The Art of War - 06

estimate his whereabouts. This being so, the places that I shall hold
are precisely those that the enemy cannot attack."]

8. Hence that general is skilful in attack whose opponent does not
know what to defend; and he is skilful in defence whose opponent does
not know what to attack.
[An aphorism which puts the whole art of war in a nutshell.]

9. O divine art of subtlety and secrecy! Through you we learn to be
invisible, through you inaudible;
[Literally, "without form or sound," but it is said of course with
reference to the enemy.]

and hence we can hold the enemy’s fate in our hands.
10. You may advance and be absolutely irresistible, if you make for the
enemy’s weak points; you may retire and be safe from pursuit if your
movements are more rapid than those of the enemy.
11. If we wish to fight, the enemy can be forced to an engagement even
though he be sheltered behind a high rampart and a deep ditch. All we
need do is attack some other place that he will be obliged to relieve.
[Tu Mu says: "If the enemy is the invading party, we can cut his line
of communications and occupy the roads by which he will have to return;
if we are the invaders, we may direct our attack against the sovereign
himself." It is clear that Sun Tzŭ, unlike certain generals in the late
Boer war, was no believer in frontal attacks.]

12. If we do not wish to fight, we can prevent the enemy from engaging
us even though the lines of our encampment be merely traced out on the
ground. All we need do is to throw something odd and unaccountable in
his way.
[This extremely concise expression is intelligibly paraphrased by Chia
Lin: "even though we have constructed neither wall nor ditch." Li
Ch’uan says: "we puzzle him by strange and unusual dispositions;" and
Tu Mu finally clinches the meaning by three illustrative anecdotes—one
of Chu-ko Liang, who when occupying Yang-p’ing and about to be attacked
by Ssu-ma I, suddenly struck his colors, stopped the beating of the
drums, and flung open the city gates, showing only a few men engaged in
sweeping and sprinkling the ground. This unexpected proceeding had the
intended effect; for Ssu-ma I, suspecting an ambush, actually drew off
his army and retreated. What Sun Tzŭ is advocating here, therefore, is
nothing more nor less than the timely use of "bluff."]

13. By discovering the enemy’s dispositions and remaining invisible
ourselves, we can keep our forces concentrated, while the enemy’s must
be divided.
[The conclusion is perhaps not very obvious, but Chang Yu (after Mei
Yao-ch’en) rightly explains it thus: "If the enemy’s dispositions are
visible, we can make for him in one body; whereas, our own dispositions
being kept secret, the enemy will be obliged to divide his forces in
order to guard against attack from every quarter."]

14. We can form a single united body, while the enemy must split up
into fractions. Hence there will be a whole pitted against separate
parts of a whole, which means that we shall be many to the enemy’s few.
15. And if we are able thus to attack an inferior force with a superior
one, our opponents will be in dire straits.
16. The spot where we intend to fight must not be made known; for then
the enemy will have to prepare against a possible attack at several
different points;
[Sheridan once explained the reason of General Grant’s victories by
saying that "while his opponents were kept fully employed wondering
what he was going to do, _he_ was thinking most of what he was going to
do himself."]

and his forces being thus distributed in many directions, the numbers
we shall have to face at any given point will be proportionately few.
17. For should the enemy strengthen his van, he will weaken his rear;
should he strengthen his rear, he will weaken his van; should he
strengthen his left, he will weaken his right; should he strengthen his
right, he will weaken his left. If he sends reinforcements everywhere,
he will everywhere be weak.
[In Frederick the Great’s _Instructions to his Generals_ we read: "A
defensive war is apt to betray us into too frequent detachment. Those
generals who have had but little experience attempt to protect every
point, while those who are better acquainted with their profession,
having only the capital object in view, guard against a decisive blow,
and acquiesce in small misfortunes to avoid greater."]

18. Numerical weakness comes from having to prepare against possible
attacks; numerical strength, from compelling our adversary to make
these preparations against us.
[The highest generalship, in Col. Henderson’s words, is "to compel the
enemy to disperse his army, and then to concentrate superior force
against each fraction in turn."]

