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Pull Down the Ladder After the Ascent


Disciplines > Warfare > The 36 Stratagems > Pull Down the Ladder After the Ascent

Stratagem | History | Discussion | See also

This stratagem number: 28

This group: Stratagems for Gaining Ground
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After an action is taken, ensure there is no going back.

Close off retreat when ambushing an enemy. You can also prevent your own troops from retreating to ensure they continue to advance or stand their ground.

Encourage them to move downhill, towards mountains, marshes, rivers or other places where flight is otherwise difficult. Also encourage bold public commitments, where going against these would cause shame and loss of status.

Not only remove the chance of retreat, also cut off communications and other supplies so they have to fight with what they have.

More broadly, you can create situations that force the actions you desire.


This is the twenty-eighth stratagem of thirty-six.

Group name

Stratagems for Gaining Ground

Alternative names

Remove the Ladder After Your Ascent

Lure the Enemy Onto the Roof, Then Take Away the Ladder

Let Them Climb the Roof, Then Take Away the Ladder

Cross the River and Destroy the Bridge

Or even:

Burn Bridges After Crossing Them

Create a Burning Platform


Liu Qi got the reluctant Zhuge Liang to help with advice by inviting to an upper room and then removing the staircase below.

Han Xin positioned his main force with their backs to a river. He then sent a weak force forward to engage the Zhao main army. This forward force then retreated, with the Zhao army in pursuit. Han Xin's main force was then forced to fight where they stood as an easy retreat was cut off by the river. With no way out, they fought fiercely and so won the day.

On reaching Mexico, the Spanish explorer Cortez burned his ships to stop his sailors from returning home. Faced with conquest or perishing, they were strongly motivated to conquer the natives.

In 1988 the North Sea oil platform Piper Alpha caught fire. Superintendent Andy Mochan found himself at the edge of the platform with fire at his back and burning oil and debris on the cold sea, fifteen stories below. Against all recommendations, he jumped, choosing possible death over certain death. Miraculously, he survived. The term 'burning platform' is now commonly used to indicate an urgent situation that forces action that might otherwise not be taken (or at least chosen slowly and carefully).


When climbing a building or mountain with a ladder system, if the ladder just climbed is removed, you have only one option: to continue upwards.

When armies have crossed rivers or seas, retreat across them is difficult, forcing them to fight. When soldiers have no way out, they will fight to the death.

Isolating them can both motivate them to fight hard or alternatively demotivate them. Seek to create the motivation you desire, for example by cutting off enemy troops from their leaders and thereby confusing and de-motivating them.

'Management by Crisis' is often used in business to force action, where deliberate 'burning platforms' may be created and talked up.

See also

Shut The Door to Catch the Thief, Ambush, Encirclement


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