Sun Tzu and the Art of War

The Mistress of Art of War

Many people know The Art of War by Sun Tzu as the oldest classic military work in Chinese literature. The masterpiece is the most famous and laudable military text outside of China. While its exact origins and author are still a matter of debate, scholars of military history agree that the book once existed. Most likely written around 400 to 300 years BC, 100 years after the birth of two famous Chinese philosophers, Lao Tze and Confucius. So, the book is more than 2,300 years old.

People rarely question the significance and importance of Sun Tzu’s work in influencing military thought. For example, even modern military thinking and writing draws heavily on Sun Tzu’s work. The public used his military occupation and strategy extensively during the Warring States period (c. 453 to 221 BC). Even in another famous Chinese military classic, Annals of the Three Kingdoms, many strategies reflect Sun Tzu’s advocacy.

The Principles of Pre-conflict

In the first chapter of The Art of War, Sun Tzu discusses a pre-conflict situation. It is about preparing to face the changing conditions of the ongoing war. When describing moral influence, the higher significance is that the commander must assess the people’s relationship with the government. As it involves command and doctrine, an order is an assessment of the commander’s reputation between competence and subordinates. It is also another determining factor for willingness to listen to commands. Given by individuals in the hierarchy, the doctrine establishes a route arrangement of control by the army.

The planning element is vital that he asserts, “those who master it win; those who are not defeated.” In the second chapter, he discusses the act of war. However, the instructions can leak into people’s lives. In discussing the support of soldiers to the battlefield through equipment and supplies, it is essential to execute based on speed and decisiveness. For Sun Tzu, he recommends establishing a set of principles when exercising determination with extraordinary speed and rationality.

The Virtuoso

Sun Tzu stated in the third chapter of The Art of War, “conquering the enemy without fighting is the pinnacle of skill.” With careful planning, commanders can conquer the enemy more effectively than juxtaposed with mindless twist attacks. For him, patience is a virtue. When fighting, learning to control the will is the best solution in preventing casualties in vain. He talks about the story of two opposing generals facing off in conflict other than just an apparent misunderstanding. The fourth chapter presents an element of war in reflecting a mentality such as space measurement, estimation of numbers, calculations, comparisons, and chances of victory.

Again, Sun Tzu emphasizes precise planning and does not neglect clarity. An army that wins victory before seeking battle. The destined military has hope with victory to beat the fight. The central premise in chapter five is to highlight the importance of creating order amid chaos by establishing a hierarchy of ranks. The chapter’s emphasis is to create order within the ranks and ensure subordinates follow the orders of superiors. It is about chiefs planning well to ensure the safety of associates. However, in the end, it is about success in completing the goals and missions, namely victory.

The Deception

In the sixth chapter, the victorious general succeeds when he can mislead the opposing commander into believing a quick victory is ahead. The scam considers the tactics like the method of guiding sheep. The concept is the same as deception with the enemy, namely changing the tactics according to the conditions on the battlefield. Sun Tzu states that the best way to lead an unsuspecting enemy into a trap is to believe there is a way out. Deception leaves opposing forces vulnerable to planned attacks. In addition to showing, he reveals a leader not to be too merciful to troops.

The army is one unit operating smoothly. Applicable with leadership, leadership must ensure a subcomponent can work flawlessly through continuous assessment and monitoring. In the eleventh chapter, Sun Tzu makes an analogy of a leadership basis by discussing the hegemonic king seizing a position of authority. The king revisited the dangerous focus base but no forging allies otherwise. It is to eliminate the risk of the enemy turning partners into another opposing force once again. Deceit presents a considerable authority in separating a difference.

The Japanese Military Thought and Sun Tzu

Non-Japanese find out how The Art of War influenced Japanese military thinking. Introduced in Japan around 716 to 735, the first Western translations did not appear until 1,000 years later. The first translation appeared in French in Paris around 1772, while the first translation into English appeared in 1905. Interestingly, Captain E.F. Calthrop, a British army captain studying in Japan, translated the first translation into English. Currently, there are translations in German, Russian and other languages. The dominant one is the translation in Japanese, which is more than 13 pieces. What is interesting to note is that since the 16th century, people have been successful in applying Sun Tzu’s philosophy.

It is successfully applied on the Japanese battlefield. Takeda Shingen, one of the four great warlords of the time, decorated his war flag with the phrase: “as fast as the wind; as elegant as the wilderness; plunder like fire; firm as a mountain.” This expression was almost the same as Sun Tzu’s statement when he talked about the principle of implementing war strategy. The statement reads: “in moving should be as fast as the wind; in slow motion, should be as graceful as the wilderness; rage like fire in raiding and plundering; in enduring, stand firm as a mountain; you should be impenetrable as the darkness of the night in disguise; and when you strike, you must strike like thunder.”

The Japanese Business Practices

The military’s influence on Japanese business practices goes further than just reading books on the subject. Even more significant, Japanese companies are known to host annual camps for their employees and managers. The campsites were tightly controlled militarily, including many rituals such as meditation, teamwork, and survival techniques. The heaviness of the camp is evidenced by the fact that some of the participants could not withstand the heavy pressure. However, those who stay are reported to be better managers and decision-makers. The Japanese ingenuity in adapting and perfecting the work of others also extends to the way and behavior they enter the world market.

This is best characterized by what might be termed the “5 Is” strategy. This strategy is perhaps best described in their product development strategy and manufacturing process, which can be briefly described:

  • the great “copycats” were the early stages of Japan’s entry into the world market;
  • in the second stage of the development of the Japanese manufacturing business, they began making minor improvements to the products they had initially been copied;
  • Japan began to improvise in the third stage;
  • in the fourth stage, Japan began to innovate; and
  • in the fifth stage, the Japanese started to the final and most threatening phase of their economic conquest, namely creation.

The Goal Formulation

Sun Tzu clearly distinguished between the role of a political leader and that of a field commander. A capable commander must possess essential attributes. Those qualities are violence, courage, fatherhood, sincerity, and wisdom. While the moral influence in war can be likened to political leadership, it is interesting to note that the qualities of a capable commander reflect the ideal attributes that a leader should possess. The ultimate goal or goal in every war is to win.

In short, no one goes to war to lose territory. Similarly, no one does business to lose money. The ultimate goal is to earn as much money as possible, with the ultimate goal of capturing all the share. For Sun Tzu, the main goal in war is victory. He said: “…conquer the enemy army without fighting head-to-head; capture enemy cities without heavy attacks; and destroy enemy countries without prolonged operations.”


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