B.H. Liddell Hart’s Forward

…Sun Tzu’s essays on `The Art of War’ form the earliest of known treatises on the subject, but have never been surpassed in comprehensiveness and depth of understanding. They might well be termed the concentrated essence of wisdom on the conduct of war. Among all the military thinkers of the past, only Clausewitz is comparable, and even he is more `dated’ than Sun Tzu, and in part antiquated, although he was writing more than two thousand years later. Sun Tzu has clearer vision, more profound insight, and eternal freshness.

Civilization might have been spared much of the damage suffered in the world wars of this century if the influence of Clausewitz’s monumental tomes On War, which molded European military thought in the era preceding the First World War, had been blended with and balanced by a know- ledge of Sun Tzu’s exposition on `The Art of War’. Sun Tzu’s realism and moderation form a contrast to Clausewitz’s tendency to emphasize the logical ideal and `the absolute’ which his disciples caught on to in developing the theory and practice of `total war’ beyond all bounds of sense. That fatal development was fostered by Clausewitz’s dictum that: `To introduce into the philosophy of war a principle of moderation would be an absurdity – war is an act of violence pushed to its utmost bounds.’ Yet subsequently he qualified this assertion by the admission that `the political object, as the original motive of the war, should be the standard for determining both the aim of the military force and also the amount of effort to be made’. Moreover, his eventual conclusion was that to pursue the logical extreme entailed that `the means would lose all relation to the end’.

The ill-effects of Clausewitz’s teaching arose largely from his disciples’ too shallow and too extreme interpretation of it overlooking his qualifying clauses, but he lent himself to such misinterpretation by expounding his theory in a way too abstract and involved for concrete minded soldiers to follow the course of his argument, which often turned back from the direction which it seemed to be taking. Impressed but bemused, they clutched at his vivid leading phrases and missed the underlying trend of his thought – which do not differ so much from Sun tzu’s conclusions as it appeared to do on the surface.


In brief, Sun Tzu was the best short introduction to the study of warfare, and no less valuable for constant reference in extending study of the subject.

The study of Sun Tzu has recently been touted as a reference for business men, to apply his theories to the world of business where you are at war with your competitors and have clients and wealth as goals for conquest.

B.H Liddell Hart was a captain in the British Army during W.W.II. He has written a number of books on W.W.II and warfare.

Biography of Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu was a Chinese General in the 5th or 6th century before the common era. This is during the warring years of the late Chou dynasty. He is the supposed author of the Ping Fa, the Art of War, which some consider the best single book ever written on the subject.

He was born in the state of Chi’ and was named Sun Wu, the Tsu was an honorific title meaning master, given to him later in life. In his adult years he served King Ho-lu of Wu as a military specialist. There are some theories on his life that he was a traveling consultant.

His book and teachings do not put force at the center of warfare. Rather he takes the view that victory or defeat is a psychological state. One does not need to overcome an enemy by force but can achieve your goal of victory by unsettling your enemy psychologically. Remove your enemy and his leader and his nation will move from a state of harmony to one of chaos and you have effectively defeated them.

Copies of his manuscripts date from antiquity and confirm his authorship. His works were long studied in Asia and only recently brought to the west (~1750’s).

Many generals of the past 200 years have read Sun Tzu and applied his theories to their wars. Mao Tse-tung was one of the best recent examples of winning without expending too much force.

The Art of War Table of Contents

Waging War
Offensive Strategy
Weakness and Strengths
The Nine Variables
The Nine Varieties of Ground
Attack by Fire
Employment of Secret Agents


  1. War is a matter of vital importance to the State; the province of life or death; the road to survival or ruin. It is mandatory that it be thoroughly studied.
  2. Therefore, appraise it in terms of the five fundamental factors and make comparisons of the seven elements later named. So you may access its essentials.
  3. The first of these factors is moral influence; the second, weather; the third, terrain; the fourth, command; and the fifth, doctrine.
  4. By moral influence, I mean that which causes the people to be in harmony with their leaders, so that they will accompany them in life and unto death without fear of mortal peril.
  5. By weather I mean the interaction of natural forces; the effects of winter’s cold and summer’s heat and the conduct of military operations in accordance with the seasons.
  6. By terrain I mean distances, whether the ground is traversed with ease or difficulty, whether it is open or constricted, and the chances of life or death.
  7. By command I mean the general’s qualities of wisdom, sincerity, humanity, courage, and strictness.
  8. By doctrine I mean organization, control, assignment of appropriate ranks to officers, regulation of supply routes, and the provision of principle items used by the army.
  9. There is no general who has not heard of these five matters. Those who master them win; those who do not are defeated.
  10. Therefor in laying plans compare the following elements, appraising them with the utmost care.
  11. If you say which ruler possesses moral influence, which commander is the more able, which army obtains the advantages of nature and the terrain, in which regulations and instructions are better carried out, which troops are the stronger;
  12. Which has the better trained officers and men;
  13. And which administers rewards and punishments in a more enlightened manner;
  14. I will be able to forecast which side will be victorious and which defeated.
  15. If a general who heeds my strategy is employed he is certain to win. Retain him! When one who refuses to listen to my strategy is employed, he is certain to be defeated. Dismiss him!
  16. Having paid heed to the advantages of my plans, the general must create situations which will contribute to their accomplishment. By ‘situations’ I mean that he should act expediently in accordance with what is advantageous and so control the balance.
  17. All warfare is based on deception.
  18. Therefore, when capable, feign incapacity; when active, inactivity.
  19. When near, make it appear that you are far away; when far away, that you are near.
  20. Offer the enemy a bait to lure him; feign disorder and strike him.
  21. When he concentrates, prepare against him; where he is strong, avoid him.
  22. Anger his general and confuse him.
  23. Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance.
  24. Keep him under a strain and wear him down.
  25. When he is united, divide him.
  26. Attack where he is unprepared; sally out when he does not expect you.
  27. These are the strategist’s key to victory. It is not possible to discuss them beforehand.
  28. Now if the estimates made in the temple before hostilities indicate a victory it is because calculations show one’s strength to be superior to that of his enemy; if they indicate defeat, it is because calculations show that one is inferior. With many calculations, one can win; with few one cannot. How much less chance of victory has one who makes none at all! By this means I examine the situation and the outcome will be clearly apparent.

