostile to your goals. If you’re someone who wants to know how to be a successful leader, or how to rally your community or team, it can be a very useful guide.

The Art of War

I. Laying Plans

The Art Of War Is Governed By 5 Factors:

  • (1) The Moral LawThe Moral Law causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger. pg. 13
  • (2) HeavenHeaven signifies night and day, cold and heat, times and seasons. pg. 13
  • (3) EarthEarth comprises distances, great and small; danger and security; open ground and narrow passes; the chances of life and death. pg. 13
  • (4) The CommanderThe Commander stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage and strictness. pg. 13
  • (5) Method and Discipline
    • By Method and discipline are to be understood the marshaling of the army in its proper subdivisions, the graduations of rank among the officers, the maintenance of roads by which supplies may reach the army, and the control of military expenditure. pg. 13

7 Factors That Predict Victory Or Defeat:

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

War is Based on Deception

    1. All warfare is based on deception. pg. 14
    1. Hence, when able to attack, 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. pg. 14
    1. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him. pg. 14
    1. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.

Think Ahead and Make Strategic Plans

    1. Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose. pg. 15

II. Waging War

Wars Should Be Short In Duration, Not Protracted

    1. When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men’s weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength. pg. 16
    1. Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain.
    1. Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardor damped, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue.
    1. Thus, though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays. pg. 16
    1. There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare. pg. 16
    1. In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns. pg. 17

Protracted War Impoverishes The State

    1. Poverty of the State exchequer causes an army to be maintained by contributions from a distance. Contributing to maintain an army at a distance causes the people to be impoverished. pg. 17, loc. 247-248
    1. When their substance is drained away, the peasantry will be afflicted by heavy exactions. pg. 17

Be Gracious In Victory

  • The captured soldiers should be kindly treated and kept. pg. 17

III. Attack By Stratagem

    1. Sun Tzu said: In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy’s country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good. pg. 18

Win Without Fighting

    1. Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting. pg. 19
    1. Thus the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy’s plans; the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy’s forces; the next in order is to attack the enemy’s army in the field; and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities. pg. 19
    1. The rule is, not to besiege walled cities if it can possibly be avoided. pg. 19
    1. Therefore the skillful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field. pg. 19
    1. With his forces intact he will dispute the mastery of the Empire, and thus, without losing a man, his triumph will be complete. This is the method of attacking by stratagem. pg. 19

4 Approaches to War, (from Most Effective to Least Effective)

  1. Anticipate and thwart your enemy’s plans
  2. Prevent your enemy’s forces from coming together in alliance
  3. Attack the enemy’s army in the field
  4. Besiege walled cities.

5 Essentials for Victory

  1. Know when to fight and when not to fight.
  2. Know how to handle both superior and inferior forces.
  3. Make sure your army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks.
  4. Be prepared, and wait to take the enemy unprepared.
  5. He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.

Know Yourself. Know Your Enemy

    1. Hence the saying: 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. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle. pg. 21
  • [11.52]. We cannot enter into alliance with neighboring princes until we are acquainted with their designs. We are not fit to lead an army on the march unless we are familiar with the face of the country—its mountains and forests, its pitfalls and precipices, its marshes and swamps. We shall be unable to turn natural advantages to account unless we make use of local guides. pg. 51

IV. Tactical Dispositions

Wait for Your Opponent to Provide You with an Opportunity

    1. Sun Tzu said: The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy. pg. 22,
    1. To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself. pg. 22,
    1. Thus the good fighter is able to secure himself against defeat, but cannot make certain of defeating the enemy. pg. 22
    1. Security against defeat implies defensive tactics; ability to defeat the enemy means taking the offensive. pg. 22
    1. Standing on the defensive indicates insufficient strength; attacking, a superabundance of strength. pg. 22

On Excellence in Battle

The hallmark of an excellent warrior is to be able to foresee victory (and the strategy to achieve it) before the battle has begun, and even before it is obvious. If you can only see what is obvious, you will win only obvious battles. An excellent warrior can see victory beyond what is obvious, is able to think deeply and strategize beyond what the average person can see.

