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An Introduction to Sun Tzu Bing Fa

January 10th, 2013 by dimpledbrain

Today, I shall attempt to write something on Sun Tzu Bing Fa or Sun Tzu’s Art of War:

(1) 孫子曰:兵者,國之大事,死生之地,存亡之道,不可不察也。(sūn zi yuē: bīnɡ zhě, ɡuó zhī dà shì. sǐ shēnɡ zhī dì , cún wánɡ zhī dào, bù kě bù chá yě.) [Chapter 1]

(Sun Tzu says: Warfare is a great matter to a nation; it is the ground of death and of life; it is the way of survival and of destruction, and must be examined.)

  • Throughout history, not many authors dare to claim that something is important, or is the truth. When such statements are made, it must be either true or deceitfully otherwise.
  • The passage of time is our best guard against such minds. What has stood the test of time (say 100 years) is worth paying attention to. It may not be 100% fool proof; therefore, in applying our mind to the matter, a little bit of common sense is still necessary.
  • Having said that, we must not avoid the subjects altogether just because there are some false teachers out there.

(2)  善守者,藏于九地之下﹔善攻者,動于九天之上。(shàn shŏu zhě, cánɡ yú jiǔ dì zhī xià; shàn ɡōnɡ zhě , dònɡ yú jiǔ tiān zhī shànɡ.) [Chapter 4]

( [therefore], those skilled in defence conceal themselves in the lowest depths of the Earth, those skilled in attack move in the highest reaches of the Heavens.)

  • This is the goal of our pursuit.
  • In every pursuit of life, everything can be divided into 2 strategies, attacking and defending. The objective is to simply reach the above state.
  • Heaven and Earth represent a very important aspect of the Chinese thinking. It’s like the yin and yang of things; even the whole 64 I-Ching trigrams are governed by the 2 primary trigrams of Heaven (Initiating) and Earth (Responding).

(3) 人皆知我所以勝之形,而莫知吾所以制 勝之形。(rén jiē zhī wŏ suó yǐ shènɡ zhī xínɡ, ér mò zhī wú suó yǐ zhì shènɡ zhī xínɡ.) [Chapter 6]

(Everyone knows the formation by which I achieved victory, yet no one knows the formations by which I was able to create victory.)

  • This is the objective of our victories. Everyday, we hear about successful people, read about them and then try to emulate them. Only problem is we just couldn’t copy them. Why? Sun Tzu said so.

The conclusion of the matter:
故曰:知己知彼,百戰不貽﹔不知彼而知己,一勝一負﹔不知彼不知 己 每戰必貽。(ɡù yuē :zhī bǐ zhī jǐ, bǎi zhàn bú dài; bù zhī bǐ ér zhī jǐ , yí shènɡ yí fù; bù zhī bǐ bù zhī jǐ, měi zhàn bì dài.) [Chapter 3]

(Therefore the Master says: One who knows the enemy and knows himself will not be in danger in a hundred battles. One who does not know the enemy but knows himself will sometimes win, sometimes lose. One who does not know the enemy and does not know himself will be in danger in every battle.)

The 3 pointers above can only achieve the second level, at best – sometimes we win, sometimes we lose.

It is imperative to know the enemy (or play the man as they call it) to not be defeated in 100 battles.

p/s: Sun Tzu always says ‘know your enemy and know yourself’ and not ‘know yourself and know your enemy’. The distinction is ‘cun wang zhi dao’, i.e. either the way of survival or of destruction. Switching the boxed Chinese characters is a dangerous business.


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