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Relax While the Enemy Exhausts Himself


Disciplines > Warfare > The 36 Stratagems > Relax While the Enemy Exhausts Himself

Stratagem | History | Discussion | See also

This stratagem number: 4

This group: Stratagems When Commanding Superiority
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Encourage your enemy to waste energy and resources while you conserve yours. When they are at last exhausted, then attack them.

Always keep one step ahead of them (or several steps). Know their strategies and tactics so you can constantly outwit them. Get them to chase you, staying within sight but always out of reach.

Get them to travel long distances and over difficult terrain. Make them fight difficult fights, preferably with other people. Make them split their forces to investigate or fight on different fronts.

Use a small force to harry them and cause them to be always rushing about and wary, while the main force remains fresh for the main battle to come.

Make them come to you for battle, so you are ready and they are not, so you can best use the terrain and are ready for the best maneuvers.


This is the fourth stratagem of thirty-six.

Group name

Stratagems When Commanding Superiority

Alternative names

Await the Exhausted Enemy at Your Ease

Face the Weary in a Condition of Ease

Wait at Ease for the Enemy

Wait at Easy for the Fatigued Enemy

Relax and Wait for the Adversary to Tire Himself Out

Wait At Leisure While The Enemy Labors

Make Your Enemy Tire Himself Out While Conserving Energy

Or even:

Replace Labor With Leisure

Sap Then Slaughter


When the Wei army was pursuing Sun Bin, he steadily reduced the number of campfires each night so the Wei army would think Sun Bin's soldiers were deserting. Wei hurried to the attack with a two-day forced march. When they arrived, exhausted, Sun Bin's forces released a volley of arrows, killing their commander and creating an immediate defeat.

Mao Zedong used this method of exhausting the enemy on a regular basis in his revolution against Chian Kai Shek. He lacked the power of his enemy, but he gained in mobility, flexibility and surprise.


To keep the enemy on their toes requires good information, so the use of spies and scouts can be critical. You may also work on creating informants from within their camp.

A key attribute for using this strategy is patience. Soldiers are trained to fight and keeping them calm but ready is an important management task. You may also need stamina more than brute strength to outlast a frustrated and angry enemy.

One of the most effective types of tiredness is mental exhaustion. And a good way of creating this is to apply stress. For example you could randomly attack various points, keeping them guessing. Or just sending signals that you are about to attack, but not doing so. Surprise is useful in this. Keep them guessing and they will run out of mental energy and so be more likely to make mistakes.

Stress leads to sleep problems which causes further tiredness. It also causes them issues such as irritability and internal conflict. A stressed army is not a happy army and discipline can become a real problem, compounding the exhaustion (especially for officers).

See also



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