Waging War

  1. Generally, operations of war require one thousand fast four-horse chariots, one thousand four-horse wagons covered in leather, and one thousand mailed troops.
  2. When provisions are transported for a thousand li expenditures at home and in the field, stipends for the entertainment of advisors and visitors, the cost of materials such as glue and lacquer, and of chariots and armour, will amount to one thousand pieces of gold a day. After this money is in hand, one hundred thousand troops may be raised.
  3. Victory is the main object in war. If this is long delayed, weapons are blunted and morale depressed. When troops attack cities, their strength will be exhausted.
  4. When the army engages in protracted campaigns the resources of the state will not suffice.
  5. When your weapons are dulled and ardor damped, your strength exhausted and treasure spent, neighboring rulers will take advantage of your distress to act. And even though you have wise counselors, none will be able to lay good plans for the future.
  6. Thus, while we have heard of blundering swiftness in war, we have not yet seen a clever operation that was prolonged.
  7. For there has never been a protracted war from which a country has benefited.
  8. Thus those unable to understand the dangers inherent in employing troops are equally unable to understand the advantageous ways of doing so.
  9. Those adept in waging war do not require a second levy of conscripts nor more than one provisioning.
  10. They carry equipment from the homeland; they rely for provisions on the enemy. Thus the army is plentifully provided with food.
  11. When a country is impoverished by military operations it is due to distant transportation; carriage of supplies for great distances renders the people destitute.
  12. Where the army is, the prices are high; when prices rise the wealth of the people is exhausted. When wealth is exhausted the peasantry will be afflicted with urgent exactions.
  13. With strength thus depleted and wealth consumed the households in the central plains will be utterly impoverished and seven-tenths of their wealth dissipated.
  14. As to government expenditures, those due to broken-down chariots, worn-out horses, armor and helmets, arrows and crossbows, lances, hand and body shields, draft animals and supply wagons will amount to sixty per cent of the total.
  15. Hence the wise general sees to it that his troops feed on the enemy, for one bushel of the enemy’s provisions is equivalent to twenty of his; one hundredweight of enemy fodder to twenty hundredweight of his.
  16. The reason troops slay the enemy is because they are enraged.
  17. They take booty from the enemy because they desire wealth.
  18. Therefore, when in chariot fighting more than ten chariots are captured, reward those who take the first. replace the enemy’s flags and banners with your own, mix the captured chariots with yours, and mount them.
  19. Treat the captives well, and care for them.
  20. This is called ‘winning a battle and becoming stronger’.
  21. Hence what is essential in war is victory, not prolonged operations. And therefore the general who understands war is the Minister of the people’s fate and arbiter of the nation’s destiny.

Offensive Strategy

  1. Generally in war the best policy is to take a state intact; to ruin it is inferior to this.
  2. To capture the enemy’s army is better than to destroy it; to take intact a battalion, a company or a five-man squad is better than to destroy them.
  3. For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.
  4. Thus, what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy’s strategy;
  5. Next best is to disrupt his alliances:
  6. The next best is to attack his army.
  7. The worst policy is to attack cities. Attack cities only when there is no alternative.
  8. To prepare the shielded wagons and make ready the necessary arms and equipment requires at least three months; to pile up earthen ramps against the the walls an additional three months will be needed.
  9. If the general is unable to control his impatience and orders his troops to swarm up the walls like ants, one-third of them will be killed without taking the city. Such is the calamity of these attacks.
  10. Thus, those skilled in war subdue the enemy’s army without battle. They capture his cities without assaulting them and overthrowing his state without protracted operations.
  11. Your aim must be to take All-under-Heaven intact. Thus your troops are not worn out and your gains will be complete. This is the art of offensive strategy.
  12. Consequently, the art of using troops is this: When ten to the enemy’s one, surround him.
  13. When five times his strength, attack him;
  14. If double his strength, divide him;
  15. If equally matched engage him.
  16. If weaker numerically, ba capable of withdrawing;
  17. And if in all respects unequal, be capable of eluding him, for a small force is but booty for one more powerful.
  18. Now the general is the protector of the state. If this protection is all-embracing, the state will surely be strong; if defective, the state will certainly be weak.
  19. Now there are three ways in which a ruler can bring misfortune upon his army:
  20. When ignorant that the army should not advance, to order an advance or ignorant that is should not retire, to order a retirement. This is described as ‘hobbling the army’.
  21. When ignorant of military affairs, to participate in their administration. This causes officers to be perplexed.
  22. When ignorant of command problems to share in the exercise of responsibilities. The engenders doubts in the minds of officers.
  23. If the army is confused and suspicious, neighbouring rulers will cause trouble. This is what is meant by the saying: ‘A confused army leads to another’s victory’.
  24. Now there are five circumstances in which victory may be predicted:
  25. He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious.
  26. He who understands how to use both large and small forces will be victorious.
  27. He whose ranks are united in purpose will be victorious.
  28. He who is prudent and lies in wait for an enemy who is not, will be victorious.
  29. He whose generals are able and not interfered with by the sovereign will be victorious.
  30. It is in these five matters that the way to victory is known.
  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.’