In addition, an excellent warrior goes into battle having planned and strategized and foreseen victory. A warrior who rushes impulsively and headlong into battle without a plan is destined for defeat.

    1. To see victory only when it is within the ken of the common herd is not the acme of excellence. pg. 22
    1. To lift an autumn hair is no sign of great strength; to see the sun and moon is no sign of sharp sight; to hear the noise of thunder is no sign of a quick ear. pg. 22,
    1. What the ancients called a clever fighter is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease. pg. 22
    1. Hence his victories bring him neither reputation for wisdom nor credit for courage. pg. 23
    1. He wins his battles by making no mistakes. Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated. pg. 23
    1. Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory. pg. 23

Military Planning involves:

  1. Measurement
    1. Understand and measure the battle terrain
  2. Estimation of quantity
    1. Estimate your opponent’s numbers
  3. Calculation
    1. Estimate your opponent’s strength
  4. Balancing of Chances
    1. Estimate your opponent’s probability of success against you.
  5. Victory
    1. Estimate your probability of success

V. Energy

    1. Sun Tzu said: The control of a large force is the same principle as the control of a few men: it is merely a question of dividing up their numbers. pg. 24
    1. In all fighting, the direct method may be used for joining battle, but indirect methods will be needed in order to secure victory. pg. 25
    1. Indirect tactics, efficiently applied, are inexhaustible 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. pg. 25

Almost Infinite Possibilities from Combining Direct and Indirect Tactics

    1. There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard. pg. 25
    1. There are not more than five primary colors (blue, yellow, red, white, and black), yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever been seen. pg. 25
    1. In battle, there are not more than two methods of attack—the direct and the indirect; yet these two in combination give rise to an endless series of maneuvers. pg. 25
    1. The direct and the indirect lead on to each other in turn. It is like moving in a circle—you never come to an end. Who can exhaust the possibilities of their combination? pg. 25

Once You Act, Be Fast

Once you have made a plan or a decision, be swift in your actions.

    1. The onset of troops is like the rush of a torrent which will even roll stones along in its course. pg. 26
    1. The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim. pg. 26
    1. Therefore the good fighter will be terrible in his onset, and prompt in his decision. pg. 26
    1. Energy may be likened to the bending of a crossbow; decision, to the releasing of a trigger. pg. 26

Confuse Your Enemy

    1. Hiding order beneath the cloak of disorder is simply a question of subdivision; concealing courage under a show of timidity presupposes a fund of latent energy; masking strength with weakness is to be effected by tactical dispositions. pg. 26
    1. Thus one who is skillful at keeping the enemy on the move maintains deceitful appearances, according to which the enemy will act. He sacrifices something, that the enemy may snatch at it. pg. 26
    1. By holding out baits, he keeps him on the march; then with a body of picked men he lies in wait for him. pg. 26

Harness Natural Power, Momentum & Don’t Over-Rely on Superstar Talent

    1. The clever combatant looks to the effect of combined energy, and does not require too much from individuals. Hence his ability to pick out the right men and utilize combined energy. pg. 26,
    1. When he utilizes combined energy, his fighting men become as it were like unto rolling logs or stones. For it is the nature of a log or stone to remain motionless on level ground, and to move when on a slope; if four-cornered, to come to a standstill, but if round-shaped, to go rolling down. pg. 26,
    1. Thus the energy developed by good fighting men is as the momentum of a round stone rolled down a mountain thousands of feet in height. So much on the subject of energy. pg. 26

VI. Weak Points and Strong

Impose Your Will

An excellent warrior dictates the terms of battle. They do not wait to be dictated to by their opponent. An excellent warrior fights on his own terms.

