This ancient treatise to the ancient human mainstay, war by Chinese military strategist, Tzu Sun, teaches anyone the tactics of successful warfare. These strategies can be applied when creating a plan to outsmart any adversary or to inspire others to rally behind you in times of crisis. Anyone thinking tactically about how to build their empire, as a business owner, or trying to win a war against themselves would benefit from this book.
My key Takeaways from “The Art of War" by Tzu Sun:
You don't become victorious by rushing into battle without planning, calculating, and comparing your army against your enemy's. There are 5 rules to follow that allow you to come out of war victorious.
Takeaway #1 Know When To Fight
Do not enter into fights you are not sure you can win, out of anger, or when your enemy has the advantage ie when you do not know the terrain, when your supply chain could become cut off, or simply when the enemy's army is in strong spirit. Instead, wait - secure your army against defeat and wait for the enemy to make a mistake, giving you the opportunity to enter the battle and be victorious.
Takeaway #2 Know How To Fight
Victory comes from quick, decisive battles rather than prolonged campaigns due to the amount of resources that long campaigns eat up both in terms of time and resources. Whenever possible, employ well-rewarded spies, conserve as many resources as possible by foraging or taking them from your enemy, and avoid besieging walled cities. Remember, it costs less to capture an enemy's country/city/army intact and that a skilled general will subdue his enemy without any fighting.
Takeaway #3 Master the Art of Deception
Confuse your enemy and lull them into a false sense of security by making them think that you're weak when you're strong, that you're timid instead of tough, disordered rather than disciplined, and further away than they think – The art of war is based on deception. Play games of cat and mouse as you consider your enemy's temperament and plan – If they have endless supplies, cut them off. If they are encamped, force them to move. If your enemy's general is rash when angered, be sure to rile him up. Always keep the enemy guessing, never sure from which direction you will attack, how, or with how many men.
Takeaway #4 Know When To Adapt and Disobey
Even the best-laid plans must be adapted when you're out in the field whether due to the terrain or the enemy. Know when to speed up your attack and when to wait - If the enemy's soldiers lean on their spears when standing, they are starving so weak – Now could be a good time to attack. On the other hand, when the enemy's troops start eating their cattle and neglect their camp, they are willing to fight until death – consider waiting.
Takeaway #5 Keep Command
A sovereign can impede an army not only by superseding the general and commanding the army to retreat or advance but also by placing officers in ill-suited roles. However, most of the success or failure falls on a general's head as it's up to him to ensure that his army is organised. A good general will keep his plans close to his chest and divide a large army into more manageable numbers using drums or banners to control each group so that they move as one. Soldiers who are commanded with an iron authority so that they have lost all sense of fear yet still treated humanely, like beloved sons will become attached to their general and do anything to win, even fighting to the death.
The Art of War Chapters
Chapter One - Laying Plans
Chapter Two - Waging War
Chapter Three - Attack by Straagem
Chapter Four - Tactical Dispositions
Chapter Five - Use of Energy
Chapter Six - Weak Points and Strong
Chapter Seven - Maneuvering an Army
Chapter Eight - Variation of Tactics
Chapter Nine - The Army on the March
Chapter Ten - Classification of Terrain
Chapter Eleven - The Nine Situations
Chapter Twelve - Attack by Fire
Chapter Thirteen - Use of Spies
Best Quotes from The Art of War
"Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak"
"The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting"
"If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle."
"Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt."
"Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting."
"All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near."
"Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win"
"In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity"
"If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected."
"The greatest victory is that which requires no battle."
"Engage people with what they expect; it is what they are able to discern and confirms their projections. It settles them into predictable patterns of response, occupying their minds while you wait for the extraordinary moment - that which they cannot anticipate."
"There is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare."
― Tzu Sun, The Art of War
Editor and Founder
Tal Gur is a location independent entrepreneur, author, and impact investor. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His most recent book and bestseller, The Art of Fully Living - 1 Man, 10 Years, 100 Life Goals Around the World, has set the stage for his new mission: elevating the next generation of leaders to their true potential.