The Art of War: 10

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Chapter 10 - Terrain

Art of War : Intro - 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11 - 12 - 13 - Conclusion

My interpretation.

Literal translation by Lionel Giles.

Know the ground rules and lay of the land. To do that, you must think of the following:

6 kinds of terrain:

  1. Accessible ground; is easily accessible to both sides. When here, protect your supply lines and your communication routes.
  2. Entangling ground; is ground that you can once left can not be returned to. Don't try to go back. Only leave this safety when you can achieve victory.
  3. Temporizing ground; when both sides are dug-in, and making the first move would give the other side an advantage. Don't attack, despite lures, retreat to fight another day, and on better terms.
  4. narrow passes; choke points or bottlenecks. Own them. Defend them. They are an advantage. Take them when the opportunity arises, but make sure not to pay too high a price.
  5. precipitous heights; gain the high ground, and keep it. If they have the high ground, then leave or change the rules. Make them chase after you, not the other way around.
  6. Positions at a great distance from the enemy; make them come to you, not the other way around. Let them be weary from the journey while you stay fresh.

Always make the opponent fight your fight, and on your terms.

6 disasters of leadership:

  1. Trying to do too much, with too little will result in a future (and expensive) retreat. (Know the resources)
  2. Being a weak leader and having an overly strong staff (with consensus) will result in insubordination. (Be the leader)
  3. Too aggressive a leader and too weak a staff, and not accepting the situation, will result in collapse. (Hire good people)
  4. Ego or emotion driven over-aggressiveness will lead to impetuous acts and ruin. (Listen)
  5. Poor communication, unclear vision, and poor discipline (delegation), result in disorganization. (Communicate directions)
  6. If battles aren't picked wisely, or you bite off more than you can chew, then it will lead to rout. (Know the situation)

A responsible leader will avoid those hazards.

Know your enemy, and know yourself

Those that can see what is happened the best, and can observe the surroundings the truest, have the greater chance for success. Those that can't, have the greater chance of failure.

If you are doomed from the start, then do not fight. Orders that lead to ruin, must be avoided; even if they come from above, and will cost you. If you do not protect your people, and make good decisions, then you are not a good leader. Do not be afraid to admit mistakes, take blame and retreat when necessary; that is the mark of a true leader. If you are loyal to your men, then they will be loyal to you.

Knowledge is power and ignorance can lead to death. Victory is achieved by knowing both the enemy and yourself.

Sun Tzu said: We may distinguish six kinds of terrain, to wit:

  1. accessible ground;
  2. entangling ground;
  3. temporizing ground; (delay)
  4. narrow passes;
  5. precipitous heights;
  6. positions at a great distance from the enemy.

Ground which can be freely traversed by both sides is called ACCESSIBLE. With regard to ground of this nature, be before the enemy in occupying the raised and sunny spots, and carefully guard your line of supplies. Then you will be able to fight with advantage.

Ground which can be abandoned but is hard to re-occupy is called ENTANGLING. From a position of this sort, if the enemy is unprepared, you may sally forth and defeat him. But if the enemy is prepared for your coming, and you fail to defeat him, then, return being impossible, disaster will ensue.

When the position is such that neither side will gain by making the first move, it is called TEMPORIZING ground. In a position of this sort, even though the enemy should offer us an attractive bait, it will be advisable not to stir forth, but rather to retreat, thus enticing the enemy in his turn; then, when part of his army has come out, we may deliver our attack with advantage.

With regard to NARROW PASSES, if you can occupy them first, let them be strongly garrisoned and await the advent of the enemy. Should the army forestall you in occupying a pass, do not go after him if the pass is fully garrisoned, but only if it is weakly garrisoned.

With regard to PRECIPITOUS HEIGHTS, if you are beforehand with your adversary, you should occupy the raised and sunny spots, and there wait for him to come up. If the enemy has occupied them before you, do not follow him, but retreat and try to entice him away.

If you are situated at a great distance from the enemy, and the strength of the two armies is equal, it is not easy to provoke a battle, and fighting will be to your disadvantage.

These six are the principles connected with Earth. The general who has attained a responsible post must be careful to study them.

Now an army is exposed to six several calamities, not arising from natural causes, but from faults for which the general is responsible. These are:

  1. Flight;
  2. insubordination;
  3. collapse;
  4. ruin;
  5. disorganization;
  6. rout.

Other conditions being equal, if one force is hurled against another ten times its size, the result will be the FLIGHT of the former.

When the common soldiers are too strong and their officers too weak, the result is INSUBORDINATION.

When the officers are too strong and the common soldiers too weak, the result is COLLAPSE.

When the higher officers are angry and insubordinate, and on meeting the enemy give battle on their own account from a feeling of resentment, before the commander-in-chief can tell whether or not he is in a position to fight, the result is RUIN.

When the general is weak and without authority; when his orders are not clear and distinct; when there are no fixed duties assigned to officers and men, and the ranks are formed in a slovenly haphazard manner, the result is utter DISORGANIZATION.

When a general, unable to estimate the enemy's strength, allows an inferior force to engage a larger one, or hurls a weak detachment against a powerful one, and neglects to place picked soldiers in the front rank, the result must be ROUT.

These are six ways of courting defeat, which must be carefully noted by the general who has attained a responsible post.

The natural formation of the country is the soldier's best ally; but a power of estimating the adversary, of controlling the forces of victory, and of shrewdly calculating difficulties, dangers and distances, constitutes the test of a great general.

He who knows these things, and in fighting puts his knowledge into practice, will win his battles. He who knows them not, nor practices them, will surely be defeated.

If fighting is sure to result in victory, then you must fight, even though the ruler forbid it; if fighting will not result in victory, then you must not fight even at the ruler's bidding.

The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.

Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look upon them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.

If, however, you are indulgent, but unable to make your authority felt; kind-hearted, but unable to enforce your commands; and incapable, moreover, of quelling disorder: then your soldiers must be likened to spoilt children; they are useless for any practical purpose.

If we know that our own men are in a condition to attack, but are unaware that the enemy is not open to attack, we have gone only halfway towards victory. If we know that the enemy is open to attack, but are unaware that our own men are not in a condition to attack, we have gone only halfway towards victory. If we know that the enemy is open to attack, and also know that our men are in a condition to attack, but are unaware that the nature of the ground makes fighting impracticable, we have still gone only halfway towards victory. Hence the experienced soldier, once in motion, is never bewildered; once he has broken camp, he is never at a loss.

Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt; if you know Heaven and know Earth, you may make your victory complete.