The Art of War: The Use of Spies

Greeting Barbarians! Long days and pleasant nights!

Today’s post will be the last chapter of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. It has been a wonderful journey, and I have learned quite a lot. You might ask, “Why the very long series?”. It is because I wanted an in-depth look, not just bare summaries of what the book has to offer. I don’t want to just scratch the surface, I wanted to sink myself into it and carry on its wisdom.

On the last chapter, we’ve talked about how to spring into action when an opportunity arises. We talked about offensive, where to direct our efforts and of perfect timing.,on how to act to the various outcomes of our efforts as well as other ways to attack, and the importance of picking our fights and making everything count. 

Today, we’re going to talk about the application of intelligence towards success. So, without any more delays; let’s dive into the final chapter – The Art of War: The Use of Spies:

War is Expensive

“Sun Tzu said: Raising a host of a hundred thousand men and marching them great distances entails heavy loss on the people and a drain on the resources of the State. The daily expenditure will amount to a thousand ounces of silver. There will be commotion at home and abroad, and men will drop down exhausted on the highways. As many as seven hundred thousand families will be impeded in their labor.”

Think twice before you do or say something, think of its consequence and on how it will affect everything. The truth is, everything has its price while it may not always be of money. Often, it is the failure to acknowledge such cost is the reason for one’s failure. Arrogance and selfishness have never won anything for anyone. Remember that a man’s life is of duty, it is not of who he is but is about what he does. Great men are those who put themselves last, but never lose sight of what is important to them.


“Thus, what enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge.”

Being able to make thoughtful decisions is crucial for victory.  Anticipation is the name of the game as it allows you to make the necessary adjustments to progress. Insight is the zenith of a lifelong study and experience. Base your decisions on facts instead of impulses. Rely on what you’ve learned and experienced so far to act.  Accumulate as much insight as you could, there is a lesson on everything even in suffering and loss. Remember that Odin gouges out his eye to gain wisdom, be willing to make sacrifices to gain insight.

Five Classes of Spies

“Hence the use of spies, of whom there are five classes: (1) Local spies; (2) inward spies; (3) converted spies; (4) doomed spies; (5) surviving spies.”

One does not need the acquisition of actual spies to gather insight, but rather serves as a metaphor. “Spies” interpreted as a source of information to gain an advantage. It may be a simple observation of the said source or a direct account of it. Appear more than what it seems when gathering information. Do not forecast your intention by attempting to be bold.

“Local spies” may refer to sources that are familiar with the terrain or condition. “Inward spies” are sources referred to as inside information. “Converted spies” are the enemy’s own source of information that you’d manage to use for your own. “Doomed spies” are sources whose sole purpose is to spread false information to the enemy. “Surviving spies” are sources who managed to return with actual facts. 

Using Spies

“Hence it is that which none in the whole army are more intimate relations to be maintained than with spies. None should be more liberally rewarded. In no other business should greater secrecy be preserved.”

Be meticulous with your “spies”, know everything there is to know about them. Make sure that they are trustworthy and always keep them close. Treat them with special care and make them feel special, keep them motivated and loyal. Always treat them with kindness, even if you suspect them of treachery.

Verify any form of information that you could get your hands on as sources can be compromised. Information Gathering is tricky and delicate, approach with utmost subtlety. Timing is everything, the idea is to be able to expect every tumble and turn in the grand scheme of things. Too early, and the information gathered may subject to change; too late, and it is all for nothing.

Using the Five Classes of Spies

“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 converted spies and available for our service.”

Sought after is the enemy’s source of information. Do everything you can to persuade an enemy source if ever you caught one. They may be the key to winning a war, as they know the inner workings of the enemy. When a source is near the end of their worth, have them mislead the competition by planting false info. When a source that has amassed too much data, examine it with your most trusted allies. Insight is what separates the victor from the loser, and the source of information is a gold mine. Seek to motivate than to punish, offer them kindness and well intentions.


“Of old, the rise of the Yin dynasty was due to I Chih who had served under the Hsia. Likewise, the rise of the Chou dynasty was due to Lu Ya who had served under the Yin.”

When it comes to information gathering, it is crucial to have your best assets at your disposal. Any form of learning deserves your utmost attention. One cannot learn when he is absent-minded, be well invested when it comes to learning.

Wisdom is rare, and if passed on – it will endure; but when neglected, everything will fall in ambiguity. It is childish pride that falls into these traps, the failure to recognize the wisdom the comes with age.

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