Sun Tzu on the Art of War
The Oldest Military Treatise in the World
Translated from the Chinese
by Lionel Giles, M.A. (1910)
- LAYING PLANS
- Sun Tzu said: 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 taken into account in one's deliberations,
when seeking to determine the conditions obtaining in the field.
- These are:
- The Moral Law;
- The Commander;
- Method and discipline.
- 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.
- Heaven signifies night and day, cold and heat,
times and seasons.
- Earth comprises distances, great and small;
danger and security; open ground and narrow passes;
the chances of life and death.
- The Commander stands for the virtues of wisdom,
sincerely, 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 most ability?
- With whom lie the advantages derived from Heaven
- 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 I can
forecast victory or defeat.
- The general that hearkens 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 heading the profit of my counsel,
avail yourself also of any helpful circumstances
over and beyond the ordinary rules.
- According as circumstances are favorable,
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 ere the battle is fought.
The general who loses a battle makes but few
calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations
lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat:
how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention
to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.
- WAGING WAR
- Sun Tzu said: In the operations of war,
where there are in the field a thousand swift chariots,
as many heavy chariots, and a hundred thousand
mail-clad soldiers, with provisions enough to carry them
a thousand li, the expenditure at home and at the front,
including entertainment of guests, small items such as
glue and paint, and sums spent on chariots and armor,
will reach the total of a thousand ounces of silver per day.
Such is the cost of raising an army of 100,000 men.
- When you engage in actual fighting, if victory
is long in coming, then men's weapons will grow dull and
their ardor will be damped. If you lay siege to a town,
you will exhaust your strength.
- Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources
of the State will not be equal to the strain.
- Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardor damped,
your strength exhausted and your treasure spent,
other chieftains will spring up to take advantage
of your extremity. Then no man, however wise,
will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue.
- Thus, though we have heard of stupid haste in war,
cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays.
- There is no instance of a country having benefited
from prolonged warfare.
- It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted
with the evils of war that can thoroughly understand
the profitable way of carrying it on.
- The skillful soldier does not raise a second levy,
neither are his supply-wagons loaded more than twice.
- Bring war material with you from home, but forage
on the enemy. Thus the army will have food enough
for its needs.
- Poverty of the State exchequer causes an army
to be maintained by contributions from a distance.
Contributing to maintain an army at a distance causes
the people to be impoverished.
- On the other hand, the proximity of an army causes
prices to go up; and high prices cause the people's
substance to be drained away.
- When their substance is drained away, the peasantry
will be afflicted by heavy exactions.
- With this loss of substance and exhaustion
of strength, the homes of the people will be stripped bare,
and three-tenths of their income will be dissipated;
while government expenses for broken chariots, worn-out horses,
breast-plates and helmets, bows and arrows, spears and shields,
protective mantles, draught-oxen and heavy wagons,
will amount to four-tenths of its total revenue.
- Hence a wise general makes a point of foraging
on the enemy. One cartload of the enemy's provisions
is equivalent to twenty of one's own, and likewise
a single picul of his provender is equivalent to twenty
from one's own store.
- Now in order to kill the enemy, our men must
be roused to anger; that there may be advantage from
defeating the enemy, they must have their rewards.
- Therefore in chariot fighting, when ten or more chariots
have been taken, those should be rewarded who took the first.
Our own flags should be substituted for those of the enemy,
and the chariots mingled and used in conjunction with ours.
The captured soldiers should be kindly treated and kept.
- This is called, using the conquered foe to augment
one's own strength.
- In war, then, let your great object be victory,
not lengthy campaigns.
- Thus it may be known that the leader of armies
is the arbiter of the people's fate, the man on whom it
depends whether the nation shall be in peace or in peril.
- ATTACK BY STRATAGEM
- Sun Tzu said: In the practical art of war, the best
thing of all is to take the enemy's country whole and intact;
to shatter and destroy it is not so good. So, too, it is
better to recapture an army entire than to destroy it,
to capture a regiment, a detachment or a company entire
than to destroy them.
- Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles
is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists
in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.
- Thus the highest form of generalship is to
balk the enemy's plans; the next best is to prevent
the junction of the enemy's forces; the next in
order is to attack the enemy's army in the field;
and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities.
- The rule is, not to besiege walled cities if it
can possibly be avoided. The preparation of mantlets,
movable shelters, and various implements of war, will take
up three whole months; and the piling up of mounds over
against the walls will take three months more.
- The general, unable to control his irritation,
will launch his men to the assault like swarming ants,
with the result that one-third of his men are slain,
while the town still remains untaken. Such are the disastrous
effects of a siege.
- Therefore the skillful leader subdues the enemy's
troops without any fighting; he captures their cities
without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom
without lengthy operations in the field.
- With his forces intact he will dispute the mastery
of the Empire, and thus, without losing a man, his triumph
will be complete. This is the method of attacking by stratagem.
- It is the rule in war, if our forces are ten
to the enemy's one, to surround him; if five to one,
to attack him; if twice as numerous, to divide our army
- If equally matched, we can offer battle;
if slightly inferior in numbers, we can avoid the enemy;
if quite unequal in every way, we can flee from him.
