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The Art of War by Sun Tzu

Since its publication in ancient China in 500 BC, The Art Of War has been regarded as the standard work on military strategy and warfare, inspiring corporations, athletes, and of course generals to defeat their rivals and competitors the correct way.

Tzu proved the value of his doctrine by commanding an army and triumphing in an amazing battle in the Ch'u state after being promoted to the rank of general. The Art of War, a work of philosophy, was afterwards written by him for the King of Wu. As a result, The Art of War continues to have a substantial influence on both Eastern and Western military philosophy.

Part 1: Laying Plans

The state's ability to rule itself depends on war. According to Tzu, there are five constants that govern war:

Moral law: That which motivates the populace to be completely in accord with and ready to obey their ruler in all circumstances.

Heaven: The environment's flexibility, including the weather, times of day, and seasons.

Earth: This includes vast distances and a variety of topography.

The commander: The importance of the virtues of wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage, and strictness.

Method and discipline: An army's distinct hierarchy and organisational structure, including its distinct divisions, subdivisions, and ranks.

You must take into consideration these five elements when developing your military plan. To do this, you must pose questions such, "Which of your leaders inspires moral law?" Who has the most to benefit from the arrangement of the heavens and the earth? Which side has better trained commanders and soldiers? Tzu contends that by posing such queries, one can foretell which side will prevail.

Part 2: Fighting

War is expensive. The cost of supplies, armour, and weaponry increases as a combat continues. Long-term sieges result in the depletion of your resources, the weakening of your men' bodies, and the dulling of their weapons. Consequently, you should assault immediately and prevent any delays if you want to engage in warfare wisely.

However, a good commander instructs his forces to plunder from the enemy if a conflict lasts longer than desired. This will enable you to support your army for a longer period of time than if you only used your own resources.

Part 3: Attack by Stratagem

It is best to completely and intactly take over an enemy's area when in war. Raising it off the ground is therefore useless. Similar to this, it is preferable to recapture an army than to kill it. The best way to win a war is to eliminate your adversary without ever engaging them in combat.

Tzu claims that there are five different strategies for going to war, each with a different level of effectiveness. They are, in order of effectiveness:

  • Defeat your enemy via stratagem alone, without coming into battle.

  • Recognize your adversary's strategies in advance and get your counterattack ready.

  • Cut off your opponent's allies from them.

  • Attack your enemy in the field.

  • Besiege a walled city.

Tzu expands on these strategies for winning battles by proposing five key characteristics of victory:

  • The winners know when to engage in combat and when not to.

  • They are adept at controlling both superior and lesser forces (careful strategic planning can be used to overcome a stronger force, for example).

  • A focused army that possesses this attitude throughout its ranks will win.

  • The winners understand when their adversary is unprepared to attack.

  • Only those whose strategic intentions are not thwarted by a sovereign authority succeed.

Part 4: Tactical Dispositions

First, be sure you are prepared to lose. T hen watch for an opportunity to overpower your adversary. You have to be patient and wait for the right opportunity. Thus, a clever general is one who easily wins battles and commits no errors. They prepare for battle by first devising strategies to guarantee success. Such military strategy includes the following five techniques:

  • to comprehend and gauge the battlefield.

  • to determine the size of the opponent.

  • to gauge the strength of the opposition.

  • to calculate your enemy's chances of defeating you.

  • to determine your likelihood of winning.

Part 5: Energy

It doesn't matter if you have a large or little army while you fight. What matters is how your soldiers are set up. Although direct tactics are frequently required, your triumph will be assured by indirect tactics. Attacking your opponent's flanks or descending on their rear are examples of indirect tactics. Indirect strategies are endless when used effectively.

The direct and indirect ways of attack circle around one another in a continuous motion. You are best equipped to use the "energy" of your forces if you consider the power of your army as a whole before finding people with particular talents. By keeping your adversary on the move, you can prevent them from walking into a group of your carefully chosen warriors who are waiting for them.

Always show weakness to hide your strength.

Part 6: Weak Points and Strong

The shrewd combatant initiates action and never starts a battle on the defensive. Either fight on your terms or don't fight at all. Strike at vulnerable points, and don’t attack your enemy where they are well defended. Likewise, you should learn to defend your weak spots from a surprise attack.

You can learn about your opponent's weaknesses while remaining unseen by remaining a mystery to them. This enables you to focus your troops while your adversaries are dispersed.

Part 7: Maneuvering

Before you advance into battle, order must be restored among the ranks of your army. You may focus on defeating your adversary after your warriors function as a cohesive unit. You mustn't, however, permit your soldiers to march for extended periods of time. Your army will only become weaker as a result, and only 10% of your soldiers will successfully complete their journey.

This is the manoeuvring art. There is no room for the courageous to advance alone or for the cowardly to retreat alone when your army is working as a unified unit.

Part 8: Variation in Tactics

A general who is aware of the benefits associated with various tactical strategies knows how to command their men. Those who lack experience in a range of strategies will ultimately lose. There are five mistakes a general could make that will decrease their chances of winning:

  • Recklessness, which leads to destruction.