    1. Sun Tzu said: Whoever is first in the 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. pg. 27
    1. Therefore the clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy’s will to be imposed on him. pg. 27

Attack Points Of Weakness; Hold Positions of Strength

Your positions must be so strong that your opponent doesn’t know what to attack. Holding a position of strength renders an opponent confused as to what or where to attack.

    1. You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack places which are undefended. You can ensure the safety of your defense if you only hold positions that cannot be attacked. pg. 28,
    1. Hence that general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skillful in defense whose opponent does not know what to attack. pg. 28
    1. Military tactics are like unto water; for water in its natural course runs away from high places and hastens downward. So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak. pg. 30

Vary and Conceal Your Strategies

Your tactics may be visible, but your ultimate strategy for victory should be concealed. Keep your opponent guessing.

    1. O divine art of subtlety and secrecy! Through you we learn to be invisible, through you inaudible; and hence we can hold the enemy’s fate in our hands. pg. 28
    1. In making tactical dispositions, the highest pitch you can attain is to conceal them; conceal your dispositions, and you will be safe from the prying of the subtlest spies, from the machinations of the wisest brains. pg. 30, loc. 450-452
    1. How victory may be produced for them out of the enemy’s own tactics—that is what the multitude cannot comprehend. pg. 30, loc. 452-453
    1. All men can see the tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved. pg. 30, loc. 453-454

Adapt Your Strategies to the Battle at Hand

Don’t keep using the same tactics over and over. Things change, in life and in battle, and it is important to be flexible and adapt to changing conditions.

    1. Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances. pg. 30
    1. Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows; the soldier works out his victory in relation to the foe whom he is facing. pg. 30, loc. 458-459
    1. Therefore, just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare there are no constant conditions. pg. 30

VII. Maneuvering

The Art of Execution

Maneuvering involves translating strategy into actual tactics. It is the art of execution. Translate your strategy for victory into the actual set of actions required to produce victory. There should be harmony among the ranks and unity of purpose. Be swift as the wind, chaotic as a fire, immovable as a mountain, and when you make a move, strike so quickly like a thunderbolt that your attack cannot be escaped.

    1. After that, comes tactical maneuvering, than which there is nothing more difficult. The difficulty of tactical maneuvering consists in turning the devious into the direct, and misfortune into gain. pg. 32,
    1. Let your rapidity be that of the wind, your compactness that of the forest. pg. 33
    1. In raiding and plundering be like fire, in immovability like a mountain. pg. 33
    1. Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt. pg. 33
    1. Ponder and deliberate before you make a move. pg. 33
    1. He will conquer who has learnt the artifice of deviation. Such is the art of maneuvering. pg. 33

Understand Your Opponent’s Psychology

    1. A clever general, therefore, avoids an army when its spirit is keen, but attacks it when it is sluggish and inclined to return. This is the art of studying moods. pg. 34
    1. Disciplined and calm, to await the appearance of disorder and hubbub amongst the enemy: this is the art of retaining self-possession. pg. 34

Don’t Borrow Trouble

    1. It is a military axiom not to advance uphill against the enemy, nor to oppose him when he comes downhill. pg. 34
    1. Do not swallow bait offered by the enemy. Do not interfere with an army that is returning home. pg. 34

Leave Your Opponent a Way Out

Desperate men with nothing left to lose will fight to the death with the courage of the damned. Make your opponent believe that there is the possibility of a way out, a way to survive the battle.