- Hence, though an obstinate fight may be made
by a small force, in the end it must be captured
by the larger force.
- Now the general is the bulwark of the State;
if the bulwark is complete at all points; the State will
be strong; if the bulwark is defective, the State will
- There are three ways in which a ruler can bring
misfortune upon his army:--
- By commanding the army to advance or to retreat,
being ignorant of the fact that it cannot obey.
This is called hobbling the army.
- By attempting to govern an army in the
same way as he administers a kingdom, being ignorant
of the conditions which obtain in an army. This causes
restlessness in the soldier's minds.
- By employing the officers of his army
without discrimination, through ignorance of the
military principle of adaptation to circumstances.
This shakes the confidence of the soldiers.
- But when the army is restless and distrustful,
trouble is sure to come from the other feudal princes.
This is simply bringing anarchy into the army, and flinging
- Thus we may know that there are five essentials
- He will win who knows when to fight and when
not to fight.
- He will win who knows how to handle both superior
and inferior forces.
- He will win whose army is animated by the same
spirit throughout all its ranks.
- He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take
the enemy unprepared.
- He will win who has military capacity and is
not interfered with by the sovereign.
- 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.
If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will
succumb in every battle.
- TACTICAL DISPOSITIONS
- Sun Tzu said: The good fighters of old first put
themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then
waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy.
- To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our
own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy
is provided by the enemy himself.
- Thus the good fighter is able to secure himself against defeat,
but cannot make certain of defeating the enemy.
- Hence the saying: One may know how to conquer
without being able to do it.
- Security against defeat implies defensive tactics;
ability to defeat the enemy means taking the offensive.
- Standing on the defensive indicates insufficient
strength; attacking, a superabundance of strength.
- The general who is skilled in defense hides in the
most secret recesses of the earth; he who is skilled in
attack flashes forth from the topmost heights of heaven.
Thus on the one hand we have ability to protect ourselves;
on the other, a victory that is complete.
- To see victory only when it is within the ken
of the common herd is not the acme of excellence.
- Neither is it the acme of excellence if you fight
and conquer and the whole Empire says, "Well done!"
- To lift an autumn hair is no sign of great strength;
to see the sun and moon is no sign of sharp sight;
to hear the noise of thunder is no sign of a quick ear.
- What the ancients called a clever fighter is
one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease.
- Hence his victories bring him neither reputation
for wisdom nor credit for courage.
- He wins his battles by making no mistakes.
Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty
of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is
- Hence the skillful fighter puts himself into
a position which makes defeat impossible, and does
not miss the moment for defeating the enemy.
- 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.
- The consummate leader cultivates the moral law,
and strictly adheres to method and discipline; thus it is
in his power to control success.
- In respect of military method, we have,
firstly, Measurement; secondly, Estimation of quantity;
thirdly, Calculation; fourthly, Balancing of chances;
- 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.
- A victorious army opposed to a routed one, is as
a pound's weight placed in the scale against a single grain.
- The onrush of a conquering force is like the bursting
of pent-up waters into a chasm a thousand fathoms deep.
- Sun Tzu 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 numbers.
- 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.
- To ensure that your whole host may withstand
the brunt of the enemy's attack and remain unshaken--
this is effected by maneuvers direct and indirect.
- 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.
- In all fighting, the direct method may be used
for joining battle, but indirect methods will be needed
in order to secure victory.
- 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.
- There are not more than five musical notes,
yet the combinations of these five give rise to more
melodies than can ever be heard.
- There are not more than five primary colors
(blue, yellow, red, white, and black), yet in combination
they produce more hues than can ever been seen.
- There are not more than five cardinal tastes
(sour, acrid, salt, sweet, bitter), yet combinations
of them yield more flavors than can ever be tasted.
- 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 maneuvers.
- 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?
- The onset of troops is like the rush of a torrent
which will even roll stones along in its course.
- The quality of decision is like the well-timed
swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy
- Therefore the good fighter will be terrible
in his onset, and prompt in his decision.
- Energy may be likened to the bending of a crossbow;
decision, to the releasing of a trigger.
- 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 defeat.
- Simulated disorder postulates perfect discipline,
simulated fear postulates courage; simulated weakness
- Hiding order beneath the cloak of disorder is
simply a question of subdivision; concealing courage under
a show of timidity presupposes a fund of latent energy;
masking strength with weakness is to be effected
by tactical dispositions.
- Thus one who is skillful at keeping the enemy
on the move maintains deceitful appearances, according to
which the enemy will act. He sacrifices something,
that the enemy may snatch at it.
- By holding out baits, he keeps him on the march;
then with a body of picked men he lies in wait for him.
- The clever combatant looks to the effect of combined
energy, and does not require too much from individuals.
Hence his ability to pick out the right men and utilize
- When he utilizes 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.
- 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
- WEAK POINTS AND STRONG
- Sun Tzu 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.
- Therefore the clever combatant imposes his will on
the enemy, but does not allow the enemy's will to be imposed on him.
- 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.
- If the enemy is taking his ease, he can harass him;
if well supplied with food, he can starve him out;
if quietly encamped, he can force him to move.
