VI. Strong Points and Weak Points

These are the words of Master Sun:

If you arrive on the battlefield early, you can wait for the enemy well rested. If you rush to the battlefield, you will arrive worn down. Thus the wise commander brings the enemy to him; he does not bring himself to the enemy.

By offering the enemy advantages, you can entice him to come of his own volition. Conversely, you can wreak havoc and destruction and make it impossible for the enemy to come near you. If the enemy is at rest, he must be disturbed. If he has plenty of provisions, he must be starved. If he waits peacefully in his camp, he must be forced to move.

Appear in places that the enemy will be forced to rush to defend. Go quickly to places where you are not expected. An army can march three hundred miles without exhaustion if it faces no resistance.

If you want to conquer with impunity, you should attack only places that the enemy does not defend. Conversely, you can trust fully in the defense of positions that the enemy does not attack. Against a commander skilled in offensive tactics, the enemy will not know what to defend. Likewise, the enemy will not know what to attack when faced with a commander skilled in defensive tactics.

Swift and acting without action, the master leaves no trace. Divinely mysterious, he is undetectable, and therefore holds the fate of the enemy firmly in his grasp.

You can push forward and be irresistible if you target the enemy's weak points. In the same manner, you may be safe from pursuit if you move more speedily than the enemy.

If we wish to fight, we can force the enemy to engage us, even if he is securely encamped behind deep moats and steep ramparts. We simply need to attack him somewhere that he is obligated to defend. If we do not wish to fight, we can deflect the attack of the enemy, even if our camp has no fortifications, by simply throwing in the way of the enemy something worthless to us but peculiar and unaccountable to the enemy [Sun Tzu gives no clear answer as to what this might be. One interpretation is that Sun Tzu means to say that an advancing army will be wary of ambush and other forms of deception. Odd behavior on our part therefore will halt the enemy, at least momentarily, as the enemy surveys the situation anew]. When we have gotten to know the thinking of the enemy and learnt how to move hidden from view of the enemy, we can split the enemy force into multiple parts while keeping our own force united. Acting in this manner will allow our single united force to meet the dispersed parts of the enemy force. Thus, locally, we will have many troops at our disposal while the enemy will have few. Our attacks on his scattered and numerically inferior forces will bring the enemy great trouble.

The enemy must not know the target of our attack; instead, we need to force him to prepare for attack on multiple fronts. When the enemy in this manner is forced to divide his army into multiple smaller forces, we will at any one location be facing a lesser force. For when the enemy bolsters his vanguard, he will weaken his rearguard. The same is true in reverse. If he strengthens his left flank, he will weaken his right flank. The same is true in reverse. If he sends reinforcements to every position he holds, he will make himself weak everywhere.

If you are numerically inferior, it is because you are preparing for a potential attack. Numerical superiority is created by forcing the enemy to prepare himself for your attack.

When we know when and where the coming battle will be fought, we can easily gather our forces at a great distance from the battlefield. But if neither the day nor the place is known, the rearguard will not be able to help the vanguard, and the left flank will be of no use to the right flank. This becomes even truer if the units of our army are spread out across several miles.

Even though the soldiers of Yue [refers to the warring states Wu and Yue; Sun Tzu was a subject of Wu], according to my estimation, are more numerous than ours, this will give them no advantage over us. This is true because, though the enemy is numerically superior, we may prevent him from engaging us in battle.

Become aware of the enemy's plans and deliberate on their feasibility. Make the enemy move, and find patterns in his movements. Force him to show his hand, and pinpoint his strong points and weak points. Instigate skirmishes and observe where his strengths lie and where his weaknesses lie.

The most important part of the art of war is to keep your own plans secret. If your army appears formless and without directive, you will be safe from devious spies and clever schemes.

The troops are ignorant of how victory is forged from the relationship between strong points and weak points. They only see victories without knowing how I masterminded their realization.

Do no repeat tactics that have earned you victory in the past. Rather, adjust your methods to the given circumstances.

Military tactics are like water seeking to follow a natural path from a high place to a low place. A victorious army avoids strength and strikes at weakness. Water creates its own path by sculpting the earth, over which it travels. Soldiers win by sculpting themselves according to the enemy they face. Water is formless and ever-changing, and so too are the tactics of war. A victorious commander who wins by sculpting his methods according to the designs of his enemy is a commander by divine right.

No one of the five elements [water, fire, wood, metal, and earth] is meant to rule over the others. One season must follow the next. Short days will follow long days, and the moon waxes and wanes.