  1. Anciently the skillful warriors first made themselves invincible and awaited the enemy’s moments of vulnerability.
  2. Invincibility depends on one’s self; the enemy’s vulnerability on him.
  3. It follows that those skilled in war can make themselves invincible but cannot cause an enemy to be certainly vulnerable.
  4. Therefore it is said that one may know how to win, but cannot necessarily do so.
  5. Invincibility lies in the defense; the possibility of victory in the attack.
  6. One defends when his strength is inadequate; he attacks when it is abundant.
  7. The experts in defense conceal themselves as under the ninefold earth; those skilled in attack move as from above the ninefold heavens. Thus they are capable both of protecting themselves and of gaining complete victory.
  8. To foresee a victory which the ordinary man can foresee is not the acme of skill.
  9. To triumph in battle and be universally acclaimed ‘Expert’ is not the acme of skill, for to lift an autumn down requires no great strength; to distinguish between sun and moon is no test of vision; to hear the thunderclap is no indication of acute hearing.
  10. Anciently those called skilled in war conquered an enemy easily conquered.
  11. And therefore the victories won by a master of war gain him neither reputation for wisdom nor merit for valour.
  12. For he wins his victories without erring. ‘Without erring’ mean that whatever he does ensures victory; he conquers an enemy already defeated.
  13. Therefore the skillful commander takes up a position in which he cannot be defeated and misses no opportunity to master his enemy.
  14. Thus a victorious army wins its victories before seeking battle; an army destined to defeat fights in the hope of winning.
  15. Those skilled in war cultivate the Tao and preserve the laws and are therefore able to formulate victorious policies.
  16. Now the elements of the art of war are first, measurement of space; second, estimation of quantities; third, calculations; fourth, comparisons; and fifth, chances of victory.
  17. Measurements of space are derived from the ground.
  18. Quantities derive from measurement, figures from quantities, comparisons from figures, and victory from comparisons.
  19. Thus a victorious army is as a hundredweight balanced against a grain a defeated army as a grain against a hundredweight.
  20. It is because of disposition that a victorious general is able to make his people fight with pent-up waters which, suddenly released, plunge into a bottomless abyss.


  1. Generally, management of many is the same as management of a few. it is a matter of organization.
  2. And to control many is the same as to control few. This is a matter of formations and signals.
  3. That the army is certain to sustain the enemy’s attack without suffering defeat is due to operations of the extraordinary and the normal forces.
  4. Troops thrown against the enemy as a grindstone against eggs is an example of a solid acting upon a void.
  5. Generally, in battle, use the normal force to engage; use the extraordinary to win.
  6. Now the resources of those skilled in the use of extraordinary forces are as infinite as the heavens and earth; as inexhaustible as the flow of the great rivers.
  7. For they end and recommence; cyclical, as are the movements of the sun and moon. They die away and are reborn; recurrent, as are the passing seasons.
  8. The musical notes are only five in number but their melodies are so numerous that one cannot hear them all.
    (Note from RB here: Western scales have 8 notes, Indian have 22 tones and semi-tones; had Sun Tzu knew more about music he might have changed this sentence; ‘even with only 22 tones and semitones we (still) have an infinite number of melodies available’ – not too much of a change)
  9. The primary colours are only five in number but their combinations are so infinite that one cannot visualize them all.
    (Note from RB here: Three primary colours Red Green Blue – The PC monitor you are looking at has only these three and most likely, SVGA with memory, can produce millions of colours from these; But as in #8 Sun Tzu is just showing that from a few items a multitude of combinations can be obtained)
  10. The flavours are only five in number but their blends are so various that one cannot taste them all.
  11. In battle there are only the normal and extraordinary forces, but their combinations are limitless; none can comprehend them all.
  12. For these two forces are mutually reproductive; their interaction as endless as that of interlocked rings. Who can determine where one ends and the other begins.
  13. When torrential water tosses boulders, it is because of momentum;
  14. When the strike of a hawk breaks the body of its prey, it is because of timing.
  15. Thus the momentum of one skilled in war is overwhelming, and his attack precisely regulated.
  16. His potential is that of a fully drawn crossbow; his timing, the release of the trigger.
  17. In the tumult and uproar the battle seems chaotic, but there is no disorder; the troops appear to be milling about in circles but cannot be defeated.
  18. An apparent confusion is a product of good order; apparent cowardice, of courage; apparent weakness, of strength.
  19. Order or disorder depends on organization; courage or cowardice on circumstances; strength or weakness on dispositions.
  20. Thus, those skilled at making the enemy move do so by creating a situation to which he must conform; they intice him with something he is certain to take, and with lures of ostensible profit they await him in strength.
  21. Therefore a skilled commander seeks victory from the situation and does not demand it of his subordinates.
  22. He selects his men and they exploit the situation.
  23. (Note from RB: The example from #22 was large and either they forgot to include #23 or they skipped in their numbering of the paragraphs.)
  24. he who relies on the situation uses his men in fighting as one rolls logs or stones. Now the nature of logs or stones is that on stable ground they are static; on unstable ground, they move. If square, they stop; if round, they roll.
  25. Thus, the potential of troops skillfully commanded in battle may be compared to that of round boulders which roll down from the mountain heights.