- Appear at points which the enemy must hasten to defend;
march swiftly to places where you are not expected.
- An army may march great distances without distress,
if it marches through country where the enemy is not.
- You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks
if you only attack places which are undefended.You can
ensure the safety of your defense if you only hold
positions that cannot be attacked.
- 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.
- O divine art of subtlety and secrecy! Through you
we learn to be invisible, through you inaudible;
and hence we can hold the enemy's fate in our hands.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- By discovering the enemy's dispositions and remaining
invisible ourselves, we can keep our forces concentrated,
while the enemy's must be divided.
- 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.
- And if we are able thus to attack an inferior force
with a superior one, our opponents will be in dire straits.
- 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;
and his forces being thus distributed in many directions,
the numbers we shall have to face at any given point will
be proportionately few.
- 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.
- Numerical weakness comes from having to prepare
against possible attacks; numerical strength, from compelling
our adversary to make these preparations against us.
- Knowing the place and the time of the coming battle,
we may concentrate from the greatest distances in order
- But if neither time nor place be known,
then the left wing will be impotent to succor the right,
the right equally impotent to succor 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!
- Though according to my estimate the soldiers
of Yueh exceed our own in number, that shall advantage
them nothing in the matter of victory. I say then
that victory can be achieved.
- 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.
- Rouse him, and learn the principle of his
activity or inactivity. Force him to reveal himself,
so as to find out his vulnerable spots.
- Carefully compare the opposing army with your own,
so that you may know where strength is superabundant
and where it is deficient.
- In making tactical dispositions, the highest pitch
you can attain is to conceal them; conceal your dispositions,
and you will be safe from the prying of the subtlest spies,
from the machinations of the wisest brains.
- How victory may be produced for them out of the enemy's
own tactics--that is what the multitude cannot comprehend.
- All men can see the tactics whereby I conquer,
but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory
- Do not repeat the tactics which have gained
you one victory, but let your methods be regulated
by the infinite variety of circumstances.
- Military tactics are like unto water; for water in its
natural course runs away from high places and hastens downwards.
- So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong
and to strike at what is weak.
- 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.
- Therefore, just as water retains no constant shape,
so in warfare there are no constant conditions.
- He who can modify his tactics in relation to his
opponent and thereby succeed in winning, may be called
a heaven-born captain.
- The five elements (water, fire, wood, metal, earth)
are not always equally predominant; the four seasons make
way for each other in turn. There are short days and long;
the moon has its periods of waning and waxing.
- Sun Tzu said: In war, the general receives his
commands from the sovereign.
- Having collected an army and concentrated his forces,
he must blend and harmonize the different elements thereof
before pitching his camp.
- After that, comes tactical maneuvering,
than which there is nothing more difficult.
The difficulty of tactical maneuvering consists
in turning the devious into the direct, and misfortune into gain.
- 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.
- Maneuvering with an army is advantageous;
with an undisciplined multitude, most dangerous.
- 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
- 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,
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.
- 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 destination.
- If you march fifty LI in order to outmaneuver
the enemy, you will lose the leader of your first division,
and only half your force will reach the goal.
- If you march thirty LI with the same object,
two-thirds of your army will arrive.
- 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.
- We cannot enter into alliances until we are
acquainted with the designs of our neighbors.
- 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.
- We shall be unable to turn natural advantage
to account unless we make use of local guides.
- In war, practice dissimulation, and you will succeed.
- Whether to concentrate or to divide your troops,
must be decided by circumstances.
- Let your rapidity be that of the wind,
your compactness that of the forest.
- In raiding and plundering be like fire,
is immovability like a mountain.
- Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night,
and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.
- When you plunder a countryside, let the spoil be
divided amongst your men; when you capture new territory,
cut it up into allotments for the benefit of the soldiery.
- Ponder and deliberate before you make a move.
- He will conquer who has learnt the artifice
of deviation. Such is the art of maneuvering.
- The Book of Army Management says: On the field
of battle, 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.
- Gongs and drums, banners and flags, are means
whereby the ears and eyes of the host may be focused
on one particular point.
- 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. This is the art
of handling large masses of men.
- 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.
- A whole army may be robbed of its spirit;
a commander-in-chief may be robbed of his presence of mind.
- Now a soldier's spirit is keenest in the morning;
by noonday it has begun to flag; and in the evening,
his mind is bent only on returning to camp.
- 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.
- Disciplined and calm, to await the appearance
of disorder and hubbub amongst the enemy:--this is the art
of retaining self-possession.
- 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.
- To refrain from intercepting an enemy whose
banners are in perfect order, to refrain from attacking
an army drawn up in calm and confident array:--this
is the art of studying circumstances.
- It is a military axiom not to advance uphill
against the enemy, nor to oppose him when he comes downhill.
- Do not pursue an enemy who simulates flight;
do not attack soldiers whose temper is keen.
- Do not swallow bait offered by the enemy.
Do not interfere with an army that is returning home.
- When you surround an army, leave an outlet free.
Do not press a desperate foe too hard.
- Such is the art of warfare.
- VARIATION IN TACTICS
- Sun Tzu said: In war, the general receives
his commands from the sovereign, collects his army
and concentrates his forces.
