The Art Of War - Sun Tzu - Cleary

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Author: Sun Tzu - Translated by Thomas Cleary
Pub: 1988 by Shambala Publications
Pages: 172
Ranking:Three Star Rating
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Although my favorite translation is Griffith, I find the additional commentaries that Cleary included to be helpful in trying to understand difficult passages. I recommend this version to people who've never read Sun Tzu before because of the expanded commentary.

In order to make comparisons easy, I've included the same paragraph from four different versions.


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 battle.

[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 defense; defense is the planning of an attack." It would be hard to find a better epitome of the root-principle of war.]


31. Therefore I say: 'Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril.

32. When you are ignorant of the enemy but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal.

33. If ignorant both of your enemy and of yourself, you are certain in every battle to be in peril.'

Li Ch'uan: Such people are called 'mad bandits'. What can they expect if not defeat?


So it is said that if you know others and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know others but know yourself, you win one and lose one; if you do not know others and do not know yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.


If you assess your strength and can fend off opponents, what danger is there? If because of your own strength you fail to measure opponents, then victory is uncertain.


Compare your government to that of the enemy; compare your military leadership to that of the enemy; compare your logistics to that of your enemy; compare your ground to that of your enemy. Having established these comparisons, you will have a preview of superiorities and inferiorities, weaknesses and strengths; this will enable you to prevail every time in subsequent military operations.


When you know others, then you are able to attack them. When you know yourself, you are able to protect yourself. Attack is the time for defense, defense is a strategy of attack. If you know this, you will not be in danger even if you fight a hundred battles. When you only know yourself, this means guarding your energy and waiting. This is why knowing defense but not offense means half victory and half defeat.

When you know neither the arts of defense nor the arts of attack, you will lose in battle.


(He has combined a previous discussion of Generals in the paragraph. I left it in)

The insightful warlord has trust and faith in his generals. He permits them to express their authority under the right conditions and sees to it that they are rewarded when successful and admonished when they fail because of poor planning. He knows the enemy and himself in order to avoid peril. Because of this knowledge, he will succeed in the field and the administration of the state. If he is unaware of the enemy's strengths but is aware of himself, his chances of victory are evenly matched. If he doesn't know himself and doesn't know the enemy, he is certain to entertain defeat. The ruler should never have picked this man to lead; he is not strong either.




Translator's Preface ............................ vii
Translator's Introduction ......................... 1
    Taoism and The Art of War ..................... 1
    The Structure and Content of The Art of War .. 17
    Historical Background ........................ 27
    The Commentators ............................. 30
    The Translation .............................. 33
 1. STRATEGIC ASSESSMENTS ........................ 41
 2. DOING BATTLE ................................. 57
 3. PLANNING A SIEGE ............................. 66
 4. FORMATION .................................... 84
 5. FORCE ........................................ 93
 6. EMPTINESS AND FULLNESS ...................... 100
 7. ARMED STRUGGLE .............................. 114
 8. ADAPTATIONS ................................. 125
 9. MANEUVERING ARMIES .......................... 130
10. TERRAIN ..................................... 143
11. NINE GROUNDS ................................ 148
12. FIRE ATTACK ................................. 164
13. ON THE USE  OF SPIES ........................ 168


From the Back Cover:

"Thomas Cleary's translation of Sun Tzu's 2,000-year-old The Art of War makes immediatelv relevant one of the greatest Chinese classical texts. There's not a dated maxim or vague prescription in it. 'To win without fighting is best,' Sun Tzu said. For him, war was coeval with life. Absorb this book, and you can throw out all those contemporary books about management.

Compiled more than two thousand years ago by a mysterious warrior-philosopher, The Art of War is still perhaps the most prestigious and influential book of strategy in the world today. as eagerly studied in Asia by modern politicians and executives as it has been by military leaders since ancient times. As a study of the anatomy of organizations in conflict, Ihe Art of War applies to competition and conflict in general, on every level from the interpersonal to the international. Its aim is invincibility, victory without battle, and unassailable strength through understanding of the physics, politics, and psychology of conflict.

This translation presents the classic from the point of view of its background in the great spiritual tradition of Taoism, the origin of psychology, science, and technology in East rising and the source of the insights into human nature that underlie this most revered of handbooks for success. Translated from a standard collection of commentaries on Sun Tzu's text hy eleven interpreters, the work has been edited by Thomas Cleary,to bring out the meaning of the principles of strategy. In addition, the translator provides an extensive introduction discussing the content and background of the book.

Thomas Cleary, who holds a Ph.D. in East Asian Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University, is the translator of numerous works in Buddhist, Taoist, and I Ching studies. A companion volume to The Art of War is his translation Mastering The Art of War by Zhuge Liang and Liu Ji, also in Shambhala Dragon Editions.



The Art of War (Sunzi bingfa/Sun-tzu ping-fa), compiled well over two thousand years ago by a mysterious Chinese warrior-philosopher, is still perhaps the most prestigious and influential book of strategy in the world today, as eagerly studied in Asia by modern politicians and executives as it has been by military leaders and strategists for the last two millennia and more.

In Japan, which was transformed directly from a feudal culture into a corporate culture virtually overnight, contemporary students of The Art of War have applied the strategy of this ancient classic to modern politics and business with similar alacrity. Indeed, some see in the successes of postwar Japan an illustration of Sun Tzu's dictum of the classic, "To win without fighting is best."

As a study of the anatomy of organizations in conflict, The Art of War applies to competition and conflict in general, on every level from the interpersonal to the international. Its aim is invincibility, victory without battle, and unassailable strength through understanding of the physics, politics, and psychology of conflict.

This translation of The Art of War presents the classic from the point of view of its background in the great spiritual tradition of Taoism, the origin not only of psychology but also of science and technology in East Asia, and the source of the insights into human nature that underlie this most revered of handbooks for success.

In my opinion, the importance of understanding the Taoist element of The Art of War can hardly be exaggerated. Not only is this classic of strategy permeated with the ideas of great Taoist works such as the I Ching (The Book of Changes) and the Tao-te Ching (The Way and Its Power), but it reveals the fundamentals of Taoism as the ultimate source of all the traditional Chinese martial arts. Furthermore, while The Art of War is unmatched in its presentation of principle, the keys to the deepest levels of practice of its strategy depend on the psychological development in which Taoism specializes.

The enhanced personal power traditionally associated with application of Taoist mental technology is in itself a part of the collective power associated with application of the understanding of mass psychology taught in The Art of War. What is perhaps most characteristically Taoist about The Art of War in such a way as to recommend itself to the modern day is the manner in which power is continually tempered by a profound undercurrent of humanism.

Throughout Chinese history, Taoism has been a moderating force in the fluctuating currents of human thought and action. Teaching that life is a complex of interacting forces, Taoism has fostered both material and mental progress, both technological development and awareness of the potential dangers of that very development, always striving to encourage balance between the material and spiritual sides of humankind. Similarly, in politics Taoism has stood on the side of both rulers and ruled, has set kingdoms up and has torn kingdoms down, according to the needs of the time. As a classic of Taoist thought, The Art of War is thus a book not only of war but also of peace, above all a tool for understanding the very roots of conflict and resolution.


TAOISM AND The Art of War

According to an old story, a lord of ancient China once asked his physician, a member of a family of healers, which of them was the most skilled in the art.

The physician, whose reputation was such that his name became synonymous with medical science in China, replied, "My eldest brother sees the spirit of sickness and removes it before it takes shape, so his name does not get out of the house.

"My elder brother cures sickness when it is still extremely minute, so his name does not get out of the neighborhood.

"As for me, I puncture veins, prescribe potions, and massage skin, so from time to time my name gets out and is heard among the lords."

Among the tales of ancient China, none captures more beautifully than this the essence of The Art of War, the premiere classic of the science of strategy in conflict. A Ming dynasty critic writes of this little tale of the physician: "What is essential for leaders, generals, and ministers in running countries and governing armies is no more than this."

The healing arts and the martial arts may be a world apart in ordinary usage, but they are parallel in several senses: in recognizing, as the story says, that the less needed the better; in the sense that both involve strategy in dealing with disharmony; and in the sense that in both knowledge of the problem is key to the solution.

As in the story of the ancient healers, in Sun Tzu's philosophy the peak efficiency of knowledge and strategy is to make conflict altogether unnecessary: "To overcome others' armies without fighting is the best of skills." And like the story of the healers, Sun Tzu explains there are all grades of martial arts: The superior militarist foils enemies' plots; next best is to ruin their alliances; next after that is to attack their armed forces; worst is to besiege their cities.