    1. When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard. pg. 35

VIII. Variation of Tactics

Know When to Attack, and When to Hold Back

    1. There are roads which must not be followed, armies which must not be attacked, towns which must be besieged, positions which must not be contested, commands of the sovereign which must not be obeyed. pg. 35

Confuse Your Opponent and Keep Him Occupied and Distracted

    1. Reduce the hostile chiefs by inflicting damage on them; and make trouble for them, and keep them constantly engaged; hold out specious allurements, and make them rush to any given point. pg. 36

5 Dangerous Flaws in a General

  • (1) Recklessness, which leads to destruction;
  • (2) cowardice, which leads to capture;
  • (3) a hasty temper, which can be provoked by insults;
  • (4) a delicacy of honor which is sensitive to shame;
  • (5) over-solicitude for his men, which exposes him to worry and trouble

IX. The Army On the March

Deceit and Manipulation

    1. When the enemy is close at hand and remains quiet, he is relying on the natural strength of his position. pg. 39
    1. When he keeps aloof and tries to provoke a battle, he is anxious for the other side to advance. pg. 39
    1. If his place of encampment is easy of access, he is tendering a bait. pg. 39
    1. Peace proposals unaccompanied by a sworn covenant indicate a plot. pg. 39
    1. He who exercises no forethought but makes light of his opponents is sure to be captured by them. pg. 41

How to Treat Your Soldiers

Treat your soldiers fairly and humanely, but maintain authority and discipline. Always ensure they know who is in charge and maintain the chain of command. An undisciplined and insubordinate army is on a path to defeat.

    1. If soldiers are punished before they have grown attached to you, they will not prove submissive; and, unless submissive, then will be practically useless. If, when the soldiers have become attached to you, punishments are not enforced, they will still be useless. pg. 41
    1. Therefore soldiers must be treated in the first instance with humanity, but kept under control by means of iron discipline. This is a certain road to victory. pg. 41
    1. If in training soldiers commands are habitually enforced, the army will be well-disciplined; if not, its discipline will be bad. pg. 41

X. Terrain

Six Kinds Of Terrain

  • (1) Accessible Ground
    • Ground that you and your opponent can both easily traverse.
  • (2) Entangling Ground
    • Ground that’s difficult to re-occupy once abandoned.
    • From a position of this sort, if the enemy is unprepared, you may sally forth and defeat him. But if the enemy is prepared for your coming, and you fail to defeat him, then, return being impossible, disaster will ensue
  • (3) Temporizing Ground
    • Ground on which neither you nor your opponent has an advantage in making the first move.
    • In a position of this sort, even though the enemy should offer us an attractive bait, it will be advisable not to stir forth, but rather to retreat
  • (4) Narrow Passes
    • if you can occupy them first, let them be strongly garrisoned and await the advent of the enemy
    • Should the army forestall you in occupying a pass, do not go after him if the pass is fully garrisoned, but only if it is weakly garrisoned.
  • (5) Precipitous Heights
    • With regard to precipitous heights, if you are beforehand with your adversary, you should occupy the raised and sunny spots, and there wait for him to come up.
    • If the enemy has occupied them before you, do not follow him, but retreat and try to entice him away.
  • (6) Positions at a great distance from the enemy
    • If you are situated at a great distance from the enemy, and the strength of the two armies is equal, it is not easy to provoke a battle, and fighting will be to your disadvantage

Six Kinds of Calamity that Might Befall an Army:

  • (1) Flight
    • Other conditions being equal, if one force is hurled against another ten times its size, the result will be the flight of the former. pg. 43
  • (2) Insubordination
    • When the common soldiers are too strong and their officers too weak, the result is insubordination. pg. 43
  • (3) Collapse
    • When the officers are too strong and the common soldiers too weak, the result is collapse. pg. 43
  • (4) Ruin
    • When the higher officers are angry and insubordinate, and on meeting the enemy give battle on their own account from a feeling of resentment, before the commander-in-chief can tell whether or not he is in a position to fight, the result is ruin. pg. 43
  • (5) Disorganization
    • When the general is weak and without authority; when his orders are not clear and distinct; when there are no fixes duties assigned to officers and men, and the ranks are formed in a slovenly haphazard manner, the result is utter disorganization. pg. 44
  • (6) Rout
    • When a general, unable to estimate the enemy’s strength, allows an inferior force to engage a larger one, or hurls a weak detachment against a powerful one, and neglects to place picked soldiers in the front rank, the result must be rout. pg. 44