- When in difficult country, do not encamp. In country
where high roads intersect, join hands with your allies.
Do not linger in dangerously isolated positions.
In hemmed-in situations, you must resort to stratagem.
In desperate position, you must fight.
- There are roads which must not be followed,
armies which must be not attacked, towns which must
be besieged, positions which must not be contested,
commands of the sovereign which must not be obeyed.
- The general who thoroughly understands the advantages
that accompany variation of tactics knows how to handle
- The general who does not understand these, may be well
acquainted with the configuration of the country, yet he
will not be able to turn his knowledge to practical account.
- So, the student of war who is unversed in the art
of war of varying his plans, even though he be acquainted
with the Five Advantages, will fail to make the best use
of his men.
- Hence in the wise leader's plans, considerations of
advantage and of disadvantage will be blended together.
- If our expectation of advantage be tempered in
this way, we may succeed in accomplishing the essential
part of our schemes.
- If, on the other hand, in the midst of difficulties
we are always ready to seize an advantage, we may extricate
ourselves from misfortune.
- Reduce the hostile chiefs by inflicting damage
on them; and make trouble for them, and keep them
constantly engaged; hold out specious allurements,
and make them rush to any given point.
- The art of war teaches us to rely not on the
likelihood of the enemy's not coming, but on our own readiness
to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking,
but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.
- There are five dangerous faults which may affect
- Recklessness, which leads to destruction;
- cowardice, which leads to capture;
- a hasty temper, which can be provoked by insults;
- a delicacy of honor which is sensitive to shame;
- over-solicitude for his men, which exposes him
to worry and trouble.
- These are the five besetting sins of a general,
ruinous to the conduct of war.
- When an army is overthrown and its leader slain,
the cause will surely be found among these five
dangerous faults. Let them be a subject of meditation.
- THE ARMY ON THE MARCH
- Sun Tzu said: We come now to the question of
encamping the army, and observing signs of the enemy.
Pass quickly over mountains, and keep in the neighborhood
- Camp in high places, facing the sun. Do not climb
heights in order to fight. So much for mountain warfare.
- After crossing a river, you should get far away
- When an invading force crosses a river in its
onward march, do not advance to meet it in mid-stream.
It will be best to let half the army get across,
and then deliver your attack.
- If you are anxious to fight, you should not go
to meet the invader near a river which he has to cross.
- Moor your craft higher up than the enemy, and facing
the sun. Do not move up-stream to meet the enemy.
So much for river warfare.
- In crossing salt-marshes, your sole concern
should be to get over them quickly, without any delay.
- If forced to fight in a salt-marsh, you should
have water and grass near you, and get your back
to a clump of trees. So much for operations in salt-marches.
- In dry, level country, take up an easily accessible
position with rising ground to your right and on your rear,
so that the danger may be in front, and safety lie behind.
So much for campaigning in flat country.
- These are the four useful branches of military
knowledge which enabled the Yellow Emperor to vanquish
four several sovereigns.
- All armies prefer high ground to low and sunny
places to dark.
- If you are careful of your men, and camp on hard
ground, the army will be free from disease of every kind,
and this will spell victory.
- When you come to a hill or a bank, occupy the
sunny side, with the slope on your right rear.
Thus you will at once act for the benefit of your soldiers
and utilize the natural advantages of the ground.
- When, in consequence of heavy rains up-country,
a river which you wish to ford is swollen and flecked
with foam, you must wait until it subsides.
- Country in which there are precipitous cliffs
with torrents running between, deep natural hollows,
confined places, tangled thickets, quagmires and crevasses,
should be left with all possible speed and not approached.
- While we keep away from such places, we should
get the enemy to approach them; while we face them,
we should let the enemy have them on his rear.
- If in the neighborhood of your camp there should
be any hilly country, ponds surrounded by aquatic grass,
hollow basins filled with reeds, or woods with thick
undergrowth, they must be carefully routed out and searched;
for these are places where men in ambush or insidious
spies are likely to be lurking.
- When the enemy is close at hand and remains quiet,
he is relying on the natural strength of his position.
- When he keeps aloof and tries to provoke a battle,
he is anxious for the other side to advance.
- If his place of encampment is easy of access,
he is tendering a bait.
- Movement amongst the trees of a forest shows that the
enemy is advancing. The appearance of a number of screens
in the midst of thick grass means that the enemy wants to make us suspicious.
- The rising of birds in their flight is the sign
of an ambuscade. Startled beasts indicate that a sudden
attack is coming.
- When there is dust rising in a high column,
it is the sign of chariots advancing; when the dust is low,
but spread over a wide area, it betokens the approach
of infantry. When it branches out in different directions,
it shows that parties have been sent to collect firewood.
A few clouds of dust moving to and fro signify that the army
- Humble words and increased preparations are signs
that the enemy is about to advance. Violent language
and driving forward as if to the attack are signs that he
- When the light chariots come out first and take
up a position on the wings, it is a sign that the enemy
is forming for battle.
- Peace proposals unaccompanied by a sworn covenant
indicate a plot.
- When there is much running about and the soldiers
fall into rank, it means that the critical moment has come.
- When some are seen advancing and some retreating,
it is a lure.