Just as the eldest brother in the story was unknown because of his acumen and the middle brother was hardly known because of his alacrity, Sun Tzu also affirms that in ancient times those known as skilled warriors won when victory was still easy, so the victories of skilled warriors were not known for cunning or rewarded for bravery.

This ideal strategy whereby one could win without fighting, accomplish the most by doing the least, bears the characteristic stamp of Taoism, the ancient tradition of knowledge that fostered both the healing arts and the martial arts in China. The Tao-te Ching, or The Way and Its Power, applies the same strategy to society that Sun Tzu attributes to warriors of ancient times:

Plan for what is difficult while it is easy, do what is great while it is small. The most difficult things in the world must be done while they are still easy, the greatest things in the world must be done while they are still small. For this reason sages never do what is great, and this is why they can achieve that greatness.

Written over two thousand years ago during a period of prolonged civil warfare, The Art of War emerged from the same social conditions as some of the greatest classics of Chinese humanism, including the Tao-te Ching. Taking a rational rather than an emotional approach to the problem of conflict, Sun Tzu showed how understanding conflict can lead not only to its resolution, but even to its avoidance altogether.

The prominence of Taoist thought in The Art of War has been noted by scholars for centuries, and the classic of strategy is recognized in both philosophical and political works of the Taoist canon. The level of knowledge represented by the upper reaches of The Art of War, the level of invincibility and the level of no conflict, is one expression of the what Taoist lore calls "deep knowledge and strong action."

The Book of Balance and Harmony (Chung-ho chil Zhongho ji), a medieval Taoist work, says, "Deep knowledge of principle knows without seeing, strong practice of the Way accomplishes without striving. Deep knowledge is to 'know without going out the door, see the way of heaven without looking out the window.' Strong action is to 'grow ever stronger, adapting to all situations.'"

In terms of The Art of War, the master warrior is likewise the one who knows the psychology and mechanics of conflict so intimately that every move of an opponent is seen through at once, and one who is able to act in precise accord with situations, riding on their natural patterns with a minimum of effort. The Book of Balance, and Harmony goes on to describe Taoist knowledge and practice further in terms familiar to the quest of the warrior:

Deep knowledge is to be aware of disturbance before disturbance, to be aware of danger before danger, to be aware of destruction before destruction, to be aware of calamity before calamity. Strong action is training the body without being burdened by the body, exercising the mind without being used by the mind, working in the world without being affected by the world, carrying out tasks without being obstructed by tasks.

By deep knowledge of principle, one can change disturbance into order, change danger into safety, change destruction into survival, change calamity into fortune. By strong action on the Way, one can bring the body to the realm of longevity, bring the mind to the sphere of mystery, bring the world to great peace, and bring tasks to great fulfillment.

As these passages suggest, warriors of Asia who used Taoist or Zen arts to achieve profound calmness did not do so just to prepare their minds to sustain the awareness of imminent death, but also to achieve the sensitivity needed to respond to situations without stopping to ponder. The Book of Balance and Harmony says:

Comprehension in a state of quiescence, accomplishment without striving, knowing without seeing - this is the sense and response of the Transformative Tao. Comprehension in a state of quiescence can comprehend anything, accomplishment without striving can accomplish anything, knowing without seeing can know anything.

As in The Art of War, the range of awareness and efficiency of the Taoist adept is unnoticeable, imperceptible to others, because their critical moments take place before ordinary intelligence has mapped out a description of the situation. The Book of Balance and Harmony says:

To sense and comprehend after action is not worthy of being called comprehension. To accomplish after striving is not worthy of being called accomplishment. To know after seeing is not worthy of being called knowing. These three are far from the way of sensing and response.

Indeed, to be able to do something before it exists, sense something before it becomes active, see something before it sprouts, are three abilities that develop interdependently. Then nothing is sensed but is comprehended, nothing is undertaken without response, nowhere does one go without benefit.

One of the purposes of Taoist literature is to help to develop this special sensitivity and responsiveness to master living situations. The Book of Balance and Harmony mentions the 'Transformative Tao" in reference to the analytical and meditative teachings of the I Ching, the locus classicus of the formula for sensitivity and responsiveness. Like the I Ching and other classical Taoist literature, The Art of War has an incalculable abstract reserve and metaphorical potential. And like other classical Taoist literature, it yields its subtleties in accord with the mentality of the reader and the manner in which it is put into practice.

The association of martial arts with Taoist tradition extends back to the legendary Yellow Emperor of the third millennium B.C.E., one of the major culture heroes of China and an important figure in Taoist lore. According to myth, the Yellow Emperor conquered savage tribes through the use of magical martial arts taught him by a Taoist immortal, and he is also said to have composed the famous Yin Convergence Classic (Yin-fu ching/Yinfu jing), a Taoist work of great antiquity traditionally given both martial and spiritual interpretations.

Over a thousand years later, warrior chieftains overthrowing the remnants of ancient Chinese slave society and introducing humanistic concepts of government composed the classic sayings of the I Ching, another Taoist text traditionally used as a basis for both martial and civil arts. The basic principles of the I Ching figure prominently in Sun Tzu's science of political warfare, just as they are essential to individual combat and defense techniques in the traditional martial arts that grew out of Taoist exercises.

The next great Taoist text after the Yin Convergence Classic and I Ching was the Tao-te Ching, like The Art of War a product of the era of the %arring States, which ravaged China in the middle of the first millennium B.C.E. This great classic represents the prevailing attitude toward war that characterizes Sun Tzu's manual: that it is destructive even for the victors, often counterproductive, a reasonable course of action only when there is no choice:

Those who assist a leader by means of the Tao do not use arms to coerce the world, for these things tend to reverse - brambles grow where an army has been, bad years follow a great war.

Weapons are inauspicious instruments, not the tools of the enlightened. When there is no choice but to use them, it is best to be calm and free from greed, and not celebrate victory. Those who celebrate victory are bloodthirsty, and the bloodthirsty cannot have their way with the world.

In a similar way, The Art of War pinpoints anger and greed as fundamental causes of defeat. According to Sun Tzu, it is the unemotional, reserved, calm, detached warrior who wins, not the hothead seeking vengeance and not the ambitious seeker of fortune. The Tao-te Ching says:

Those who are good at knighthood are not militaristic, those who are good at battle do not become angry, those who are good at prevailing over opponents do not get involved.

The strategy of operating outside the sphere of emotional influence is part of the general strategy of unfathomability that The Art of War emphasizes in characteristic Taoist style: Sun Tzu says, "Those skilled in defense hide in the deepest depths of the earth, those skilled in attack maneuvre in the highest heights of the sky. Therefore they can preserve themselves and achieve complete victory."

This emphasis on the advantage of enigma pervades Taoist thinking, from the political realm to the realms of commerce and craft, where, it is said, "A good merchant hides his treasures and appears to have nothing," and "A good craftsman leaves no traces." These sayings were adopted by Zen Buddhists to represent their art, and the uncanny approach to the warrior's way was taken up both literally and figuratively by Zen Buddhists, who were among the foremost students of the Taoist classics and developers of esoteric martial arts.

Writings on both the civil and military aspects of political organization are found throughout the Taoist canon. The Book of the Huainan Masters (Huainanzi/Huai-nan-tzu), one of the great Taoist classics of the early Han dynasty, which followed the dramatic end of the Warring States period, includes an entire chapter on Taoist military science that takes up the central theme of the practice of The Art of War:

In martial arts, it is important that strategy be unfathomable, that form be concealed, and that movements be unexpected, so that preparedness against them be impossible.

What enables a good general to win without fail is always having unfathomable wisdom and a modus operandi that leaves no tracks.

Only the formless cannot be affected. Sages hide in unfathomability, so their feelings cannot be observed; they operate in formlessness, so their lines cannot be crossed.

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu writes, "Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent's fate."

Both Sun Tzu and the masters of Huainan, a group of Taoist and Confucian sages gathered by a local king, recognize a level of wisdom where conflict does not emerge and victory is not visible to the ordinary eye, but both books are, after all, written in recognition of the difficulty and rarity of this refined attainment. Like Sun Tzu's art of war, the strategy of the masters of Huainan provides for actual conflict, not only as a last resort, but also as an operation to be carried out under the strictest conditions, with appropriate leadership:

A general must see alone and know alone, meaning that he must see what others do not see and know what others do not know. Seeing what others do not see is called brilliance, knowing what others do not know is called genius. Brilliant geniuses win first, meaning that they defend in such a way as to be unassailable and attack in such a way as to be irresistible.

