Monday, November 10, 2008


Sun Zi said : 

In military operations the ground can be classified into nine basic categories :
  1. Dispersive
  2. Frontier
  3. Contentious
  4. Open
  5. Focal
  6. Significant
  7. Difficult
  8. Encircling
  9. Desperate

The Nine Varieties Of Ground

When a chieftain fighting in his own territory, the battlefield is called "dispersive" ground;

When one has penetrated enemy territory, but only shallowly, the captured ground is called "frontier" ground.

Ground that is advantageous to either side is called "contentious" ground;

A place that both side can easily approach is "open" ground;

The area which overlaps neighbouring states so that one who occupies it first control three states, is "focal" ground;

An area deep in enemy territory beyond many enemy cities and town is "significant" ground;

Mountains, forests, rough, hilly country, marshlands, swamps or areas that are hard to march through are known as"difficult" ground;

Ground in which the way in is narrow and the way out is tortuous, so small that a enemy force could defeat a large number of one's own troops is considered as "encircling" ground;

An area in which an army can avoid annihilation only through a desperate fight is called "desperate" ground.

  The Nine Varieties Of Ground (Cont')

One should not fight on dispersive ground.
  • And should not stop one's advance in frontier ground.
  • One should try to occupy contentious ground before the enemy, but if it has been seized by the enemy, one should not attack him.
  • When on open ground, one should try to prevent one's formation from becoming divided by the enemy.
  • On focal ground, one should ally oneself with neighbouring states;
  • On significant ground, one should plunder the enemy to obtain supplies for one's own army.
  • One should try to pass quickly through difficult ground.
  • Resort to an ingenious strategy if one must meet the enemy on encirclingground.
  • On desperate ground, one will have to fight desperately for survival.

      Seizing The Enemy

    In ancient times, those skilled in the ways of war knew how to make it impossible for the enemy to unite his front and rear, for his large and small divisions to mutually cooperate, for his officers and soldiers to support each other, and for his superiors and subordinates to establish contact with each other.

    They kept the enemy's forces scattered and made it impossible for the enemy to concentrate them, and even if the enemy was concentrated, they knew how to throw his force in disorder.

    They followed the principle of making a move forward only when its was to their advantage, and to stop when it was not.

    If someone asks, "How shall we cope an enemy army large in number and in well organised formations?"

    The answer is, "Seize something that the enemy values dearly, and the enemy will allow himself to be controlled by us !"

      Principles Of Fighting In The Enemy's Territory

    The essence of war is speed.

    In war, one should take advantage of the enemy's unpreparedness, and take unlikely routes to strike areas where the enemy has taken no precautions.

    The general principles of fighting in the enemy's territory are as follows :

    1. The deeper one penetrates into the enemy territory, the more united becomes the army, and hence the more unlikely the possibility of defeat.
    2. In fertile country, one should plunder the enemy to supply the army with provisions.
    3. One should show special concern for the soldiers' well being and not fatigue them so as to keep the soldiers in high spirits and conserve their energy, one should keep the army moving and proceed according to plans that are incomprehensible to the enemy.
    4. Place the army in dangerous positions where there are no ways to escape, and soldiers overcome their fear of death, there is nothing they cannot achieve. Officers and soldiers alike will put forth their uttermost to achieve victory.
    5. If the army is in hopeless situation,and the officers and soldiers will be fearless, if there is no way to escape, the soldiers' morale will be firm;
    6. When deep in hostile territory, they will fight to death. Such an army is vigilant without needing instructions and supervision.

      It can fulfill any task without needing to be ordered. The soldiers will help one another even though they bear no responsibility for each other, and will observe all regulations without needing to be forced.
    7. Allow no superstitious practices and squelch all rumours. Then even if being confronted with death, one will not escape.

      The Soldiers

      1. Soldiers may not be overburdened with belongings, but that does not mean that they resent wealth, they may show no fear in the face of death, but that does not mean that they do not desire a long life.
      2. When the call to battle comes, tears may wet the clothes of the soldiers who are sitting and run all over the cheeks of those who are lying on the ground, but that does not signify fear.
      Once they are brought to bay, the soldiers will become as brave as Zhuan Zhu and Cai Cui, the two most valiant warriors famous for assassination and seizing sovereigns (respectively from the Wu and Lu states in about 500BC during the Spring and Autumn Period)

      Shuai Rang - The Snake From Chang Mountain

      Troops directed by a skillful commander are comparable to the Shuairang, a kind of snake from the Chang Mountains.

      When it is struck on the head it attacks with its tail; when it is struck on the tail, the head try to attack; when struck from in the center, it attacks with both its head and tail.

      One may ask "Can the troops be trained to respond instantaneously like the Shuairang?

      The answer is "Yes".

      For example, though the people of Wu and Yue states usually hate each other, if they are crossing a river in the same boat, and the boat is tossed by strong winds, they will still help each other and cooperate just as the right hand does with the left.