- When the soldiers stand leaning on their spears,
they are faint from want of food.
- If those who are sent to draw water begin
by drinking themselves, the army is suffering from thirst.
- If the enemy sees an advantage to be gained and
makes no effort to secure it, the soldiers are exhausted.
- If birds gather on any spot, it is unoccupied.
Clamor by night betokens nervousness.
- If there is disturbance in the camp, the general's
authority is weak. If the banners and flags are shifted
about, sedition is afoot. If the officers are angry,
it means that the men are weary.
- When an army feeds its horses with grain and kills
its cattle for food, and when the men do not hang their
cooking-pots over the camp-fires, showing that they
will not return to their tents, you may know that they
are determined to fight to the death.
- The sight of men whispering together in small
knots or speaking in subdued tones points to disaffection
amongst the rank and file.
- Too frequent rewards signify that the enemy is
at the end of his resources; too many punishments betray
a condition of dire distress.
- To begin by bluster, but afterwards to take fright
at the enemy's numbers, shows a supreme lack of intelligence.
- When envoys are sent with compliments in their mouths,
it is a sign that the enemy wishes for a truce.
- If the enemy's troops march up angrily and remain
facing ours for a long time without either joining
battle or taking themselves off again, the situation
is one that demands great vigilance and circumspection.
- If our troops are no more in number than the enemy,
that is amply sufficient; it only means that no direct attack
can be made. What we can do is simply to concentrate all
our available strength, keep a close watch on the enemy,
and obtain reinforcements.
- He who exercises no forethought but makes light
of his opponents is sure to be captured by them.
- If soldiers are punished before they have grown
attached to you, they will not prove submissive; and,
unless submissive, then will be practically useless.
If, when the soldiers have become attached to you,
punishments are not enforced, they will still be unless.
- 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.
- If in training soldiers commands are habitually
enforced, the army will be well-disciplined; if not,
its discipline will be bad.
- If a general shows confidence in his men but always
insists on his orders being obeyed, the gain will be mutual.
- Sun Tzu said: We may distinguish six kinds of terrain,
- Accessible ground;
- entangling ground;
- temporizing ground;
- narrow passes;
- precipitous heights;
- positions at a great distance from the enemy.
- Ground which can be freely traversed by both sides
is called accessible.
- With regard to ground of this nature, be before
the enemy in occupying the raised and sunny spots,
and carefully guard your line of supplies. Then you
will be able to fight with advantage.
- Ground which can be abandoned but is hard
to re-occupy is called entangling.
- From a position of this sort, if the enemy
is unprepared, you may sally forth and defeat him.
But if the enemy is prepared for your coming, and you
fail to defeat him, then, return being impossible,
disaster will ensue.
- When the position is such that neither side will gain
by making the first move, it is called temporizing ground.
- In a position of this sort, even though the enemy
should offer us an attractive bait, it will be advisable
not to stir forth, but rather to retreat, thus enticing
the enemy in his turn; then, when part of his army has
come out, we may deliver our attack with advantage.
- With regard to narrow passes, if you can occupy
them first, let them be strongly garrisoned and await
the advent of the enemy.
- Should the army forestall you in occupying a pass,
do not go after him if the pass is fully garrisoned,
but only if it is weakly garrisoned.
- With regard to precipitous heights, if you are
beforehand with your adversary, you should occupy the
raised and sunny spots, and there wait for him to come up.
- If the enemy has occupied them before you,
do not follow him, but retreat and try to entice him away.
- If you are situated at a great distance from
the enemy, and the strength of the two armies is equal,
it is not easy to provoke a battle, and fighting will be
to your disadvantage.
- These six are the principles connected with Earth.
The general who has attained a responsible post must be
careful to study them.
- Now an army is exposed to six several calamities,
not arising from natural causes, but from faults
for which the general is responsible. These are:
- Other conditions being equal, if one force is
hurled against another ten times its size, the result
will be the flight of the former.
- When the common soldiers are too strong and
their officers too weak, the result is insubordination.
When the officers are too strong and the common soldiers
too weak, the result is collapse.
- When the higher officers are angry and insubordinate,
and on meeting the enemy give battle on their own account
from a feeling of resentment, before the commander-in-chief
can tell whether or no he is in a position to fight,
the result is ruin.
- When the general is weak and without authority;
when his orders are not clear and distinct; when there
are no fixes duties assigned to officers and men,
and the ranks are formed in a slovenly haphazard manner,
the result is utter disorganization.
- When a general, unable to estimate the enemy's
strength, allows an inferior force to engage a larger one,
or hurls a weak detachment against a powerful one,
and neglects to place picked soldiers in the front rank,
the result must be rout.
- These are six ways of courting defeat, which must
be carefully noted by the general who has attained
a responsible post.
- The natural formation of the country is the soldier's
best ally; but a power of estimating the adversary,
of controlling the forces of victory, and of shrewdly
calculating difficulties, dangers and distances,
constitutes the test of a great general.
- He who knows these things, and in fighting puts
his knowledge into practice, will win his battles.
He who knows them not, nor practices them, will surely
- If fighting is sure to result in victory,
then you must fight, even though the ruler forbid it;
if fighting will not result in victory, then you must not
fight even at the ruler's bidding.
