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"The Art of War"  

Sun Tzu said great warriors are already victorious before they go to war. The supreme art of war is to vanquish your enemy without fighting.
Eastern Prominence
Eastern Prominence
In Chinese and Japanese culture, Sun Tzu is just as prominent as Biblical characters are to western cultures. He was born Sun Wu somewhere in middle of the sixth century BC. He is known as Sun Tzu today which literally means Master Sun. He was a Chinese general during an unstable period in feudal China. He was like a military contractor who would have been hired by a feudal lord to run his army. We know with some certainty that he served in the state of Wu to the Emperor Heilu. He was famous for his maxims on military strategy and those maxims were eventually collected into the book that we know today as The Art of War.
Strategy
Strategy
The Art of War was written specific to a time of rampant civil and political unrest in China. Any advantage that generals could get in this constant warfare was coveted and valued. And Sun Tzu’s maxims became valuable beyond all others. There are only thirteen short chapters in the book that we call The Art of War. The chapters are a collection of aphoristic sayings or proverbs. Perhaps Sun Tzu’s most famous quote is, "if you know yourself and your enemy then you will not taste defeat in a hundred battles. If you know only yourself but not your enemy, you may win or lose. If you know neither yourself nor your enemy you will never taste victory."  

The original Chinese phrase has been condensed to a short eight-character adage. If you know yourself and you know your opponent then you will be able to win any number of battles. And if you know neither then you will invite chaos and discord frequently. Warfare was not a test of strength in his view. Warfare was a test of strategy. It didn’t necessary depend upon how strong you were, rather, it depended on how you applied your strength against your opponents weakness. 

In Sun Tzu’s universe, there was nothing like honorable warfare or gentleman’s fighting. You tricked your opponent and drew him out when he was weak. You made him run when he was strong. War was a poker game and poker rests on the ability to bluff well and to manipulate perceptions. You played war just like you played good poker; you kept your face straight and you kept your opponent guessing. Sun Tzu’s work more than anything else was a meditation upon strategy. 

To be a successful strategist, he claimed that you needed to understand the most influential principles of strategy formation, material preparation, and preparation for a campaign. It was also crucial to know the terrain upon which are fighting on and the weather (which Tzu referred to as the dynamics of heaven). You had to organize your army into the most advantageous formations that you could. And then there were the principles of command. You had to have the right relationship between officers and soldiers. An army needed spirit and trust. If all of these principles were mastered, then the battle would be won the day before you stepped on the battlefield. If you did it well enough your enemy would know that he was vanquished before the first blow came.
Sun Tzu and Confucius
Sun Tzu and Confucius
Another important way to understand The Art of War is to contrast and compare the philosophy of Sun Tzu with the philosophy of one of his contemporaries, Confucius. There are some people who would argue today that if you are going to understand Eastern culture you need to understand it not simply as a product of Confucian thought, but Confucian thought with an undercurrent of Sun Tzu.

One of the principles of Confucius in The Analects was the rectification of names. This meant a father acting like a father, a son acting like a son, a ruler acting like a ruler. And if everybody acted in accordance with their place in society, society would be at peace and in harmony.

Confucian thought was all about social order. Everybody had a role to play from the emperor down to the most mundane worker and peace resulted from everybody following their role with a sense of duty and piety. Sun Tzu’s response to warfare and the great instability of his age was to say our job is not to bring peace our job is to achieve victory by whatever means we can. He advocates deception, which in business and politics brings up some ethical quandaries.
Broad Legacy
Broad Legacy
It is unclear what the immediate response to Sun Tzu’s teachings were. We don’t know very much about his battle record. We only know that his teachings must have been well received because they have been passed on through the generations. People found his teaching advantageous enough to carry it forward through history. His proverbs are insightful and general enough to be applied almost anywhere in any type of conflictual or competitive situation. And this is one of the keys to Sun Tzu’s enduring importance in the world today.  

Sun Tzu in The Art of War encourages knowing yourself and knowing your opponent. This wisdom carries over into business, and behooves any, business person or organization to know the market, your competitors, and also the limits of ones capabilities. If you are not good at creating a certain product, then you shouldn’t insist on creating that just because the market is demanding it. 

Sun Tzu’s work is hugely popular in China and Japan and other parts of the Eastern world. More recently it has become popular in the west. Important historical figures have credited their success in warfare and politics to Sun Tzu’s teaching. The famous Tokugawa shogun was an avowed disciple of Sun Tzu. Sun Tzu’s teaching were required reading among the samurai class. 

Centuries later the famous German war strategist Clausewitz would say warfare is the continuation of politics by other means. I think Sun Tzu would have liked this statement. I would like to think that if Sun Tzu saw the United Nations today he would be pleased by that because in the time that he was alive in feudal China nothing like that existed. There was no diplomacy. 

Today Sun Tzu’s teaching are applied in warfare, in business, in politics, and anywhere you find competition you will probably find somebody quoting Sun Tzu.
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