The rigorous conditions of Taoistic military action are paralleled by those of Taoist spiritual practice. Metaphors of peace and war are widely used in manuals of Taoist meditation and exercise. One of the most basic principles of Taoist practice, deriving from the teachings of the I Ching, is the mastery of "emptiness and fullness," which has both physical and psychological implications.

Given an entire chapter in The Art of War, the mastery of emptiness and fullness is fundamental to the physical accomplishment of Taoist fighting arts like Absolute Boxing, and to the organizational, or sociopolitical, aspect of the arts of both civil and military government. Explaining the understanding of emptiness and fullness as the Way to certain victory, the masters of Huainan say:

This is a matter of emptiness and fullness. When there are rifts between superiors and subordinates, when generals and officers are disaffected with each other, and dissatisfaction has built up in the minds of the troops, this is called emptiness. When the civilian leadership is intelligent and the military leadership is good, when superiors and subordinates are of like mind, and will and energy operate together, this is called fullness.

The skilled can fill their people with energy to confront the emptiness of others, while the incompetent drain their people of energy in face of the fullness of others.

When welfare and justice embrace the whole people, when public works are sufficient to meet national emergencies, when the policy of selection for office is satisfactory to the intelligent, when planning is sufficient to know strengths and weaknesses, that is the basis of certain victory.

The political basis of military strength, or the social basis of the strength of any organization, is a teaching that is also rooted in the I Ching. In The Art of War this is given premier importance, as the first item in the first chapter, on strategy, involves examining the Way of an adversary group - the moral fiber, the coherence of the social order, the popularity of the government, or the common morale. Under the right conditions, according to Sun Tzu, a small group could prevail over a large group; and among the conditions that could make this possible were justice, order, cohesion, and morale. This is another pivot of Chinese thought that is also highlighted by the masters of Huainan in the context of military strategy:

Strength is not just a matter of extensive territory and a large population, victory is not just a matter of efficient armaments, security is not just a matter of high walls and deep moats, authority is not just a matter of strict orders and frequent punishments. Those who establish a viable organization will survive even if they are small, while those who establish a moribund organization will perish even if they are large.

This theme is also emphasized by another of the great military strategists of old China, Zhuge Liang of the third century C.E., who followed the teachings of Sun Tzu to become legendary for his genius:

The Tao of military operations lies in harmonizing people. When people are in harmony, they will fight naturally, without being exhorted to do so. If the officers and soldiers are suspicious of each other, warriors will not join up; if loyal advice is not heard, small minds will talk and criticize in secret. When hypocrisy sprouts, even if you have the wisdom of ancient warrior kings you could not defeat a peasant, let alone a crowd of them. This is why tradition says, "A military operation is like a fire; if it is not stopped, it will burn itself out."

Zhuge's status as a practical genius is so great that his writings, his designs, and writings about him are actually included in the Taoist canon. Like The Art of War and the Taoist classics, Zhuge's philosophy of warfare approaches the positive by way of the negative, in the Taoist fashion of "nondoing":

In ancient times, those who governed well did not arm, those who were armed well did not set up battle lines, those who set up battle lines well did not fight, those who fought well did not lose, those who lost well did not perish.

This echoes the idea of combat as a last resort, the ideal of winning without fighting offered by The Art of War, following the teaching of the Tao-te Ching. Zhuge Liang also quotes the classic admonition from this revered Taoist text, "Weapons are instruments of ill omen, to be used only when unavoidable," but he too shares the Taoist historical consciousness that the age of original humanity was already gone, and like Sun Tzu he was personally involved in a time of raging civil war. Zhuge's work in the Taoist canon therefore contains both rational views and practical teachings for political and military security that follow closely on those of ancient Sun Tzu:

The administration of military affairs means the administration of border affairs, or the administration of affairs in outlying regions, in such a way as to relieve people from major disturbances.

This administration is done by authority and military prowess, executing the violent and rebellious in order to preserve the country and keep the homeland secure. This is why civilization requires the existence of military preparedness.

It is for this reason that beasts have claws and fangs. When they are joyful, they play with each other, when angry they attack each other. Humans have no claws or fangs, so they make armor and weapons to help defend themselves.

So nations have armies to help them, rulers have ministers to assist them. When the helper is strong, the nation is secure; when the helper is weak, the nation is in peril.

Here Zhuge follows Sun Tzu directly, as he does in his emphasis on leadership and its popular basis. In Sun Tzu's scheme, both civil and military leadership are among the first conditions to be scrutinized. Zhuge follows Sun Tzu and the masters of Huainan in seeing the strength of leadership based at once on personal qualities and on popular support. In Taoist thought, power was moral as well as material, and it was believed that moral power manifested itself both as self-mastery and as influence over others. To explain the strength of a national defense force, Zhuge writes:

This in turn depends on the generals entrusted with military leadership. A general that is not popular is not a help to the nation, not a leader of the army.

A general who is "not popular" is one who, according to another way of reading the characters, "denies the people." Sun Tzu emphasizes the unity of wills as a fundamental source of strength, and his minimalist philosophy of warfare is a natural outgrowth of the central idea of common interest; on the basis of this principle, Zhuge Liang again quotes the Tao-te Ching to express the ideal of the sage warrior concerned for the body of society as a whole - "Weapons are instruments of ill omen, to be used only when it is unavoidable."

Zhuge also follows The Art of War closely in his emphasis on avoiding action without strategy as well as action without need:

"The way to use weapons is to carry out operations only after having first determined your strategy. Carefully examine the patterns of the climate and terrain, and look into the hearts of the people. Train in the use of military equipment, make patterns of rewards and punishments clear, observe the strategy of opponents, watch out for dangerous passes enroute, distinguish places of safety and danger, find out the condition's of both sides, be aware of when to advance and when to withdraw, adapt to the timing of circumstances, set up defensive measures while strengthing your attack force, promote soldiers for their ability, draw up plans for success, consider the matter of life and death - only when you have done all this can you send forth armies entrusted to generals that will reach out with the power to capture opponents."

Speed and coordination, central to success in battle according to Sun Tzu's art of war, also derive not only from strategic preparedness, but from the psychological cohesion on which leadership depends; Zhuge writes:

A general is a commander, a useful tool for a nation. First determining strategy then carrying it out, his command is as though borne afloat on a torrent, his conquest is like a hawk striking its prey. Like a drawn bow when still, like a machine starting up in action, he breaks through wherever he turns, and even powerful enemies perish. If the general has no foresight and the soldiers lack impetus, mere strategy without unification of wills cannot suffice to strike fear into an enemy even if you have a million troops.

Mentioning Sun Tzu's classic as the ultimate manual for successful strategy, Zhuge concludes his essay on military organization by summing up the main points of The Art of War as he incorporated them into his own practice, centering on those aspects of the training and mood of warriors that derive from Taoist tradition:

Have no hard feelings toward anyone who has not shown you enmity, do not fight with anyone who does not oppose you. The effective skill of an engineer can only be seen by eyes of an expert, the operation of plans in battle can only be set in action through the strategy of Sun Tzu.

Following Sun Tzu, Zhuge emphasizes the advantages of unexpectedness and speed, capable of reversing otherwise insurmountable odds:

Planning should be secret, attack should be swift. When an army takes its objective like a hawk striking its prey, and battles like a river broken through a dam, its opponents will scatter before the army tires. This is the use of the momentum of an army.

As mentioned before, among the main points of emphasis in Sun Tzu's art of war is objectivity, and his classic teaches how to assess situations in a dispassionate manner. Zhuge also follows Sun in this, stressing the advantage of carefully calculated action:

Those who are skilled in combat do not become angered, those who are skilled at winning do not become afraid. Thus the wise win before they fight, while the ignorant fight to win.

Here Zhuge quotes The Art of War directly, adding Sun Tzu's warnings about the consequences of poor planning, wasteful actions, and wasteful personnel:

A country is exhausted when it must buy its supplies at high prices, and is impoverished when it ships supplies long distances. Attacks should not be repeated, battles should not be multiplied. Use strength according to capacity, aware that it will be spent with excessive use. Get rid of the worthless, and the country can be peaceful; get rid of the incompetent, and the country can be profited.

Finally Zhuge goes on in the tradition of the Tao-te Ching, The Art of War, and The Masters of Huainan to give victory to the unfathomable:

A skilled attack is one against which opponents do not know how to defend; a skilled defense is one which opponents do not know how to attack. Therefore those skilled in defense are not so because of fortress walls.

This is why high walls and deep moats do not guarantee security, while strong armor and effective weapons do not guarantee strength. If opponents want to hold firm, attack where they are unprepared; if opponents want to establish a battlefront, appear where they do not expect you.

