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The Annotated Art of War (Parts 11.1-10: Nine Varieties of Ground)


Disciplines > Warfare > The Annotated Art of War > Parts 11.1-10: Nine Varieties of Ground

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XI. The Nine Situations


Sun Tzu said: Commentary
1. Sun Tzu said: The art of war recognizes nine varieties of ground: (1) Dispersive ground; (2) facile ground; (3) contentious ground; (4) open ground; (5) ground of intersecting highways; (6) serious ground; (7) difficult ground; (8) hemmed-in ground; (9) desperate ground.

There are nine types of ground as described below. Note that these are in addition to the six kinds of terrain, although the types of ground described are often rather similar.

See the next part for basic strategies to use on each of the nine types of ground.

2. When a chieftain is fighting in his own territory, it is dispersive ground. In your own territory, you should have an advantage, both knowing the ground and having friendly natives around.
3. When he has penetrated into hostile territory, but to no great distance, it is facile ground. Invading others, the early part of the invasion is easier because it is closer to home. Advantage may be gained when the enemy may be surprised.

The enemy may also be indignantly ready and fight hard with a complete and highly motivated force.

4. Ground the possession of which imports great advantage to either side, is contentious ground. There are always important places to hold, such as strategic hills, crossroads, towns and so on. These are where battles may be most fierce.
5. Ground on which each side has liberty of movement is open ground. Between the contentious places lies open ground which may be difficult to win and difficult to hold.

When fighting on open ground where surprise is difficult is likely to be helpful for the stronger force. 

6. Ground which forms the key to three contiguous states, so that he who occupies it first has most of the Empire at his command, is a ground of intersecting highways. One form of contentious ground is at the confluence of routes, where a resident force may prevent enemies traveling between many places.

It is also a good place from which to launch campaigns in a variety of directions.

7. When an army has penetrated into the heart of a hostile country, leaving a number of fortified cities in its rear, it is serious ground. When you have passed by enemy forces in places that are not easily taken, there is always a danger that they will appear at your rear. This requires additional vigilance and perhaps actions to keep them holed up.
8. Mountain forests, rugged steeps, marshes and fens--all country that is hard to traverse: this is difficult ground. Some land is just difficult, slowing you down if you wish to travel across it.

Remember also that your enemy will also likely be slowed by such countryside, so do make use of this.

9. Ground which is reached through narrow gorges, and from which we can only retire by tortuous paths, so that a small number of the enemy would suffice to crush a large body of our men: this is hemmed in ground. Places where there is limited access make great fortresses, although it is also possible you may be trapped there.

In a narrow corridor, troops may be faced only by an equal number. If additional defenses can be added, such as overlooking high ground, then this can become impregnable.

10. Ground on which we can only be saved from destruction by fighting without delay, is desperate ground. Sometimes there is no shelter and no easy retreat. If you are confronted by the enemy, then you may have little alternative other than to fight or surrender. This is not a good place to stay for any time.



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