  • Cowardice, which leads to capture.

  • A quick temper, easily provoked by insults.

  • A thin skin, sensitive to shame.

  • Over-solicitude for their army, which leads to excessive worry.

Part 9: The Army on the March

Always stay close to food supplies while on the march, and set up tent high and to the sun. Find an accessible site with rising ground to the right and back while on dry, level ground. This implies that you can safely flee from where you are stationed while still being able to notice danger approaching.

Once your army is in position, you must examine any surrounding ponds, reed-filled hollows, or woods because your adversary may have spies stationed there. When birds suddenly soar aloft, pay attention to them because troops are usually hiding beneath them in ambush. However, if a group of birds congregates at one location, it is uninhabited.

Part 10: Terrain

There are six distinct sorts of terrain, according to Tzu:

  • Accessible ground: Ground that both you and your opponent can easily traverse. You must take control of this territory ahead of your adversary for victory.

  • Entangling ground: Ground that is difficult to re-occupy once you abandon it. Therefore, it will be challenging for you to return and try to achieve victory if you engage an enemy on such terrain and lose.

  • Temporizing ground: Ground on which neither side has an advantage. Even if your adversary tempts you to fight on such terrain, resist the urge.

  • Narrow passes: You should only enter these if you are the first to occupy them and then fiercely garrison them while your opponent waits there. Don't enter if your opponent arrived there before you.

  • Precipitous heights: Try to occupy the highest sunny spots and wait for your enemy to march upwards to meet you. If your adversary has already taken up residence there, leave and lure them away.

  • Positions at a great distance from your opponent: If both armies are of equal size and situated far from each other, a battle will not be easily provoked. Therefore, it's crucial to avoid dragging out a long, exhausting march to meet your enemy because doing so will put your forces at a disadvantage and put you at a disadvantage.

Part 11: The Nine Situations

Tzu asserts that there are nine different sorts of ground, expanding on his differentiation of the six types of terrain:

  • Dispersive ground: This is when you are fighting on your own territory. Dispersive implies that your soldiers are dispersed, possibly close to their families. They will probably scatter into their homes in the event of a war.

  • Facile ground: This type of ground makes it simple for your forces to retreat after marching into hostile territory but not getting very far.

  • Contentious ground: Such ground offers both sides an equal advantage and, thus, must be contended for.

  • Open ground: It allows for both sides to have an equal liberty of movement.

  • Ground of intersecting highways: This land intersects between your territory, your enemy’s territory, and the ground of a third territory that adjoins both.

  • Serious ground: This is when your army has penetrated deep into hostile country, upping the stakes of your approach.

  • Difficult ground: This refers to all terrain that is difficult to traverse, such as forests, marshes, and cliffs.

  • Hemmed-in ground: This includes all ground that can only be reached through narrow passes, making you vulnerable to enemy attack.

  • Desperate ground: This is any ground on which you can only be saved from defeat by engaging in battle immediately.

Tzu provides a tactical strategy for each of the several types of ground:

  • On dispersive ground, don’t fight.

  • On facile ground, don’t stop.

  • On contentious ground, don’t attack.

  • On open ground, don’t block the enemy’s path.

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

  • On serious ground, gather and plunder.

  • On difficult ground, keep steady in your march.

  • On hemmed-in ground, resort to using strategy.

  • On desperate ground, fight.

Part 12: The Attack by Fire

Tzu offers the following five strategies for using fire to subdue an enemy:

  • Burning their camp.

  • Burning their stores.

  • Burning their baggage trains.

  • Burning their arsenals and magazines.

  • To aim burning arrows across enemy lines.

However, in order to use fire properly, it must be used at the right time, during the appropriate season, and when the weather is dry.

Part 13: The Use of Spies

If a war lasts for a long time, you will run out of money and your country will be torn apart. You must master the use of spies skillfully to know when to strike the enemy in order to avoid a prolonged war.

According to Tzu, there are five different kinds of spies, and the challenge is to employ them all to prevent your adversary from learning the extent of your network of spies. As follows:

Local spies: Citizens of your adversary's nation.

Inward spies: Officials of your enemy, which could also include concubines or those in your enemy’s ranks who feel frustrated at being in subordinate positions.

Converted spies: These are the spies of your enemy that you’ve bribed into working for you. They will therefore deliver incorrect information to your adversary.

Doomed spies: Your own spies to whom you intentionally give incorrect strategic intelligence so that, if they are discovered beyond enemy lines, they can provide misleading information to your adversary.

Surviving spies: All spies who survive and bring back news from your enemy’s camp.

The Art of War continues to have a substantial influence on both Eastern and Western military philosophy.

The Art of War is a timeless and influential work on military strategy and tactics. Its teachings are applicable not only to military conflicts, but also to business, politics, and other areas of life where strategy and competition are involved. The book's emphasis on understanding one's own strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of one's opponent, and using this knowledge to gain an advantage is a key lesson that can be applied in many different contexts. Its practical advice on topics such as leadership, morale, and the importance of adapting to changing circumstances make it a valuable resource for anyone looking to gain an edge in any field.

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