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Principles Contained In Sun Tzus Art Of War History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Though centuries old already, the principles contained in Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” is still applicable today not only in warfare but in business and self-development too because its fundamental values are still relative to the environment of the contemporary world.”

Warfare’s Tactical Genius

During the Warring states period, a man known as Sun Wu, better known as Sun Tzu was believed to have authored the Art of War. He was born on sixth century B.C.E. during the Warring States Period; “probably in the state of Qi in ancient China”. Sun Tzu was appointed as a Chinese general because of his written work with regards to military tactics and philosophy. It is the Art of War, which got the attention of Helu, king of Wu and hired him.

Helu read all thirteen chapters and asked Sun Tzu if he can conduct an experiment. Sun Tzu responded and said yes to king Helu. The king provided him with one hundred eighty of his concubines. These women were separated into two groups and every one of them was taught by Sun Tzu how to hold a halberd. They were then taught to follow commands such as “front”. If Sun Tzu says “front”, then the women should face the direction of the heart. Sun Tzu repeated and explained the orders several times until all women learned to follow correctly. He frequently said that if the instructions are not clear then it is the commander’s fault; but if it is already clear and the order wasn’t carried out accordingly to military law, then it is the fault of the officer. The consequence is that the commanders of the left and right ranks be beheaded. The commanders of left and right ranks are both the favorite concubines of the king and the king asked Sun Tzu not to execute them, however, as the head of the army, Sun Tzu did not accept any sovereign’s orders. The two concubines were executed and ever since then, no one in the army even tried to make a small mistake. His army became strong and became famous for his work because it was very effective in battles.

The King of Wu saw the potential of Sun Tzu to lead his own troops in battles and promoted him as a general from being a commander. He won several battles even if some of which their opponents outnumbered them. They still came up victorious. Sun Tzu’s troops even conquered the state of Chu, which was “the most powerful state in the spring and autumn period in ancient China”.

A hundred years after Sun Tzu died, a man named Sun Pin studied military theory together with his companion Pang Chuan. He is a descendant of Sun Tzu. Pang Chuan on the other hand became a commander in the State of Wei from the order of King Hui. Pang Chuan knew that Sun Pin is better than him so he kind of made a set-up to make Sun Pin look like a criminal. Sun Pin’s feet were cut off and he was imprisoned. An ambassador of Ch’i came to Sun Pin and sneaked him out of Wei and brought him to Ch’i where he met the commander-in-chief of Ch’i. The commander was very fond of horse races and Sun Pin taught him a strategy on how to win the races. The commander believed in him and things went well. Sun Pin was brought to King Wei and they discussed military subjects. When the State of Wei along with the forces of Chao charged upon Han; Han immediately called on Ch’i for help. Sun Pin, as the assistant of Tien Chi who was the commander-in-chief at that time pulled off a strategy that will defeat their enemies. Bowmen hid along the path of Ma Ling and released their arrows when the army of the State of Wei led by Pang Chuan walked in the middle of the road. The ambush was a success and Pang Chuan cut his own throat when he realized that his army has already loss the battle. Sun Pin became famous because of his victory against the army of Wei.

His book Art of War became popular not only in Asia but also in Western countries. According to a diplomat Henry Kissinger, the book Art of War was studied in the United States with regards to its principles for the conduct of warfare. As a matter of fact, his book is not only applicable for war but also in business, sports, and even in personal lives.

They say that Tzu means “master of Philosophy” hence, Sun Wu’s name was changed to Sun Tzu. It is quite similar to Lao Tzu and Kon Tzu (Confucius). Confucius’ philosophies might have influenced Sun Tzu with the way he conducts his strategies. Sun Tzu’s style is to have control over the situation/enemy and not to provoke war and defeat opponents through physical battles.

The Art of War : A Gem for Chinese Literature, A Treasure From East to West

We begin by illustrating the way wars were conducted before the Art of War was created. During these times wars were based on the feudal structures of the society. The troop rankings depended on where they are in the feudal structure. This means that the elite were the ones using the chariots and had the better armory. Wars were based on these units. The peasants who usually are the men fighting on foot and with less armory are the ones being neglected because they are at the bottom of the feudal structure. This didn’t last for so long because of some advances in warfare namely: the science of tactics was born; the concept of general’s staff was born during the warring states; troops on foot were given attention and priority; the invention of the crossbow and the development of siege methods. With these advances, a certain correlation of these aspects should be made. A huge number of other factors can affect a certain battle and these were accounted for in a certain documentation made by Sun Tzu which is the Art of War. The book is composed of 13 chapters that is devoted to one aspect of warfare. In Samuel Griffith’s book, it is defined as : “The Art of War is a thoughtful and comprehensive work, distinguished by qualities of perception and imagination which have for centuries assured it a pre-eminent position in the canon o Chinese military literature”. War was eminent during those times; that is why it is imperative for the Chinese to create a study and an analysis regarding this events. This will in time give them advantage in tactics and preparation for such events and will give a guideline to future generals on what to do in times like these. The Art of War paved the way for scientifically analyzing and coordinating factors that can be used in order to gain advantage and provide a better chance of victory.

