In Chapter Five of Sun Tze’s “The Art of War”, the author states that there is a Science of knowing ones strengths and weaknesses. Chapter Six, which rendering by this writer follows, is an elaboration on that very concept. How well do we know ourselves? This chapter, of course, can easily be paraphrased as guidance for Life Itself. Almost every line can be converted to an Affirmation. As usual, this writer’s comments are in italics.
VI. Strengths and Weaknesses
1. Whoever is first at the empty battlefield and awaits the coming of the Enemy will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to rush into battle will arrive fatigued.
2. Therefore the Master General moves the Enemy, and is not moved by the Enemy
3. Show an advantage to draw out the Enemy. Inflict damage, and threaten with danger, to make it impossible for the Enemy to draw near.
4. If the Enemy is at ease, tire them out; if well supplied with food, starve them out; if quietly encamped, force them to move out.
5. Appear where the Enemy must rush to defend; and rush to places where you are not expected.
6. An army may march great distances without distress, if it marches through deserted country where the Enemy is absent.
7. You must take whatever you attack. You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack places which are undefended. You can ensure the safety of your defense if you only hold positions that cannot be attacked.
8. Hence that Master General, whose Enemy does not know what to defend, is skillful in attack and is skillful in defense whose Enemy does not know what to attack.
9. Formlessness teaches us to be invisible and inaudible; and hence we can hold the Enemy’s fate in our hands.
Sun Tze seems to be referring to the Tao itself here. It is almost impossible not to recall Chapter Fourteen of the Tao Te Ching.
We look at it, but cannot see it; it is invisible, so we call it the Illusive. We listen for it, but cannot hear it; it is inaudible, so we call it the Silence. We grasp it, cannot hold it; it is intangible, so we call it the Subtle.
These three are only Aspects of its unfathomable Power; however, it is a Unity.
This Unity, this Source, is neither light nor dark; it neither rises, nor falls; unwinding itself, like a slender thread, going back to a Time when there was nothing else. It has no Name.
This is the form beyond formlessness, being beyond non-being, indefinable and inscrutable. Meet it, and you cannot see a Face. Follow it, and you cannot see a Back.
Stay on the Ancient Road in order to Master the Present. Following the thread back to the primeval beginning is the Key to Knowledge of the Road
10. You may advance and be absolutely irresistible, if you make for the Enemy’s weak points; you may retire and be safe from pursuit if your movements are more rapid than the Enemy’s.
11. If we wish to fight, the Enemy can be forced to an engagement even though they are sheltered behind a high wall and a deep ditch. All we need do is attack some other place that they will be obliged to relieve.
In other Words, draw them out! This goes back to lines Two and Three, above.
12. If we do not wish to fight, we can prevent the Enemy from engaging us even though the lines of our encampment are merely traced out on the ground. All we need do is to throw something odd and unaccountable in his way.
Again Sun Tze is pointing out that confusing the Enemy is better than attacking them.
13. By discovering the Enemy’s dispositions and remaining invisible ourselves, we can keep our forces concentrated, while the Enemy’s must be divided.
14. We can form a single united body, while the Enemy must split up into fractions. Hence there will be a whole pitted against separate parts of a whole, which means that we shall be many to the Enemy’s few.
15. And if we are able thus to attack an inferior force with a superior one, our Enemy will be in a disastrous predicament..
16. The spot where we intend to fight must not be made known; for then the Enemy will have to prepare against a possible attack at several different points; and his forces being thus distributed in many directions, the numbers we shall have to face at any given point will be proportionately few.
17. For should the Enemy strengthen the vanguard, they will weaken the rearguard; should they strengthen the rearguard, they will weaken the vanguard; should they strengthen the left, they will weaken the right; should they strengthen the right, they will weaken the left. If they send reinforcements everywhere, they will everywhere be weak.This might be a referent to the Four Cardinal Directions.
18. Numerical weakness comes from having to prepare against possible attacks; numerical strength, from compelling our Enemy to make these preparations against us.
19. Knowing the place and the time of the coming battle, we may concentrate from the greatest distances in order to fight.
20. But if neither time nor place be known, then the left wing will be unable to aid the right, the right equally unable to aid the left, the vanguard unable to relieve the rearguard, or the rearguard to support the vanguard. How much more so if the furthest portions of the army are anything under a hundred Li apart, and even the nearest are separated by several Li!
A Li is about one-third of a mile.
21. Though according to my estimate the soldiers of the Enemy exceed our own in number that shall advantage them nothing in the matter of victory. I say then that victory can be achieved.
22. Though the Enemy may be stronger in numbers, we may prevent them from fighting. We must scheme so as to discover their plans and the likelihood of their success.
23. Rouse them, and learn the principle of their activity or inactivity. Force the Enemy to reveal themselves, so as to find out their vulnerable spots.
24. Carefully compare the Enemy’s army with your own, so that you may know where strength is superabundant and where it is deficient.
.25. In making tactical dispositions, the highest pitch you can attain is to conceal them; conceal your dispositions, and you will be safe from the prying of the subtlest spies, from the machinations of the wisest brains.
26. How victory may be produced for them out of the Enemy’s own tactics–that is what the multitude cannot comprehend.
27. All can see the tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.
28. Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances.
29. Military tactics are like unto water; for water in its natural course runs away from high places and hastens downwards.
30. So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.
31. Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows; the Master General works out victory in relation to the Enemy faced. Your army’s formation should be like water, which avoids the high and rushes to the low.
There is a resemblance here to Tao Te Ching Chapter Forty-Three.
32. Therefore, just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare there are no constant conditions. It must avoid the strong and strike the weak. Water follows the shape of the land that directs its flow. Your forces follow the Enemy, who determines how you win.
33. The Master General who can modify tactics in relation to the Enemy and thereby succeeds in winning, may be called a “Heaven-Born General”. Make war without a standard approach.
Water has no consistent shape. If you follow the Enemy’s shifts and changes, you can always find a way to win. Therefore, an army does not have constant force, or have constant formation. Therefore, an army’s formation adapts to the Enemy to achieve victory I call this “shadowing”.
Nowadays, we simply say “Might makes Right”.
34. The five elements (water, fire, wood, metal, earth) are not always equally predominant; the four seasons make way for each other in turn. There are short days and long; the moon has its periods of waning and waxing. Fight five different campaigns without a firm rule for victory, and use all four seasons without a consistent position. A Day passes like nothing, and a single Month can decide your failure or success.
Once again, this is good advice on how we should live our lives, isn’t it? This Chapter could be a great start for anyone to study Metaphysics!