The Art of War

“The art of War”, written in the 6th century BC, is a military treaty from Ancient China, attributed to Sun Tzu, a strategic general. Sun Tzu was famous for his victorious military campaigns, which he led during Confucius times.

“The art of War” contains 13 chapters, discussing, one by one, every important aspect of a battle, from using both strong points and weaknesses to analysing the battlefield and encouraging soldiers.

Sun Tzu bases his military strategy on the importance of an intellectual approach to war. Despite the fact that the treaty is famous for military actions and tactics, it applies equally to all types of human conflict.

The key to a good strategy is planning. The chances of success are increased exponentially for those, who sit down and make plans and think of possibilities of actions.

For those, who are not in the habit of planning ahead, victory can be miles away. Take into consideration every possible course of action and the result shall be clear.


Planning for war


When we plan for war, we have to take into consideration five fundamental factors:

  • Moral law or method

In reference to the type of ruling the sovereign is conducting. It’s about the relationships between a sovereign and his people. When harmony and understanding are at the foundation of their relationship, people will follow their ruler to death, without fearing danger.

  • Weather – referring to the interaction between natural forces and the planning of the military strategy in accordance with nature
  • Battleground – must be known in advance to plan accordingly. Failing to have all the information beforehand, can diminish survival chances and increase the risk of death
  • Authority – deals with the general’s qualities and his ability to be honest, kind, brave and strict, all at the same time
  • Doctrine – referring to the organization, control and assigning the appropriate titles to officers, establishing the supply chains and routed and procuring all that is necessary to ensure victory


Plan your war as perfectly as possible


          When considering strategy and course of action, take all variables into consideration. At the foundation of that planning, a comparison must be used. Ask yourself:

  • Which of the sovereign rules based on moral law?
  • Which of the two generals had the most ability?
  • With whom lie the advantages from heaven and earth?
  • On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced?
  • Which army is stronger?
  • On which side are the officers more highly trained?
  • On which army is a great consistency as far as reward and punishments are concerned?

Only after carefully considering these seven variables, you can forecast either victory or defeat.

When the circumstances are favourable, you should modify your plans.


The foundation of warfare


All warfare is based on deception.


  • you are able to attack, you must seem unable
  • using your forces, you must seem inactive
  • near, you must make the enemy believe you are far away
  • you are far away, you must make the enemy believe you are near
  • Hold out baits to entice the enemy
  • Feign disorder!
  • If your enemy is secure in all points, be prepared for him
  • When your enemy is superior in strength, evade him
  • Should he have a choleric temper, make him angry
  • If he is taking his ease, give him no rest
  • If he has united forces, you must divide them 
  • Appear where you are least expected

You must not divulge these military devices beforehand. 

All is decided by the calculations made before the war.

Many calculations lead to victory. Few calculations lead to defeat.


More on the rules of war


Nobody has benefited from prolonged warfare. When going into battle, think of the saying: conquer and divide. Make sure the people fighting beside you get their rewards.

The objective of war is victory, not leading campaigns. Take the country of the enemy whole, instead of shattered.

However, defeat and conquer your enemy’s army is not supreme excellence. The supreme excellence is breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.

When choosing your generals, you must be careful to choose the ones who are able to adapt to circumstances, instead of the ones who are stubborn in their pursuit. Don’t plan only for favourable circumstances, but consider, more importantly, the unfavourable circumstances. Make sure you have taken everything that’s possible and impossible into your calculations.


The 5 essentials of victory when fighting a war


He will win who:

  • Knows when to fight and when not to fight
  • Knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces
  • Whose army has the same spirit throughout all its ranks
  • Prepared himself, knows to take the enemy unprepared
  • Has the military capacity and is not interfered by the sovereign

The key to victory or defeat is knowing your enemy as well as knowing yourself. If you know yourself, but not the enemy, for every victory you gain, you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you are doomed to failure no matter the battle.


The art of warfare


There are no more than five musical notes, yet the combination of those five notes can produce a piece of music of great excellence.

In battle, there are only two ways of attacking: direct and indirect, yet the combination of these tactics give rise to endless manoeuvres.  

Much as “The Technique of Producing Ideas” of James Webb Young teaches us, it’s not the invention of new tactics and ideas that will give rise to excellence, but the ability to combined old ideas into something new. Adapting to present circumstances doesn’t necessarily mean inventing new ideas but making use of old ones in new ways.

There are many variables when thinking of strategy and planning ahead. Consider situations of advantage and disadvantage. Consider the personality of your key people to make sure they are the appropriate ones to lead your battles.

The greatest commodity, after considering all variables is the people in charge. They will determine the fate of your battles. Their character and course of action will ensure your victory or defeat. Invest wisely into your most precious commodity and you will win all battles.


Takeaways from “The Art of War”


“The art of war” much as “The Prince” of Niccolò Machiavelli are essentials books on the reading list of all that are in power, from country leaders to company managers. Study the book in detail and refer to it when you’re in doubt. It’s not a one-time read, but a permanent guide to all course of action.

Even if you are aware of all rules and strategies presented in the book, victory will not be yours unless you adapt to circumstances.

From all, that’s the most important variable, which must remain constant.


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