What’s Required of a Great General

    1. The natural formation of the country is the soldier’s best ally; but a 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 general. pg. 44
    1. Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look upon them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death. pg. 44
    1. If, however, you are indulgent, but unable to make your authority felt; kind-hearted, but unable to enforce your commands; and incapable, moreover, of quelling disorder: then your soldiers must be likened to spoilt children; they are useless for any practical purpose. pg. 44
  • If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt; if you know Heaven and know Earth, you may make your victory complete. pg. 45

XI. The Nine Situations

Nine Types of Ground:

  • (1) Dispersive Ground
    • When you’re fighting on your own territory. (Your troops are likely to disperse to their own homes)
    • Prescription: Don’t fight
  • (2) Facile Ground
    • You’ve marched into hostile territory, but haven’t advanced too far it’s easier for your troops to retreat)
    • Prescription: Don’t stop
  • (3) Contentious Ground
    • Offers both sides an equal advantage
    • Prescription: Don’t attack
  • (4) Open Ground
    • Offers equal freedom of movement for both sides
    • Prescription: Join together with your allies
  • (5) Ground of intersecting highways
    • Land that intersects with you and your opponent’s territory, as well as that of a third adjoining territory
    • Prescription: Join together with your allies
  • (6) Serious Ground
    • You’ve marched deeply into hostile territory
    • Prescription: Gather and plunder
  • (7) Difficult Ground
    • Terrain that is difficult to cross, eg. marshes, bogs, cliffs, forests, deserts
    • Prescription: Keep steady in your march
  • (8) Hemmed-in Ground
    • Terrain that can only be reached via narrow passes
    • Prescription: Use strategy
  • (9) Desperate Ground
    • Ground on which you can only be rescued from defeat by engaging in battle
    • Prescription: Fight
    1. Rapidity is the essence of war: take advantage of the enemy’s unreadiness, make your way by unexpected routes, and attack unguarded spots. pg. 47
    1. Carefully study the well-being of your men, and do not overtax them. Concentrate your energy and hoard your strength. Keep your army continually on the move, and devise unfathomable plans. pg. 47

Challenge Your Soldiers

    1. Throw your soldiers into positions whence there is no escape, and they will prefer death to flight. If they will face death, there is nothing they may not achieve. Officers and men alike will put forth their uttermost strength. pg. 48,
    1. Soldiers when in desperate straits lose the sense of fear. If there is no place of refuge, they will stand firm. If they are in hostile country, they will show a stubborn front. If there is no help for it, they will fight hard. pg. 48
    1. The principle on which to manage an army is to set up one standard of courage which all must reach. pg. 49
    1. To muster his host and bring it into danger: this may be termed the business of the general. pg. 49
    1. Place your army in deadly peril, and it will survive; plunge it into desperate straits, and it will come off in safety. pg. 51

A Leader maintains Secrecy

A leader must maintain secrecy about overall strategy, even among the rank and file of their army. Soldiers don’t need to know more than is necessary for them to fulfill their mission. A leader must also ensure the enemy is kept in the dark about the strategy or true purpose of any given maneuver.

  • It is the business of a general to be quiet and thus ensure secrecy; upright and just, and thus maintain order. pg. 49,
    1. By altering his arrangements and changing his plans, he keeps the enemy without definite knowledge. By shifting his camp and taking circuitous routes, he prevents the enemy from anticipating his purpose. pg. 49
    1. 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 nothing knows whither he is going. pg. 49,
    1. Confront your soldiers with the deed itself; never let them know your design. pg. 51

XII. The Attack By Fire

5 Ways Of Attacking With Fire

  • Burn soldiers in their camp;
  • Burn stores
  • Burn baggage trains
  • Burn arsenals and magazines
  • Hurl dropping fire amongst the enemy

