Ancient (app. 500 B.C) Chinese Book by Sun Tzu on Strategy and Competition

“The difference between a warrior and an ordinary person is that the warrior sees everything as a challenge while an ordinary person sees everything as a blessing or a curse.” Carlos Castaneda

2,500 Years Old, Still Young

“The Chinese classics were written in a very general universal style.  They were meant to be templates for life experiences – templates to be used by anyone, at any time, in any situation.  The written language of China lends itself well to this phenomenon.  Each character, or ideogram, is a multidimensional picture of an idea. Each can be looked at from a number of angles and experienced in a variety of ways.  This mutable quality in the written language somehow triggers responses that feel personal and timely.”1

The Sun Tzu’s The Art of War’ is one of the world’s best books on strategy and competition. It was written in app. 500 B.C. and established itself as the leading treatise on confronting and defeating opponents through superior strategy. For over twenty-five hundred years, it helped its readers find competitive advantage using the secrets of Sun Tzu. Its competitive methods work extremely well. ‘The Art of War’, the first of the military classic, offers a distinct philosophy on how to discover the path to success. This philosophy works in any competitive environment where people find themselves contesting with one another for a specific goal.

It is a work of subtlety and paradox that shows how to succeed effortlessly in rising to life’s challenges.  Sun Tzu believed that victory is won long before the confrontation and insisted that a skilled warrior can observe, calculate and outwit the adversary without ever engaging in battle.

Today, many leading business schools around the world teach their students how to create a competitive advantage by applying the methods of Sun Tzu. Sun Tzu’s The Art of War provided a strong basis for the Positioning School of strategic management. This school was the dominant view of strategy formulation in the 1980’s.

Excerpts from “The Art of War”

Going to War

You can fight a war for a long time or you can make your nation strong. You can’t do both.

Doing the right things at the start of war is like approaching a woman. Your enemy’s men must open the door. After that, you should act like a streaking rabbit. The enemy will be unable to catch you.

Field Position

Know your enemy and know yourself – your victory will be painless.

Know the weather and the field – your victory will be complete.

Be the first to seize intersecting ground, that is ground which lies the intersections of borders or intersections of main thoroughfares of commerce and travel. Your occupation of it gives you access to all who border it and all who would covet it. On intersecting ground, if you establish alliances you are safe, if you lose alliances you are in peril.

You don’t know the local mountains, forests, hills and marshes? Then you cannot march the army. You don’t have local guides? You won’t get any of the benefits of the terrain.

We cannot enter into informed alliances until we are acquainted with the designs of our neighbors and the plans of our adversaries. When entering enemy territory, in order to lead your army, you must know the face of the country – its mountains and forests, its pitfalls and precipices, its marshes and swamps. Without local guides, you are unable to turn to your account the natural advantages to be obtained from the land. Without local guides, your enemy employs the land as a weapon against you.

The relative size of your force as against that of your adversary is by itself of no consequence. What controls is the relative size of your force at the point where you join in battle. You can strike with the few and be many if you strike your adversary in his gaps. Seek out places where the defense is not strict, the place not tightly guarded, the generals weak, the troops disorderly, the supplies are scarce and the forces are isolated.


If the enemy has a strong position, entice him away from it.

If the enemy is confused, be decisive.

If the enemy is solid, prepare against him.

If the enemy is strong, avoid him.

If the enemy is angry, frustrate him.

If the enemy is weaker, make him arrogant.

If the enemy is relaxed, make him work.

If the enemy is united, break him apart.

Attack him when he is unprepared. Leave when he least expects it.

Your will find a place where you can win. Don’t pass it by.

Planning an Attack

The best policy is to attack while the enemy is still planning.

The next best is to disrupt alliances.

The next best is to attack the opposing army.

The worst is to attack the enemy’s cities.

Weakness and Strength

When you form your strategy, know the strengths and weaknesses of your plan.

When you execute, know how to manage both action and inaction.

When you take a position, know the deadly and the winning grounds.

When you battle, know when you have too many of too few men.


Do not trust that the enemy isn’t coming. Trust on your readiness to meet him.

Do not trust that the enemy won’t attack. Rely only on your ability to pick a place that the enemy can’t attack.

You can deter your potential enemy by using his weaknesses against him.

You can keep your enemy’s army busy by giving it work to do.

You can rush your enemy by offering him an advantageous position.

Armed Conflict

Seeking armed conflict can be disastrous. Because of this, a detour can be the shortest path. Because of this, problems can become opportunities. Use an indirect route as your highway. Use the search for advantage to guide you. You must know the detour that most directly accomplishes your plan.

Do not let any of your potential enemies know of what you are planning.

Still, you must not hesitate to form alliances.

You must know the lay of the land. You must know where the obstructions are. You must know where the marshes are. If you don’t, you cannot move the army.

So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak. Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows; the soldier works out his victory in relation to the foe whom he is facing.

You must use local guides. If you don’t, you can’t take advantage of the terrain.

You make war using a deceptive position. If you use deception, then you can move. Using deception, you can upset the enemy and change the situation.

You must move as quickly as the wind.

You must rise like the forest.

You must invade and plunder like fire.

You must stay as motionless as a mountain.

You must be as mysterious as the fog.

You must strike like sounding thunder.


What enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge.


The value of time, that is of being a little ahead of your opponent, often provides greater advantage than superior numbers or greater resources.

The essential factor of military success is speed, that is taking advantage of others’ unpreparedness or lack of foresight, their failure to catch up, going by routes they do not expect, attacking where they are not on guard. This you cannot accomplish with hesitation.

Taking Action

Thus, though I have heard of successful military operations that were clumsy but swift, cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays.

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One Response to The Art of War

  1. Kirsty says:

    Thank you for sharing this article. I am very interested in learning more about my soul and the journey I’m on. I see you are running workshops in Queensland. When are you coming to Melbourne. I’d like to come to one of your seminars.

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