19. Knowing the place and the time of the coming battle, we may
concentrate from the greatest distances in order to fight.
[What Sun Tzŭ evidently has in mind is that nice calculation of
distances and that masterly employment of strategy which enable a
general to divide his army for the purpose of a long and rapid march,
and afterwards to effect a junction at precisely the right spot and the
right hour in order to confront the enemy in overwhelming strength.
Among many such successful junctions which military history records,
one of the most dramatic and decisive was the appearance of Blucher
just at the critical moment on the field of Waterloo.]

20. But if neither time nor place be known, then the left wing will be
impotent to succour the right, the right equally impotent to succour the
left, the van unable to relieve the rear, or the rear to support the
van. How much more so if the furthest portions of the army are anything
under a hundred _li_ apart, and even the nearest are separated by
several _li_!
[The Chinese of this last sentence is a little lacking in precision,
but the mental picture we are required to draw is probably that of an
army advancing towards a given rendezvous in separate columns, each of
which has orders to be there on a fixed date. If the general allows the
various detachments to proceed at haphazard, without precise
instructions as to the time and place of meeting, the enemy will be
able to annihilate the army in detail. Chang Yu’s note may be worth
quoting here: "If we do not know the place where our opponents mean to
concentrate or the day on which they will join battle, our unity will
be forfeited through our preparations for defence, and the positions we
hold will be insecure. Suddenly happening upon a powerful foe, we shall
be brought to battle in a flurried condition, and no mutual support
will be possible between wings, vanguard or rear, especially if there
is any great distance between the foremost and hindmost divisions of
the army."]

21. Though according to my estimate the soldiers of Yüeh exceed our own
in number, that shall advantage them nothing in the matter of victory.
I say then that victory can be achieved.
[Alas for these brave words! The long feud between the two states ended
in 473 B.C. with the total defeat of Wu by Kou Chien and its
incorporation in Yüeh. This was doubtless long after Sun Tzŭ’s death.
With his present assertion compare IV. § 4. Chang Yu is the only one to
point out the seeming discrepancy, which he thus goes on to explain:
"In the chapter on Tactical Dispositions it is said, ‘One may _know_
how to conquer without being able to _do_ it,’ whereas here we have the
statement that ‘victory’ can be achieved.’ The explanation is, that in
the former chapter, where the offensive and defensive are under
discussion, it is said that if the enemy is fully prepared, one cannot
make certain of beating him. But the present passage refers
particularly to the soldiers of Yüeh who, according to Sun Tzŭ’s
calculations, will be kept in ignorance of the time and place of the
impending struggle. That is why he says here that victory can be

22. Though the enemy be stronger in numbers, we may prevent him from
fighting. Scheme so as to discover his plans and the likelihood of
their success.
[An alternative reading offered by Chia Lin is: "Know beforehand all
plans conducive to our success and to the enemy’s failure."

23. Rouse him, and learn the principle of his activity or inactivity.
[Chang Yu tells us that by noting the joy or anger shown by the enemy
on being thus disturbed, we shall be able to conclude whether his
policy is to lie low or the reverse. He instances the action of Cho-ku
Liang, who sent the scornful present of a woman’s head-dress to Ssu-ma
I, in order to goad him out of his Fabian tactics.]

Force him to reveal himself, so as to find out his vulnerable spots.
24. Carefully compare the opposing army with your own, so that you may
know where strength is superabundant and where it is deficient.
[Cf. IV. § 6.]

25. In making tactical dispositions, the highest pitch you can attain
is to conceal them;
[The piquancy of the paradox evaporates in translation. Concealment is
perhaps not so much actual invisibility (see _supra_ § 9) as "showing
no sign" of what you mean to do, of the plans that are formed in your

conceal your dispositions, and you will be safe from the prying of the
subtlest spies, from the machinations of the wisest brains.
[Tu Mu explains: "Though the enemy may have clever and capable
officers, they will not be able to lay any plans against us."]

