This article is intended as a commentary on the First Chapter of “The Art of War” by Sun Tze. We will cover this Chapter, entitled “Making Calculations”, line by line. Please refer to this writer’s rendition of that Chapter.
Lines One through Four are a referent to the Five Elements. Sun Tze’s “five constant factors”, Moral Law, Heaven, Ground, Leadership, and Discipline,” in order, are: Earth, Water, Fire, Wood, and Metal. Notice that these are in the “Mutual Conquest” Sequence. Each one conquers the next one.
These are elaborated on in lines Five through Eleven. All of these Factors can apply to everyone, no matter what their role in Life. “Moral Law” holds everything together. A business will fall apart if it does not obey this rule. Your personal Life, including your physical body, needs to be your own personal Army! “Heaven” is also, of course, true in every situation. How important it is to respond to changes in the environment! “Ground” means to be aware of one’s physical surroundings, whether it is a battlefield, office cubicle or business meeting. “Leadership”, besides the military implications, gives a review of how to deal fairly with others.
Line Nine, when discussing Leadership, once again refers to the Five Elements. Sun Tze says, “Leadership means wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage and strictness.” These are also know as the “Five Virtues”. Wisdom is governed by Water, Sincerity by Earth, Benevolence by Wood, Courage by Metal, and Strictness by Fire.
“Discipline” also carries the implications of paying attention. The most difficult variant of Discipline is always Self-Discipline.
Lines Twelve through Fifteen describe Two imaginary Generals, one of whom is using the “Calculations”, and the other, who is not. Sun Tze brazenly claims that the First General will triumph, and the Second will not.
Lines Sixteen through Twenty-Five delineate practical uses of these same ideas. Line Eighteen is perhaps the most important sentence in military instruction of all Time. “All warfare is based on deception”. This is echoed further in line Twenty-Five. “These military devices, leading to victory, must not be divulged beforehand.” In Modern Times we call this the “First Rule of Poker”, that is, “Don’t show your hand!” This advice works well in all areas of Life, whether in business meetings or athletic competitions.
Line Twenty-Six summarizes the Chapter eloquently. This is a good approach to Life in general. Know your terrain, adapt to your surroundings, and pay careful attention to terrain, weather and your own body. Be careful about completely revealing your Intentions. New-Agers, take note! There are are many useful Affirmations in “The Art of War”!