Most Quoted Strategist: Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu: The Art of War in Business

Sun Wu, better known as Sun Tzu or Sunzi, was an ancient Chinese military general, strategist and philosopher who is traditionally believed, and who is most likely, to have authored The Art of War, an influential ancient Chinese book on military strategy. Sun Tzu has had a significant impact on Chinese and Asian history and culture, both as an author of The Art of War and through legend. During the 19th and 20th centuries, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War grew in popularity and saw practical use in Western society, and his work has continued to influence both Asian and Western culture and politics.

Composed of 13 chapters, each devoted to one aspect of warfare, The Art of War has long been considered the definitive work of its time on military strategies and tactics. It was translated into a European language in 1782 by French Jesuit Jean Joseph Marie Amiot, as Art Militaire des Chinois, and that name probably influenced the subsequent English translations titled The Art of War.

The Art of War is a systematic guide to strategy and tactics for rulers and commanders. The book discusses various maneuvers and the effect of terrain on the outcome of battles, and emphasizes the importance of gathering accurate information about the enemy’s forces, dispositions and deployments, and movements. Sun Zi discusses the unpredictability of battle, the use of flexible strategies and tactics, the importance of deception and surprise, the close relationship between politics and military policy, and the high costs of war.

The futility of seeking hard and fast rules and the subtle paradoxes of success are major themes. The best battle, Sun Tzu says, is the battle that is won without being fought. The Art of War has been one of the most popular works on military strategy in history. The work was included in the ancient Chinese civil service examinations and in the syllabus for potential candidates of military service examinations in many East Asian countries.

Leaders as diverse as Takeda Shingen (1521-1573), Napoleon, Mao Zedong, Josef Stalin, General Pervez Musharraf, Vo Nguyen Giap, and General Douglas MacArthur have drawn inspiration from the work. Since the 1980s, the competitive strategies of The Art of War have been applied to many fields, including business, politics, and personal relationships.

SUN TZU QUOTES

"The art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War

"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 must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War

"If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War

"The art of using troops is this:
……When ten to the enemy’s one, surround him;
……When five times his strength, attack him;
……If double his strength, divide him;
……If equally matched you may engage him;
……If weaker numerically, be capable of withdrawing;
……And if in all respects unequal, be capable of eluding him;
……….for a small force is but booty for one more powerful."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War

"The general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to w in or lose."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"Though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war that can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"Bring war material with you from home, but forage on the enemy… use the conquered foe to augment one’s own strength."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy’s country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good. So, too, it is better to recapture an army entire than to destroy it."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"Thus the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy’s plans, the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy’s forces, the next in order is to attack the enemy’s army in the field, and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"There are three ways in which a ruler can bring misfortune upon his army: By commanding the army to advance or to retreat, being ignorant of the fact that it cannot obey; This is called hobbling the army. By attempting to govern an army in the same way as he administers a kingdom, being ignorant of the conditions which obtain in an army; This causes restlessness in the soldier’s minds. By employing the officers of his army without discrimination, through ignorance of the military principle of adaptation to circumstances. This shakes the confidence of the soldiers."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"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 military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"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."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy. To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself. Thus the good fighter is able to secure himself against defeat, but cannot make certain of defeating the enemy."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"The victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"In all fighting, the direct method may be used for joining battle, but indirect methods will be needed in order to secure victory. In battle, there are not more than two methods of attack – the direct and the indirect; yet these two in combination give rise to an endless series of maneuvers. The direct and the indirect lead on to each other in turn. It is like moving in a circle – you never come to an end. Who can exhaust the possibilities of their combination?"