- The general who advances without coveting fame
and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only
thought is to protect his country and do good service
for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.
- Regard your soldiers as your children, and they
will follow you into the deepest valleys; look upon them
as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you
even unto death.
- If, however, you are indulgent, but unable to make
your authority felt; kind-hearted, but unable to enforce
your commands; and incapable, moreover, of quelling disorder:
then your soldiers must be likened to spoilt children;
they are useless for any practical purpose.
- If we know that our own men are in a condition
to attack, but are unaware that the enemy is not open
to attack, we have gone only halfway towards victory.
- If we know that the enemy is open to attack,
but are unaware that our own men are not in a condition
to attack, we have gone only halfway towards victory.
- If we know that the enemy is open to attack,
and also know that our men are in a condition to attack,
but are unaware that the nature of the ground makes
fighting impracticable, we have still gone only halfway
- Hence the experienced soldier, once in motion,
is never bewildered; once he has broken camp, he is never
at a loss.
- Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and
know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt;
if you know Heaven and know Earth, you may make your
- THE NINE SITUATIONS
- Sun Tzu said: The art of war recognizes nine varieties of ground:
- Dispersive ground;
- facile ground;
- contentious ground;
- open ground;
- ground of intersecting highways;
- serious ground;
- difficult ground;
- hemmed-in ground;
- desperate ground.
- When a chieftain is fighting in his own territory,
it is dispersive ground.
- When he has penetrated into hostile territory,
but to no great distance, it is facile ground.
- Ground the possession of which imports great
advantage to either side, is contentious ground.
- Ground on which each side has liberty of movement
is open ground.
- Ground which forms the key to three contiguous states,
so that he who occupies it first has most of the Empire
at his command, is a ground of intersecting highways.
- When an army has penetrated into the heart of a
hostile country, leaving a number of fortified cities
in its rear, it is serious ground.
- Mountain forests, rugged steeps, marshes and fens--all
country that is hard to traverse: this is difficult ground.
- Ground which is reached through narrow gorges,
and from which we can only retire by tortuous paths,
so that a small number of the enemy would suffice to crush
a large body of our men: this is hemmed in ground.
- Ground on which we can only be saved from
destruction by fighting without delay, is desperate ground.
- On dispersive ground, therefore, fight not.
On facile ground, halt not. On contentious ground,
- On open ground, do not try to block the enemy's way.
On the ground of intersecting highways, join hands
with your allies.
- On serious ground, gather in plunder.
In difficult ground, keep steadily on the march.
- On hemmed-in ground, resort to stratagem.
On desperate ground, fight.
- Those who were called skillful leaders of old knew
how to drive a wedge between the enemy's front and rear;
to prevent co-operation between his large and small divisions;
to hinder the good troops from rescuing the bad,
the officers from rallying their men.
- When the enemy's men were united, they managed
to keep them in disorder.
- When it was to their advantage, they made
a forward move; when otherwise, they stopped still.
- If asked how to cope with a great host of the enemy
in orderly array and on the point of marching to the attack,
I should say: "Begin by seizing something which your
opponent holds dear; then he will be amenable to your will."
- Rapidity is the essence of war: take advantage of
the enemy's unreadiness, make your way by unexpected routes,
and attack unguarded spots.
- The following are the principles to be observed
by an invading force: The further you penetrate into
a country, the greater will be the solidarity of your troops,
and thus the defenders will not prevail against you.
- Make forays in fertile country in order to supply
your army with food.
- Carefully study the well-being of your men,
and do not overtax them. Concentrate your energy and hoard
your strength. Keep your army continually on the move,
and devise unfathomable plans.
- Throw your soldiers into positions whence there
is no escape, and they will prefer death to flight.
If they will face death, there is nothing they may
not achieve. Officers and men alike will put forth
their uttermost strength.
- Soldiers when in desperate straits lose
the sense of fear. If there is no place of refuge,
they will stand firm. If they are in hostile country,
they will show a stubborn front. If there is no help
for it, they will fight hard.
- Thus, without waiting to be marshaled, the soldiers
will be constantly on the qui vive; without waiting to
be asked, they will do your will; without restrictions,
they will be faithful; without giving orders, they can
- Prohibit the taking of omens, and do away with
superstitious doubts. Then, until death itself comes,
no calamity need be feared.
- If our soldiers are not overburdened with money,
it is not because they have a distaste for riches;
if their lives are not unduly long, it is not because they
are disinclined to longevity.
- On the day they are ordered out to battle,
your soldiers may weep, those sitting up bedewing
their garments, and those lying down letting the tears run
down their cheeks. But let them once be brought to bay,
and they will display the courage of a Chu or a Kuei.
- The skillful tactician may be likened to the
shuai-jan. Now the shuai-jan is a snake that is found
in the ChUng mountains. Strike at its head, and you
will be attacked by its tail; strike at its tail, and you
will be attacked by its head; strike at its middle,
and you will be attacked by head and tail both.
- Asked if an army can be made to imitate the shuai-jan,
I should answer, Yes. For the men of Wu and the men
of Yueh are enemies; yet if they are crossing a river
in the same boat and are caught by a storm, they will come
to each other's assistance just as the left hand helps the right.
