IV. Tactics

These are the words of Master Sun:

The wise commanders of the past made their own defeat an impossibility and then waited until the enemy opened himself up to defeat. We can control our own risk of defeat, but we can only defeat the enemy if he grants us an opportunity. A wise commander can therefore secure himself against defeat, but he cannot be certain that he will defeat the enemy. Thus the old adage: "You can know the path to victory without being able to follow it."

You should adopt defensive tactics if your forces are inadequate. If your forces are adequate, you can go on the offensive. Defensive tactics can make you unbeatable, but it is only by going on the offensive that you can hope to attain victory. A commander seasoned in defensive tactics will hide in the deepest caves of the earth, while a commander seasoned in offensive tactics will strike like lightning from a clear sky. In this way, a skillful commander may either preserve himself fully or achieve complete victory.

To adopt a tactic that will lead to victory is not impressive when anyone else would have adopted the same tactic. This is the case even if you win and the whole of the Realm congratulates you on a job well done. To pluck the down of a spring chicken is not a sign of strength; to see the moon and the sun is not a sign of clear-sightedness; and to hear a peal of thunder is not a sign of good hearing. When the old masters spoke of skillful commanders, they did not simply mean commanders who won battles. Rather, they meant commanders who won with great ease, commanders who won because they made no mistakes. When you make no mistakes, victory is granted to you in advance, and the enemy is beaten before even the first battle has taken place. A skillful commander therefore strives to position himself in such a manner that defeat is impossible, and he acts in the very moment, however brief, when the enemy may be defeated. In the same manner, the skillful commander only seeks battle when he has already won, whereas the foolish commander seeks battle first and victory second.

The skillful commander follows the military method and believes in it fully. This is how he wins.

The military method consists of five elements:

  1. Measurement and mapping
  2. Determining the size of the opposing forces
  3. Calculation
  4. The weighing of probabilities
  5. Victor

The Earth [cf. chapter 1] is to be measured and mapped carefully. Next the sizes of the opposing forces should be determined. This will lead to calculations whereby probabilities are produced; these probabilities may then be weighed against one another until the [probable] victor is ascertained.

A winning army pitted against a routed army is akin to a pound of wheat pitted against a grain of rice on a scale. A winning army is like dammed water that suddenly and all at once falls a thousand fathoms into a deep chasm. Such is the power of employing tactics.