SunTzu's Thought on War

A statue of Sun Tzu at Yurihama(Tottori)
Sun Tzu was a Chinese general, military strategist, and philosopher who lived in the Spring and Autumn period of ancient China. Sun Tzu is traditionally credited as the author of The Art of War, a widely influential work of military strategy that has affected both Western and Eastern philosophy.

The Art of War: It presents a philosophy of war for managing conflicts and winning battles. It is accepted as a masterpiece on strategy and has been frequently cited and referred to by generals and theorists since it was first published, translated, and distributed internationally.


1. Detail Assessment and Planning explores the five fundamental factors (the Way, seasons, terrain, leadership, and management) and seven elements that determine the outcomes of military engagements. By thinking, 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 text stresses that war is a very grave matter for the state and must not be commenced without due consideration.

2. Waging War explains how to understand the economy of warfare and how success requires winning decisive engagements quickly. This section advises that successful military campaigns require limiting the cost of competition and conflict.

3. Strategic Attack defines the source of strength as unity, not size, and discusses the five factors that are needed to succeed in any war. In order of importance, these critical factors are: Attack, Strategy, Alliances, Army, and Cities.

4. Disposition of the Army explains the importance of defending existing positions until a commander is capable of advancing from those positions in safety. It teaches commanders the importance of recognizing strategic opportunities and teaches not to create opportunities for the enemy.

5. Forces explain the use of creativity and timing in building an army's momentum.

6. Weaknesses and Strengths explain how an army's opportunities come from the openings in the environment caused by the relative weakness of the enemy and how to respond to changes in the fluid battlefield over a given area.

7. Military Maneuvers explains the dangers of direct conflict and how to win those confrontations when they are forced upon the commander.

8. Variations and Adaptability focus on the need for flexibility in an army's responses. It explains how to respond to shifting circumstances successfully.

9. Movement and Development of Troops describe the different situations in which an army finds itself as it moves through new enemy territories, and how to respond to these situations. Much of this section focuses on evaluating the intentions of others.

10. Terrain looks at the three general areas of resistance (distance, dangers, and barriers) and the six types of ground positions that arise from them. Each of these six field positions offers certain advantages and disadvantages.

11. The Nine Battlegrounds describes the nine common situations (or stages) in a campaign, from scattering to deadly, and the specific focus that a commander will need in order to successfully navigate them.

12. Attacking with Fire explains the general use of weapons and the specific use of the environment as a weapon. This section examines the five targets for attack, the five types of environmental attack and the appropriate responses to such attacks.

13. Intelligence and Espionage focus on the importance of developing good information sources and specifies the five types of intelligence sources and how to best manage each of them.

Thoughts/ Learning

Key lessons and important passages from the book.
  • According as circumstances are favorable, one should modify one’s plans.
  • 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 make the enemy believe we are far away. When far away we must make the enemy believe we are near.
  • Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.
  • If he is superior in strength, evade him.
  • Attack him where he is unprepared. Appear where you are not expected.
  • The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand.
  • There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.
  • A wise general makes a point of foraging on the enemy. One cartload of the enemy's provisions is equivalent to twenty of one's own.
  • Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.
  • The worst strategy of all is to besiege walled cities.
  • There are five essentials for victory: He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight. He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces. He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks. He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared. He will win who has the military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.
  • 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, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
  • One may know how to conquer without being able to do it.
  • In war, the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won.
  • In battle, there are not more than two methods of attack: the direct and indirect.
  • An army may march great distances without distress if it marches through country where the enemy is not.
  • You can be sure in succeeding in your attacks if you only attack places which are undefended.
  • Military tactics are like water. For water, in its natural course, runs away from high places and hastens downwards. So, in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and strike at what is weak.
  • Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move fall like a thunderbolt.
  • Ponder and deliberate before you make a move.
  • A clever general, therefore, avoids an army when its spirit is keen, but attacks it when it is sluggish and inclined to return.
  • It is a military axiom not to advance uphill against the enemy nor to oppose him when he comes downhill.
  • The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy not coming, but on our readiness to receive him.
  • Make your way by unexpected routes and attack unguarded spots.
  • If they will face death, there is nothing they will not achieve.
  • The principle on which to manage an army is to set up one standard of courage which all must reach.
  • If it is to your advantage, make a forward move. If not, stay where you are.