- Hence it is not enough to put one's trust
in the tethering of horses, and the burying of chariot
wheels in the ground.
- The principle on which to manage an army is to set
up one standard of courage which all must reach.
- How to make the best of both strong and weak--that
is a question involving the proper use of ground.
- Thus the skillful general conducts his army just
as though he were leading a single man, willy-nilly, by
- It is the business of a general to be quiet and thus
ensure secrecy; upright and just, and thus maintain order.
- He must be able to mystify his officers and men
by false reports and appearances, and thus keep them
in total ignorance.
- By altering his arrangements and changing
his plans, he keeps the enemy without definite knowledge.
By shifting his camp and taking circuitous routes,
he prevents the enemy from anticipating his purpose.
- At the critical moment, the leader of an army
acts like one who has climbed up a height and then kicks
away the ladder behind him. He carries his men deep
into hostile territory before he shows his hand.
- He burns his boats and breaks his cooking-pots;
like a shepherd driving a flock of sheep, he drives
his men this way and that, and nothing knows whither he
- To muster his host and bring it into danger:--this
may be termed the business of the general.
- The different measures suited to the nine
varieties of ground; the expediency of aggressive or
defensive tactics; and the fundamental laws of human nature:
these are things that must most certainly be studied.
- When invading hostile territory, the general
principle is, that penetrating deeply brings cohesion;
penetrating but a short way means dispersion.
- When you leave your own country behind, and take
your army across neighborhood territory, you find yourself
on critical ground. When there are means of communication
on all four sides, the ground is one of intersecting highways.
- When you penetrate deeply into a country, it is
serious ground. When you penetrate but a little way,
it is facile ground.
- When you have the enemy's strongholds on your rear,
and narrow passes in front, it is hemmed-in ground.
When there is no place of refuge at all, it is desperate ground.
- Therefore, on dispersive ground, I would inspire
my men with unity of purpose. On facile ground, I would
see that there is close connection between all parts
of my army.
- On contentious ground, I would hurry up my rear.
- On open ground, I would keep a vigilant eye
on my defenses. On ground of intersecting highways,
I would consolidate my alliances.
- On serious ground, I would try to ensure
a continuous stream of supplies. On difficult ground,
I would keep pushing on along the road.
- On hemmed-in ground, I would block any way
of retreat. On desperate ground, I would proclaim
to my soldiers the hopelessness of saving their lives.
- For it is the soldier's disposition to offer
an obstinate resistance when surrounded, to fight hard
when he cannot help himself, and to obey promptly when he
has fallen into danger.
- We cannot enter into alliance with neighboring
princes until we are acquainted with their designs. 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.
We shall be unable to turn natural advantages to account
unless we make use of local guides.
- To be ignored of any one of the following four
or five principles does not befit a warlike prince.
- When a warlike prince attacks a powerful state,
his generalship shows itself in preventing the concentration
of the enemy's forces. He overawes his opponents,
and their allies are prevented from joining against him.
- Hence he does not strive to ally himself with all
and sundry, nor does he foster the power of other states.
He carries out his own secret designs, keeping his
antagonists in awe. Thus he is able to capture their
cities and overthrow their kingdoms.
- Bestow rewards without regard to rule,
issue orders without regard to previous arrangements;
and you will be able to handle a whole army as though
you had to do with but a single man.
- Confront your soldiers with the deed itself;
never let them know your design. When the outlook is bright,
bring it before their eyes; but tell them nothing when
the situation is gloomy.
- Place your army in deadly peril, and it will survive;
plunge it into desperate straits, and it will come off
- For it is precisely when a force has fallen into
harm's way that is capable of striking a blow for victory.
- Success in warfare is gained by carefully
accommodating ourselves to the enemy's purpose.
- By persistently hanging on the enemy's flank, we shall
succeed in the long run in killing the commander-in-chief.
- This is called ability to accomplish a thing
by sheer cunning.
- On the day that you take up your command,
block the frontier passes, destroy the official tallies,
and stop the passage of all emissaries.
- Be stern in the council-chamber, so that you
may control the situation.
- If the enemy leaves a door open, you must rush in.
- Forestall your opponent by seizing what he holds dear,
and subtly contrive to time his arrival on the ground.
- Walk in the path defined by rule, and accommodate
yourself to the enemy until you can fight a decisive battle.
- At first, then, exhibit the coyness of a maiden,
until the enemy gives you an opening; afterwards emulate
the rapidity of a running hare, and it will be too late
for the enemy to oppose you.
- THE ATTACK BY FIRE
- Sun Tzu said: There are five ways of attacking
with fire. The first is to burn soldiers in their camp;
the second is to burn stores; the third is to burn
baggage trains; the fourth is to burn arsenals and magazines;
the fifth is to hurl dropping fire amongst the enemy.
- In order to carry out an attack, we must have
means available. The material for raising fire should
always be kept in readiness.
- There is a proper season for making attacks with fire,
and special days for starting a conflagration.
- The proper season is when the weather is very dry;
the special days are those when the moon is in the
constellations of the Sieve, the Wall, the Wing
or the Cross-bar; for these four are all days of rising wind.