26. How victory may be produced for them out of the enemy’s own
tactics—that is what the multitude cannot comprehend.
27. All men can see the tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can
see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.
[_I.e._, everybody can see superficially how a battle is won; what they
cannot see is the long series of plans and combinations which has
preceded the battle.]

28. Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but
let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances.
[As Wang Hsi sagely remarks: "There is but one root-principle
underlying victory, but the tactics which lead up to it are infinite in
number." With this compare Col. Henderson: "The rules of strategy are
few and simple. They may be learned in a week. They may be taught by
familiar illustrations or a dozen diagrams. But such knowledge will no
more teach a man to lead an army like Napoleon than a knowledge of
grammar will teach him to write like Gibbon."]

29. Military tactics are like unto water; for water in its natural
course runs away from high places and hastens downwards.
30. So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what
is weak.
[Like water, taking the line of least resistance.]

31. Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over
which it flows; the soldier works out his victory in relation to the
foe whom he is facing.
32. Therefore, just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare
there are no constant conditions.
33. He who can modify his tactics in relation to his opponent and
thereby succeed in winning, may be called a heaven-born captain.
34. The five elements (water, fire, wood, metal, earth) are not always
equally predominant;
[That is, as Wang Hsi says: "they predominate alternately."]

the four seasons make way for each other in turn.
[Literally, "have no invariable seat."]

There are short days and long; the moon has its periods of waning and
[Cf. V. § 6. The purport of the passage is simply to illustrate the
want of fixity in war by the changes constantly taking place in Nature.
The comparison is not very happy, however, because the regularity of
the phenomena which Sun Tzŭ mentions is by no means paralleled in war.]

[1] See Col. Henderson’s biography of Stonewall Jackson, 1902 ed., vol.
II, p. 490.

1. Sun Tzŭ said: In war, the general receives his commands from the
2. Having collected an army and concentrated his forces, he must blend
and harmonise the different elements thereof before pitching his camp.
["Chang Yu says: "the establishment of harmony and confidence between
the higher and lower ranks before venturing into the field;" and he
quotes a saying of Wu Tzŭ (chap. 1 ad init.): "Without harmony in the
State, no military expedition can be undertaken; without harmony in the
army, no battle array can be formed." In an historical romance Sun Tzŭ
is represented as saying to Wu Yuan: "As a general rule, those who are
waging war should get rid of all the domestic troubles before
proceeding to attack the external foe."]

3. After that, comes tactical manœuvering, than which there is nothing
more difficult.
[I have departed slightly from the traditional interpretation of Ts’ao
Kung, who says: "From the time of receiving the sovereign’s
instructions until our encampment over against the enemy, the tactics
to be pursued are most difficult." It seems to me that the tactics or
manœuvers can hardly be said to begin until the army has sallied forth
and encamped, and Ch’ien Hao’s note gives color to this view: "For
levying, concentrating, harmonizing and entrenching an army, there are
plenty of old rules which will serve. The real difficulty comes when we
engage in tactical operations." Tu Yu also observes that "the great
difficulty is to be beforehand with the enemy in seizing favourable

The difficulty of tactical manœuvering consists in turning the devious
into the direct, and misfortune into gain.
[This sentence contains one of those highly condensed and somewhat
enigmatical expressions of which Sun Tzŭ is so fond. This is how it is
explained by Ts’ao Kung: "Make it appear that you are a long way off,
then cover the distance rapidly and arrive on the scene before your
opponent." Tu Mu says: "Hoodwink the enemy, so that he may be remiss
and leisurely while you are dashing along with utmost speed." Ho Shih
gives a slightly different turn: "Although you may have difficult
ground to traverse and natural obstacles to encounter this is a
drawback which can be turned into actual advantage by celerity of
movement." Signal examples of this saying are afforded by the two
famous passages across the Alps—that of Hannibal, which laid Italy at
his mercy, and that of Napoleon two thousand years later, which
resulted in the great victory of Marengo.]

