The Art of War: Attack By Stratagem

“Hence the saying: 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

Greeting fellow Barbarians! So I was streaming the web a few weeks ago, and I came across the controversial Gillette ad. For me, it was just an advertising ploy to sell razor blades but for some, it was something else. But what surprised me more was the number of men triggered by the ad, even to the point of throwing their razor blades in the toilet. Why are there so many men today who are too vocal about their opinions about things that do not matter? And vice versa, why do the opinions of things that do not matter gets the attention of many men today? Sometimes the best way to address things is to not address at all.

On my previous chapter of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, I pointed out some conventional application to the insights on managing resources provided by the book: ideas regarding “Foraging”, “Decisiveness” and “Generosity” in waging war to our chosen personal struggles. My goal in writing this was simple, I wanted to correlate the book into modern-day real-life applications. To put simply I wanted to have a somewhat self-help book with good, conventional sense behind it. with today’s standards where common sense is no longer common, a classical approach might be more sensible for today’s pool of ideas (in my opinion of course).

So here Chapter 3, Attack by Stratagem. Enjoy!

Avoid Battle

“Sun Tzu said: 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, to capture a regiment, a detachment or a company entire than to destroy them. ”

Right off the bat, Sun Tzu notions that true victory does not lie in the utter destruction of your enemies but rather by acquiring resources your enemies have. And same goes in real life, it is better to win over enemies rather than to obliterate them. Even with our possessions, it is much better to repurpose it or give it away rather than to destroy it. Finding ways for things that are against you to work to your advantage is a true skill and sometimes that can be achieved by avoiding conflict. Sometimes the best way to address something is to not address it at all, fighting only when there is something to be gained and avoiding meaningless destruction. Learn to make use of your enemies.

Fighting Strategy

“It is the rule in war, if our forces are ten to the enemy’s one, to surround him; if five to one, to attack him; if twice as numerous, to divide our army into two. If equally matched, we can offer battle; if slightly inferior in numbers, we can avoid the enemy; if quite unequal in every way, we can flee from him.”

You may take the “army” as a metaphor for your resources; I like to think of this as our confidence, skill, time, even our finances. So let us say that you have plenty of time, it’s best to divide your time and attend to other aspects of your life, while having just the right amount of time, gives us the option whether to pursue or not whatever we wanted to pursue. Then having not enough time forces us to re-evaluate why we do not have the time, maybe we are not trying hard enough or maybe we are pursuing that is not meant for us. And the same goes for money, whenever I wanted to buy myself something; let us say a jacket. If I have money twice the amount of the jacket, I would definitely buy it. If I have enough, I will buy it depending on the urgency; but if I do not have the money, I will just have to save more or maybe just stop wanting (maybe it is really not that nice, or maybe it does not really suit me well).

Bringing Misfortune

“ (1) By commanding the army to advance or to retreat, being ignorant of the fact that it cannot obey. This is called hobbling the army.”

This simply means lacking awareness in managing your resources, not knowing what you and your resources are capable of. Learn to orient yourself to you and your resources; the key is knowing so that you know how to make improvements and have the consistency and discipline to better yourself.

“(2) 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.”

Like everything in life, everything is situational. Just because you are a hammer, does not mean you have to treat everyone else as nails. Learn to adapt and adjust to each situation; you cannot spend your time the way how you spend your money. Everything responds differently to stimuli, and it is wise to acquaint yourself to those responses. Take note that common courtesy is also derived from this concept, so be aware of your actions; others may find it amusing but some will definitely be irritated.

“(3) 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.”

You really cannot treat shit as if it is gold, learn to be objective. Better make good use of your discrimination and have criteria or standards for yourself; you cannot simply accumulate trash all through your life. Learn how to separate gold from garbage, the thing about life is that the less we have, the better life becomes. It also allows you to focus on what truly matters for you, and not have any distractions. Know what is important for you, and develop your criteria.

Five Essentials for Victory

“(1) He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.”

There is a treasure when one knows when, where, and how to dig, learn to spot an opportunity when you see one. Doors are opening so make sure you know what pathway yields the greatest reward, take note that focus also comes into play in this. Knowing what you want and focusing on what is important for you. Sometimes, the problem lies in not knowing what treasure you want.

“(2) He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces.”

Last week, I have written about the importance of handling various social situations. Learning to take control of the various situations (not just social ones) is crucial to one’s success. Be aware of what each situation presents and take advantage of it, making sure not to underestimate or overestimate the situation.

“(3) He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks.”

Being on the same page, in my humble opinion is one of the key ingredients in a successful relationship. And I think it is also applicable in life; most, if not all of your resources in life must be on the same page as you. The resources you possess must serve a purpose in your goals.

“(4) He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared.”

On my first chapter of The Art of War, I talked about the importance of preparedness. Life is volatile, we can predict based on the probability of things, but we can never really know what comes next. It is wise to prepare no matter how unpredictable the future is, and somehow mitigate uncertainty. Try to have a secure position for tomorrow, and look for the opportunity presented by it.

“(5) He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.”

Make yourself competent and do not lose track of your goals, avoid unnecessary distractions. Focus, in my opinion, is one of the fundamental skills in life. Being able to focus on the task at hand or goal, not letting anything stop you from doing what you are supposed to do. Often time, we have the competence and the resources but we get distracted quite easily: by self-doubt, hurt, daily stress, that we forgot what was important for us. We often get lost in our daily lives and find it hard to get back on track. That is why I think it is important to have focus and having the courage to make hard decisions for the greater good.

Well, that is it for my chapter 3 of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, so pick your fights, choose a strategy, avoid foolishness, and be victorious. Glory is for those who want it bad enough.

art black and white close up horse
Photo by Pixabay on


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