This idea of knowing while being unknown, repeated again and again as a key to success, is one of the strongest links between Taoist meditation and The Art of War, for the secret to this art of "invisibility" is precisely the interior detachment cultivated by Taoists for attaining impersonal views of objective reality. Certain of the philosophical teachings of early Taoism are commonly used in practical schools as codes for exercises used in personal cultivation.

Understanding the practical aspect of Taoist philosophical teachings helps to cut through the sense of paradox that may be caused by seemingly contradictory attitudes. That Sun Tzu calmly teaches the ruthless art of war while condemning war may seem contradictory if this fact is seen outside the context of the total understanding of the human mentality fostered by Taoist learning.

The simultaneous appreciation of very different points of view is a powerful Taoist technique, whose understanding can resolve contradiction and paradox. The model of the paradox of The Art of War can be seen in the Tao-te Ching, where both ruthlessness and kindness are part of the Way of the sage.

"Heaven and earth are not humanistic - they regard myriad beings as straw dogs; sages are not humanistic - they regard people as straw dogs," wrote the philosopher of the Tao-te Ching. A horrified Western Sinologist working in the 1950s, shortly after the truce in Korea, wrote that this passage had "unleashed a monster," but to a Taoist this statement does not represent inhumanity but an exercise in objectivity, similar to Buddhist exercises in impersonality.

In modern terms, this sort of statement is no different from that of a psychologist or sociologist making the observation that the attitudes, thoughts, and expectations of entire nations are not arrived at purely by a multitude of independent rational decisions, but largely under the influence of environmental factors beyond the control of the individual or even the community.

As Sun Tzu's classic attests, the place of such an observation in The Art of War is not to cultivate a callous or bloodthirsty attitude, but to understand the power of mass psychology. Understanding how people can be manipulated through emotions, for example, is as useful for those who wish to avoid this as it is for those who wish to practice it.

Seen in this light, The Art of War is no more a call to arms than a study on conditioning is a recommendation for slavery. By so thoroughly analyzing the political, psychological, and material factors involved in conflict, Sun Tzu's professed aim was not to encourage warfare but to minimize and curtail it.

An impersonal view of humanity as not the master of its own fate may be necessary to liberate a warrior from emotional entanglements that might precipitate irrational approaches to conflict; but it is not, in the Taoist scheme of things, held to justify destructive behavior. The counterbalance to this view is also found in the Tao-te Ching, prefiguring Sun Tzu's teachings in The Art of War:

I have three treasures that I keep and prize: one is kindness, second is frugality, and third is not presuming to take precedence over others. By kindness one can be brave, by frugality one can reach out, and by not presuming to take precedence one can survive effectively. If one gives up kindness and courage, gives up frugality and breadth, and gives up humility for aggressiveness, one will die. The exercise of kindness in battle leads to victory, the exercise of kindness in defense leads to security.

In his classic Master Sun likens military action to a "fire, which burns itself out if not stopped," and if his strategy of success without conflict was not always attainable, his strategy of hyperefficiency could at least minimize senseless violence and destruction. In Taoist terms, success is often gained by not doing, and the strategy of The Art of War is as much in knowing what not to do and when not to do it as it is in knowing what to do and when to do it.

The art of not doing - which includes the unobtrusiveness, unknowability, and ungraspability at the core of esoteric Asian martial arts - belongs to the branch of Taoism known as the science of essence. The arts of doing - which include the external techniques of both cultural and martial arts - belong to the branch of Taoism known as the science of life. The science of essence has to do with state of mind, the science of life has to do with use of energy. Like a classic Taoist text, it is in true balance of these two that The Art of War is most completely understood.

In more modern times, the definitive Taoist statement on this subject is immortalized in Journey to the West (Hsi-yu chil Xiyou ji), one of the Four Extraordinary Books of the Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644). Drawing on earlier Taoist sources from wartime China under the duress of Mongol invasions, this remarkable novel is a classic representation of the result of what in Taoist terms would be called studying the science of life without the science of essence, material development without corresponding psychological development, or in Sun Tzu's terms having force without intelligence.

The central figure of this novel is a magical monkey who founds a monkey civilization and becomes its leader by establishing a territory for the monkeys. Subsequently the monkey king overcomes a "devil confusing the world," and steals the devil's sword.

Returning to his own land with the devil's sword, the monkey king takes up the practice of swordsmanship. He even teaches his monkey subjects to make toy weapons and regalia to play at war.

Unfortunately, though ruler of a nation, the martial monkey king is not yet ruler of himself. In eminently logical backward reasoning, the monkey reflects that if neighboring nations note the monkeys' play, they might assume the monkeys were preparing for war. In that case, they might therefore take preemptive action against the monkeys, who would then be faced with real warfare armed only with toy weapons.

Thus, the monkey king thoughtfully initiates the arms race, ordering pre-preemptive stockpiling of real weapons.

If it seems disconcerting to read a thirteenth-century description of twentieth-century polities, it may be no less so to read a book as old as the Bible describing tactics in use today not only by guerrilla warriors but by influential politicians and corporate executives. Following the disillusionist posture of the Tao-te Ching and The Art of War, the story of the monkey king also prefigures a major movement in modern scientific thought following the climax of the Western divorce of religion and science centuries ago.

The monkey king in the story exercised power without wisdom, disrupting the natural order and generally raising hell until he ran into the limits of matter, where he was finally trapped. There he lost the excitement of impulsive enthusiasm, and he was eventually released to seek the science of essence, under the strict condition that his knowledge and power were to be controlled by compassion, the expression of wisdom and unity of being.

The monkey's downfall finally comes about when he meets Buddha, whom the Taoist celestial immortals summon to deal with the intractable beast. The immortals had attempted to "cook" him in the "cauldron of the eight trigrams," that is, to put him through the training of spiritual alchemy based on the Taoist I Ching, but he had jumped out still unrefined.

Buddha conquers the monkey's pride by demonstrating the insuperable law of universal relativity and has him imprisoned in "the mountain of the five elements," the world of matter and energy, where he suffers the results of his arrogant antics.

After five hundred years, at length Guanyin (Kuan Yin), the transhistorical Buddhist saint traditionally honored as the personification of universal compassion, shows up at the prison of the now repentant monkey and recites this telling verse:

Too bad the magic monkey didn't serve the public
As he madly flaunted heroics in days of yore.
With a cheating heart he made havoc
In the gathering of immortals;
With grandiose gall he went for his ego
To the heaven of happiness.
Among a hundred thousand troops,
None could oppose him;
In the highest heavens above
He had a threatening presence.
But since he was stymied on meeting our Buddha,
When will he ever reach out and show his achievements again?

Now the monkey pleads with the saint for his release. The saint grants this on the condition that the monkey devote himself to the quest for higher enlightenment, not only for himself but for society at large. Finally, before letting the monkey go to set out on the long road ahead, as a precaution the saint places a ring around the monkey's head, a ring that will tighten and cause the monkey severe pain whenever a certain spell invoking compassion is said in response to any new misbehavior on the part of the monkey.

The Art of War has been known for a hundred generations as the foremost classic of strategy; but perhaps its greatest wizardry lies in the ring of compassion that Master Sun slips over the head of every warrior who tries to use this book. And as history shows, the magic spell that tightens its grip is chanted whenever a warrior forgets the ring.

THE STRUCTURE AND CONTENT OF The Art of War The Art of War, permeated with the philosophical and political thought of the Tao-te Ching, also resembles the great Taoist classic in that it is largely composed of a collection of aphorisms commonly attributed to a shadowy, semilegendary author. Certain Taoists regard the Tao-te Ching, to be a transmission of ancient lore compiled and elaborated by its "author," rather than a completely original work, and the same may very well be true of The Art of War. In any case, both classics share the general pattern of central themes recurring throughout the text in different contexts.

The first book of The Art of War is devoted to the importance of strategy. As the classic I Ching says, "Leaders plan in the beginning when they do things," and "Leaders consider problems and prevent them." In terms of military operations, The Art of War brings up five things that are to be assessed before undertaking any action: the Way, the weather, the terrain, the military leadership, and discipline.

In this context, the Way (Tao) has to do with civil leadership, or rather the relationship between political leadership and the populace. In both Taoist and Confucian parlance, a righteous government is described as "imbued with the Tao," and Sun Tzu the martialist similarly speaks of the Way as "inducing the people to have the same aim as the leadership."

