The Summary of The Art Of War by Sun Tzu

Categories: Army

The Art of War has been considered a masterpiece on military strategy and warfare. This piece was written in ancient china 500B.C..The author goes by the name Sun Tzu which means Master Sun. Sun Tzu was a Chinese general, philosopher, writer and military strategist who served under king Helu of the kingdom of Wu. His life span was from 544BC to 496BC.Through his legends and the influential “The Art of War”, Sun Tzu had a significant impact on Chinese and Asian history and culture.

One of the well-known stories about Sun Tzu which demonstrates his ability as a leader was before being hired as a general. The king of Wu tested his ability and skills by commanding him to train a palace reserved for women called a harem of 180 concubines into soldiers. Sun Tzu divided them into two companies, appointing the two most favoured concubines by the king as the company commanders. When Sun Tzu first ordered the newly appointed commanders to march forward, they giggled.

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He responded and said that a general is responsible for ensuring that soldiers understood the commands given to them. Then, he reiterated the command, and again the commanders giggled. Sun Tzu then ordered the execution of the king's two favoured concubines. He explained that if the general's soldiers understood their commands but did not obey, it was the fault of the officers. Sun Tzu also said that, once a general was appointed, it was his duty to carry out his mission, even if the king protested.

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After both concubines were killed, new officers were chosen to replace them. Afterwards, both companies, now aware of the costs of further frivolity, performed their manoeuvres flawlessly. The book became popular during the 19th and 20th centuries when the Western Society saw its practical use in their culture and politics.

In chapter 1, “Strategic Assessments” it deals with the five fundamental factors of war which are the Way, seasons, terrain, leadership, and management and seven elements that determine the outcomes of military engagements. By analysing, assessing and comparing these points, a commander can calculate his chances of victory. Habitual deviation from these calculations will ensure failure via improper action. The book stresses that war is a very grave matter for the state and must not be commenced without due consideration.

In chapter 2, “Doing Battle” Sun Tzu talks about equipment, provisioning and support of an army sent into battle. He emphases on using speed and decisiveness to win the battles and cannot be achieved without solid preparation and organisation ahead of time. Sun Tzu also stated that that generals of the past who ignored or miscalculated certain elements like hunger, thirst, attachment to accumulated loot or outrage at injustice would impair their ability to move with decisive speed.

In chapter 3 “Planning a Siege” takes into consideration the strengths and weakness of both armies before they engage in battle. A pragmatic and unemotional approach as apposed to a superstitious, anger or gracious one is fundamental to this.

In chapter 4 “Formation” Sun Tzu draws a clear distinction between defence and offence relative to what the general a control which is his troops and what is beyond his control which will be the enemy. He explains that the experts in defence conceal themselves and those skilled in attack should advance as they are both capable of protecting themselves and gaining victory. Sun Tzu also states that an easy and predictable victory over a clearly inferior force is no mark of skill. At the same time, he also warns that what may seem obvious may not actually be so, because victories won before the first clash of troops are sometimes hidden realities, made visible only in the course of battle. In other words, the wise commander prepares well ahead of time by any means possible, ready to take advantage of any opportunity.

In chapter 5 “force” is forging of troops into well-organized units that can be skilfully managed to act as a single, irresistible force against a more loosely managed opponent. This lays the structure of formation where the chain of command is created from a simple platoon, company, battalion, regiment, group and finally an army. At each level, a commander is appointed to obey his superiors and control his inferiors, with the commanding general at the top. Proper training and assignment of responsibility at every level is required for consistent functioning, so that control of the battlefield can be immediately established and maintained. Even though troops may be spread out in War, the subordinates and their officers never lose track of when to advance or retreat.

In chapter 6 “strengths and weaknesses” means forcing the enemy into a trap, Sun Tzu emphasizes that the best way to do this is to leave an opening to what looks like an escape route but it is actually a controlled route by which prisoners and provisions can be captured. Most significantly, as Sun Tzu points out, the first army to arrive at the field of battle has the advantage of time to rest, and to fully assess the best positions for their battalions. He also stats that A general who keeps his opponent in the dark about the details of his plans can a cause the opponent to attempt to strengthen one area at the cost of leaving another vulnerable. One way to guarantee success is to have the enemy attempt to defend in every direction because in so doing, its resources will be spread so thin that no single position would be strong enough to withstand an attack.

