The Art of War
Sun Tzu
with additional material by the translator, Samuel B. Griffith

Samuel B. Griffith

These pages:

introduction and appendices

The Art of War, first part
  second part (here)




index pages:

The Art of War
by Sun Tzu

translated by Samuel B. Griffith

Copyright © 1963, Oxford University Press




2. Nothing is more difficult than the art of manœuvre. What is difficult about manœuvre is to make the devious route the most direct and to turn misfortune to advantage.

3. Thus, march by an indirect route and divert the enemy by enticing him with a bait. So doing, you may set out after he does and arrive before him. One able to do this understands the strategy of the direct and the indirect.

4. Now both advantage and danger are inherent in manœuvre.

5. One who sets the entire army in motion to chase an advantage will not attain it.

6. If he abandons the camp to contend for advantage the stores will be lost.



12. Now war is based on deception. Move when it is advantageous and create changes in the situation by dispersal and concentration of forces.1

13. When campaigning, be swift as the wind; in leisurely march, majestic as the forest; in raiding and plundering, like fire; in standing, firm as the mountains.2 As unfathomable as the clouds, move like a thunderbolt.

14. When you plunder the countryside, divide your forces. When you conquer territory, divide the profits.

15. Weigh the situation, then move.

16. He who knows the art of the direct and the indirect approach will be victorious. Such is the art of manœuvring.

1 Mao Tse-Tung paraphrases this verse several times.

2 Adopted as his slogan by the Japanese warrior Takeda Shingen.

21. During the early morning spirits are keen, during the day they flag, and in the evening thoughts turn toward home.

22. And therefore those skilled in war avoid the enemy when his spirit is keen and attack him when it is sluggish and his soldiers homesick. This is control of the moral factor.

23. In good order they await a disorderly enemy; in serenity, a clamorous one. This is control of the mental factor.

24. Close to the field of battle, they await an enemy coming from afar; at rest, an exhausted enemy; with well-fed troops, hungry ones. This is control of the physical factor.

25. They do not engage an enemy advancing with well-ordered banners nor one whose formations are in impressive array. This is control of the factor of changing circumstances.

26. Therefore, the art of employing troops is that when the enemy occupies high ground, do not confront him; with his back resting on hills, do not oppose him.

27. When he pretends to flee, do not pursue.

28. Do not attack his élite troops.

29. Do not gobble proferred baits.

30. Do not thwart an enemy returning homewards.

31. To a surrounded enemy you must leave a way of escape.

32. Do not press an enemy at bay.

Tu Yu: Prince Fu Ch’ai said: ‘Wild beasts, when at bay, fight desperately. How much more is this true of men! If they know there is no alternative they will fight to the death.’

During the reign of Emperor Hsüan of the Han, Chao Ch’ung-kuo was suppressing a revolt of the Ch’iang tribe. The Ch’iang tribesmen saw his large army, discarded their heavy baggage, and set out to ford the Yellow River. The road was through narrow defiles, and Ch’ung Kuo drove them along in a leisurely manner.

Someone said: ‘We are in pursuit of great advantage but proceed slowly.’

Ch’ung-kuo replied: ‘They are desperate. I cannot press them. If I do this easily they will go without even looking around. If I press them they will turn on us and fight to the death.’


The Nine Variables

2. You should not encamp in low-lying ground.

3. In communicating ground, unite with your allies.

4. You should not linger in desolate ground.

5. In enclosed ground, resourcefulness is required.

6. In death ground, fight.

7. There are some roads not to follow; some troops not to strike; some cities not to assault; and some ground which should not be contested.

8. There are occasions when the commands of the sovereign need not be obeyed.

17. There are five qualities which are dangerous in the character of a general.

18. If reckless, he can be killed;

19. If cowardly, captured;

20. If quick-tempered you can make a fool of him;

21. If he has too delicate a sense of honor you can calumniate him;

22. If he is of a compassionate nature you can harass him.



25. When the enemy’s envoys speak in humble terms, but he continues his preparations, he will advance.

26. When their language is deceptive but the enemy pretentiously advances, he will retreat.

27. When the envoys speak in apologetic terms, he wishes a respite.

28. When without a previous understanding the enemy asks for a truce, he is plotting.

45. In war, numbers alone confer no advantage. Do not advance relying on sheer military power.

47. If troops are punished before their loyalty is secured they will be disobedient. If not obedient, it is difficult to employ them. If troops are loyal, but punishments are not enforced, you cannot employ them.

48. Thus, command them with civility and imbue them uniformly with martial ardour and it may be said that victory is certain.

50. When orders are consistently trustworthy and observed, the relationship of a commander with his troops is satisfactory.



Sun Tzu said:

1. Ground may be classified according to its nature as accessible, entrapping, indecisive, constricted, precipitous, and distant.

2. Ground which both we and the enemy can traverse with equal ease is called accessible. In such ground, he who first takes high sunny positions convenient to his supply routes can fight advantageously.

3. Ground easy to get out of but difficult to return to is entrapping. The nature of this ground is such that if the enemy is unprepared and you sally out you may defeat him. If the enemy is prepared and you go out and engage, but do not win, it is difficult to return. This is unprofitable.