4. Thus, to take a long and circuitous route, after enticing the enemy
out of the way, and though starting after him, to contrive to reach the
goal before him, shows knowledge of the artifice of _deviation_.
[Tu Mu cites the famous march of Chao She in 270 B.C. to relieve the
town of O-yu, which was closely invested by a Ch’in army. The King of
Chao first consulted Lien P’o on the advisability of attempting a
relief, but the latter thought the distance too great, and the
intervening country too rugged and difficult. His Majesty then turned
to Chao She, who fully admitted the hazardous nature of the march, but
finally said: "We shall be like two rats fighting in a whole—and the
pluckier one will win!" So he left the capital with his army, but had
only gone a distance of 30 _li_ when he stopped and began throwing up
entrenchments. For 28 days he continued strengthening his
fortifications, and took care that spies should carry the intelligence
to the enemy. The Ch’in general was overjoyed, and attributed his
adversary’s tardiness to the fact that the beleaguered city was in the
Han State, and thus not actually part of Chao territory. But the spies
had no sooner departed than Chao She began a forced march lasting for
two days and one night, and arrive on the scene of action with such
astonishing rapidity that he was able to occupy a commanding position
on the "North hill" before the enemy had got wind of his movements. A
crushing defeat followed for the Ch’in forces, who were obliged to
raise the siege of O-yu in all haste and retreat across the border.]

5. Manœuvering with an army is advantageous; with an undisciplined
multitude, most dangerous.
[I adopt the reading of the _T’ung Tien_, Cheng Yu-hsien and the _T’u
Shu_, since they appear to apply the exact nuance required in order to
make sense. The commentators using the standard text take this line to
mean that manœuvers may be profitable, or they may be dangerous: it all
depends on the ability of the general.]

6. If you set a fully equipped army in march in order to snatch an
advantage, the chances are that you will be too late. On the other
hand, to detach a flying column for the purpose involves the sacrifice
of its baggage and stores.
[Some of the Chinese text is unintelligible to the Chinese
commentators, who paraphrase the sentence. I submit my own rendering
without much enthusiasm, being convinced that there is some deep-seated
corruption in the text. On the whole, it is clear that Sun Tzŭ does not
approve of a lengthy march being undertaken without supplies. Cf.
infra, § 11.]

7. Thus, if you order your men to roll up their buff-coats, and make
forced marches without halting day or night, covering double the usual
distance at a stretch,
[The ordinary day’s march, according to Tu Mu, was 30 _li_; but on one
occasion, when pursuing Liu Pei, Ts’ao Ts’ao is said to have covered
the incredible distance of 300 _li_ within twenty-four hours.]

doing a hundred _li_ in order to wrest an advantage, the leaders of all
your three divisions will fall into the hands of the enemy.
8. The stronger men will be in front, the jaded ones will fall behind,
and on this plan only one-tenth of your army will reach its
[The moral is, as Ts’ao Kung and others point out: Don’t march a
hundred _li_ to gain a tactical advantage, either with or without
impedimenta. Manœuvers of this description should be confined to short
distances. Stonewall Jackson said: "The hardships of forced marches are
often more painful than the dangers of battle." He did not often call
upon his troops for extraordinary exertions. It was only when he
intended a surprise, or when a rapid retreat was imperative, that he
sacrificed everything for speed. [1] ]

9. If you march fifty _li_ in order to outmanœuver the enemy, you will
lose the leader of your first division, and only half your force will
reach the goal.
[Literally, "the leader of the first division will be _torn away_."]

10. If you march thirty _li_ with the same object, two-thirds of your
army will arrive.
[In the _T’ung Tien_ is added: "From this we may know the difficulty of

11. We may take it then that an army without its baggage-train is lost;
without provisions it is lost; without bases of supply it is lost.
[I think Sun Tzŭ meant "stores accumulated in dépôts." But Tu Yu says
"fodder and the like," Chang Yu says "Goods in general," and Wang Hsi
says "fuel, salt, foodstuffs, etc."]