Assessment of the weather, the question of the season for action, also relates to concern for the people, meaning both the populace in general as well as military personnel. The essential point here is to avoid disruption of the productive activities of the people, which depend on the seasons, and to avoid extremes of weather that would handicap or harm troops in the field.

The terrain is to be sized up in terms of distance, degree of difficulty of travel, dimensions, and safety. The use of scouts and native guides is important here, for, as the 1 Ching says, "Chasing game without a guide leads one into the bush."

The criteria offered by The Art of War for assessment of the military leadership are traditional virtues also much emphasized in Confucianism and medieval Taoism: intelligence, trustworthiness, humaneness, courage, and sternness. According to the great Chan Buddhist Fushan, "Humaneness without intelligence is like having a field but not plowing it. Intelligence without courage is like having sprouts but not weeding. Courage without humaneness is like knowing how to reap but not how to sow." The other two virtues, trustworthiness and sternness, are those by which the leadership wins both the loyalty and obedience of the troops.

The fifth item to be assessed, discipline, refers to organizational coherence and efficiency. Discipline is very much connected with the virtues of trustworthiness and sternness sought after in military leaders, since it uses the corresponding mechanisms of reward and punishment. A great deal of emphasis is placed on the establishment of a clear system of rewards and punishments accepted by the warriors as fair and impartial. This was one of the main points of Legalism, a school of thought that also arose during the Warring States period, stressing the importance of rational organization and the rule of law rather than personalistic feudal government.

Following a discussion of these five assessments, The Art of War goes on to emphasize the central importance of deception: "A military operation involves deception. Even though you are competent, appear incompetent. Though effective, appear ineffective." As the Tao-te Ching says, "One with great skill appears inept." The element of surprise, so important for victory with maximum efficiency, depends on knowing others while being unknown to others, so secrecy and misdirection are considered essential arts.

Generally speaking, the toe-to-toe battle is the last resort of the skilled warrior, who Sun Tzu says should be prepared but should nevertheless avoid confrontation with a strong opponent. Rather than trying to overwhelm opponents directly, Master Sun recommends wearing them down by flight, fostering disharmony within their ranks, manipulating their feelings, and using their anger and pride against them. Thus, in sum, the opening statement of The Art of War introduces the three main facets of the warrior's art: the social, the psychological, and the physical.

The second chapter of The Art of War, on doing battle, stresses the domestic consequences of war, even foreign war. Emphasis is on speed and efficiency, with strong warnings not to prolong operations, especially far afield. Considerable attention is devoted to the importance of conservation of energy and material resources. In order to minimize the drain of war on the economy and population, Sun Tzu recommends the practice of feeding off the enemy and using captive forces won over by good treatment.

The third chapter, on planning a siege, also emphasizes conservation - the general aim is to gain victory while keeping as much intact as possible, both socially and materially, rather than destroying whoever and whatever stands in the way. In this sense Master Sun affirms that it is best to win without fighting.

Several tactical recommendations follow in pursuit of this general conservative principle. First of all, since it is desirable to win without battle, Sun Tzu says that it is best to overcome opponents at the outset by foiling their plans. Failing that, he recommends isolating opponents and rendering them helpless. Here again it would seem that time is of the essence, but the point is made that speed does not mean haste, and thorough preparation is necessary. And when victory is won, Sun stresses that it should be complete, to avoid the expense of maintaining an occupation force.

The chapter goes on to outline strategies for action according to relative numbers of protagonists versus antagonists, again observing that it is wise to avoid taking on unfavorable odds if possible. The I Ching says, "It is unlucky to be stubborn in the face of insurmountable odds." Furthermore, while the formulation of strategy depends on prior intelligence, it is also imperative to adapt to actual battle situations; as the I Ching says, "Coming to an impasse, change; having changed, you can get through."

Master Sun then makes note of five ways to ascertain victory, pursuant to the theme that skillful warriors fight only when assured of winning. According to Sun, the victors are those who know when to fight and when not to fight; those who know when to use many or few troops; those whose officers and soldiers are of one mind; those who face the unprepared with preparation; and those with able generals who are not constrained by government.

This last point is a very delicate one, as it places an even greater moral and intellectual responsibility on the military leadership. While war is never to be initiated by the military itself, as later explained, but by the command of the civilian government, Sun Tzu says an absentee civilian leadership that interferes ignorantly with field command "takes away victory by deranging the military."

[Note by BestJudo Website: LBJ could have learned a few things here... right?]

Again the real issue seems to be that of knowledge; the premise that military leadership in the field should not be subject to interference by civilian government is based on the idea that the key to victory is intimate knowledge of the actual situation. Outlining these five ways to determine which side is likely to prevail, Sun Tzu states that when you know both yourself and others you are never in danger, when you know yourself but not others you have half a chance of winning, and when you know neither yourself nor others you are in danger in every battle.

The fourth chapter of The Art of War is on formation, one of the most important issues of strategy and combat. In a characteristically Taoist posture, Sun Tzu here asserts that the keys to victory are adaptability and inscrutability. As the commentator Du Mu explains, "The inner condition of the formless is inscrutable, whereas that of those who have adopted a specific form is obvious. The inscrutable win, the obvious lose."

Inscrutability in this context is not purely passive, does not simply mean being withdrawn or concealed from others; more important, it means perception of what is invisible to others and response to possibilities not yet discerned by those who look only at the obvious. By seeing opportunities before they are visible to others and being quick to act, the uncanny warrior can take situations by the throat before matters get out of hand.

Following this line of thought, Sun Tzu reemphasizes the pursuit of certain victory by knowing when to act and when not to act. Make yourself invincible, he says, and take on opponents only when they are vulnerable: "Good warriors take their stand on ground where they cannot lose, and do not overlook conditions that make an opponent prone to defeat." Reviewing these conditions, Sun rephrases some of his guidelines for assessment of organizations, such as discipline and ethics versus rapacity and corruption.

The topic of the fifth chapter of The Art of War is force, or momentum, the dynamic structure of a group in action. Here Master Sun emphasizes organizational skills, coordination, and the use of both orthodox and guerrilla methods of war. He stresses change and surprise, employing endless variations of tactics, using opponents' psychological conditions to maneuver them into vulnerable positions.

The essence of Sun Tzu's teaching on force is unity and coherence in an organization, using the force of momentum rather than relying on individual qualities and talents: "Good warriors seek effectiveness in battle from the force of momentum, not from individual people."

It is this recognition of the power of the group to even out internal disparities and function as one body of force that sets The Art of War apart from the idiosyncratic individualism of the samurai swordsmen of late feudal Japan, whose stylized martial arts are so familiar in the West. This emphasis is one of the essential features that has made Sun Tzu's ancient work so useful for the corporate warriors of modern Asia, among whom The Art of War is widely read and still regarded as the matchless classic of strategy in conflict.

The sixth chapter takes up the subject of "emptiness and fullness," already noted as fundamental Taoist concepts commonly adapted to martial arts. The idea is to be filled with energy while at the same time draining opponents, in order, as Master Sun says, to make oneself invincible and take on opponents only when they are vulnerable. One of the simplest of these tactics is well known not only in the context of war, but also in social and business maneuvering: "Good warriors get others to come to them, and do not go to others."

Conserving one's own energy while inducing others to dissipate theirs is another function of the inscrutability so highly prized by the Taoist warrior: "The consummation of forming an army is to arrive at formlessness," says Master Sun, for then no one can formulate a strategy against you. At the same time, he says, induce opponents to construct their own formations, get them to spread themselves thin; test opponents to gauge their resources and reactions, but remain unknown yourself. In this case, formlessness and fluidity are not merely means of defense and surprise, but means of preserving dynamic potential, energy that could easily be lost by trying to hold on to a specific position or formation. Master Sun likens a successful force to water, which has no constant form but, as the Tao-te Ching notes, prevails over everything in spite of its apparent weakness: Sun says, "A military force has no constant formation, water has no constant shape. The ability to gain victory by changing and adapting according to the opponent is called genius."

The seventh chapter of The Art of War, on armed struggle, dealing with concrete field organization and combat maneuvers, recapitulates several of Sun Tzu's main themes. Beginning with the need for information and preparation, Sun says, "Act after having made assessments. The one who first knows the measures of far and near wins - this is the rule of armed struggle." The I Ching says, "Be prepared, and you will be lucky."

Again expounding his characteristic minimalist/essential-ist tactical philosophy, Sun Tzu goes on to say, "Take away the energy of opposing armies, take away the heart of their generals." Echoing his teachings on emptiness and fullness, he also says, "Avoid keen energy, strike the slumping and receding." To take full advantage of the principles of emptiness and fullness, Sun teaches four kinds of mastery essential to the uncanny warrior: mastery of energy, mastery of the heart, mastery of strength, and mastery of adaptation.

