The Nine Essential Thoughts of Sun Tzu’s Art of War

Seek Victory in Strength over Weakness

The art of war is of vital importance to the state—matters of life and death, the road to survival or ruin, must be thoroughly examined.”

The calculation involves assessing political, economic, and military forces, akin to modern SWOT analysis. Strategic planning, such as “five factors” and “seven considerations,” is essential before engaging in conflict. Understanding victory allows for informed mobilization.

Calculate the Cost

“Since my ascension, my actions have caused distress, leading the realm into sorrow, with no possibility of regret.”
Every action carries a cost, and one must evaluate whether it is worthwhile. Overindulgence in victory breeds arrogance, and frequent battles lead to exhaustion. Pride and fatigue inevitably result in defeat.

Win Before Waging War

“A skilled warrior is one who is first invincible, then waits for the enemy to become vulnerable. Invincibility lies within oneself, vulnerability within the enemy.”

Victory involves refining oneself, making one impervious to defeat. Exploiting an enemy’s vulnerability ensures success. The focus is on seizing the opportunity for victory rather than seeking it during the conflict.

Patience and Endurance

Waiting is often the best strategy. Accepting inaction can be preferable, as the consequences of action may lead to demise.

Settle Matters with One Battle

Victory is a means, not an end—the ultimate goal is pacification.

Divide and Conquer as a Basic Tactical Principle

“In battle, use the normal to engage; use the extraordinary to win.”

The “extraordinary” here refers to the surplus, the strategic reserve kept for decisive moments. It is not an alternative plan but a subsequent move. A deeper understanding may come with a full reading of the text.

Deception is Insignificant

“All warfare is based on deception.”

While cunning strategies and tricks may be effective, they deviate from the righteous path. It is better to comprehend the grand strategy, elevate one’s perspective, and achieve more significant effectiveness.

Know Yourself First, Then Know the Enemy

“To know oneself and know one’s enemy, one can win a hundred battles. To know oneself but not the enemy, one will suffer one defeat after another.”

Self-awareness involves mastering basic skills, understanding fundamentals, and managing oneself to avoid vulnerabilities. If one is not strong, there’s no need to show strength.

To Win Battles, Learn to Accept Defeat

Perpetual refusal to surrender is idealistic and blinds individuals to unpleasant truths. Acknowledging defeat is a step toward victory. It involves maintaining the right mindset, reviewing losses, identifying weaknesses, and fortifying oneself. In essence, it is about learning from mistakes and continual self-improvement.