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"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."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


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

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"An army may march great distances without distress, if it marches through country where the enemy is not. You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack places which are undefended. You can ensure the safety of your defense if you only hold positions that cannot be attacked."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"Hence that general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skillful in defense whose opponent does not know what to attack."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"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."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"In making tactical dispositions, the highest pitch you can attain is to conceal them."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"Military tactics are like unto water; for water in its natural course runs away from high places and hastens downwards…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. He who can modify his tactics in relation to his opponent and thereby succeed in winning, may be called a heaven-born captain."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


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

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"The difficulty of tactical maneuvering consists in turning the devious into the direct, and misfortune into gain."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"Maneuvering with an army is advantageous; with an undisciplined multitude, most dangerous."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"We cannot enter into alliances until we are acquainted with the designs of our neighbors."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"Do not interfere with an army that is returning home. When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"When the common soldiers are too strong and their officers too weak, the result is INSUBORDINATION. When the officers are too strong and the common soldiers too weak, the result is COLLAPSE. When the higher officers are angry and insubordinate, and on meeting the enemy give battle on their own account from a feeling of resentment, before the commander-in-chief can tell whether or no he is in a position to fight, the result is RUIN."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look upon them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death. If, however, you are indulgent, but unable to make your authority felt; kind-hearted, but unable to enforce your commands; and incapable, moreover, of quelling disorder: then your soldiers must be likened to spoilt children; they are useless for any practical purpose."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"If we know that our own men are in a condition to attack, but are unaware that the enemy is not open to attack, we have gone only halfway towards victory. If we know that the enemy is open to attack, but are unaware that our own men are not in a condition to attack, we have gone only halfway towards victory. If we know that the enemy is open to attack, and also know that our men are in a condition to attack, but are unaware that the nature of the ground makes fighting impracticable, we have still gone only halfway towards victory."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"On dispersive ground, therefore, fight not. On facile ground, halt not. On contentious ground, attack not. On open ground, do not try to block the enemy’s way. On the ground of intersecting highways, join hands with your allies. On serious ground, gather in plunder. In difficult ground, keep steadily on the march. On hemmed-in ground, resort to stratagem. On desperate ground, fight."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"If asked how to cope with a great host of the enemy in orderly array and on the point of marching to the attack, I should say: "Begin by seizing something which your opponent holds dear; then he will be amenable to your will." Rapidity is the essence of war: take advantage of the enemy’s unreadiness, make your way by unexpected routes, and attack unguarded spots."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"Throw your soldiers into positions whence there is no escape, and they will prefer death to flight. If they will face death, there is nothing they may not achieve."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"If our soldiers are not overburdened with money, it is not because they have a distaste for riches; if their lives are not unduly long, it is not because they are disinclined to longevity."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"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."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"Unhappy is the fate of one who tries to win his battles and succeed in his attacks without cultivating the spirit of enterprise; for the result is waste of time and general stagnation. Hence the saying: The enlightened ruler lays his plans well ahead; the good general cultivates his resources."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"Move not unless you see an advantage; use not your troops unless there is something to be gained; fight not unless the position is critical. If it is to your advantage, make a forward move; if not, stay where you are. Anger may in time change to gladness; vexation may be succeeded by content."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"No leader should put troops into the field merely to gratify his own spleen; no leader should fight a battle simply out of pique. But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come again into being; nor can the dead ever be brought back to life. Hence the enlightened leader is heedful, and the good leader full of caution."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"Spies cannot be usefully employed without a certain intuitive sagacity; (2) They cannot be properly managed without benevolence and straight forwardness; (3) Without subtle ingenuity of mind, one cannot make certain of the truth of their reports; (4) Be subtle! be subtle! and use your spies for every kind of warfare; (5) If a secret piece of news is divulged by a spy before the time is ripe, he must be put to death together with the man to whom the secret was told."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"The enemy’s spies who have come to spy on us must be sought out, tempted with bribes, led away and comfortably housed. Thus they will become double agents and available for our service. It is through the information brought by the double agent that we are able to acquire and employ local and inward spies. It is owing to his information, again, that we can cause the doomed spy to carry false tidings to the enemy."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"To capture the enemy’s entire army is better than to destroy it; to take intact a regiment, a company, or a squad is better than to destroy them. For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the supreme of excellence. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the supreme excellence."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


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

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"Can you imagine what I would do if I could do all I can?"

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"He who is prudent and lies in wait for an enemy who is not, will be victorious."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot, will be victorious."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"Know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


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

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"Opportunities multiply as they are seized."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"The opportunity to secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"The skilful employer of men will employ the wise man, the brave man, the covetous man, and the stupid man."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War


"Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War