Weakness and Strengths

  1. Generally, he who occupies the field of battle first and awaits his enemy is at ease; he who comes later to the scene and rushes into the fight is weary.
  2. And therefore those skilled in war bring the enemy to the field of battle and are not brought there by him.
  3. One able to make the enemy come to his own accord does so by offering him some advantage. And one able to prevent him from coming does so by hurting him.
  4. When the enemy is at ease, be able to weary him; when well fed, to starve him; when at rest, to make him move.
  5. Appear at places to which he must hasten; move swiftly where he does not expect you.
  6. That you travel a thousand li without wearying yourself is because you travel where there is no enemy.
  7. To be certain to take what you attack is to attack a place the enemy does not protect. To be certain to hold what you defend is to defend a place the enemy does not attack.
  8. Therefore, against those skilled in attack, an enemy does not know where to defend; against the experts in defense, the enemy does not know where to attack.
  9. Subtle and insubstantial, the expert leaves no trace; divinely mysterious, he is inaudible. Thus he is master of his enemy’s fate.
  10. He whose advance is irresistible plunges into his enemy’s weak positions; he who in withdrawal cannot be pursued moves so swiftly that he cannot be overtaken.
  11. When I wish to give battle, my enemy, even though protected by high walls and deep moats, cannot help but engage me, for I attack a position he must succour.
  12. When I wish to avoid battle I may defend myself simply by drawing a line on the ground; the enemy will be unable to attack me because I divert him from going where he wishes.
  13. If I am able to determine the enemy’s dispositions while at the same time I conceal my own then I can concentrate and he must divide. And if I concentrate while he divides, I can use my entire strength to attack a fraction of his. There, I will be numerically superior. Then, if I am able to use many to strike few at the selected point, those I deal with will be in dire straits.
  14. The enemy must not know where I intend to give battle. For if he does not know where I intend to give battle he must prepare in a great many places. And when he prepares in a great many places, those I have to fight in any one place will be few.
  15. For if he prepares to the front his rear will be weak, and if to the rear, his front will be fragile. If he prepares to the left, his right will be vulnerable and if to the right, there will be few on his left. And when he prepares everywhere he will be weak everywhere.
  16. One who has few must prepare against the enemy; one who has many makes the enemy prepare against him.
  17. If one knows where and when a battle will be fought this troops can march a thousand li and meet on the field. But if one knows neither the battleground nor the day of battle, the left will be unable to aid the right, or the right, the left; the van to support the rear, or the rear, the van. How much more is this so when separated by several tens of li, or , indeed, by even a few.
  18. Although I estimate the troops of Yueh as many, of what benefit is this superiority in respect to the outcome?
  19. Thus I say that victory can be created. For even if the enemy is numerous, I can prevent him from engaging.
  20. Therefore, determine the enemy’s plans and you will know which strategy will be successful and which will not;
  21. Agitate him and ascertain the pattern of his movement.
  22. Determine his dispositions and so ascertain the field of battle.
  23. Probe him and learn where his strength is abundant and where deficient.
  24. The ultimate in disposing one’s troops is to be without ascertainable shape. The the most penetrating spies cannot pry in nor can the wise lay plans against you.
  25. It is according to the shapes that I lay the plans for victory, but the multitude does not comprehend this. Although everyone can see the outward aspects, none understands the way in which I have created victory.
  26. Therefore, when I have won a victory I do not repeat my tactics but respond to circumstances in an infinite variety of ways.
  27. Now an army may be likened to water, for just as flowing water avoids the heights and hastens to the lowlands, so an army avoids strength and strikes weakness.
  28. And as water shapes its flow in accordance with the ground, so an army manages its victory in accordance with the situation of the enemy.
  29. And as water has no constant form, there are in war no constant conditions.
  30. Thus, one able to gain victory by modifying his tactics in accordance with the enemy situation may be said to be divine.
  31. Of the five elements, none is always predominant; of the four seasons, none lasts forever; of the days, some are long and some are short, and the moon waxes and wanes.


  1. Normally, when the army is employed, the general first receives his commands from the sovereign. He assembles the troops and mobilizes the people. He blends the army into a harmonious entity and encamps it.
  2. Nothing is more difficult that the art of manoeuvre. What is difficult about manoeuvre is to make the devious route the most direct and to turn misfortune into advantage.
  3. Thus, march by an indirect route and divert the enemy bu enticing him with bait. So doing, you may set out after he does and arrive before him. One able to do this understands the strategy of the direct and the indirect.
  4. Now both advantage and danger are inherent in manoeuvre.
  5. One who sets the entire army in motion to chase an advantage will not attain it.
  6. If he abandons the camp to contend for advantage the stores will be lost.
  7. It follows that when one rolls up the armour and sets out speedily, stopping neither day nor night and marching at double time for a hundred li, the three commanders will be captured. For the vigorous troops will arrive first and the feeble straggle along behind, so that if this method is used only one-tenth of the army will arrive.
  8. In a forced march of fifty li the commander of the van will fall, and using this method half the army will arrive. In a forced march of thirty li, but two-thirds will arrive.
  9. It follows that an army which lacks heavy equipment, fodder, food and stores will be lost.
  10. Those who do not know the conditions of mountains and forests, hazardous defiles, marshes and swamps, cannot conduct the march of an army;
  11. Those who do not use local guides are unable to obtain the advantages of the ground.
  12. Now war is based on deception. move when it is advantageous and create changes in the situation by dispersal and concentration of forces.
  13. When campaigning, be swift as the wind; in leisurely march, majestic as the forest; in raiding and plundering, like fire; in standing, firm as the mountains. As unfathomable as the clouds, move like a thunderbolt.
  14. When you plunder the countryside, divide your forces. When you conquer territory, divide the profits.
  15. Weigh the situation, then move.
  16. He who knows the art of the direct and the indirect approach will be victorious. Such is the art of maneuvering.
  17. The Book of Military Administration says: ‘As the voice cannot be heard in battle, drums and bells are used. As troops cannot see each other clearly in battle, flags and banners are used.
  18. Now gongs and drums, banners and flags are used to focus the attention of the troops. When the troops can be thus united, the brave cannot advance alone, nor can the cowardly withdraw. This is the art of employing a host.
  19. In night fighting use many torches and drums, in day fighting many banners and flags in order to influence the sight and hearing of our troops.
  20. Now an army may be robbed of its spirit and its commander deprived of his courage.
  21. During the early morning spirits are keen, during the day they flag, and in the evening thoughts turn toward home.
  22. And therefor those skilled in war avoid the enemy when his spirit is keen and attack him when it is sluggish and his soldiers homesick. This is control of the moral factor.
  23. In good order they await a disorderly enemy; in serenity, a clamorous one. This is control of the mental factor.
  24. Close to the field of battle, they await an enemy coming from afar; at rest, an exhausted enemy; with well-fed troops, hungry ones. This is control of the physical factor.
  25. They do not engage an enemy advancing with well ordered banners nor one whose formations are in impressive array. This is control of the factor of changing circumstances.
  26. Therefore, the art of employing troops is that when the enemy occupies high ground, do not confront him; with his back resting on hills, do not oppose him.
  27. When he pretends to flee, do not pursue him.
  28. Do not attack his elite troops.
  29. Do not gobble proffered baits.
  30. Do not thwart an enemy returning homewards.
  31. To a surrounded enemy you must leave a way of escape.
  32. Do not press an enemy at bay.
  33. This is the method of employing troops.

