The Art of War – Sun Tzu

by Cpl. Beddoe

“The Art of War” is a book about strategy, opportunities, patience, planning, positioning, and winning by all means, specifically in war. There is much material about Sun Tzu’s “Art of War”. I will try to restrict my writing to that which is associated with our text and perhaps compliments our overall learning objectives.

Although accounts differ over the Sun Tzu’s origins, according to a biography written by a 2nd century BC historian he was a general who lived in the state of Wu in 6th century BC. Sun Tzu is most famous for the Art of War, praised as the definitive work on military strategy and tactics prior to the collapse of imperial China. (Discovery Channel)

In 1990, I worked for one of my earliest mentors; his name was Ronald Ching and he was from Hawaii. One day, Ron presented me with “The Art of War” and said that as a Marine, I would enjoy the lessons in the book. He was right. In the past 21 years, I have referenced “The Art of War” on many occasions. I believe the book is also required reading for military officers.

2,500 years ago a Chinese warrior and philosopher named Sun Tzu became a grand master of strategy and captured the essence of his philosophies in a book called, by English speaking nations, Sun Tzu on the Art of War. To this day, military strategists around the world have used Sun Tzu’s philosophies to win wars and have made Sun Tzu on the Art of War a staple of their military education.

Those seeking to understand strategy in business, law, and life have also turned to Sun Tzu on the Art of War for the wisdom therein. For at the heart of Sun Tzu’s philosophies are strategies for effective and efficient conflict resolution useful to all who wish to gain advantages over their opposition. (Cantrell)

Translations of Sun Tzu’s text spread throughout Asia. The ideas became a staple of Japanese military philosophy as firm as China’s own and no doubt influenced battle plans to include the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. (I never knew that)

Some military historians suggest that Napoleon applied Sun Tzu’s philosophies in his military planning and even carried a copy of Sun Tzu’s book with him on his campaigns.

The U.S. Marine Corps book of strategy, “Warfighting”, builds upon ideas about maneuver warfare taken directly from Sun Tzu on the Art of War. (Cantrell)

Sun Tzu (544-496 BC) wrote the original text of The Art of War shortly before 510 BC. During most of the past two thousand years, the common people in China were forbidden to read Sun Tzu’s text. However, the text was preserved by China’s nobility for over 2,500 years. Unfortunately, it was preserved in a variety of forms. A “complete” Chinese language version of the text wasn’t available until the 1970s. Before that, there were a number of conflicting, fragmentary versions in different parts of China, passed down through 125 generations of duplication. (“Sun tzu’s the,” )

The legend goes that Sun Tzu was born into minor nobility in what is now Shandong, a part of China north of Shanghai that became famous for Confucius and the really tasty Shandong Chicken. Born “Sun Wu”, he was given a good education and like Machiavelli, he wrote a military treatise in order to get noticed and hired by royalty. Unlike Machiavelli, it worked.

Sun Wu expanded his 13 chapter Art of War into 82 chapters and trained the army. Eventually he broke the peace by invading the southern state of Yue. Other conflicts ensured but although his troops were once outnumbered 30,000 to 200,000 he was always victorious. Many successes followed and continued after his death. Some considered his death to be another of his deceptions.

Finally though, the kingdom was defeated several years after his reported death. Just over 100 years later his descendant, Sun Bing, lead troops to victory again and wrote his own treatise. Sun Wu’s name was changed to Sun Tzu on the Art of War as a sign of his status a master of philosophy. (“About sun tzu,” )

I think the main message from the book is to be prepared, know yourself, and know your opponent(s) before committing to a battle or a contest. For me, there is value in Sun Tzu’s calmness. He portrays himself, through his writing, of a general who is very confident and studious. While I’m not certain how the stories and translations over the years have really maintained his original thoughts on war, The Art of War is a great resource for military strategists because it really makes you think. Makes you think about big picture scenarios. For example, Sun Tzu says never to get your enemy into a corner because they will fight their way out in desperation. Always make then think they have a way out. His book is full of references which have been quoted by many others in military documents.

Today his work has found new applications in areas totally unrelated to its original military purpose and used as a guide in business, sport, diplomacy, and even in dating!

“So it is said that if you know others and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know others but know yourself, you win one and lose one; if you do not know others and do not know yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.” ~Sun Tzu

Whenever I hear the name Sun Tzu, or mention of The Art of War, I think of my good friend and mentor Ron Ching, who in 1990 introduced me to Sun Tzu, the great general who lived in the state of Wu on the 6th century BC.

Cantrell, Robert. Understanding Sun Tzu.
Retrieved from
Sun tzu’s the art of war.
Retrieved from
About sun tzu.
Retrieved from
Discovery Channel, Sun tzu.
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