      Controlling The Army

      Making the soldiers act in unison cannot be achieved by mechanical means such as tying the horse in one straight line or burying chariot wheels.

      Only though proper organisation and direction will the soldiers unite as one and automatically fight bravely.

      How to employ the talents of both the strong and the weak is largely a matter of taking advantage of the conditions of the ground.

      It is by placing the troops in a desperate position that a skillful commander is able to control the whole army as easily as handling one person.

      The Commander

      It is the business of a commander to be serene, circumspect and farsighted, impartial and self-disciplined.

      The commander should be able to mystify his soldiers and officers to keep them ignorant of his plans. He should be able to change his deployment and alter his plans in order to make others unable to see through his strategies.

      He should be able to shift his camp and take devious route so as to make it impossible for others to anticipate his intention.

      A commander should cut off his soldiers' path of retreat just as he might kick away the ladder from beneath them when they climb height.

      When leading the army deep into hostile enemy territory, he should make the troops advance straight forward like a flying arrow. He burns the boats, smashes the cooking pots, and urges the army onwards as if when driving a flock of sheep from here to there, giving them no clue as to were he is going.

      It is the duty of a commander to assemble the army and throw it headlong into danger.

      Making different plans according to the nine varieties of ground, ordering the troops to advance or withdraw according to circumstances as well as influencing and controlling the soldiers' states of mind require serious study and consideration.

      Inavding Enemy's Terroritory

      Generally, when invading enemy territory, the principle is that the deeper the troops penetrate, the more cohesive the soldiers will be; the closer the army is to one's border, the more dispersive the soldiers will be. One considers as critical ground* the battlefield in the enemy territory with a neighbouring country in between; the area extending in all directions is "focal" ground; the area close to the border is "frontier" ground; the area with the front part narrow the back precipitous is "encircling" ground; and the area leading off to nowhere is "desperate" ground.

      1. Therefore on dispersive ground , try to promote unity of purpose among the soldiers.
      2. On frontier ground, make certain that there is close co-ordination among all fractions of the army.
      3. On contentious ground, make a quick move to the area behind it.
      4. On open ground, be especially vigilant against surprise attacks.
      5. On focal ground, try to strengthen alliances with other neighbouring states.
      6. On significant ground, make sure the army has constant supply of provisions.
      7. Try to pass as quickly as possible through difficult ground,
      8. block any opening on encircling ground,
      9. and determine to face death on desperate ground.,
      10. to have no fear of death on desperate ground.

        It must be part of a soldiers' psychology to make a concerted fight against the enemy when surrounded, to have no fear of death when escape is impossible, and to obey all orders promptly when caught in a dangerous situation

      Dos And Don'ts

      One cannot enter into alliance with neighbouring states untill one understands their designs.

      One cannot lead the army on a march without being familiar with the mountains,forests,dangerous defiles and swamps through the army must pass, nor can one put the ground to good advantage without making use of native guides.

      The army whose commanders are ignorant of the advantages and disadvantages of even one of the nine varieties of ground does not deserve the title of Army of the Grand Sovereign.

      When attacking a powerful country, the army of a grand sovereign make it impossible for the enemy to assemble his forces. It exerts pressure upon its enemies and prevent their allies from joining against it.

      Therefore , a powerful country neither need seek alliances with other neighbouring states nor rely on the power of other states. What it needs is to display its own power to overawe the enemies.

      Then it will successfully take the enemy's cities and overthrow his state.

      Military Success

      Bestow rewards without regard to rule and give orders without regard to convention, and one can command an entire army as though it were but one man. When giving orders to the soldiers, do not revel the plan to them; or revel only the advantages of the action but not the dangers involved.

      The soldiers will survive even when thrust into danger. They will live even when positioned on desperate ground, for officers and soldiers will make every effort to fight to save their lives if they find themselves in dire straits.

      The key to military success lies in the precept of following the enemy's plan to know his design while waiting for opportunities to attack one of the enemy's weak points with one's forces.

      As such , we can certainly win victory and eve kill the enemy's general though we may have to march for a thousand li.

      This is what we mean by achieving great success through sheer cunning.


      On the day of a military action, block all frontier passes, suspend the passports, and stop all diplomatic interchange with the enemy country.

      Discuss over and over again in the ancestral temple to decide military actions. When opportunities arise, speedily take advantage of them.

      In battle, try first of all to seize something vital to the enemy, and do not negotiate to meet him in a fixed date.

      To win the war, the way in which the plan is executed needs to vary in accordance with the enemy's movement.

      In the beginning, thus be as coy as a maiden to make the enemy relax in his vigilance, then spring into action as swift as a hare, making it impossible for the enemy to resist.

      Critical ground here refers to the same ground as dispersive ground. For the one launching the attack (by crossing a third country), the ground is called "critical ground" while for the one defending, it is called the "dispersive ground"

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