The Nine Variables

  1. In general, the system of employing troops is that the commander receives his mandate from the sovereign to mobilize the people and assemble the army.
  2. You should not encamp in low-lying land.
  3. In communicating ground, unite with your allies.
  4. You should not linger in desolate ground.
  5. In enclosed ground, resourcefulness is required.
  6. In death ground, fight.
  7. The are some roads not to follow; some troops not to strike; some cities not to assault; and some ground which should not be contested.
  8. There are occasions when the commands of the sovereign need not be obeyed.
  9. A general thoroughly versed in the advantages of the nine variable factors knows how to employ troops.
  10. The general who does not understand the advantages of the nine variable factors will not be able to use the ground to his advantage even though familiar with it.
  11. In the direction of military operations one who does not understand the tactics suitable to the nine variable situations will be unable to use his troops effectively, even if he understands the five advantages.
  12. And for this reason, the wise general in his deliberations must consider both favourable and unfavourable factors.
  13. By taking into account the favourable factors, he makes his plan feasible; by taking into account the unfavourable, he may resolve the difficulties.
  14. He who intimidates his neighbours does so by inflicting injury upon them.
  15. He wearies them by keeping them constantly occupied, and makes them rush about by offering them ostensible advantages.
  16. It is a doctrine of war not to assume the enemy will not come, but rather to rely on one’s readiness to meet him; not to presume that he will not attack, but rather to make one’s self invincible.
  17. There are five qualities which are dangerous in the character of a general.
  18. If reckless, he can be killed.
  19. If cowardly, captured.
  20. If quick-tempered you can make a fool of him;
  21. If he has too delicate a sense of honour you can calumniate him;
  22. If he is of a compassionate nature you can harass him.
  23. Now these five traits of character are serious faults in a general and in military operations are calamitous.
  24. The ruin of the army and the death of the general are inevitable results of these shortcomings. They must be deeply pondered.


  1. Generally when taking up a position and confronting the enemy, having crossed the mountains, stay close to valleys. Encamp on high ground facing the sunny side.
  2. Fight downhill; do not ascend to attack.
  3. So much for taking a position in mountains.
  4. After crossing a river you must move some distance away from it.
  5. When an advancing enemy crosses water do not meet him at the water’s edge. It is advantageous to allow half his force to cross and then strike.
  6. If you wish to give battle, do not confront your enemy close to the water. Take position on high ground facing the sunlight. Do not take position downstream.
  7. This relates to taking up positions near a river.
  8. cross salt marshes speedily. Do not linger in them. If you encounter the enemy in the middle of a salt marsh you must take position close to grass and water with trees to your rear.
  9. This has to do with taking up position in salt marshes.
  10. In level ground occupy a position which facilitates your action. With heights to your rear and right, the field of battle is to the front and the rear is safe.
  11. This is how to take up position on level ground.
  12. Generally, these are advantageous for encamping in four situations named. By using them the Yellow Emperor conquered your sovereigns.
  13. An army prefers high ground to low; esteems sunlight and dislikes shade. Thus, while nourishing its health, the army occupies a firm position. An army that does not suffer from countless diseases is said to be certain of victory.
  14. When near mounds, foothills, dikes or embankments, you must take position on the sunny side and rest your right and rear on them.
  15. These methods are all advantageous for the army, and gain the help the ground affords.
  16. Where there are precipitous torrents, ‘Heavenly Wells’, ‘Heavenly Prisons’, ‘Heavenly Nets’, ‘Heavenly Traps’, and ‘Heavenly Cracks’, you must march speedily away from them. Do not approach them.
  17. I keep a distance from these and draw the enemy toward them. I face them and cause him to put his back to them.
  18. When on the flanks of the army there are dangerous defiles or ponds covered with aquatic grasses where reeds and rushes grow, or forested mountains with dense tangled undergrowth you must carefully search them out, for these are places where ambushes are laid and spies are hidden.
  19. When an enemy is near by but lying low he is depending on a favourable position. When he challenges to battle from afar he wishes to lure you to advance, for when he is in easy ground he is in an advantageous position.
  20. When the trees are seen to move the enemy is advancing.
  21. When many obstacles have been placed in the undergrowth, it is for the purpose of deception.
  22. Birds rising in flight is a sign that the enemy is lying in ambush; when the wild animals are startled and flee he is trying to make you unaware.
  23. Dust spurting upward in high straight columns indicates the approach of chariots. When it hangs low and is widespread infantry is approaching.
  24. When dust rises in scattered areas the enemy is bringing in firewood; when there are numerous small patches which seem to come and go he is encamping the army.
  25. When the enemy’s envoys speak in humble terms, but he continues his preparations, he will advance.
  26. When their language is deceptive but the enemy pretentiously advances, he will retreat.
  27. When the envoys speak in apologetic terms, he wishes a respite.
  28. When without a previous understanding the enemy asks for a truce, he is plotting.
  29. When light chariots first go out and take up position on the flanks the enemy is forming for battle.
  30. When his troops march speedily and he parades his battle chariots he is expecting to rendezvous with reinforcements.
  31. When half his force advances and half withdraws he is attempting to decoy you.
  32. When his troops lean on their weapons, they are famished.
  33. When drawers of water drink before carrying it to camp, his troops are suffering from thirst.
  34. When the enemy sees an advantage but does not advance to seize it, he is fatigued.
  35. When birds gather above his camp sites, they are empty.
  36. When at night the enemy’s camp is clamorous, he is fearful.
  37. When his troops are disorderly, the general has no prestige.
  38. When his flags and banners move about constantly he is in disarray.
  39. If the officers are short-tempered they are exhausted.
  40. When the enemy feeds grain to the horses and his men meat and when his troops neither hang up their cooking pots nor return to their shelters, the enemy is desperate.
  41. When the troops continually gather in small groups and whisper together the general has lost the confidence of the army.
  42. Too frequent rewards indicate that the general is at the end of his resources; too frequent punishments that he is in acute distress.
  43. If the officers at first treat the men violently and later are fearful of them, the limit of indiscipline has been reached.
  44. When the enemy troops are high in spirits, and , although facing you, do not join in battle for along time, nor leave, you must thoroughly investigate the situation.
  45. In war, numbers alone confer no advantage. Do not advance relying on sheer military power.
  46. It is sufficient to estimate the enemy situation correctly and to concentrate your strength to capture him. There is no more to it tan this. he who lacks foresight and underestimates his enemy will surely be captured by him.
  47. If troops are punished before their loyalty is secured they will be disobedient. If not obedient, it is difficult to employ them. If troops are loyal, nut punishments are not enforced, you cannot employ them.
  48. Thus, command them with civility and imbue them uniformly with martial ardour and it may be said that victory is certain.
  49. If orders which are consistently effective are used in instructing the troops, they will be obedient. If orders which are not consistently effective are used in instructing them, they will be disobedient.
  50. When orders are consistently trustworthy and observed, the relationship of a commander with his troops is satisfactory.