In chapter 7 “armed struggle” the second statement Sun Tzu makes at the beginning of this chapter is, 'Nothing is more difficult than the art of manoeuvre.' He expands on this by saying the trick is to make what looks like a convoluted and aimless course into one that is actually direct and focused. He draws a distinction between 'direct' and 'indirect' approaches designed to simultaneously confuse the enemy and demonstrate the ability in the lower ranks to obey complex and changing commands. Sun Tzu does caution, however, that there are 'both advantage[s] and danger' in using this tactic, so there should only be one experienced and seasoned general making the attempt. Sun Tzu makes a statement about the troops' state of mind at different times of the day that spirits are strong in the morning (or at the start of a war), as the 'day' wears on those spirits begin to weaken. In the evening, everybody just wants to get home. Therefore, the commander should be aware of this progression in morale, not only among his own troops but in evaluating the state of mind of enemy troops as well.

In chapter 8 “nine Grounds” Sun Tzu identifies what should and should not be done in five different types of ground to lay a foundation for the nine variables. These kinds of ground are low-lying in which an army should not camp, communicating in which allies may be joined, desolate to be moved through as quickly as possible, enslavement which requiring resourceful solutions to get out of, and death in which the only option is to fight. The nine grounds are based on an estimation of changing conditions under which action is either indicated or not indicated in any of the five types of ground.

In chapter 9 “Marches” addresses the organization of well-disciplined marches and the arrangement of troops facing an approaching enemy under a variety of conditions. Sun Tzu recommends taking advantage of the positions of sunlight relative not only to time of day but relative to rivers, mountains, salt marshes, and level ground.

In chapter 10 “Terrain” ' Sun Tzu explains that the nature of terrain may be classified as one or a combination of six distinctive types. When both sides can come and go it is easily passable. When you can go but have a hard time getting back it is hung up. Standoff When it is disadvantageous for either side to go forth it is said to be standoff terrain. Narrow terrain states if you are there first, you should fill it up to await the opponent. If you have steep terrain you should aim to be there first so that you should occupy the high and sunny side to await the opponent. wide-open- the force of momentum is equalized, and it is hard to make a challenge and disadvantageous to fight.

In Chapter 11 “Nine Grounds” Sun Tzu recommends not engaging the enemy on these varieties of ground because little can be gained by doing so. 'Focal' ground is one which is surrounded by three other states that offers an opportunity to gain allies. Sun Tzu warns that this approach requires careful preparation ahead of time and involves a risk that allies may be undependable. The 'serious' type of ground is one in which deep incursion is made into enemy territory. While this type of ground offers opportunity for plunder, it is also 'ground difficult to return from.' When in difficult ground, it is best not to linger because this is a terrain of mountains, cliffs, swamps, and fast-running rivers that slow down and expose troops to ambush and traps. An 'encircled' ground is one in which troops are pressed both by opposing forces and rough terrain, and the best way out of it is to 'devise stratagems.' The ninth classification of ground is 'death,' meaning the army may survive only by fighting out of desperation.

In chapter 12 “attack by fire” here are five kinds of fire attack: burning people, burning supplies, burning equipment, burning storehouses, and burning weapons. Generally, in fire attack it is imperative to follow up on the crises caused by the fires. When fire is set inside an enemy camp, then respond quickly from outside. If the soldiers are calm when fire breaks out, wait do not attack. When the fire reaches the height of its power, follow up with an attack if possible and if it doesn’t hold back.

In chapter 13 “Using spies” Sun Tzu states that foresight enables an intelligent government and a wise military leadership to overcome others and achieve exceptional accomplishments. He also states that there are five types of spies. Local spies are hired from among the people of a local. Inside spies are hired from among enemy officials. Reverse spies are hired from among enemy spies. Dead spies transmit false intelligence to enemy spies. Living spies come back to report back to you.

In conclusion, Sun Tzu the Art of War philosophies informes people on how to win a war. Although it was written many years ago, it is still applicable in today’s world in some form or fashion in our day to day life. Excerpt “Know yourself, know your enemy; you will win hundred battles.” mentioned in Sun Tzu Art of War from my understanding states that for us to study and analyse our enemy or rivals for us to secure victories. Besides, evaluating the external factors and internal factors it is essential that you as a leader can control the fate of an organization.

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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The Summary of The Art Of War by Sun Tzu. (2024, Feb 05). Retrieved from

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