Weak Points and Strong299

Sun Tzǔ said: Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to battle will arrive exhausted.300

Therefore the clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy’s will to be imposed on him.301

By holding out advantages to him, he can cause the enemy to approach of his own accord; or, by inflicting damage, he can make it impossible for the enemy to draw near.302

If the enemy is taking his ease, he can harass him;303 if well supplied with food, he can starve him out;304 if quietly encamped, he can force him to move.305

Appear at points which the enemy must hasten to defend; march swiftly to places where you are not expected.306

An army may march great distances without distress, if it marches through country where the enemy is not.307

You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack places which are undefended.308 You can ensure the safety of your defence if you only hold positions that cannot be attacked.309

Hence that general is skilful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skilful in defence whose opponent does not know what to attack.310

O divine art of subtlety and secrecy! Through you we learn to be invisible, through you inaudible;311 and hence we can hold the enemy’s fate in our hands.312

You may advance and be absolutely irresistible, if you make for the enemy’s weak points; you may retire and be safe from pursuit if your movements are more rapid than those of the enemy.313

If we wish to fight, the enemy can be forced to an engagement even though he be sheltered behind a high rampart and a deep ditch. All we need do is attack some other place that he will be obliged to relieve.314

If we do not wish to fight, we can prevent the enemy from engaging us even though the lines of our encampment be merely traced out on the ground. All we need do is to throw something odd and unaccountable in his way.315

By discovering the enemy’s dispositions and remaining invisible ourselves, we can keep our forces concentrated, while the enemy’s must be divided.316

We can form a single united body, while the enemy must split up into fractions. Hence there will be a whole pitted against separate parts of a whole,317 which means that we shall be many to the enemy’s few.

And if we are able thus to attack an inferior force with a superior one, our opponents will be in dire straits.318

The spot where we intend to fight must not be made known; for then the enemy will have to prepare against a possible attack at several different points;319 and his forces being thus distributed in many directions, the numbers we shall have to face at any given point will be proportionately few.

For should the enemy strengthen his van, he will weaken his rear; should he strengthen his rear, he will weaken his van; should he strengthen his left, he will weaken his right; should he strengthen his right, he will weaken his left. If he sends reinforcements everywhere, he will everywhere be weak.320

Numerical weakness comes from having to prepare against possible attacks; numerical strength, from compelling our adversary to make these preparations against us.321

Knowing the place and the time of the coming battle, we may concentrate from the greatest distances in order to fight.322

But if neither time nor place be known, then the left wing will be impotent to succor the right, the right equally impotent to succor the left, the van unable to relieve the rear, or the rear to support the van. How much more so if the furthest portions of the army are anything under a hundred li apart, and even the nearest are separated by several li!323

Though according to my estimate the soldiers of Yüeh exceed our own in number, that shall advantage them nothing in the matter of victory.324 I say then that victory can be achieved.325

Though the enemy be stronger in numbers, we may prevent him from fighting.326 Scheme so as to discover his plans and the likelihood of their success.327

Rouse him, and learn the principle of his activity or inactivity.328 Force him to reveal himself, so as to find out his vulnerable spots.329

Carefully compare the opposing army with your own,330 so that you may know where strength is superabundant and where it is deficient.331

In making tactical dispositions, the highest pitch you can attain is to conceal them;332 conceal your dispositions, and you will be safe from the prying of the subtlest spies, from the machinations of the wisest brains.333

How victory may be produced for them out of the enemy’s own tactics⁠—that is what the multitude cannot comprehend.334

All men can see the tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.335

Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances.336

Military tactics are like unto water; for water in its natural course runs away from high places and hastens downwards.337

So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.338

Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows;339 the soldier works out his victory in relation to the foe whom he is facing.

Therefore, just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare there are no constant conditions.

He who can modify his tactics in relation to his opponent and thereby succeed in winning, may be called a heaven-born captain.

The five elements340 are not always equally predominant;341 the four seasons make way for each other in turn.342 There are short days and long; the moon has its periods of waning and waxing.343