36 — Sun Tzu

a.k.a: Sun Wu

Occupation: Strategist

Born: 544 BCE

Died: 496 BCE

Brief Description:
The historical existence of Sun Tzu has been disputed by scholars and historians. However, my blog isn’t concerned with the historicity of the characters as many of them are fictional anyway and the existence of The Art Of War and its profound influence clearly proves that someone existed to produce said work, and tradition holds that the work was written by one Sun Tzu.

Sun Tzu is said to have been born in the Qi state. He supposedly lived, fought and composed his work during the Spring and Autumn Period which preceded the Warring States Period (481-221 BCE) during which the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BCE) was declining and the states once bound to it fought each other for supremacy and control of China.

In the early part of the Spring and Autumn Period, Chinese warfare followed traditional protocol in chivalric behavior before, during and after an engagement. As the era wore on, however, this adherence to tradition became increasingly frustrating in that no state could gain an advantage over another because each was following exactly the same protocol and employing the same tactics. So Sun Tzu sought to break this stalemate by outlining a clear strategy of winning decisively by whatever means were necessary. It is said that Sun Tzu proved on the battlefield that his theories were effective, that he had a successful military career and that he wrote The Art Of War based on his tested expertise.

Why he’s on the list:
If you haven’t read The Art Of War, I highly recommend you do.

It’s short but contains a lot of insights that still apply in today’s world since it focuses much more on alternatives to battle and even to war rather than on war itself.

In the meantime, I will leave you with some of my favorite quotes from the book.

“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”

“To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”

“What the ancients called a clever fighter is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease.”

“Thus we may know that 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.”

“There are five dangerous faults which may affect 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.”

“The opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.”

“The whole secret lies in confusing the enemy, so that he cannot fathom our real intent.”

“Thus the expert in battle moves the enemy, and is not moved by him.”

“If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.”

“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.”

“Be extremely subtle even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent’s fate.”

“Move swift as the Wind and closely-formed as the Wood. Attack like the Fire and be still as the Mountain.”

“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.”

“Quickness is the essence of the war.”

“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.”

“If the mind is willing, the flesh could go on and on without many things.”

“Even the finest sword plunged into salt water will eventually rust.”

“Ponder and deliberate before you make a move.”

“Plan for what is difficult while it is easy, do what is great while it is small.”

“One mark of a great soldier is that he fights on his own terms or fights not at all.”

“You have to believe in yourself.”

“Energy may be likened to the bending of a crossbow; decision, to the releasing of a trigger.”

“The worst calamities that befall an army arise from hesitation.”

“If soldiers are punished before they have grown attached to you, they will not prove submissive; and, unless submissive, they will be practically useless.
If, when the soldiers have become attached to you, punishments are not enforced, they will still be useless.
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.”

“Rewards for good service should not be deferred a single day.”

“When one treats people with benevolence, justice, and righteousness, and reposes confidence in them, the army will be united in mind and all will be happy to serve their leaders.”

“Treat your men as you would your own beloved sons. And they will follow you into the deepest valley.”

1 thought on “36 — Sun Tzu

  1. One of the better-known stories about Sun Tzu illustrates Sun Tzu’s temperament as follows:

    Sun Tzu’s Art Of War brought him to the notice of Ho Lu, King of Wu.
    Ho Lu said to him: “I have carefully perused your thirteen chapters. May I submit your theory of managing soldiers to a slight test?”
    Sun Tzu replied: “You may.”
    Ho Lu asked: “May the test be applied to women?”
    The answer was again in the affirmative, so arrangements were made to bring 180 ladies out of the Palace.
    Sun Tzu divided them into two companies, and placed one of the King’s favorite concubines at the head of each. He then bade them all take spears in their hands, and addressed them thus: “I presume you know the difference between front and back, right hand and left hand?”
    The girls replied: “Yes.”
    Sun Tzu went on: “When I say “Eyes front,” you must look straight ahead. When I say “Left turn,” you must face towards your left hand. When I say “Right turn,” you must face towards your right hand. When I say “About turn,” you must face right round towards your back.”
    Again the girls assented.
    The words of command having been thus explained, he set up the halberds and battle-axes in order to begin the drill. Then, to the sound of drums, he gave the order “Right turn.” But the girls only burst out laughing. Sun Tzu said: “If words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood, then the general is to blame.”
    So he started drilling them again, and this time gave the order “Left turn,” whereupon the girls once more burst into fits of laughter.
    Sun Tzu: “If words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood, the general is to blame. But if his orders are clear, and the soldiers nevertheless disobey, then it is the fault of their officers.”
    So saying, he ordered the leaders of the two companies to be beheaded. Now the king of Wu was watching the scene from the top of a raised pavilion; and when he saw that his favorite concubines were about to be executed, he was greatly alarmed and hurriedly sent down the following message: “We are now quite satisfied as to our general’s ability to handle troops. If We are bereft of these two concubines, our meat and drink will lose their savor. It is our wish that they shall not be beheaded.”
    Sun Tzu replied: “Having once received His Majesty’s commission to be the general of his forces, there are certain commands of His Majesty which, acting in that capacity, I am unable to accept.”
    Accordingly, he had the two leaders beheaded, and straightway installed the pair next in order as leaders in their place. When this had been done, the drum was sounded for the drill once more; and the girls went through all the evolutions, turning to the right or to the left, marching ahead or wheeling back, kneeling or standing, with perfect accuracy and precision, not venturing to utter a sound. Then Sun Tzu sent a messenger to the King saying: “Your soldiers, Sire, are now properly drilled and disciplined, and ready for your majesty’s inspection. They can be put to any use that their sovereign may desire; bid them go through fire and water, and they will not disobey.”
    But the King replied: “Let our general cease drilling and return to camp. As for us, We have no wish to come down and inspect the troops.”
    Thereupon Sun Tzu said: “The King is only fond of words, and cannot translate them into deeds.”
    After that, Ho Lu saw that Sun Tzu was one who knew how to handle an army, and finally appointed him general. In the west, he defeated the Chu State and forced his way into Ying, the capital; to the north he put fear into the States of Qi and Chin, and spread his fame abroad amongst the feudal princes. And Sun Tzu shared in the might of the King.

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