The Art of War by Sun Tzu

date Sep 14, 2008
authors Sun Tzu
reading time 5 mins
  • Book Title: The art of war
  • Author: Sun Tzu
  • Year written: 5th BC
  • Summary: Military strategies
  • My Comments: Excellent book. I love books that transcend time and generations to hold deep meaning and significance even till today and this is definitely one of them. Although i am not engaged in any military executions, I have read the ‘enemy’ as my own hidden devils and it gave me even more powerful insights. At the end of the day, the most ferocious enemies lay only within ourselves. This book has relevance in todays’ modern era in the fields of business, parenting, personal and of course military.
  • Contents page:
    1. Laying Plans
    2. Waging War
    3. Attacks by Stratagem
    4. Tactical Dispositions
    5. Energy
    6. Weak Points and Strong
    7. Manoevering
    8. Variation of Tactics
    9. The army on the march
    10. Terrain
    11. The nine situations
    12. The Attack by Fire
    13. The use of Spies

Some Quotations:

The supreme act of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting

Know your enemy, know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster

The purpose of war is peace.

In peace prepare for war, in war prepare for peace.

He who wishes to fight must first count the cost

He who only sees the obvious, wins his battles with difficulty; he who looks below the surface of things, wins with ease.

Humble words and increased preparations are signs that the enemy is about to advance. Violent language and driving forward as if to attack are signs that he will retreat.

Some extracts:

The art of war is governed by 5 constant factors:

  1. Moral Law
  2. heaven
  3. Earth
  4. The Commander
  5. Method and Discipline

Prolonged warfare:

Only one who knows the disastrous effects of a long war can realise the supreme importance of rapidity in bringing it to a close.

How to attack based on your own army versus the enemy army’s strength:

It if the rule in war, if our forces are 10 to the enemy’s 1, to surround him; if 5 to 1, to attack him; if twice as numerous, to divide our army into 2. If equally matched, we can offer battle with the generals; if slightly inferior, we can void the enemy; if quite unequal in every way, we can flee from him.

General and the army…

A kingdom should not be governed from without, an army should not be directed from within

5 essentials for victory:

  1. He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight
  2. He will win who knows how to handle both superiors and inferior forces
  3. He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks
  4. He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared
  5. He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the soveriegn

Simulations for failure for the enemy…

If you wish to feign confusion in order to lure the enemy on, you must first have perfect discipline; If you wish to display timidity in order to entrap the enemy, you must have extreme courage; if you wish to parade your weakness in order to make your enemy over-confident; you must have exceeding strength

Water analogy…

Like water, taking the line of least resistance

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.

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


On the field of battle, the spoken word does not carry far enough: hence the institution of gongs and drums. nor can ordinary objects be seen clearly enough: hence the institution of banner and flags. 

Strategies of Attack…

To refrain from intercepting an enemy whose banners are in perfect order, to refrain from attacking an army drawn up in calm and confident array - this is the art of studying circumstances.

It is a military axion not to advance uphil against the enemy, nor to oppose him when he comes downhill

5 Dangerous faults which may affect a general:

  1. Recklessness, which leads to destruction
  2. Cowardice which leads to capture
  3. hasty temper which can be provoked by insults
  4. a delicacy of honour which is sensitive to shame
  5. over-solicitude for his men, which exposes him to worry and trouble

the army on the march…

If the soldiers are punished before they have grown attached to you, they will not prove submissive; and unless submissive, they will be practically useless. If, when the soldiers have become attached to you, punishments are not enforced, they will still be useless.

Regard your soldiers as you own children and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look on them as your beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.

If those who are sent to draw water begin by drinking themselves, the army is suffering from thirst.

types of terrains:

  1. Accessible ground
  2. entangling ground
  3. temporary ground
  4. narrow passes
  5. precipitous heights
  6. positions at a great distance from the enemy


The general who advances without coverting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom

Bestow rewards without regard to rule, issue orders without regard to previous arrangements; and you will be able to handle a whole army as though you had to do with but a single man.