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The Annotated Art of War (Parts 7.33-37: Caution)


Disciplines > Warfare > The Annotated Art of War > Parts 7.33-37: Caution

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VII. Maneuvering


Sun Tzu said: Commentary
33. It is a military axiom not to advance uphill against the enemy, nor to oppose him when he comes downhill. Being above the enemy gives the advantage of potential energy. You can use gravity to move things down on them, from rolling rocks to projected missiles. You stand higher than them and can swing down on top of them.

There is also a subtle motivational psychology where height is a very common metaphor for superiority. People who are higher feel superior whilst people who are lower feel inferior. With this effect, they may well be motivated and demotivated in a battle.

This can be seen in animals who prefer to stand higher. In humans also, height is a symbol of status. There are more taller people in senior business roles. Kings sit on daises.

34. Do not pursue an enemy who simulates flight; do not attack soldiers whose temper is keen. When the enemy runs away unexpectedly or shows a weaker force than expected, beware of chasing them as they run as they may well be leading you into an ambush.

Soldiers whose tempers are aroused go into a 'berserker' mode and lose all fear. While they may make mistakes in this unthinking mode, they will be faster and stronger than usual.

35. Do not swallow bait offered by the enemy. Do not interfere with an army that is returning home. Deceit is a common in strategy and tactics. Watch for things that seem easy, for they may easily be a dangled bait, designed to catch the unwary with a hidden hook that will snag and prevent escape.

Also, if an army is in final retreat back to its homeland, then pursuing it may result in more loss than gain. If you can win the war by ceasing hostilities now, why waste lives further? It is a basic principle of maneuvering to win without fighting.

There may be good reason for pursuing a retreating army, for example if they are retreating only to regroup or re-arm.

Deception is also common in business and a easily provoked competitor is one who may be easily defeated.

36. When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard. When a foe is cornered, they must fight for their lives and will do so with the energy of final fear. If you force them to go down in a blaze of glory they will do so, taking more of your troops than you might otherwise expend.

Also, slaughtering an army will gain you the enmity of their family and country, who will arise at a later time to take revenge. It is often better to allow a graceful retreat in the direction of your choosing. This is offering the enemy a 'golden bridge'.

Once you have shown your superiority, you will be able to negotiate an advantageous peace.

37. Such is the art of warfare. Such indeed, for despite the rules and science discussed, there is much art and cunning that may be found between the admonishments of Sun Tzu.

Many disciplines, from painting to swordplay, start as a science, with the student following strict patterns and rules. With practice, they begin to feel the subject rather than obeying it. In this way it becomes art. That deeper connection then allows the student to effectively develop their personal style and so become a master.



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