4. Ground equally disadvantageous for both the enemy and ourselves to enter is indecisive. The nature of this ground is such that although the enemy holds out a bait I do not go forth but entice him by marching off. When I have drawn out half his force, I can strike him advantageously.

5. If I first occupy constricted ground I must block the passes and await the enemy. If the enemy first occupies such ground and blocks the defiles I should not follow him; if he does not block them completely I may do so.

6. In precipitous ground I must take position on the sunny heights and await the enemy. If he first occupies such ground I lure him by marching off; I do not follow him.

7. When at a distance from an enemy of equal strength it is difficult to provoke battle and unprofitable to engage him in his chosen position.

9. Now when troops flee, are insubordinate, distressed, collapse in disorder or are routed, it is the fault of the general. None of these disasters can be attributed to natural causes.

18. If the situation is one of victory but the sovereign has issued orders not to engage, the general may decide to fight. If the situation is such that he cannot win, but the sovereign has issued orders to engage, he need not do so.

19. And therefore the general who in advancing does not seek personal fame, and in withdrawing is not concerned with avoiding punishment, but whose only purpose is to protect the people and promote the best interests of his sovereign, is the precious jewel of the state.

20. Because such a general regards his men as infants they will march with him into the deepest valleys. He treats them as his own beloved sons and they will die with him.

26. And therefore I say: ‘Know the enemy, know yourself; your victory will never be endangered. Know the ground, know the weather; your victory will then be total.’


The Nine Varieties of Ground

28. Should one ask: ‘How do I cope with a well-ordered enemy host about to attack me?’ I reply: ‘Seize something he cherishes and he will conform to your desires.’

29. Speed is the essence of war. Take advantage of the enemy’s unpreparedness; travel by unexpected routes and strike him where he has taken no precautions.

30. The general principles applicable to an invading force are that when you have penetrated deeply into hostile territory your army is united, and the defender cannot overcome you.

32. Pay heed to nourishing the troops; do not unnecessarily fatigue them. Unite them in spirit; conserve their strength. Make unfathomable plans for the movements of the army.

33. Throw the troops into a position from which there is no escape and even when faced with death they will not flee. For if prepared to die, what can they not achieve? Then officers and men together put forth their utmost efforts. In a desperate situation they fear nothing; when there is no way out they stand firm. Deep in a hostile land they are bound together, and there, where there is no alternative, they will engage the enemy in hand to hand combat.

47. To assemble the army and throw it into a desperate position is the business of the general.

48. He leads the army deep into hostile territory and there releases the trigger.

54. Bestow rewards without respect to customary practice; publish orders without respect to precedent. Thus you may employ the entire army as you would one man.

55. Set the troops to their tasks without imparting your designs; use them to gain advantage without revealing the dangers involved. Throw them into a perilous situation and they survive; put them in death ground and they will live. For when the army is placed in such a situation it can snatch victory from defeat.

56. Now the crux of military operations lies in the pretence of accommodating one’s self to the designs of the enemy.

59. When the enemy presents an opportunity, speedily take advantage of it. Anticipate him in seizing something he values and move in accordance with a date secretly fixed.

60. The doctrine of war is to follow the enemy situation in order to decide on battle.

61. Therefore at first be shy as a maiden. When the enemy gives you an opening be swift as a hare and he will be unable to withstand you.


Attack by Fire

15. Now to win battles and take your objectives, but to fail to exploit these achievements is ominous and may be described as ‘wasteful delay’.

16. And therefore it is said that enlightened rulers deliberate upon the plans, and good generals execute them.

17. If not in the interests of the state, do not act. If you cannot succeed, do not use troops. If you are not in danger, do not fight.

18. A sovereign cannot raise an army because he is enraged, nor can a general fight because he is resentful. For while an angered man may again be happy, and a resentful man again be pleased, a state that has perished cannot be restored, nor can the dead be brought back to life.


Employment of Secret Agents

2. One who confronts his enemy for many years in order to struggle for victory in a decisive battle yet who, because he begrudges rank, honours and a few hundred pieces of gold, remains ignorant of his enemy’s situation, is completely devoid of humanity. Such a man is no general; no support to his sovereign; no master of victory.

3. Now the reason the enlightened prince and the wise general conquer the enemy whenever they move and their achievements surpass those of ordinary men is foreknowledge.

4. What is called ‘foreknowledge’ cannot be elicited from spirits, nor from gods, nor by analogy with past events, nor from calculations. It must be obtained from men who know the enemy situation.

5. Now there are five sorts of secret agents to be employed. These are native, inside, doubled, expendable, and living.

13. He who is not sage and wise, humane and just, cannot use secret agents. And he who is not delicate and subtle cannot get the truth out of them.



17. It is essential to seek out enemy agents who have come to conduct espionage against you and to bribe them to serve you. Give them instructions and care for them. Thus doubled agents are recruited and used.

18. It is by means of the doubled agent that native and inside agents can be recruited and employed.

19. And it is by this means that the expendable agent, armed with false information, can be sent to convey it to the enemy.

21. The sovereign must have full knowledge of the activities of the five sorts of agents. This knowledge must come from the doubled agents, and therefore it is mandatory that they be treated with the utmost liberality.

text checked (see note) Feb 2006

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