Sun Tzu (500 BCE) was a Chinese military strategist and general. He is best known as the author of The Art of War, a treatise on military strategy. Sun Tzu was an advocate of military preparedness in maintaining peace and social order. He is said to have lived, fought and composed his timeless treatise before the Warring States Period. At the time, the Zhou Dynasty was in decline and the states were fighting each other for supremacy and control of China.
In the early part of the Spring and Autumn Period, Chinese warfare followed traditional protocols of chivalry before, during, and after an engagement. As the era wore on, this adherence to tradition became increasingly frustrating. No state could gain an advantage over another because they were all following exactly the same protocol and employing the same tactics.
Sun Tzu’s work sought to break this stalemate by outlining a clear strategy of winning decisively by whatever means necessary. His teachings may have been derived from earlier philosophies or may have been based on his own experience in battle.
His strategic thinking was put into practice by Qin Shi Huang, the founder of the Qin Dynasty and the first emperor of a unified China. By following Sun Tzu’s philosophy, he successfully conquered the other states through a policy of total war. From Ancient China to the present day, Sun Tzu’s work has continually been consulted by military and business strategists. Its lessons on how to achieve one’s goals–during both peacetime and war–continue to be valued by people from all walks of life.
Sun Tzu’s 5 Essentials for Victory
1. He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.
Are you a peaceful tortoise or a warhorse?
If you are in a position to fight–go ahead and fight. If you are not in a position to fight–retreat and defend your territory. Neither strategy is inherently good or bad as long as it works and is suited to your disposition and position.
It is neither prudent to be the aggressor nor the defender. It all depends on one’s position in the war.
2. He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces.
Are you an ant or a polar bear?
Every animal in the world has its own survival strategy. Ants are small, but they are hard workers who collaborate together in large numbers to get work done. A polar bear hunts alone, but he is an apex predator.
Whether you are an apex predator or a small fry is of little importance. You can survive and even thrive despite your size. Once you know who–and what–you are, you can develop the right fighting strategy.
3. He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks.
The Queen Bee lives in a honey bee colony and is usually the mother of most, if not all, of the bees in the beehive. There is normally only one queen bee in a hive and all the bees will usually follow and fiercely protect her.
Constancy of purpose and knowing the commander’s intent keeps an army or an organisation together and with a clear, cohesive and unwavering focus.
4. He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared.
The fox watches its prey silently from afar before it pounces. The same is true of owls.
An army actually spends very little time in combat. When it is not fighting, it should be preparing for the opportune moment to attack. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. So if the enemy is not prepared and you are, then you will automatically have a huge advantage.
5. He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.
Once a leader has delegated a task to someone, they must entrust it to them 100 percent.
Rulers know how to rule civilians. Generals know how to fight. Whilst the ruler’s intent is important, strategy and tactics should be left to those who understand it best.
Without a fight, there can be no victory. I am not suggesting anyone starts a war; but what I am saying is that all of us need to develop a winning strategy if we want to be victorious and reach our goals.
This was what Sun Tzu had to say a few thousand years ago. They say the world has changed; but really, it hasn’t. Which is why timeless teachings such as these can live, live on…and even flourish; no matter what age or epoch we find ourselves in.