The book contains 13 chapters regarding different aspects of warfare; aspects that are essential for a victorious outcome. The first chapter when translated is “Laying Plans or The Calculations”. Sun Tzu said “War is a matter of vital importance to the State”. In the same chapter, five fundamental factors were given namely: moral influence, weather, terrain, command and doctrine. If all are used properly, victory can be attained, if not failure will be ensured. The second chapter is entitled “Waging War”. Here it is said that victory is the main objective in war. Economy of war is really important and lessening the cost should be a must. The third chapter is entitled “Offensive Strategy”. Unity is very crucial which can outmatch any number. Numerical strength can never be decisive in a battle. The five ingredients needed to win a battle is also given: Attack, Strategy, Alliances, Army, and Cities. “Dispositions” is the title of the fourth chapter. Here it is iterated that defending a position is crucial and that opportunities are recognized and shouldn’t be created. The fifth chapter is entitled “Energy”. Momentum is built through timing and creativity. A famous line from this chapter: “Management of many is the same as management of few”. The sixth chapter is entitled “Weaknesses and Strengths”. The next chapter is entitled “Maneuver”. Here it is explained that there is a danger in direct conflict. It is also given on how to confront with these when they are upon you. The 8th chapter is entitled “The Nine Variables”. Not all situations should be responded in the same way. It is shown in this chapter how to respond with changing circumstances. “Marches” is the title of the ninth chapter. It defines how you move into new enemy territories and how you deal with them. The tenth chapter is entitled “Terrain”. Here there are 3 general areas of resistance namely: Distance, Dangers and Barriers. Also in this chapter are the 6 types of ground positions with their specific advantage and disadvantages. The 11th chapter is entitled “The Nine Varieties of Ground”. In this chapter it illustrates the nine common stages of a campaign and how you can navigate through each. The second to the last chapter is entitled “Attack by Fire” Here it is deciphered on how to use weapons and when to use them. Here it also given the five targets for attack. Finally the last chapter is entitled “Employment of Secret Agents”. The use of intelligence and spies are very crucial to one’s success. This could lead to a great advantage. That is the summary of the 13 chapters in the book however there are other insights that can be pondered upon namely: Moral strength and intellectual faculty of a man are decisive in war; national unity is crucial; coordination of mental, moral, physical and circumstantial factors; all warfare is based on deception; a wise general cannot be manipulated; morale of the soldiers can never be undermined because they are equally crucial in one’s success. These aspects can further expound the ideas given in the 13 chapters of the book.

At this stage in Chinese history, warfare had matured into a very scientific action. Consequently, warfare had turned into a very sophisticated event. So many things are being considered that is why the book Art of War has been a crucial literary artifact of the Chinese literature. We also put into consideration that “this is the first known attempt to formulate a rational basis for the planning and conduct of military operations” as described in the book. Being a first is always important and being a first means that it will be used for future referencing of future generations. This is what exactly happened. After the book was written, wars haven’t ended. Wars continue to plague the Chinese nation throughout generations. Generals and leaders continually refer to this literary work to get insight, strategies and plans that could help them gain advantage against their opponents. Not only did it help them in making good decisions, some even got to win because of the strategies and processes written in this literary piece. The West has also garnered insights from this work because it is definitely applicable. Through ancient time and to modern times, the Art of War has proved its worth and has gained its respect into being important to the Chinese Literature.

The Art Applied : Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” and its Relationship to Today

The core principles in Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” are centuries-old already. It’s been translated into a multitude of languages from East to West. This occurrence would suggest that Sun Tzu’s dogmas about warfare have gained interest worldwide. His dogmas might, after all, prove to be vital and fundamental for every war campaign in every age, as many historians believe. In his book, Sun Tzu and the Art of Business”, Mark McNeilly believes that Sun Tzu’s principles were the central force that united China in Mao Zedong’s era. He also believes that Sun Tzu’s writings were the ones that “enabled the transformation of Japan from a collection of feudal states into a single nation”; and maybe, in Napoleon Bonaparte’s military campaigns. [3-4]. James Clavell believes that if only the political and military leaders in recent time have studies Sun Tzu’s work, many wars would not have happened and the casualties would have been avoided or minimized, at least [2].

Yes, “The Art of War”, it’s principles, are age-old already. One might suspect that, since it is old, and the world is constantly changing– especially in this post-industrial/digital/information era, it might be outdated already. Some may agree that Sun Tzu’s writings might have been great and wonderful but also concede that these principles are a thing of the past and not anymore relevant to today. James Clavell does not believe so and instead proposes that Sun Tzu “wrote so many truths twenty-five centuries ago that are still applicable today” [2].