  1. Ground may be classified according to its nature as accessible, entrapping, indecisive, constricted, precipitous, and distant.
  2. Ground which both we and the enemy can traverse with equal ease is called accessible. In such ground, he who first takes high sunny positions convenient to his supply routes can fight advantageously.
  3. Ground easy to get out of but difficult to return to is entrapping. The nature of this ground is such if the enemy is unprepared and you sally out you may defeat him. if the enemy is prepared and you go out and engage, but do not win, it is difficult to return. This is unprofitable.
  4. Ground equally disadvantageous for both the enemy and ourselves to enter is indecisive. The nature of this ground is such that although the enemy holds out a bait I do not go forth but entice him by marching off. When I have drawn out half his force, I can strike him advantageously.
  5. If I first occupy constricted ground I must block the passes and await the enemy. if the enemy first occupies such ground and blocks defiles I should not follow him; if he does not block them completely I may do so.
  6. In precipitous ground I must take position on the sunny heights and await the enemy. If he first occupies such ground I lure him by marching off; I do not follow him.
  7. When at a distance from an enemy of equal strength it is difficult to provoke battle and unprofitable to engage him in his chosen position.
  8. These are the principles relating to six different types of ground. It is the highest responsibility of the general to inquire into them with the utmost care.
  9. Now when troops flee, are insubordinate, distressed, collapse in disorder or are routed, it is the fault of the general. None of these disasters can be attributed too natural causes.
  10. Other conditions being equal, if a force attacks one ten times its size, the result is flight.
  11. When troops are strong and officers weak the army is insubordinate.
  12. When the officers are valiant and the troops ineffective the army is in distress.
  13. When senior officers are angry and insubordinate, and on encountering the enemy rush into battle with no understanding of the feasibility of engaging and without awaiting orders from the commander, the army is in a state of collapse.
  14. When the general is morally weak and his discipline not strict, when his instructions and guidance are not enlightened, when there are no consistent rules to guide the officers and men and when the formations are slovenly the army is in disorder.
  15. When a commander unable to estimate his enemy uses a small force to engage a large one, or weak troops to strike the strong, or when he fails to select chock troops for the van, the result is route.
  16. When any of these six conditions prevails the army is on the road to defeat. It is the highest responsibility of the general that he examine them carefully.
  17. Conformation of the ground is of the greatest assistance in battle. Therefore, to estimate the enemy situation and to calculate distances and the degree of difficulty of the terrain so as to control victory are virtues of the superior general. He who fights with full knowledge of these factors is certain to win; he who does not will surely be defeated.
  18. If the situation is one of victory but the sovereign has issued orders not to engage, the general may decide to fight. If the situation is such that he cannot win, but the sovereign has issued orders to engage, he need not do so.
  19. And therefore the general who in advancing does not seek personal fame, and in withdrawing is not concerned with avoiding punishment, but whose only purpose is to protect the people and promote the best interests of his sovereign, is the precious jewel of the state.
  20. Because such a general regards his men as infants they will march with him into the deepest valleys. He treats them as his own beloved sons and they will die with him.
  21. If a general indulges his troops but is unable to employ them; if he loves them but cannot enforce his commands; if the troops are disorderly and he is unable to control them, they may be compared to spoiled children, and are useless.
  22. If I know that my troops are capable of striking the enemy, but do not know that he is invulnerable to attack, my chance of victory is but half.
  23. If I know that the enemy is vulnerable to attack, but do not know that my troops are incapable of striking him, my chance of victory is but half.
  24. If I know that the enemy can be attacked and that my troops are capable of attacking him, but do not realize that because of the conformation of the ground I should not attack, my chance of victory is but half.
  25. Therefore when those experienced in war move they make no mistakes; when they act, their resources are limitless.
  26. And therefore I say: ‘Know the enemy, know yourself; your victory will never be endangered. Know the ground, know the weather; your victory will then be total.’