- In attacking with fire, one should be prepared
to meet five possible developments:
- When fire breaks out inside to enemy's camp,
respond at once with an attack from without.
- If there is an outbreak of fire, but the enemy's
soldiers remain quiet, bide your time and do not attack.
- When the force of the flames has reached its height,
follow it up with an attack, if that is practicable;
if not, stay where you are.
- If it is possible to make an assault with fire
from without, do not wait for it to break out within,
but deliver your attack at a favorable moment.
- When you start a fire, be to windward of it.
Do not attack from the leeward.
- A wind that rises in the daytime lasts long,
but a night breeze soon falls.
- In every army, the five developments connected with
fire must be known, the movements of the stars calculated,
and a watch kept for the proper days.
- Hence those who use fire as an aid to the attack show intelligence;
those who use water as an aid to the attack gain an accession of strength.
- By means of water, an enemy may be intercepted,
but not robbed of all his belongings.
- Unhappy is the fate of one who tries to win his
battles and succeed in his attacks without cultivating
the spirit of enterprise; for the result is waste of time
and general stagnation.
- Hence the saying: The enlightened ruler lays his
plans well ahead; the good general cultivates his resources.
- Move not unless you see an advantage; use not
your troops unless there is something to be gained;
fight not unless the position is critical.
- No ruler should put troops into the field merely
to gratify his own spleen; no general should fight
a battle simply out of pique.
- If it is to your advantage, make a forward move;
if not, stay where you are.
- Anger may in time change to gladness; vexation may
be succeeded by content.
- But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can
never come again into being; nor can the dead ever
be brought back to life.
- Hence the enlightened ruler is heedful,
and the good general full of caution. This is the way
to keep a country at peace and an army intact.
- THE USE OF SPIES
- Sun Tzu said: Raising a host of a hundred thousand
men and marching them great distances entails heavy loss
on the people and a drain on the resources of the State.
The daily expenditure will amount to a thousand ounces
of silver. There will be commotion at home and abroad,
and men will drop down exhausted on the highways.
As many as seven hundred thousand families will be impeded
in their labor.
- Hostile armies may face each other for years,
striving for the victory which is decided in a single day.
This being so, to remain in ignorance of the enemy's
condition simply because one grudges the outlay of a hundred
ounces of silver in honors and emoluments, is the height
- One who acts thus is no leader of men, no present
help to his sovereign, no master of victory.
- Thus, what enables the wise sovereign and the good
general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond
the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge.
- Now this foreknowledge cannot be elicited from spirits;
it cannot be obtained inductively from experience,
nor by any deductive calculation.
- Knowledge of the enemy's dispositions can only
be obtained from other men.
- Hence the use of spies, of whom there are five classes:
- Local spies;
- inward spies;
- converted spies;
- doomed spies;
- surviving spies.
- When these five kinds of spy are all at work,
none can discover the secret system. This is called "divine
manipulation of the threads." It is the sovereign's
most precious faculty.
- Having local spies means employing the services
of the inhabitants of a district.
- Having inward spies, making use of officials
of the enemy.
- Having converted spies, getting hold of the enemy's
spies and using them for our own purposes.
- Having doomed spies, doing certain things openly
for purposes of deception, and allowing our spies to know
of them and report them to the enemy.
- Surviving spies, finally, are those who bring
back news from the enemy's camp.
- Hence it is that which none in the whole army are
more intimate relations to be maintained than with spies.
None should be more liberally rewarded. In no other
business should greater secrecy be preserved.
- Spies cannot be usefully employed without a certain
- They cannot be properly managed without benevolence
- Without subtle ingenuity of mind, one cannot make
certain of the truth of their reports.
- Be subtle! be subtle! and use your spies for every
kind of business.
- If a secret piece of news is divulged by a spy
before the time is ripe, he must be put to death together
with the man to whom the secret was told.
- Whether the object be to crush an army, to storm
a city, or to assassinate an individual, it is always
necessary to begin by finding out the names of the attendants,
the aides-de-camp, and door-keepers and sentries of the general
in command. Our spies must be commissioned to ascertain these.
- The enemy's spies who have come to spy on us
must be sought out, tempted with bribes, led away and
comfortably housed. Thus they will become converted
spies and available for our service.
- It is through the information brought by the
converted spy that we are able to acquire and employ
local and inward spies.
- It is owing to his information, again, that we can
cause the doomed spy to carry false tidings to the enemy.
- Lastly, it is by his information that the surviving
spy can be used on appointed occasions.
- The end and aim of spying in all its five varieties
is knowledge of the enemy; and this knowledge can only
be derived, in the first instance, from the converted spy.
Hence it is essential that the converted spy be treated
with the utmost liberality.
- Of old, the rise of the Yin dynasty was due to I
Chih who had served under the Hsia. Likewise, the rise
of the Chou dynasty was due to Lu Ya who had served
under the Yin.
- Hence it is only the enlightened ruler and the
wise general who will use the highest intelligence of
the army for purposes of spying and thereby they achieve
great results. Spies are a most important element in water,
because on them depends an army's ability to move.