The principles of emptiness and fullness also display the fundamental mechanism of the classic yin-yang principles on which they are based, that of reversion from one to the other at the extremes. Master Sun says, "Do not stop an army on its way home. A surrounded army must be given a way out. Do not press a desperate enemy." The I Ching says, "The sovereign uses three chasers, letting the game ahead escape," and "if you are too adamant, action is unlucky, even if you are right."

The eighth chapter of The Art of War is devoted to adaptation, already seen to be one of the cornerstones of the warrior's art. Master Sun says, "If generals do not know how to adapt advantageously, even if they know the lay of the land they cannot take advantage of it." The I Ching says, "Persist too intensely at what is currently beyond your depth, and your fidelity to that course will bring misfortune, no gain."

Adaptability naturally depends on readiness, another persistent theme of The Art of War. Master Sun says, "The rule of military operations is not to count on opponents not coming, but to rely on having ways of dealing with them; not to count on opponents not attacking, but to rely on having what cannot be attacked." The I Ching says, "If you take on too much without a solid foundation, you will eventually be drained, leaving you with embarrassment and bad luck."

In The Art of War, readiness does not just mean material preparedness; without a suitable mental state, sheer physical power is not enough to guarantee victory. Master Sun here defines the psychological dimensions of the victorious leader indirectly, by enumerating five dangers - to be too willing to die, too eager to live, too quick to anger, too puritanical, or too sentimental. Any one of these excesses, he affirms, create vulnerabilities that can easily be exploited by canny opponents. The I Ching says, "When waiting on the fringes of a situation, before the appropriate time to go into action has arrived, be steady and avoid giving in to impulse - then you won't go wrong."

The ninth chapter deals with maneuvering armies. Again Master Sun deals with all three aspects of the warrior's art - the physical, social, and psychological. In concrete physical terms, he begins by recommending certain obvious types of terrain that enhance the odds of victory: high ground, upstream, the sunny side of hills, regions with plenty of resources. Referring to all three dimensions, he then describes ways of interpreting enemy movements.

Although Master Sun never dismisses the weight of sheer numbers or material might, here as elsewhere there is the strong suggestion that social and psychological factors can overcome the sort of power that can be physically quantified: "In military matters it is not necessarily beneficial to have more, only to avoid acting aggressively; it is enough to consolidate your power, assess opponents, and win people, that is all." The I Ching says, "When you have means but are not getting anywhere, seek appropriate associates, and you will be lucky." Similarly emphasizing directed group effort, The Art of War says, "The individualist without strategy who takes opponents lightly will inevitably become a captive."

Solidarity calls especially for mutual understanding and rapport between the leadership and the followers, achieved through both education and training. The Confucian sage Mencius said, "Those who send people on military operations without educating them ruin them." Master Sun says, "Direct them through cultural arts, unify them through martial arts; this means certain victory." The I Ching says, "It is lucky when the rulers nourish the ruled, watching them and bringing out their talents."

The tenth chapter, on terrain, continues the ideas of tactical maneuvering and adaptability, outlining types of terrain and appropriate ways of adjusting to them. It requires some thought to transfer the patterns of these types of terrain to other contexts, but the essential point is in consideration of the relationship of the protagonist to the configurations of the material, social, and psychological environment.

Master Sun follows this with remarks about fatal organizational deficiencies for which the leadership is responsible. Here again emphasis is on the morale of unity: "Look upon your soldiers as beloved children, and they willingly die with you." The I Ching says, "Those above secure their homes by kindness to those below." Nevertheless, extending the metaphor, Master Sun also warns against being overly indulgent, with the result of having troops who are like spoiled children.

Intelligence, in the sense of preparatory knowledge, is also stressed in this chapter, where it is particularly defined as including clear awareness of the capabilities of one's forces, the vulnerabilities of opponents, and the lay of the land: "When you know yourself and others, victory is not in danger; when you know sky and earth, victory is inexhaustible." The I Ching says, "Be careful in the beginning, and you have no trouble in the end."

The eleventh chapter, entitled "Nine Grounds," presents a more detailed treatment of terrain, particularly in terms of the relationship of a group to the terrain. Again, these "nine grounds" can be understood to apply not only to simple physical territory, but also to "territory" in its social and more abstract senses.

The nine grounds enumerated by Master Sun in this chapter are called a ground of dissolution, light ground, ground of contention, trafficked ground, intersecting ground, heavy ground, bad ground, surrounded ground, and dying (or deadly) ground.

A ground of dissolution is a stage of internecine warfare or civil strife. Light ground refers to shallow incursion into-others' territory. A ground of contention is a position that would be advantageous to either side of a conflict. Trafficked ground is where there is free travel. Intersecting ground is territory controlling important arteries of communication. Heavy ground, in contrast to light ground, refers to deep incursion into others' territory. Bad ground is difficult or useless terrain. Surrounded ground has restricted access, suited to ambush. Dying ground is a situation in which it is necessary to fight at once or be annihilated.

Describing the tactics appropriate to each type of ground, Master Sun includes consideration of the social and psychological elements of conflict, insofar as these are inextricably bound up with response to the environment: "Adaptation to different grounds, advantages of contraction and expansion, patterns of human feelings and conditions - these must be examined."

The twelfth chapter of The Art of War, on fire attack, begins with a brief description of various kinds of incendiary attack, along with technical considerations and strategies for follow-up.

Perhaps because fire is in an ordinary material sense the most vicious form of martial art (explosives existed but were not used militarily in Sun Tzu's time), it is in this chapter that the most impassioned plea for humanity is found, echoing the Taoist idea that "weapons are instruments of misfortune to be used only when unavoidable." Abruptly ending his short discussion of incendiary attack, Master Sun says, "A government should not mobilize an army out of anger, military leaders should not provoke war out of wrath. Act when it is beneficial to do so, desist if not. Anger can revert to joy, wrath can revert to delight, but a nation destroyed cannot be restored to existence, and the dead cannot be restored to life."

The thirteenth and final chapter of The Art of War deals with espionage, thus coming full' circle to link up with the opening chapter on strategy, for which intelligence is essential. Again turning to the efficiency-oriented minimalism and conservatism toward which the skills he teaches are directed, Master Sun begins by speaking of the importance of intelligence agents in most emphatic terms: "A major military operation is a severe drain on the nation, and may be kept up for years in the struggle for one day's victory. So to fail to know the conditions of opponents because of reluctance to give rewards for intelligence is extremely inhumane."

Sun goes on to define five kinds of spy, or secret agent. The local spy is one who is hired from among the populace of a region in which operations are planned. An inside spy is one who is hired from among the officials of an opposing regime. A reverse spy is a double agent, hired from among enemy spies. A dead spy is one who is sent in to convey false information. A living spy is one who comes and goes with information.

Here again there is a very strong social and psychological element in Sun Tzu's understanding of the practical complexities of espionage from the point of view of the leadership. Beginning with the issue of leadership, The Art of War also ends with the observation that the effective use of spies depends on the leadership. Master Sun says, "One cannot use spies without sagacity and knowledge, one cannot use spies without humanity and justice, one cannot get the truth from spies without subtlety," and he concludes, "Only a brilliant ruler or a wise general who can use the highly intelligent for espionage is sure of great success."



The Art of War was evidently written during the so-called Warring States period of ancient China, which lasted from the fifth to the third century B.C.E. This was a time of protracted disintegration of the Chou (Zhou) dynasty, which had been founded over five hundred years earlier by the political sages who wrote the I Ching. The collapse of the ancient order was marked by destabilization of 'interstate relationships and interminable warfare among aspirants to hegemony in the midst of ever-shifting patterns of alliance and opposition.

A preface to Strategies of the Warring States (Zhanguo ce/ Chan kuo ts'e), a classic collection of stories about the political and military affairs of the feudal states of this time, provides a graphic description of the Warring States period:

Usurpers set themselves up as lords and kings, states run by pretenders and plotters set up armies to make themselves superpowers. Increasingly they imitated one another in this, and their posterity followed their example. Eventually they engulfed and destroyed each other, colluding with larger territories and annexing smaller territories, passing years in violent military operations, filling the fields with bloodshed. Fathers and sons were not close to each other, brothers were not secure with each other, husbands and wives separated - no one could safeguard his or her life. Virtue disappeared. In later years this grew increasingly extreme, with seven large states and five small states contesting each other for power. In general, this was because the Warring States were shamelessly greedy, struggling insatiably to get ahead.

