The Art of War (written around400 B.C.) is a concise, eloquent and descriptive piece of writing about strategies of war and it is still relevant in politics, business, sports, etc where the situations are war-like. The work is attributed to the ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu (“Master Sun”, also spelled Sunzi). The book has an excellent analysis of something as subjective as winning a war. The book contains 13 chapters which talk about various constraints, strategies and their optimisation. This book has been used a guide in several Asian battles, inspired Mao Zedong and is equally revered in the west.

About the author

Sun tzu (544-496 BC) lived in China in the era of Warring states, a period of intense conflict where seven states fought for control of their land. The brilliant general went on to win many wars for his king and the wisdom of those years was collected for the future.

This book is of interest for:

  • War enthusiasts
  • History buffs
  • Leaders and entrepreneurs
  • Sports person
  • Political analysts
  • This contains picture of the book.

    The Art of War by Sun Tzu

Premise of the book

The first chapter in the book is named “laying plans” in which Tzu talks about five factors which govern the art of war. They are moral law, heaven, earth, the commander, method and discipline. Based on the preparedness of one’s side in these five factors, Sun says he can predict one’s victory. According to him,

All warfare is based on deception.

Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must believe we are near.

These learnings are of vital importance in sports as the agility on ground needs these factors to be implemented. Likewise, in a competitive world, we need to work hard in silence ans let our success make all the noise.

The second one is named waging war and the chapter lists out the precautions that one must take before waging a war. It also stresses on the importance of position of the leader for his capability determines the peace and peril of a nation.

The name of third chapters is
attack by strategem and it lists all the conditions in which war has to be waged and the situations which can be controlled without fighting a war. This chapter also contains the preconditions which will define the victory of a side.

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, fir every victory gained, you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy or yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

The fourth chapter, named tactical dispositions lists out the ways in which the available resources can be optimally utilised. The fifth chapter talks about energy of warriors that should be channelised to win a war. And the task of channelizing the energy of men rests on the shoulder of commander.

When he utilises combined energy, his fighting men become as it were like unto rolling logs or stones. For it is the nature of a log or stone to remains motionless on still ground and to move when on slope. Thus the energy developed by good fighting men is the momentum of a round stone rolled down a mountain thousand feet in height.

The next chapter (sixth) is named weak points and strong and it talks about analysing your strengths as well as enemy’s weaknesses so that a victory can be ensured. If the enemy makes even one mistake, utilise it to the fullest to achieve your gains. And in every new war, there are new strengths for yourself and new weaknesses for the other side so keep evolving your tactics.

Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated the infinite variety of circumstances.

The seventh and eight chapter named manoeuvring and variation in tactics respectively detail the importance of a leader, the commander in war. It is a comprehensive guide to the commander of how to use his men and his enemy to win a war.

The ninth chapter named the army on the march and tenth chapter chapter, terrain discusses about utilisation of various environmental factors to one’s advantage. It also talks about various signs displayed by army men which determine their victory.

When an army feeds it’s horses with train and kills it’s cattle for food, and when the men do not hang their cooking pots over the camp fires, showing that they will not return to their tents, you may know that they are determined to fight to the death.

This amount of grit is what guarantees success in life, the do or die attitude.

The eleventh chapter, the nine situations and twelfth chapter, the attack by fire and it lists all the physical situations in which the war can be fought and how to utilise them. Similarly, it mentions fire as an important tool to win war. The chapter nine also stresses how a skilful tactician may turn around the fate of a war.

The skilful tactician may be likened to the shui-jan. Now the shui-jan is a snake that is found in the Ch’ang mountains. Strike at its head, and you will be attacked by its tail; strike at its tail and you will be attacked by its head; strike at its middle and you will be attacked by head and tail both.

The last chapter is named the use of spies and it elaborates on a very important method of saving your resources, by using spies. They are convenient, time saving and resource saving means by which crucial information can be solicited without very much effort.

The book does an excellent work by giving an objective presentation to war, the competition and the strategies to win them.

Key takeaways

The main learning from the book is also summed up in the famous Spartan saying which goes like “the more you sweat in practice, the less you bleed in war”. The book teaches that in order to win a war, a competition or anything in life, you need to have an elaborate plan. For this, you need to be aware of yourself and enemy alike.

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, fir every victory gained, you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy or yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

And not just enemy, you have to understand your weaknesses, your strengths and the environment in which the war is to be fought. The learnings are not just limited to war, it also extends to one’s daily life where we are constantly challenged to use restricted resources judiciously, or acing a competition, or performing efficiently in office, or winning a sports competition.

Politics is the modern arena of war where the war is not fought with ammunitions but with words, lobbying and propagandas, the reward is still a territory waiting to be ruled. The book is a gem for finding the right strategies to ensure victory in all circumstances.

The Art of War remains the ultimate philosophy to defeat an opponent decisively and efficiently during fast paced dynamic situations, within the constraints of finite human and physical resources.

Design your own art of war, become your own sun tzu and let your victory be omnipresent. 🙂