The Nine Varieties of Ground

  1. In respect to the employment of troops, ground may be classified as dispersive, frontier, key, communicating, focal, serious, difficult, encircled, and death.
  2. When a feudal lord fights in his own territory, he is in dispersive ground.
  3. When he makes but a shallow penetration into enemy territory he is in frontier ground.
  4. Ground equally advantageous for the enemy or me to occupy is key ground.
  5. Ground equally accessible to both the enemy and me is communicating.
  6. When a state is enclosed by three other states its territory is focal. He who first gets control of it will gain the support of All-under-Heaven.
  7. When the army has penetrated deep into hostile territory, leaving far behind many enemy cities and towns, it is in serious ground.
  8. When the army traverses mountains, forests, precipitous country, or marches through defiles, marshlands, or swamps, or any place where the going is hard, it is difficult ground.
  9. Ground to which access is constricted, where the way out is tortuous, and where a small enemy force can strike my larger one is called ‘encircled’.
  10. Ground in which the army survives only if it fights with the courage of desperation is called ‘death’.
  11. And therefore, do not fight in dispersive ground; do not stop in frontier borderlands.
  12. Do not attack an enemy who occupies key ground; in communicating ground do not allow your formations to become separated.
  13. In focal ground, ally with neighbouring states; in deep ground, plunder.
  14. In difficult ground, press on; in encircled ground, devise stratagems; in death ground, fight.
  15. In dispersive ground I would unify the determination of the army.
  16. In frontier ground I would keep my forces closely linked.
  17. In key ground I would hasten up my rear elements.
  18. In communicating ground I would pay strict attention to my defenses.
  19. In focal ground I would strengthen my alliances.
  20. In serious ground I would ensure a continuous flow of provisions.
  21. In difficult ground I would press on over the roads.
  22. In encircled ground I would block the points of access and egress.
  23. In death ground I could make it evident that there is no chance of survival. For it is the nature of soldiers to resist when surrounded; to fight to the death when there is no alternative, and when desperate to follow commands implicitly.
  24. The tactical variations appropriate to the nine types of ground, the advantages of close or extended deployment, and the principles of human nature are matters the general must examine with the greatest care.
  25. Anciently, those described as skilled in war made it impossible for the enemy to unite his van and his rear; for his elements both large and small to mutually co-operate; for the good troops to succour the poor and for superiors and subordinates to support each other.
  26. When the enemy’s forces were dispersed they prevented him from assembling them; when concentrated, they threw him into confusion.
  27. They concentrated and moved when it was advantageous to do so; when not advantageous, they halted.
  28. Should one ask: ‘How do I cope with a well-ordered enemy host about to attack me?’ I reply: ‘Seize something he cherishes and he will conform to your desires’.
  29. Speed is the essence of war. Take advantage of the enemy’s unpreparedness; travel by unexpected routes and strike him where he has taken no precautions.
  30. The general principles applicable to an invading force are that when you have penetrated deeply into hostile territory your army is united, and the defender cannot overcome you.
  31. Plunder fertile country to supply the army with plentiful provisions.
  32. Pay heed to nourishing the troops; do not unnecessarily fatigue them. Unite them in spirit; conserve their strength. Make unfathomable plans for the movements of the army.
  33. Throw the troops into a position from which there is no escape and even when faced with death they will not flee. For if prepared to die, what can they not achieve? The officers and men together put forth their utmost efforts. In a desperate situation they fear nothing; when there is no way out they stand firm. Deep in a hostile land they are bound together, and there, where there is no alternative, they will engage the enemy in hand to hand combat.
  34. Thus, such troops need no encouragement to be vigilant. Without extorting their support the general obtains it; without inviting their affection he gains it; without demanding their trust he wins it.
  35. My officers have no surplus of wealth but no because they disdain worldly goods; they have no expectation of long life but not because they dislike longevity.
  36. On a day the army is ordered to march the tears of those seated soak their lapels; the tears of those reclining course down their cheeks.
  37. But throw them into a situation where there is no escape and they will display the immortal courage of Chuan Chu and Ts’ao Kuei.
  38. Now the troops of those adept in war are used like the ‘Simultaneously Responding’ snake of Mount Ch’ang. When struck on the head its tail attacks; when struck on the tail, its head attacks, when struck in the center both head and tail attack.
  39. Should one ask: ‘Can troops be made capable of such instantaneous co-ordination?’ I reply: ‘They can’. For, although the men of Wu and Yueh mutually hate one another if together in a boat tossed by the wind they would co-operate as the right hand does with the left.’
  40. It is thus not sufficient to place one’s reliance on hobbled horses or buried chariot wheels.
  41. To cultivate a uniform level of valour is the object of military administration. And it is by proper use of the ground that both shock and flexible forces are used to the best advantage.
  42. It is the business of a general to be serene and inscrutable, impartial and self-controlled.
  43. He should be capable of keeping his officers and men in ignorance of his plans.
  44. He prohibits superstitious practices and so rids the army of doubts. Then until the moment of death there can be no troubles.
  45. He changes his methods and alters his plans so that people have no knowledge of what he is doing.
  46. He alters his camp-sites and marches by devious routes, and thus makes it impossible for others to anticipate his purpose.
  47. To assemble the army and throw it into a desperate position is the business of the general.
  48. He leads the army deep into hostile territory and releases the trigger.
  49. He burns his boats and smashes his cooking pots; he urges the army on as if driving a flock of sheep, now in one direction, now in another, and none knows where he is going.
  50. He fixes a date for rendezvous and after the troops have met, cuts off their return route just as if he were removing a ladder from beneath them.
  51. One ignorant of the plans of neighbouring states cannot prepare alliances in good time; if ignorant of the conditions of mountains, forests, dangerous defiles, swamps and marshes he cannot conduct the march of an army; if he fails to make use of native guides he cannot gain the advantages of the ground. A general ignorant of even one of these three matters is unfit to command the armies of a Hegemonic King.
  52. Now when a hegemonic King attacks a powerful state he makes it impossible for the enemy to concentrate. He overawes the enemy and prevents his allies from joining him.
  53. It follows that he does not contend against powerful combinations nor does he foster the power of other states. He relies for the attainment of his aims on his ability to overawe his opponents. And so he can take the enemy’s cities and overthrow the enemy’s state.
  54. Bestow rewards without respect to customary practice; publish orders without respect to precedent. Thus you may employ the entire army as you would one man.
  55. Set the troops to their tasks without imparting your designs; use them to gain advantage without revealing the dangers involved. Throw them into a perilous situation and they survive; put them in death ground and they will live. For when the army is placed in such a situation it can snatch victory from defeat.
  56. Now the crux of military operations lies in the pretense of accommodating one’s self to the designs of the enemy.
  57. Concentrate your forces against the enemy and from a distance of a thousand li you can kill his general. This is described as the ability to attain one’s aim in an artful and ingenious manner.
  58. On the day the policy to attack is put into effect, close the passes, rescind the passports, have no further intercourse with the enemy’s envoys and exhort the temple council to execute the plans.
  59. When the enemy presents an opportunity, speedily take advantage of it. Anticipate him in seizing something he values and move in accordance with a date secretly fixed.
  60. The doctrine of war is to follow the enemy situation in order to decide on battle.
  61. Therefore at first be shy as a maiden. When the enemy gives you an opening be swift as a hare and he will be unable to withstand you.