The great humanist philosopher and educator Confucius, who lived right on the eve of the Warring States era, spent his life working against the deterioration in human values that marked the fall of his society into centuries of convict. In the classic Analects of Confucius, the imminent dawn of the Warring States period is presaged in a symbolic vignette of Confucius' encounter with a ruler whom he tried to advise: "Lord Ling of the state of Wei asked Confucius about battle formations. Confucius replied, 'I have learned about the disposition of ritual vessels, but I have not studied military matters,' and left the next day."

This story, as if representing the disappearance of humanity ("Confucius left the next day") from the thoughts and considerations of rulers in the coming centuries of war, is taken up by the Taoist philosopher Chuang-tzu, who lived in the fourth and third centuries B.C.E.; right in the midst of the Warring States period. According to Chuang-tzu's enlargement on the theme, Yen Hui, the most enlightened disciple of Confucius, went to the teacher and asked about going to the state of Wei. Confucius said, "What are you going to do there?"

Yen Hui said, "I have heard that while the ruler of Wei is in the prime of life, his behavior is arbitrary - he exploits his country whimsically and does not see his own mistakes. He exploits his people frivolously, even unto death. Countless masses have died in that state, and the people have nowhere to turn. I have heard you say, 'Leave an orderly state, go to a disturbed state - at the physician's gate, many are the ailing.' I would like to use what I have learned to consider the guidance it offers, so that the state of Wei might be healed."

Confucius said, "You are bent on going, but you will only be punished."

Very few people of the time listened to the pacifistic humanism of Confucius and Mencius. Some say they did not listen because they could not implement the policies advocated by the original Confucians; others say they could not implement the policies because they did not listen, because they did not really want to be humane and just.

Those who listened to the pacifistic humanism of Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu, on the other hand, generally concealed themselves and worked on the problem from different angles. Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu show that the man of aggressive violence appears to be ruthless but is really an emotionalist; then they slay the emotionalist with real ruthlessness before revealing the spontaneous nature of free humanity.

The ancient Taoist masters show how real ruthlessness, the coldness of complete objectivity, always includes oneself in its cutting assessment of the real situation. The historical Buddha, a contemporary of Confucius who himself came from a clan of warriors in a time when the warrior caste was consolidating its political dominance, said that conflict would cease if we would be aware of our own death.

This is the ruthlessness of Lao-tzu when he says that the universe is inhumane and the sage sees people as being like the straw dogs used for ritual sacrifices. Chuang-tzu also gives numerous dramatic illustrations of ruthlessness toward oneself as an exercise in perspective designed to lead to cessation of internal and external conflict.

This "inhumanity" is not used by the original philosophers as a justification for quasi-ruthless possessive aggression, but as a meditation on the ultimate meaninglessness of the greed and possessiveness that underlie aggression. In India, Buddhist aspirants used to visit burning grounds and watch the corpses of those whose families couldn't afford a cremation rot away. This they did to terrify the greed and possessiveness out of themselves. After that they turned their minds toward thoughts of ideal individuals and ideal societies.

Similarly, Master Sun has his readers dwell on the ravages of war, from its incipient phases of treachery and alienation to its extreme forms of incendiary attack and siege, viewed as a sort of mass cannibalism of human and natural resources. With this device he gives the reader an enhanced feeling for the significance of individual and social virtues espoused by the humanitarian pacifists.

From this point of view, it is natural to think of the Taoist thread in The Art of War not as a random cultural element, but as key to understanding the text at all of its levels. By the nature of its overt subject matter, The Art of War commanded the attention of people who were less likely to pay serious mind to the pacificistic teachings of the classical humanists.

Just as the I Ching preserved certain philosophical ideas through all sorts of political and social change through its popularity as an oracle and book of advice, so did The Art of War preserve a core of Taoist practical philosophy from destruction by its antithesis.

Paradox is often thought of as a standard device of Taoist psychology, used to cross imperceptible barriers of awareness. Perhaps the paradox of The Art of War is in its opposition to war. And as The Art of War wars against war, it does so by its own principles; it infiltrates the enemy's lines, uncovers the enemy's secrets, and changes the hearts of the enemy's troops.



The commentaries in this translation are selected from a standard collection of eleven interpreters.

Cao Cao (Ts'ao Ts'ao, 155 - 200 C.E.)
Cao Cao is one of the most distinguished military figures of Chinese history. Known for his keen intellect and his cunning, Cao received an honorary degree for social virtues and began his official career at the age of twenty. He held a number of important military posts and particularly distinguished himself in a campaign against rebels when he was about thirty years old.

After this he was given a local ministerial position, but was soon recalled to the region of the capital to take up a regional governorship. Citing health reasons, Cao Cao declined the governorship and returned to his homeland. When one of the most violent generals of the Han dynasty deposed the reigning emperor to set up his own puppet, however, Cao Cao came out of retirement, spending his family fortune to raise a private army in opposition to that general.

Subsequently promoted to high office by the emperor, Cao Cao overthrew would-be usurpers and became a general of the highest rank. He was eventually ennobled and was even encouraged to formally take over the thrown of the crumbling Han dynasty, but Cao Cao would not do this, likening himself to King Wen of the ancient Chou dynasty, one of the authors of the I Ching, a civil and military leader whose personal qualities, social policies, and political accomplishments won a loyal following that formed the basis of the nascent Chou dynasty, but who never set himself up as supreme leader.

Cao Cao was known for his heroism, talent, and strategy, in which he mainly followed the teachings of Sun Tzu's classic, The Art of War. In the tradition of the ancient chivalric code, according to which Chinese knights were to be learned in both martial and cultural arts, in addition to his military accomplishments Cao Cao was fond of literature and is said to have made a habit of reading every day, even during military campaigns.

Meng Shi (Liang Dynasty, 502 - 556)
Meng Shi, or "Mr. Meng," is apparently known only for his commentary on The Art of War. His time was marked by civil war and massive suffering.

Jia Lin (Tang Dynasty, 618 - 906)
Jia Lin seems to be known only for his commentary on The Art of War. During the Tang dynasty, China enlarged its empire, extending its cultural and political influence over other peoples, some of whom eventually used their experience under Chinese rule to take over large parts of China themselves. Tang-dynasty China also helped establish national governments in Japan, Tibet, and Yunnan.

Li Quan (Tang Dynasty, 618 - 906)
Li Quan was a devotee of Taoism as well as the martial arts. He lived on the Mountain of Few Abodes, where Bodhid-harma, the semilegendary founder of Chan Buddhism, lived during his last years in China. Taoist tradition attributes Shao-lin boxing, a popular school of martial arts, to this same Bodhidharma. Li Quan was a student of the Yin Convergence Classic (Yinfu jing), a Taoist text attributed to antiquity and traditionally interpreted in both martial and cultural terms. He is said to have read this laconic text thousands of times without understanding its meaning. Later he went to Black Horse Mountain, the famous site of the tomb of the First Emperor of China, where he met an old woman who gave him a charm and explained the meaning of the classic to him. This woman is identified with the Old Woman of Black Horse Mountain of folklore, who was said to have been a ruler of ancient times, considered a Taoist immortal by the people of the Tang dynasty. Whatever the true identity of his mentor may have been, Li Quan is known for his military strategy and wrote a commentary on the Yin Convergence Classic from that point of view. Eventually he went into the mountains to study Taoism.

Du You (735 - 812)
Du You served as an official military advisor, war councillor, and military inspector in several regions. Later in life he also held distinguished posts in the central government, but he eventually gave up office.

Du Mu (803 - 852)
Du Mu was the grandson of the aforementioned Du You. Known as a "knight of unflinching honesty and extraordinary honor," he earned an advanced academic degree and served in several positions at the imperial court. His fortunes declined in his later years, and he died at the age of fifty. On his deathbed he composed his own epitaph and burned all of his writings. He was known as an outstanding poet.

Zhang Yu (Sung Dynasty, 960 - 1278)
Zhang Yu is known only for his commentary on The Art of War and a collection of biographies of military leaders. The Sung dynasty was a time of more or less constantly increasing pressure from north Asia, culminating in the loss of its ancient homeland and finally all of the continental Chinese empire, to Mongolian invaders.

Mei Yaochen (1002 - 1060)
Mei Yaochen served in both local and central governments of the new Sung dynasty that followed several generations of disunity after the collapse of the Tang dynasty, and was chosen as one of the compilers and editors of the documents of the Tang dynasty. Mei was a literary correspondent of the famous poet Ou Yangxiu, and was himself a distinguished writer.