12. We cannot enter into alliances until we are acquainted with the
designs of our neighbours.
13. We are not fit to lead an army on the march unless we are familiar
with the face of the country—its mountains and forests, its pitfalls
and precipices, its marshes and swamps.
14. We shall be unable to turn natural advantages to account unless we
make use of local guides.
[§§. 12-14 are repeated in chap. XI. § 52.]

15. In war, practise dissimulation, and you will succeed.
[In the tactics of Turenne, deception of the enemy, especially as to
the numerical strength of his troops, took a very prominent position.
[2] ]
Move only if there is a real advantage to be gained.
16. Whether to concentrate or to divide your troops, must be decided by
17. Let your rapidity be that of the wind,
[The simile is doubly appropriate, because the wind is not only swift
but, as Mei Yao-ch’en points out, "invisible and leaves no tracks."]

your compactness that of the forest.
[Meng Shih comes nearer to the mark in his note: "When slowly marching,
order and ranks must be preserved"—so as to guard against surprise
attacks. But natural forest do not grow in rows, whereas they do
generally possess the quality of density or compactness.]

18. In raiding and plundering be like fire,
[Cf. _Shih Ching_, IV. 3. iv. 6: "Fierce as a blazing fire which no man
can check."]

in immovability like a mountain.
[That is, when holding a position from which the enemy is trying to
dislodge you, or perhaps, as Tu Yu says, when he is trying to entice
you into a trap.]

19. Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you
move, fall like a thunderbolt.
[Tu Yu quotes a saying of T’ai Kung which has passed into a proverb:
"You cannot shut your ears to the thunder or your eyes to the
lighting—so rapid are they." Likewise, an attack should be made so
quickly that it cannot be parried.]

20. When you plunder a countryside, let the spoil be divided amongst
your men;
[Sun Tzŭ wishes to lessen the abuses of indiscriminate plundering by
insisting that all booty shall be thrown into a common stock, which may
afterwards be fairly divided amongst all.]

when you capture new territory, cut it up into allotments for the
benefit of the soldiery.
[Ch’en Hao says "quarter your soldiers on the land, and let them sow
and plant it." It is by acting on this principle, and harvesting the
lands they invaded, that the Chinese have succeeded in carrying out
some of their most memorable and triumphant expeditions, such as that
of Pan Ch’ao who penetrated to the Caspian, and in more recent years,
those of Fu-k’ang-an and Tso Tsung-t’ang.]

21. Ponder and deliberate before you make a move.
[Chang Yu quotes Wei Liao Tzŭ as saying that we must not break camp
until we have gained the resisting power of the enemy and the
cleverness of the opposing general. Cf. the "seven comparisons" in I. §

22. He will conquer who has learnt the artifice of deviation.
[See _supra_, §§ 3, 4.]

Such is the art of manœuvering.
[With these words, the chapter would naturally come to an end. But
there now follows a long appendix in the shape of an extract from an
earlier book on War, now lost, but apparently extant at the time when
Sun Tzŭ wrote. The style of this fragment is not noticeably different
from that of Sun Tzŭ himself, but no commentator raises a doubt as to
its genuineness.]

23. The Book of Army Management says:
[It is perhaps significant that none of the earlier commentators give
us any information about this work. Mei Yao- Ch’en calls it "an ancient
military classic," and Wang Hsi, "an old book on war." Considering the
enormous amount of fighting that had gone on for centuries before Sun
Tzŭ’s time between the various kingdoms and principalities of China, it
is not in itself improbable that a collection of military maxims should
have been made and written down at some earlier period.]

On the field of battle,
[Implied, though not actually in the Chinese.]

the spoken word does not carry far enough: hence the institution of
gongs and drums. Nor can ordinary objects be seen clearly enough: hence
the institution of banners and flags.
24. Gongs and drums, banners and flags, are means whereby the ears and
eyes of the host may be focussed on one particular point.
[Chang Yu says: "If sight and hearing converge simultaneously on the
same object, the evolutions of as many as a million soldiers will be
like those of a single man."!]