Wars in this contemporary world are not likely to happen anymore. Tensions may rise between or among countries, but ever since World War II, there have been only a few wars that arose. Coalitions have been created and international constitutions have been drafted to secure nations from warfare and promote peace instead. In this case, how can Sun Tzu’s writings be still applied?

Scholars agree that Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” is a good fit for the business world. James Clavell, if he would have his way, would even like to make it an “obligatory study for all our serving officers and men…and all high schools and universities in the free world” because it is “vital to our survival” [7].

Application of the notions presented by Sun Tzu would help managers create effective strategies to make their companies more competitive and consequently the same for the industry [ McNeilly, 5 ]. This would be good for both the companies and the consumers. Better competition would lead to innovation and that would mean more products available in the market. This would be a consumer’s delight because he has more options, more products to choose from. Plus, since the market would be a highly competitive one, prices of these products would likely be low as companies would like to get most of the consumer consumption share

Higher competition, with Sun Tzu’s writing as one of the fundamental moving forces, would also help the company’s survival in the industry. It would encourage creativity amongst companies and proper strategy and implementation of managers as regards the path to be taken, security measures, and contingency decisions. By encouraging creativity, companies will avoid huge downsizing caused by dull strategic thinking [McNeilly, 6 ].

To be more concrete on the stand that Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”, writings meant for strategic planning and success in warfare, could very well be applied in this contemporary era, it is but rightful and just to discuss some principles in Sun Tzu’s work and explain how it is still relevant to today’s business world.

“Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without even fighting”

Think of Jolibee buying Mang Inasal. Think of Smart buying out the company that is now known as Red Mobile. Think of Disney buying Pixar Animations. Think of Steve Jobs selling NeXT Computers to Apple Inc. for some bucks and 1.5 million Apple shares. All of these are strategic moves leading to the ultimate goal: winning without even fighting. Sun Tzu’s passage simply means, when applied to business terms, gaining control of the market share-obtaining a huge slice of the cake. To succeed, the company must dominate the market share in its industry. See, these purchases mentioned above were meant to provide expansion-leading to a gain in market share which would benefit the company through better economies of scale, and a stronger capability to seize opportunities. And these companies did it without destroying its competition. Why would it be a wise move to win without fighting? One would be a feud with the competition will not be good for the company in the long run. It might cause court trials, companies accusing each other of unethical practices; or one might need the services of the other at one point, but, since they have a feud, it cannot be pursued. Direct fighting among companies would not be attractive because it would eventually lead to the destruction of the profitability of the industry [McNeilly, 13]

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

Speed is a very vital element to key victory. History illustrates this fact. Germany, in World War II had this philosophy called “Blitzkrieg” that led to their victories in various campaigns. They attacked the enemy at a time they least expect it, at a time when they are unprepared—in short, the Germans surprised them, caught them off-guard, and defeated them.

In business, as in war, speed is essential. The very nature of business competition is change, and its pace continues to accelerate; to be slow is to become extinct [McNeilly, 59]. Remember when McDonald’s had this “Your Order in 60 Seconds”? How about Pizza Hut’s “On-time or it’s Free”? These strategic moves are meant to achieve customer satisfaction, get their loyalty, and ultimately, obtain profit. Mark McNeilly pointed out findings documenting that companies significantly faster than others in their industry have returns on investment anywhere from two to five times of their competitor [61].

John Keating [played by Robin Williams], in the movie Dead Poets Society, is very well remarked for the line “Carpe Diem” which means seize the day. That basically is what captures the essence of this passage by Sun Tzu. Managers of today have to act fast, move fast. Otherwise, they’ll be left out of the pack and lose. When the opportunity is right there in front of you, never hesitate—grab it. Think about the stock market. The situation in the stock market is vividly illustrated in the movie Wall Street, where, in a couple of scenes, the whole place was very busy : traders on their phones, in front of multiple computer screens displaying the movement of stocks. Decisions are made in a jiffy-fast as lightning. That is how it is in business, as Sun Tzu stresses out : “What is essential in war is victory, not prolonged operations.” The key is to move with speed and end the battle quickly [McNeilly, 88]. Try to discover every opportunity and take advantage. The early bird catches the worm, so they say.

“Without extorting their support the general obtains it; without inviting their affection he gains it; without demanding their trust he wins it.”

This passage basically stresses providing leadership by example, a character-based leadership. One cannot successfully lead if he himself is not one with his team-you must reduce as many barriers as possible between yourself and your team [McNeilly, 126]. You will be respected if you respect them the same way, same goes for other values. Though building a respectable image is important, building up with true character is much more vital. It’s like applying for an ambitious job but you are confident of getting the nod because you have the resume to support you.

These passages, supported with concrete, up-to-date proof, verify the claim that Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” is still of vital use in the contemporary world. All of these proof are relevant and exemplify the events in our world today.


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