Attack by Fire

  1. There are five methods of attacking with fire. The first is to burn personnel; the second, to burn stores; the third, to burn equipment; the fourth, to burn arsenals; and the fifth, to use incendiary missiles.
  2. To use fire, some medium must be relied upon.
  3. Equipment for setting fires must always be at hand.
  4. There are suitable times and appropriate days on which to raise fires.
  5. «Times’ means when the weather is scorching hot; ‘days’ means when the moon is in Sagittarius, Alpharatz, I or Chen constellations, for these are days of rising winds.
  6. Now in fire attacks one must respond to the changing situation.
  7. When fire breaks out in the enemy’s camp immediately co-ordinate your action from without. But if his troops remain calm bide your time and do not attack.
  8. When the fire reaches its height, follow up if you can. If you cannot do so, wait.
  9. If you can raise fires outside the enemy camp, it is not necessary to wait until they are started inside. Set fires at suitable times.
  10. When fires are raised up-wind do not attack from down-wind.
  11. When the wind blows during the day it will die down at night.
  12. Now the army must know the five different fire-attack situations and be constantly vigilant.
  13. Those who use fire to assist their attacks are intelligent; those who use inundations are powerful.
  14. Water can isolate an enemy but cannot destroy his supplies or equipment.

15 Now to win battles and take your objectives, but fail to exploit these achievements is ominous and may be described as ‘wasteful delay’.

  1. And therefor it is said that enlightened rulers deliberate upon the plans, and good generals execute them.
  2. If not in the interests of the state, do not act. If you cannot succeed, do not use troops. If you are not in danger, do not fight.
  3. A sovereign cannot raise an army because he is enraged, nor can a general fight because he is resentful. For while an angered man may again be happy, a resentful man again be pleased, a state that has perished cannot be restored, nor can the dead be brought back to life.
  4. Therefore, the enlightened ruler is prudent and the good general is warned against rash action. Thus the state is kept secure and the army preserved.

Employment of Secret Agents

Now when an army of one hundred thousand is raised and dispatched on a distant campaign the expenses borne by the people together with the disbursements of the treasury will amount to a thousand pieces of gold daily. There will be continuous commotion both at home and abroad, people will be exhausted by the requirements of transport, and the affairs of seven hundred thousand households will be disrupted.

  1. One who confronts his enemy for many years in order to struggle for victory in a decisive battle yet who, because he begrudges rank, honours and a few hundred pieces of gold, remains ignorant of his enemy’s situation, is completely devoid of humanity. Such a man is no general; no support to his sovereign; no master of victory.
  2. Now the reason the enlightened prince and the wise general conquer the enemy whenever they move and their achievements surpass those of ordinary men is foreknowledge.
  3. What is called ‘foreknowledge’ cannot be elicited from spirits, nor from gods, nor by analogy with past events, nor from calculations. It must be obtained from men who know the enemy situation.
  4. Now there are five sorts of secret agents to be employed. These are native, inside, doubled, expendable, and living.
  5. When these five types of agents are all working simultaneously and none knows their method of operation, they are called ‘The Divine Skein’ and are the treasure of a sovereign.
  6. Native agents are those of the enemy’s country people whom we employ.
  7. Inside agents are enemy officials whom we employ.
  8. Doubled agents are enemy spies whom we employ.
  9. Expendable agents are those of our own spies who are deliberately given fabricated information.
  10. Living agents are those who return with information.
  11. Of all those in the army close to the commander none is more intimate than the secret agent; of all rewards none more liberal than those given to the secret agents; of all matters none more confidential than those relating to secret operations.
  12. He who is not sage and wise, humane and just, cannot use secret agents. And he who is not delicate and subtle cannot get the truth out of them.
  13. Delicate indeed! Truly delicate! There is no place where espionage is not used.
  14. If plans relating to secret operations are prematurely divulged the agent and all those to whom he spoke of them shall be put to death.
  15. Generally in the case of armies you wish to strike, cities you wish to attack, and people you wish to assassinate, you must know the names of the garrison commander, the staff officers, the ushers, gate keepers, and the bodyguards. You must instruct your agents to inquire into these matters in minute detail.
  16. It is essential to seek out enemy agents who have come to conduct espionage against you and to bribe them to serve you. Give them instructions and care for them. Thus doubled agents are recruited and used.
  17. It is by means of the doubled agent that native and inside agents can be recruited and employed.
  18. And it by this means that the expendable agent, armed with false information, can be sent to convey it to the enemy.
  19. It is by this means also that living agents can be used at appropriate times.
  20. The sovereign must have full knowledge of the activities of the five sorts of agents. This knowledge must come from the doubled agents, and therefore it is mandatory that they be treated with the utmost liberality.
  21. Of old, the rise of Yin was due to I Chih, who formerly served the Hsia; the Chou came to power through Lu Yu, a servant of the Yin.
  22. And therefore only the enlightened sovereign and the worthy general who are able to use the most intelligent people as agents are certain to achieve great things. Secret operations are essential in war; upon them the army relies to make its every move.




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