25. The host thus forming a single united body, is it impossible either
for the brave to advance alone, or for the cowardly to retreat alone.
[Chuang Yu quotes a saying: "Equally guilty are those who advance
against orders and those who retreat against orders." Tu Mu tells a
story in this connection of Wu Ch’i, when he was fighting against the
Ch’in State. Before the battle had begun, one of his soldiers, a man of
matchless daring, sallied forth by himself, captured two heads from the
enemy, and returned to camp. Wu Ch’i had the man instantly executed,
whereupon an officer ventured to remonstrate, saying: "This man was a
good soldier, and ought not to have been beheaded." Wu Ch’i replied: "I
fully believe he was a good soldier, but I had him beheaded because he
acted without orders."]

This is the art of handling large masses of men.
26. In night-fighting, then, make much use of signal-fires and drums,
and in fighting by day, of flags and banners, as a means of influencing
the ears and eyes of your army.
[Ch’en Hao alludes to Li Kuang-pi’s night ride to Ho-yang at the head
of 500 mounted men; they made such an imposing display with torches,
that though the rebel leader Shih Ssu-ming had a large army, he did not
dare to dispute their passage.]

27. A whole army may be robbed of its spirit;
["In war," says Chang Yu, "if a spirit of anger can be made to pervade
all ranks of an army at one and the same time, its onset will be
irresistible. Now the spirit of the enemy’s soldiers will be keenest
when they have newly arrived on the scene, and it is therefore our cue
not to fight at once, but to wait until their ardor and enthusiasm have
worn off, and then strike. It is in this way that they may be robbed of
their keen spirit." Li Ch’uan and others tell an anecdote (to be found
in the _Tso Chuan_, year 10, § 1) of Ts’ao Kuei, a protege of Duke
Chuang of Lu. The latter State was attacked by Ch’i, and the duke was
about to join battle at Ch’ang-cho, after the first roll of the enemy’s
drums, when Ts’ao said: "Not just yet." Only after their drums had
beaten for the third time, did he give the word for attack. Then they
fought, and the men of Ch’i were utterly defeated. Questioned
afterwards by the Duke as to the meaning of his delay, Ts’ao Kuei
replied: "In battle, a courageous spirit is everything. Now the first
roll of the drum tends to create this spirit, but with the second it is
already on the wane, and after the third it is gone altogether. I
attacked when their spirit was gone and ours was at its height. Hence
our victory." Wu Tzŭ (chap. 4) puts "spirit" first among the "four
important influences" in war, and continues: "The value of a whole
army—a mighty host of a million men—is dependent on one man alone: such
is the influence of spirit!"]

a commander-in-chief may be robbed of his presence of mind.
[Chang Yu says: "Presence of mind is the general’s most important
asset. It is the quality which enables him to discipline disorder and
to inspire courage into the panic-stricken." The great general Li Ching
(A.D. 571-649) has a saying: "Attacking does not merely consist in
assaulting walled cities or striking at an army in battle array; it
must include the art of assailing the enemy’s mental equilibrium."]

28. Now a soldier’s spirit is keenest in the morning;
[Always provided, I suppose, that he has had breakfast. At the battle
of the Trebia, the Romans were foolishly allowed to fight fasting,
whereas Hannibal’s men had breakfasted at their leisure. See Livy, XXI,
liv. 8, lv. 1 and 8.]

by noonday it has begun to flag; and in the evening, his mind is bent
only on returning to camp.
29. A clever general, therefore, avoids an army when its spirit is
keen, but attacks it when it is sluggish and inclined to return. This
is the art of studying moods.
30. Disciplined and calm, to await the appearance of disorder and
hubbub amongst the enemy:—this is the art of retaining self-possession.
31. To be near the goal while the enemy is still far from it, to wait
at ease while the enemy is toiling and struggling, to be well-fed while
the enemy is famished:—this is the art of husbanding one’s strength.