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The Art Of War and Laying Plans for Calculations

Sun Tzu (also rendered as Sun Zi), the reputed author of ‘The Art of War’, was a Chinese military general, strategist, and philosopher. His birth name was Sun Wu and he was known outside of his family by his courtesy name Changqing. Born in the state of Ch'I, he served the King Ho-lu of Wu and was a military specialist active during the turbulent late Zhou dynasty. Tzu is an honorific particle, meaning “master”.The Art of War is considered a prime example of Taoist strategy.[1]Taoism (or Daoism) is a Chinese philosophy based on the writings of Lao-tzu, advocating humility and religious piety. It is a philosophical, ethical, and religious tradition of Chinese origin that emphasizes living in harmony with the Tao. The term Tao means "way", "path" or "principle", and can also be found in Chinese philosophies and religions other than Taoism. In Taoism, however, Tao denotes something that is both the source and the driving force behind everything that exists[2]. Before the bamboo scroll version of The Art of War was discovered by archaeologists in April 1972, a commonly cited version of The Art of War was the Annotation of Sun Tzu's Strategies by Cao Cao, the founder of the Kingdom of Wei. On April 10, 1972, the Yinqueshan Han Tombs were accidentally unearthed by construction workers in Shandong. Scholars uncovered a collection of ancient texts written on unusually well-preserved bamboo slips. Among them were The Art of War and Sun Bin's Military Methods.

Influence of the book.

Qin Shi Huangdi (the first emperor of China) is known to have utilized the contents for ending the time of warring states. Mao Zedong credited his 1949 victory to The Art of War. Introduced in Japan in 760 AD it influenced its generals and resulted in the unification of Japan. Napoleon studied its strategies and tactics. The Admiral of the Fleet ‘Togo Heihachiro’, who led Japan's forces to victory in the Russo-Japanese War, was an avid reader of Sun Tzu. Ho Chi Minh translated the work for his Vietnamese officers to study. His general Vo Nguyen Giap, the strategist behind victories over French and American forces in Vietnam, was likewise an avid student and practitioner of Sun Tzu's ideas. The Department of the Army in the United States, through its Command and General Staff College, has directed all units to maintain libraries within their respective headquarters for the continuing education of personnel in the art of war and closer home it is studied in Pakistan’s Staff college too."Warriors" of Wall Street and in corporation cultures rely on it for guidance. It's even been rumored to help players win at the board game Risk.

The Basic Essence.

The book was first translated into the French language in 1772 by French Jesuit Jean Joseph Marie Amiot and a partial translation into English was attempted by British officer Everard Ferguson Calthrop in 1905. The first annotated English language translation was completed and published by Lionel Giles in 1910. Military action is presented by Sun Tzu in an implicitly Taoist frame of reference. Sun Tzu considered war as a necessary evil that must be avoided whenever possible. The war should be fought swiftly to avoid economic losses: "No long war ever profited any country: 100 victories in 100 battles is simply ridiculous”. The 1962 Sino-Indian war is a classic example of this concept wherein the Chinese under Mao launched a swift campaign and returned back to their bases as swiftly as they had launched after meeting their political objectives.


Strategic Learnings[3].

  • Force is not at the Center
    Instead of head-on costly assaults, a wise commander focuses his energy on his enemy’s weak point. The modern manoeuvre warfare is a prime example of this concept which was practiced effectively by the Germans in World war -II as a modification called the Blitzkreig. Just as water rushes down and shapes its course according to the ground, avoid strengths and strike weaknesses – work out victory in relation to your foe.
  • Victory and defeat are fundamentally psychological states (it becomes extremely important in short and swift wars)
  • War is not a matter of destroying the enemy materially and physically (although that may play a role), but of unsettling the enemy psychologically (the psyche of the enemy leaders, therefore, becomes a centre of gravity).
  • The goal is to force the enemy’s leadership and society from a condition of harmony, towards one of chaos, which is tantamount to defeat (the use of the Atom Bomb against Japan was a means to achieve this end).

Operational Takeaways[4].

  • Superior knowledge of Enemy
    The most important thing for a commander is not the size of his force or the technology they possess, but his knowledge of the opposing forces. "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.”
  • Deception
    Because the ultimate aim of war must be victory, the general must be willing to use deception, guile, and trickery to uncover and exploit his enemy’s weakness. Sun Tzu wrote, “Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.”
  • Surprise
    In all fighting, the direct method may be used for joining the battle, but indirect methods will almost always be needed to secure victory.  Sun Tzu wrote “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”.
  • Aim at the Morale of Enemy
    On Psychological ascendency, he wrote, “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”
  • Attack enemy’s plans
    The enemy Commanders should be forced to change their plans before the first bullet is fired in anger.
  • Conserve force
    Conserve and recreate reserves for the decisive punch.

Laying Plans for Calculations[5].

The Art of War has 13 chapters. Chapter 1 is the heart of the book and it explores the five fundamental factors (the Way, seasons, terrain, leadership, and management) and seven elements that determine the outcomes of military engagements. By thinking, assessing and comparing these points, a commander can calculate his chances of victory. Habitual deviation from these calculations will ensure failure via improper action. The text stresses that war is a very grave matter for the state and must not be commenced without due consideration.

The impact points in the opening chapter have a far-reaching effect and can be summarised in the words of Sun Tzu as under: -

  • The art of war is of vital importance to the State.
  • It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence, it is a subject of inquiry which can, on no account, be neglected.
  • The art of war, then, is governed by five constant factors, to be considered in one's deliberations, when seeking to determine the conditions obtaining in the field and these are - the Moral Law; Heaven; Earth; The Commander; Method and discipline (many of these are still used in military appreciations).
    • The 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. Jus Ad Bellum, the concept of a just war, could be a derivative of this.
    • Heaven signifies night and day, cold and heat, times and seasons (campaigning seasons and time of attack).
    • Earth comprises distances, great and small; danger and security; open ground and narrow passes; the chances of life and death (the ground).
    • The Commander stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage, and strictness.
    • 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.
  • These five heads should be familiar to every general; he who knows them will be victorious; he who knows them not will fail.
  • Therefore, in your deliberations, when seeking to determine the military conditions, let them be made the basis of a comparison, in this wise: -
    •  Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the Moral law?
    • Which of the two generals has the most ability?
    •  With whom lie the advantages derived from Heaven and Earth?
    • On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced?
    • Which army is stronger?
    • On which side are officers and men more highly trained?
    •  In which army is there the greater constancy both in reward and punishment?
  • By means of these seven considerations, Sun Tzu could forecast victory or defeat. 
  • The general that hears to my counsel and acts upon it, will conquer; let such a one be retained in command! The general that hearkens not to my counsel nor acts upon it, will suffer defeat; let such a one be dismissed!
  • While heeding the profit of my counsel, avail yourself also of any helpful circumstances over and beyond the ordinary rules.
  • According to circumstances, one should modify one's plans.
  • All warfare is based on deception.  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.
  • Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.
  •  If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him.
  •  If your opponent is of choleric temper, 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.
  • Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.
  • These military devices, leading to victory, must not be divulged beforehand.
  • Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus, many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat. It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.


The Art of War is the oldest military writing in the world, a classic study of competition and rivalry that has been utilized by soldiers ever since. Revisiting it time to time freshens up the strategy and tactics of Military and corporate leaders alike.


[4] ibid

[5]https://www.sonshi.com/,  Accessed on 27 September 2018 ( Sonshi is an Atlanta (USA) based website dedicated to The Art of War by Sun Tzu since 1999. Original translation of all 13 chapters) 

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