5 Possibilities When Attacking with Fire

  • (1) When fire breaks out inside the enemy’s camp, respond at once with an attack from without. pg. 53
  • (2) If there is an outbreak of fire, but the enemy’s soldiers remain quiet, bide your time and do not attack. pg. 54
  • (3) When the force of the flames has reached its height, follow it up with an attack, if that is practicable; if not, stay where you are. pg. 54
  • (4) If it is possible to make an assault with fire from without, do not wait for it to break out within, but deliver your attack at a favorable moment. pg. 54
  • (5) When you start a fire, be to windward of it. Do not attack from the leeward. pg. 54

Be Flexible And Resourceful

    1. Unhappy is the fate of one who tries to win his battles and succeed in his attacks without cultivating the spirit of enterprise; for the result is waste of time and general stagnation. pg. 54
    1. Hence the saying: The enlightened ruler lays his plans well ahead; the good general cultivates his resources. pg. 54
    1. Move not unless you see an advantage; use not your troops unless there is something to be gained; fight not unless the position is critical. pg. 54,

Fight For A Meaningful Objective, Not Out Of Impulse

    1. Move not unless you see an advantage; use not your troops unless there is something to be gained; fight not unless the position is critical. pg. 54
    1. No ruler should put troops into the field merely to gratify his own spleen; no general should fight a battle simply out of pique. pg. 54
    1. If it is to your advantage, make a forward move; if not, stay where you are. pg. 55

Do Not be Hasty into Battle

    1. But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come again into being; nor can the dead ever be brought back to life. pg. 55
    1. Hence the enlightened ruler is heedful, and the good general full of caution. This is the way to keep a country at peace and an army intact. pg. 55

XIII. The Use Of Spies

    1. Thus, what enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge. pg. 56
    1. Knowledge of the enemy’s dispositions can only be obtained from other men. pg. 56

5 Types of Spies

  • (1) Local spies
    • employing the services of the inhabitants of a district.
  • (2) Inward spies
    • making use of officials of the enemy.
  • (3) Converted spies
    • Getting hold of the enemy’s spies and using them for your own purposes.
  • (4) Doomed spies
    • doing certain things openly for purposes of deception, and allowing our spies to know of them and report them to the enemy. pg. 57
  • (5) Surviving spies
    • those who bring back news from the enemy’s camp. pg. 57

Intelligence About Your Opponent is Essential

    1. When these five kinds of spy are all at work, none can discover the secret system. This is called “divine manipulation of the threads.” It is the sovereign’s most precious faculty. pg. 56
    1. Hence it is only the enlightened ruler and the wise general who will use the highest intelligence of the army for purposes of spying and thereby they achieve great results. Spies are a most important element in water, because on them depends an army’s ability to move. pg. 58

A Leader Must Be Subtle, Insightful and Wise

    1. Spies cannot be usefully employed without a certain intuitive sagacity. pg. 57
    1. Without subtle ingenuity of mind, one cannot make certain of the truth of their reports. pg. 57
    1. Be subtle! be subtle! and use your spies for every kind of business. pg. 57
    1. If a secret piece of news is divulged by a spy before the time is ripe, he must be put to death together with the man to whom the secret was told. pg. 57

The Converted Spy is the Essential Link

    1. The enemy’s spies who have come to spy on us must be sought out, tempted with bribes, led away and comfortably housed. Thus they will become converted spies and available for our service. pg. 57
    1. It is through the information brought by the converted spy that we are able to acquire and employ local and inward spies. pg. 58
    1. It is owing to his information, again, that we can cause the doomed spy to carry false tidings to the enemy. pg. 58
    1. Lastly, it is by his information that the surviving spy can be used on appointed occasions. pg. 58
    1. The end and aim of spying in all its five varieties is knowledge of the enemy; and this knowledge can only be derived, in the first instance, from the converted spy. Hence it is essential that the converted spy be treated with the utmost liberality. pg. 58

⭐ Recommended Reading

You may also enjoy the following books:

Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu

The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey