The Art of War - 05

the part of the home government. Napoleon undoubtedly owed much of his
extraordinary success to the fact that he was not hampered by central
Victory lies in the knowledge of these five points.
[Literally, “These five things are knowledge of the principle of
18. 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.
[Li Ch’uan cites the case of Fu Chien, prince of Ch’in, who in 383 A.D.
marched with a vast army against the Chin Emperor. When warned not to
despise an enemy who could command the services of such men as Hsieh An
and Huan Ch’ung, he boastfully replied: "I have the population of eight
provinces at my back, infantry and horsemen to the number of one
million; why, they could dam up the Yangtsze River itself by merely
throwing their whips into the stream. What danger have I to fear?"
Nevertheless, his forces were soon after disastrously routed at the Fei
River, and he was obliged to beat a hasty retreat.]

If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every
[Chang Yu said: "Knowing the enemy enables you to take the offensive,
knowing yourself enables you to stand on the defensive." He adds:
"Attack is the secret of defence; defence is the planning of an
attack." It would be hard to find a better epitome of the
root-principle of war.]

[Ts’ao Kung explains the Chinese meaning of the words for the title of
this chapter: "marching and countermarching on the part of the two
armies with a view to discovering each other’s condition." Tu Mu says:
"It is through the dispositions of an army that its condition may be
discovered. Conceal your dispositions, and your condition will remain
secret, which leads to victory; show your dispositions, and your
condition will become patent, which leads to defeat." Wang Hsi remarks
that the good general can "secure success by modifying his tactics to
meet those of the enemy."]

1. Sun Tzŭ said: The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond
the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of
defeating the enemy.
2. To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the
opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.
[That is, of course, by a mistake on the enemy’s part.]

3. Thus the good fighter is able to secure himself against defeat,
[Chang Yu says this is done, "By concealing the disposition of his
troops, covering up his tracks, and taking unremitting precautions."]

but cannot make certain of defeating the enemy.
4. Hence the saying: One may _know_ how to conquer without being able
to _do_ it.
5. Security against defeat implies defensive tactics; ability to defeat
the enemy means taking the offensive.
[I retain the sense found in a similar passage in §§ 1-3, in spite of
the fact that the commentators are all against me. The meaning they
give, "He who cannot conquer takes the defensive," is plausible

6. Standing on the defensive indicates insufficient strength;
attacking, a superabundance of strength.
7. The general who is skilled in defence hides in the most secret
recesses of the earth;
[Literally, "hides under the ninth earth," which is a metaphor
indicating the utmost secrecy and concealment, so that the enemy may
not know his whereabouts."]

he who is skilled in attack flashes forth from the topmost heights of
[Another metaphor, implying that he falls on his adversary like a
thunderbolt, against which there is no time to prepare. This is the
opinion of most of the commentators.]

Thus on the one hand we have ability to protect ourselves; on the
other, a victory that is complete.
8. To see victory only when it is within the ken of the common herd is
not the acme of excellence.
[As Ts’ao Kung remarks, "the thing is to see the plant before it has
germinated," to foresee the event before the action has begun. Li
Ch’uan alludes to the story of Han Hsin who, when about to attack the
vastly superior army of Chao, which was strongly entrenched in the city
of Ch’eng-an, said to his officers: "Gentlemen, we are going to
annihilate the enemy, and shall meet again at dinner." The officers
hardly took his words seriously, and gave a very dubious assent. But
Han Hsin had already worked out in his mind the details of a clever
stratagem, whereby, as he foresaw, he was able to capture the city and
inflict a crushing defeat on his adversary."]

9. Neither is it the acme of excellence if you fight and conquer and
the whole Empire says, "Well done!"
[True excellence being, as Tu Mu says: "To plan secretly, to move
surreptitiously, to foil the enemy’s intentions and balk his schemes,
so that at last the day may be won without shedding a drop of blood."
Sun Tzŭ reserves his approbation for things that

"the world’s coarse thumb
And finger fail to plumb."

10. To lift an autumn hair is no sign of great strength;
["Autumn hair" is explained as the fur of a hare, which is finest in
autumn, when it begins to grow afresh. The phrase is a very common one
in Chinese writers.]

to see sun and moon is no sign of sharp sight; to hear the noise of
thunder is no sign of a quick ear.
[Ho Shih gives as real instances of strength, sharp sight and quick
hearing: Wu Huo, who could lift a tripod weighing 250 stone; Li Chu,
who at a distance of a hundred paces could see objects no bigger than a
mustard seed; and Shih K’uang, a blind musician who could hear the
footsteps of a mosquito.]

11. What the ancients called a clever fighter is one who not only wins,
but excels in winning with ease.
[The last half is literally "one who, conquering, excels in easy
conquering." Mei Yao-ch’en says: "He who only sees the obvious, wins
his battles with difficulty; he who looks below the surface of things,
wins with ease."]

12. Hence his victories bring him neither reputation for wisdom nor
credit for courage.
[Tu Mu explains this very well: "Inasmuch as his victories are gained
over circumstances that have not come to light, the world as large
knows nothing of them, and he wins no reputation for wisdom; inasmuch
as the hostile state submits before there has been any bloodshed, he
receives no credit for courage."]

13. He wins his battles by making no mistakes.
[Ch’en Hao says: "He plans no superfluous marches, he devises no futile
attacks." The connection of ideas is thus explained by Chang Yu: "One
who seeks to conquer by sheer strength, clever though he may be at
winning pitched battles, is also liable on occasion to be vanquished;
whereas he who can look into the future and discern conditions that are
not yet manifest, will never make a blunder and therefore invariably

Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it
means conquering an enemy that is already defeated.
14. Hence the skilful fighter puts himself into a position which makes
defeat impossible, and does not miss the moment for defeating the
[A "counsel of perfection" as Tu Mu truly observes. "Position" need not
be confined to the actual ground occupied by the troops. It includes
all the arrangements and preparations which a wise general will make to
increase the safety of his army.]

15. 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.
[Ho Shih thus expounds the paradox: "In warfare, first lay plans which
will ensure victory, and then lead your army to battle; if you will not
begin with stratagem but rely on brute strength alone, victory will no
longer be assured."]

16. The consummate leader cultivates the moral law, and strictly
adheres to method and discipline; thus it is in his power to control
17. In respect of military method, we have, firstly, Measurement;
secondly, Estimation of quantity; thirdly, Calculation; fourthly,
Balancing of chances; fifthly, Victory.
18. Measurement owes its existence to Earth; Estimation of quantity to
Measurement; Calculation to Estimation of quantity; Balancing of
chances to Calculation; and Victory to Balancing of chances.
[It is not easy to distinguish the four terms very clearly in the
Chinese. The first seems to be surveying and measurement of the ground,
which enable us to form an estimate of the enemy’s strength, and to
make calculations based on the data thus obtained; we are thus led to a
general weighing-up, or comparison of the enemy’s chances with our own;
if the latter turn the scale, then victory ensues. The chief difficulty
lies in third term, which in the Chinese some commentators take as a
calculation of _numbers_, thereby making it nearly synonymous with the
second term. Perhaps the second term should be thought of as a
consideration of the enemy’s general position or condition, while the
third term is the estimate of his numerical strength. On the other
hand, Tu Mu says: "The question of relative strength having been
settled, we can bring the varied resources of cunning into play." Ho
Shih seconds this interpretation, but weakens it. However, it points to
the third term as being a calculation of numbers.]

19. A victorious army opposed to a routed one, is as a pound’s weight
placed in the scale against a single grain.
[Literally, "a victorious army is like an _i_ (20 oz.) weighed against
a _shu_ (1/24 oz.); a routed army is a _shu_ weighed against an _i_."
The point is simply the enormous advantage which a disciplined force,
flushed with victory, has over one demoralized by defeat. Legge, in his
note on Mencius, I. 2. ix. 2, makes the _i_ to be 24 Chinese ounces,
and corrects Chu Hsi’s statement that it equaled 20 oz. only. But Li
Ch’uan of the T’ang dynasty here gives the same figure as Chu Hsi.]

20. The onrush of a conquering force is like the bursting of pent-up
waters into a chasm a thousand fathoms deep. So much for tactical

Chapter V. ENERGY
1. Sun Tzŭ 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
[That is, cutting up the army into regiments, companies, etc., with
subordinate officers in command of each. Tu Mu reminds us of Han Hsin’s
famous reply to the first Han Emperor, who once said to him: "How large
an army do you think I could lead?" "Not more than 100,000 men, your
Majesty." "And you?" asked the Emperor. "Oh!" he answered, "the more
the better."]

2. Fighting with a large army under your command is nowise different
from fighting with a small one: it is merely a question of instituting
signs and signals.
3. To ensure that your whole host may withstand the brunt of the
enemy’s attack and remain unshaken—this is effected by manœuvers direct
and indirect.
[We now come to one of the most interesting parts of Sun Tzŭ’s
treatise, the discussion of the _cheng_ and the _ch’i_." As it is by no
means easy to grasp the full significance of these two terms, or to
render them consistently by good English equivalents; it may be as well
to tabulate some of the commentators’ remarks on the subject before
proceeding further. Li Ch’uan: "Facing the enemy is _cheng_, making
lateral diversion is _ch’i_. Chia Lin: "In presence of the enemy, your
troops should be arrayed in normal fashion, but in order to secure
victory abnormal manœuvers must be employed." Mei Yao-ch’en: "_Ch’i_ is
active, _cheng_ is passive; passivity means waiting for an opportunity,
activity brings the victory itself." Ho Shih: "We must cause the enemy
to regard our straightforward attack as one that is secretly designed,
and vice versa; thus _cheng_ may also be _ch’i_, and _ch’i_ may also be
_cheng_." He instances the famous exploit of Han Hsin, who when
marching ostensibly against Lin-chin (now Chao-i in Shensi), suddenly
threw a large force across the Yellow River in wooden tubs, utterly
disconcerting his opponent. [Ch’ien Han Shu, ch. 3.] Here, we are told,
the march on Lin-chin was _cheng_, and the surprise manœuver was
_ch’i_." Chang Yu gives the following summary of opinions on the words:
"Military writers do not agree with regard to the meaning of _ch’i_ and
_cheng_. Wei Liao Tzŭ [4th cent. B.C.] says: ‘Direct warfare favours
frontal attacks, indirect warfare attacks from the rear.’ Ts’ao Kung
says: ‘Going straight out to join battle is a direct operation;
appearing on the enemy’s rear is an indirect manœuver.’ Li Wei-kung
[6th and 7th cent. A.D.] says: ‘In war, to march straight ahead is
_cheng_; turning movements, on the other hand, are _ch’i_.’ These
writers simply regard _cheng_ as _cheng_, and _ch’i_ as _ch’i_; they do
not note that the two are mutually interchangeable and run into each
other like the two sides of a circle [see infra, § 11]. A comment on
the T’ang Emperor T’ai Tsung goes to the root of the matter: ‘A _ch’i_
manœuver may be _cheng_, if we make the enemy look upon it as _cheng_;
then our real attack will be _ch’i_, and vice versa. The whole secret
lies in confusing the enemy, so that he cannot fathom our real
intent.’" To put it perhaps a little more clearly: any attack or other
operation is _cheng_, on which the enemy has had his attention fixed;
whereas that is _ch’i_," which takes him by surprise or comes from an
unexpected quarter. If the enemy perceives a movement which is meant to
be _ch’i_," it immediately becomes _cheng_."]

4. That the impact of your army may be like a grindstone dashed against
an egg—this is effected by the science of weak points and strong.
5. In all fighting, the direct method may be used for joining battle,
but indirect methods will be needed in order to secure victory.
[Chang Yu says: "Steadily develop indirect tactics, either by pounding
the enemy’s flanks or falling on his rear." A brilliant example of
"indirect tactics" which decided the fortunes of a campaign was Lord
Roberts’ night march round the Peiwar Kotal in the second Afghan war.

6. Indirect tactics, efficiently applied, are inexhausible 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
but to return once more.
[Tu Yu and Chang Yu understand this of the permutations of _ch’i_ and
_cheng_. But at present Sun Tzŭ is not speaking of _cheng_ at all,
unless, indeed, we suppose with Cheng Yu-hsien that a clause relating
to it has fallen out of the text. Of course, as has already been
pointed out, the two are so inextricably interwoven in all military
operations, that they cannot really be considered apart. Here we simply
have an expression, in figurative language, of the almost infinite
resource of a great leader.]

7. There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of
these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard.
8. There are not more than five primary colours (blue, yellow, red,
white, and black), yet in combination they produce more hues than can
ever be seen.
9 There are not more than five cardinal tastes (sour, acrid, salt,
sweet, bitter), yet combinations of them yield more flavours than can
ever be tasted.
10. 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 manœuvers.
11. 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?
12. The onset of troops is like the rush of a torrent which will even
roll stones along in its course.
13. The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon
which enables it to strike and destroy its victim.
[The Chinese here is tricky and a certain key word in the context it is
used defies the best efforts of the translator. Tu Mu defines this word
as "the measurement or estimation of distance." But this meaning does
not quite fit the illustrative simile in §. 15. Applying this
definition to the falcon, it seems to me to denote that instinct of
_self-restraint_ which keeps the bird from swooping on its quarry until
the right moment, together with the power of judging when the right
moment has arrived. The analogous quality in soldiers is the highly
important one of being able to reserve their fire until the very
instant at which it will be most effective. When the "Victory" went
into action at Trafalgar at hardly more than drifting pace, she was for
several minutes exposed to a storm of shot and shell before replying
with a single gun. Nelson coolly waited until he was within close
range, when the broadside he brought to bear worked fearful havoc on
the enemy’s nearest ships.]

14. Therefore the good fighter will be terrible in his onset, and
prompt in his decision.
[The word "decision" would have reference to the measurement of
distance mentioned above, letting the enemy get near before striking.
But I cannot help thinking that Sun Tzŭ meant to use the word in a
figurative sense comparable to our own idiom "short and sharp." Cf.
Wang Hsi’s note, which after describing the falcon’s mode of attack,
proceeds: "This is just how the ‘psychological moment’ should be seized
in war."]

15. Energy may be likened to the bending of a crossbow; decision, to
the releasing of the trigger.
[None of the commentators seem to grasp the real point of the simile of
energy and the force stored up in the bent cross-bow until released by
the finger on the trigger.]

16. Amid the turmoil and tumult of battle, there may be seeming
disorder and yet no real disorder at all; amid confusion and chaos,
your array may be without head or tail, yet it will be proof against
[Mei Yao-ch’en says: "The subdivisions of the army having been
previously fixed, and the various signals agreed upon, the separating
and joining, the dispersing and collecting which will take place in the
course of a battle, may give the appearance of disorder when no real
disorder is possible. Your formation may be without head or tail, your
dispositions all topsy-turvy, and yet a rout of your forces quite out
of the question."]

17. Simulated disorder postulates perfect discipline; simulated fear
postulates courage; simulated weakness postulates strength.
[In order to make the translation intelligible, it is necessary to tone
down the sharply paradoxical form of the original. Ts’ao Kung throws
out a hint of the meaning in his brief note: "These things all serve to
destroy formation and conceal one’s condition." But Tu Mu is the first
to put it quite plainly: "If you wish to feign confusion in order to
lure the enemy on, you must first have perfect discipline; if you wish
to display timidity in order to entrap the enemy, you must have extreme
courage; if you wish to parade your weakness in order to make the enemy
over-confident, you must have exceeding strength."]

18. Hiding order beneath the cloak of disorder is simply a question of
[See _supra_, § 1.]

concealing courage under a show of timidity presupposes a fund of
latent energy;
[The commentators strongly understand a certain Chinese word here
differently than anywhere else in this chapter. Thus Tu Mu says:
"seeing that we are favourably circumstanced and yet make no move, the
enemy will believe that we are really afraid."]

masking strength with weakness is to be effected by tactical
[Chang Yu relates the following anecdote of Kao Tsu, the first Han
Emperor: “Wishing to crush the Hsiung-nu, he sent out spies to report
on their condition. But the Hsiung-nu, forewarned, carefully concealed
all their able-bodied men and well-fed horses, and only allowed infirm
soldiers and emaciated cattle to be seen. The result was that spies one
and all recommended the Emperor to deliver his attack. Lou Ching alone
opposed them, saying: ‘When two countries go to war, they are naturally
inclined to make an ostentatious display of their strength. Yet our
spies have seen nothing but old age and infirmity. This is surely some
_ruse_ on the part of the enemy, and it would be unwise for us to
attack.’ The Emperor, however, disregarding this advice, fell into the
trap and found himself surrounded at Po-teng.”]

19. Thus one who is skilful at keeping the enemy on the move maintains
deceitful appearances, according to which the enemy will act.
[Ts’ao Kung’s note is "Make a display of weakness and want." Tu Mu
says: "If our force happens to be superior to the enemy’s, weakness may
be simulated in order to lure him on; but if inferior, he must be led
to believe that we are strong, in order that he may keep off. In fact,
all the enemy’s movements should be determined by the signs that we
choose to give him." Note the following anecdote of Sun Pin, a
descendent of Sun Wu: In 341 B.C., the Ch’i State being at war with
Wei, sent T’ien Chi and Sun Pin against the general P’ang Chuan, who
happened to be a deadly personal enemy of the later. Sun Pin said: "The
Ch’i State has a reputation for cowardice, and therefore our adversary
despises us. Let us turn this circumstance to account." Accordingly,
when the army had crossed the border into Wei territory, he gave orders
to show 100,000 fires on the first night, 50,000 on the next, and the
night after only 20,000. P’ang Chuan pursued them hotly, saying to
himself: "I knew these men of Ch’i were cowards: their numbers have
already fallen away by more than half." In his retreat, Sun Pin came to
a narrow defile, which he calculated that his pursuers would reach
after dark. Here he had a tree stripped of its bark, and inscribed upon
it the words: "Under this tree shall P’ang Chuan die." Then, as night
began to fall, he placed a strong body of archers in ambush near by,
with orders to shoot directly if they saw a light. Later on, P’ang
Chuan arrived at the spot, and noticing the tree, struck a light in
order to read what was written on it. His body was immediately riddled
by a volley of arrows, and his whole army thrown into confusion. [The
above is Tu Mu’s version of the story; the _Shih Chi_, less
dramatically but probably with more historical truth, makes P’ang Chuan
cut his own throat with an exclamation of despair, after the rout of
his army.] ]

He sacrifices something, that the enemy may snatch at it.
20. By holding out baits, he keeps him on the march; then with a body
of picked men he lies in wait for him.
[With an emendation suggested by Li Ching, this then reads, "He lies in
wait with the main body of his troops."]

21. The clever combatant looks to the effect of combined energy, and
does not require too much from individuals.
[Tu Mu says: "He first of all considers the power of his army in the
bulk; afterwards he takes individual talent into account, and uses each
men according to his capabilities. He does not demand perfection from
the untalented."]

Hence his ability to pick out the right men and utilise combined
22. When he utilises 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.
[Ts’au Kung calls this "the use of natural or inherent power."]

23. 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.
[The chief lesson of this chapter, in Tu Mu’s opinion, is the paramount
importance in war of rapid evolutions and sudden rushes. "Great
results," he adds, "can thus be achieved with small forces."]

[1] "Forty-one Years in India," chapter 46.

[Chang Yu attempts to explain the sequence of chapters as follows:
"Chapter IV, on Tactical Dispositions, treated of the offensive and the
defensive; chapter V, on Energy, dealt with direct and indirect
methods. The good general acquaints himself first with the theory of
attack and defence, and then turns his attention to direct and indirect
methods. He studies the art of varying and combining these two methods
before proceeding to the subject of weak and strong points. For the use
of direct or indirect methods arises out of attack and defence, and the
perception of weak and strong points depends again on the above
methods. Hence the present chapter comes immediately after the chapter
on Energy."]

1. Sun Tzŭ 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.
2. Therefore the clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but
does not allow the enemy’s will to be imposed on him.
[One mark of a great soldier is that he fight on his own terms or
fights not at all. [1] ]

3. By holding out advantages to him, he can cause the enemy to approach
of his own accord; or, by inflicting damage, he can make it impossible
for the enemy to draw near.
[In the first case, he will entice him with a bait; in the second, he
will strike at some important point which the enemy will have to

4. If the enemy is taking his ease, he can harass him;
[This passage may be cited as evidence against Mei Yao- Ch’en’s
interpretation of I. § 23.]

if well supplied with food, he can starve him out; if quietly encamped,
he can force him to move.
5. Appear at points which the enemy must hasten to defend; march
swiftly to places where you are not expected.
6. An army may march great distances without distress, if it marches
through country where the enemy is not.
[Ts’ao Kung sums up very well: "Emerge from the void [q.d. like "a bolt
from the blue"], strike at vulnerable points, shun places that are
defended, attack in unexpected quarters."]

7. You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack
places which are undefended.
[Wang Hsi explains "undefended places" as "weak points; that is to say,
where the general is lacking in capacity, or the soldiers in spirit;
where the walls are not strong enough, or the precautions not strict
enough; where relief comes too late, or provisions are too scanty, or
the defenders are variance amongst themselves."]

You can ensure the safety of your defence if you only hold positions
that cannot be attacked.
[_I.e._, where there are none of the weak points mentioned above. There
is rather a nice point involved in the interpretation of this later
clause. Tu Mu, Ch’en Hao, and Mei Yao-ch’en assume the meaning to be:
"In order to make your defence quite safe, you must defend _even_ those
places that are not likely to be attacked;" and Tu Mu adds: "How much
more, then, those that will be attacked." Taken thus, however, the
clause balances less well with the preceding—always a consideration in
the highly antithetical style which is natural to the Chinese. Chang
Yu, therefore, seems to come nearer the mark in saying: "He who is
skilled in attack flashes forth from the topmost heights of heaven [see
IV. § 7], making it impossible for the enemy to guard against him. This
being so, the places that I shall attack are precisely those that the
enemy cannot defend…. He who is skilled in defence hides in the most
secret recesses of the earth, making it impossible for the enemy to