Wang Xi (Sung Dynasty, Early Eleventh Century)
Wang Xi was a scholar in the Hanlin or Imperial Academy. He is the author of two books on the Spring and Autumn Annals (Qunqiu/Ch'un-ch'iu), one of the Confucian classics of ancient illustrative history. While Sung dynasty China was beset with endless political, economic, and military problems, its culture was very lively, with important new developments in Confucianism, Taoism, and Zen Buddhism. These new forms of practical philosophy exerted a strong influence not only on the Chinese people themselves but even on the non-Chinese peoples who were taking over political control in China, to say nothing of the Koreans, Vietnamese, and Japanese who were watching the continental mainland and were experimenting with these new forms of high culture from China.

Chen Hao (Sung Dynasty, Early Twelfth Century)
Chen Hao was known for his extraordinary personal independence and his great aspirations. He became an officer of the state when he was only twenty years old. When the Jurchen people of north Asia invaded China in the mid 1220s, Chen assembled a patriotic army to defend the homeland. Later he also raised an army in secret to put down an attempted coup by a usurper.

Ho Yanxi (Sung Dynasty)
Nothing seems to be known of Ho Yanxi other than that he lived during the Sung dynasty and wrote this commentary on The Art of War.



The language of the Chinese classics is different from that of even the earliest commentators, very different from that of the Tang and Sung writers, vastly different 'from modern Chinese. All Chinese classics, extensively studied as they are, contain words and passages interpreted differently among Chinese commentators themselves. These differences in reading and understanding are sometimes radical. It is only natural, therefore, that translations of ancient Chinese texts into modern Western languages, which differ so greatly from Chinese, should themselves exhibit a considerable range of variety.

This is especially true considering the pregnancy of the Chinese language and the abundant use of imagery and allusion in Chinese literature. There are many choices of techniques available to the translator for conveying the contents of classical Chinese writings to the reader in another language. In twenty years of translating, never have I seen or translated an Oriental classic that I did not find so rich as to be able to generate at least three possible translations.

There are, again, various options available for dealing with this situation. As in my other translations from Oriental classics, the technical aim of my approach to The Art of War has been to make the flesh transparent and the bones stand out, to reproduce an abstract form to be filled with the colors of the individual reader's own life situations. Therefore I have omitted some references to certain local content, such items as ancient Chinese weaponry, not as being without a certain interest, but as incidental to the question of present day application of relational structures presented in the strategy of the classic.

Translation of ideas nevertheless inevitably involves questions of broad cultural differences and how they are perceived. As far as it is relevant to a politically sensitive text like The Art of War, to Occidental eyes the distinguishing mark of traditional Chinese social thought in actual practice is authoritarianism, and there is much empirical evidence to support this view of Confucian society. While it is true that personal loyalty, such as would serve for a cement in an authoritarian structure, seems to be esteemed more highly in the social thought of China than in that of the West, nevertheless there is also a broader conception of loyalty to abstractions or ideals that surfaces even in Confucian thought.

In Confucian idealism, a man does not participate in an organization or cause that he does not believe is reasonable and just. Once he truly believes it is right, however, a man should not abandon a course of action even if it brings him hardship and peril. Confucius said that it is a disgrace to be rich and honored in an unjust state, and he himself nearly died for his independence. According to the classics, loyalty does not mean blind obedience to an individual or state, but includes the duty of conscientious protest. Loyalty to ideals above all may be rare in practice, but it always was a part of the Chinese worldview.

In the organizational science of The Art of War, loyalty is not so much a moral standard in itself but a product of social relations within the organization based on other professional and ethical standards. The quality of the relationship between the leaders and the troops is what cements loyalty, according to Master Sun, and this is reinforced by egalitarian adherence to established standards of behavior.

There are different ways of interpreting ideals in real life, of course, and there is not necessarily an unambiguous course of action dictated by the general concept of loyalty, when there are various levels of relevance to consider. One of the stories related in commentary on The Art of War concerns the whole question of loyalty addressed from different points of view, illustrating the interplay of these different views of an appropriate context for loyalty.

During a war a certain brigadier general had his entire contingent wiped out in battle; he himself fought until the end, then returned to headquarters to report. Now, since there had been some problems with discipline and morale, there was talk of making an example of this general, accusing him of deserting his troops - not dying with them - and putting him to death. Finally it was objected, however, that he had in fact fought to the last man, after which there was no reason to continue, so he returned for reassignment; thus neither his loyalty to his troops nor his loyalty to his nation could be denied. Furthermore, if he were to be executed, it was argued in his defense, others would not necessarily be cowed into obedience but would more likely become alienated, seeing that there was no reason to return home.

On a level of understanding more sophisticated than that of broad generalizations, one of the most challenging and rewarding uses of classical literature is the exploration of the psychological nuances of basic concepts and their manifestations in practice. It is challenging because it demands immersion in the consciousness of the classics themselves; it is rewarding because it opens up realms of thought beyond predetermined subjective parameters. The key to this appreciation is a sensitivity to structure, traditionally awakened as much by allegory and imagery as by discourse and argument.

The use of imagery and suggestion in Chinese literature was practiced as a fine art in the Chan Buddhism of the Tang and S'ung dynasties, which inherited the traditions of the Confucian and Taoist classics as well as those of the Buddhist sutras. Chan Buddhism influenced all the great scholars, artists, and poets of China then and thereafter, yet Chan was in its turn indebted to classical Taoism for support in the acceptance of its surprising literary devices. One of the linguistic techniques of this fine art that is of particular concern to the translator is the use of ambiguity.

Taoist and Buddhist literature have been described - both by Easterners writing for Westerners and by Westerners writing for other Westerners - as paradoxical, so frequently and to such a degree that paradox is commonly considered one of the major characteristics or devices of this literature. The orientation of The Art of War toward winning without fighting, for example, is typical of this sort of paradox, which is there to invite attention to its own logic. It may paradoxically be nonparadoxical, therefore, to find that the paradox of ambiguity is an exact science in the Taoist literature of higher psychology.

The first maneuver of this literature is to engage the participation of the reader in the work, just as the viewer is drawn into the pattern of suggestion spun by lines in space on seeing an expert Sung-dynasty ink line drawing. The result is partly from the writing and partly from the reading; used as a tool for the assessment of the mentality of the reader, each aphorism, each text, brings out a particular facet of human psychology. Chan Buddhists often used ambiguity primarily as a means of nondirective mirroring of personalities and mind sets; The Art of War similarly has the power to reveal a great deal about its readers through their reactions and interpretations.

As a translator, therefore, I have always considered the faithful reconstruction of a necessary or useful ambiguity to be among the most difficult subtleties of the craft. Commentators on Chinese classics have long shown how thoroughly different perspectives can be obtained by adopting the different sets of subject or object associations that certain sentences allow. In the later Chan schools, it was openly stated that classic texts were meant to be read by putting yourself in everyone's place to get a comprehensive view of subjective and objective relationships, and the Chan writers took this to breathtakingly distant lengths in an elaborate imagery of transformation and interpenetration of viewpoints.

In a classical aphorism on education frequently encountered in Chan literature, Confucius said, "If I bring up one corner, and those to whom I am speaking cannot come back with the other three, I don't talk to them anymore." Applied to a Chinese classic, this produces a fair description of the experience of reading such a book. Put in a positive way, Confucius said the classics give hints, suggestions that yield more only with time and thought given to applying these hints to present real situations. Similarly, in Taoist tradition they are used as visualization models, designed to awaken certain perceptions of human nature and the human condition.

It is the intention of this translation of The Art of War, therefore, to reproduce the classic as a study of relationships, or energy in potential and in motion, that could remain useful through changes in time, linked with the perennial Taoist tradition that marks the heart and soul of this classic text. Comments by the readers mentioned above, written over a period of nearly a thousand years, have been selected not only to elucidate the original text but also to illustrate the shifting of perspectives that the classic makes possible. The translation of the original has therefore been designed to provide conceptual space for different views in specific places.

The reason that classics remain classics over thousands of years, as The Art of War has remained along with the works of the original Confucian and Taoist sages, seems to be that they continue to have meaning. This continuing meaning, moreover, is not experienced only over generations. On a small scale, a classic yields significantly different meanings when read in different circumstances and moods; on a larger scale, a classic conveys wholly different worlds when read in different times of life, at different stages of experience, feeling, and understanding of life. Classics may be interesting and even entertaining, but people always find they are not like books used for diversion, which give up all of their content at once; the classics seem to grow wiser as we grow wiser, more useful the more we use them.



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