“The Art of War” is a classic military treatise that emphasizes, “War is a matter of vital importance to the state; a matter of life and death, the road to either safety or ruin. Hence, it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected. Therefore, it is necessary to examine it.” This concept has been widely applied throughout history, guiding many practitioners to success. Over the millennia since the emergence of “The Art of War,” numerous wars have been fought, and many brilliant commanders and armies have achieved resounding victories by employing the strategies and tactics outlined in this ancient text.
What is the “Dao” or the Way? In times of war, the “Dao” represents astute political leadership. Warfare requires both manpower and morale. Rulers, like the common people, should share a common goal of victory, an ideal of safeguarding their homes and country, fostering a unified will to face life and death together. This unity of purpose is evident in modern society, especially in the face of disasters. Reflecting on our nation’s unity during snowstorms and earthquakes, the scenes of solidarity and mutual support vividly embody the essence of the “Dao” as described in “The Art of War.”
What is “Tian” (Heaven) and “Di” (Earth)? In war, success relies on adapting to the opportune timing and advantageous geographical conditions – “Tian shi di li.” This principle is equally applicable to contemporary life. Whether it be merchants selling roses elaborately packaged on Valentine’s Day, individuals selling umbrellas on rainy days, or businesses strategically choosing locations, all demonstrate an understanding and application of the concept of “Tian shi di li” in the pursuit of survival and success.
What is a “Jiang” or a General? In “The Art of War,” a skilled general represents wise leadership. In times of war, having a sagacious general is a blessing, just as in modern times, having a talented and just leader is crucial. We aspire to have leaders endowed with talent, capable of fair rewards and punishments, and showing care and concern for their subordinates. Simultaneously, we hope to be leaders ourselves – courageous, decisive, and worthy of respect. “The Art of War” provides guidance on effective leadership and successful management.
What is “Fa” or Law? In ancient times, strict adherence to military law was well-known, and in modern times, we require adherence to civil law. In a contemporary, law-governed society, understanding and abiding by the law is essential. Only in a society with rules and regulations can we develop freely and prosperously. Imagine a country without laws – it would be a chaotic world without regulation, protection, and human rights.
“The Art of War” is not only a military treatise but also a guide to survival. It imparts wisdom and experience for both war and life, directing people towards success.
I. When the Real Fight Begins, the Opponent Knows Strategy Too
Sun Tzu said: In the art of war, the commander receives orders from the sovereign, gathers troops, establishes alliances, and relinquishes unimportant territories. Nothing is more challenging than military conflict.
In the midst of battle, the outcome is entirely unpredictable. Stay calm, avoid greed, and don’t let emotions dictate actions. Constantly remember military strategies, anticipate and assess first, then scout and validate. Admit defeat, don’t rush to reverse it; focus on development. Revenge is best served patiently.
II. No Straight Path Leads to Victory
The difficulty in military conflict lies in turning the indirect into direct, and adversity into advantage. Therefore, taking indirect paths luring with incentives allows later arrivals to claim the prize. This knowledge of indirect and direct strategy is crucial.
Just as in football, scoring cannot happen with a straight rush. Embrace indirectness, eventually it leads to the direct. In life and growth, without taking detours, there may not be a way forward. Avoid spending unnecessarily, only then can you spend wisely.
III. True Heroes Have No Legendary Stories
Military conflict is about gain and danger. Engaging the entire army for gain results in loss; sacrificing a portion of the army for gain leads to loss of supplies.
Haste is like the wind, steady advance is like the forest, attacking is like fire, remaining motionless is like the mountain.
True heroes have no need for tales. Military gains and risks must be balanced. Swift as the wind, the backbone lies in efficient communication and logistics established through sustained groundwork. Like fire, it boosts morale during combat, fostered by advanced organizational and command systems. Resembling a forest, it requires scale and detail in dealing with wind and fire, gained through extensive research and long-term training. Like a mountain, a calm leader upholds discipline, experience derived from practical combat.
IV. Enlist Reliable Teammates
One who doesn’t understand the strategies of other states cannot form reliable alliances. Without knowledge of terrains, obstacles, and advantageous positions, marching is impossible; without local guides, advantages cannot be obtained.
“Defeat the enemy’s plans before engaging in warfare; next best is to defeat their alliances.” Just as in game theory, it’s not just about the interaction and interests of both sides but also about increasing our leverage through diplomacy. However, team selection requires careful consideration, demanding comprehensive understanding.
V. Basic Skills Underpin Everything
Using deception to establish, movement to gain, and division and consolidation as variations—these are the principles of warfare. Swift like the wind, aggressive like fire, still like the forest—these are integral.
Deception is secondary; the wind, fire, and forest are primary. Speed in attacking is supported by efficient logistics and communication established through long-term groundwork. The aggressive fire reflects morale during combat supported by advanced organizational systems. The calm forest requires depth in strategy and extensive training. The mountain-like stillness symbolizes composed leadership backed by practical combat experience.
VI. Occasional Hidden Benefits Inspire Teams
The challenging path is obscure, the action, striking as thunder, swarming settlements, dividing and seizing territories, posing threats but moving cautiously.
Official team benefits are expected, hence informal benefits can stimulate and motivate effectively.
VII. Command is Unyielding
In the military, “When words fail, sound the drums; when sight fails, display banners.” Drums and banners are tools for communication. When focus is unified, the brave don’t advance alone, and the timid don’t retreat alone—this is the strategy of using the collective. Night battles rely on drums, daylight battles on banners—this is to alter the perception of the opponent.
Workplaces often face issues of limited perspectives, either through blind guesswork or biased decision-making. It’s not usually an issue of intelligence.
VIII. Control of the Heart is Fundamental
A general can seize the hearts of the people. Therefore, during the day, motivate; during the night, relax.
Those skilled in warfare evade quickness and exploit laziness. This is controlling motivation. Manage chaos with calmness, and excitement with tranquility. This is controlling emotions. Use proximity to advantage, ease for labor, and abundance for scarcity. This is controlling power. Avoid direct confrontations and large-scale attacks, this is controlling changes.
In battles, endurance triumphs; in morale, spirit prevails. Controlling morale involves strengthening one’s inner self, staying fearless in crises and remaining composed amidst changes. Managing power involves taking initiative without being subservient.
IX. Policy Before Strategy
In the art of war, avoid high ground; don’t confront higher ground, feign retreat without actually doing so, avoid attacking with a concentrated force, don’t exhaust the enemy’s provisions, don’t stop the retreat of an army, surround enemies but leave them an escape, and don’t corner desperate enemies.
Don’t force enemies into desperation; it’s not about not pursuing desperate enemies, it’s crucial to gauge this threshold correctly.