Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Art of War: Laying Plans part Two

Last time, I introduced the Art of War and began discussing the first section, Laying Plans. Sun Tzu proposed that there are 5 factors, or heads, to be taken into account when making plans: Moral Law, Heaven, Earth, the Commander, and Methods and Discipline. While these have concrete meanings for military tactics, I brought up some of my own interpretations of how you can apply the 5 heads to martial arts training and actual combat. Today, I'm going to finish the chapter on laying plans.

12. Therefore, in your deliberations, when seeking to determine the military conditions, let them be made the basis of a comparison, in this wise:
13.(1)Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the Moral Law?
(2)Which of the two generals has the most ability?
(3)With whom lie the advantages derived from heaven and earth?
(4)On which side is discipline most rigorous?
(5)Which army is stronger?
(6) On which side are officers and men more highly trained?
(7)In which army is there greater constancy both in reward and punishment?

In any scenario where you find yourself planning ahead, it is best to try to apply these questions. Much like my examples from last time, these 7 comparisons allow you to evaluate who has the advantage, and therefore where you must focus your efforts. You may have the moral law, but when you're being mugged the enemy may have more advantages from heaven and earth and be bigger and stronger than you, so you must concern yourself more with exploiting whatever strengths and advantages you gain elsewhere. Do you think you can talk them down, an application of the 7th question? Or perhaps you are more highly trained and are confident your skill can compensate for an inferiority in strength. 

By first understanding what advantages and disadvantages exist, you can then establish the proper plan to maximize the influence of your strength and minimize the influence of your shortcomings. Here lies the true power of strategy and planning.

16. When heading the profit of my counsel, avail yourself also of any helpful circumstances over and beyond the ordinary rules.
17. According as circumstances are favourable, one should modify one's plans.

These lines address the attitude one should have when making plans. Just as planning ahead can win your significant victories, so can rigid adherence to a preconceived plan in light of new information lead to defeat. Additionally, while many people hold fairness in high regard, there are times when it's ill advised to play by the rules. In sports, there are rules and regulations that one must follow. In life, however, there is no such thing as a fair fight. When trying to strategize, the goal is not to give your enemy an equal chance, the goal is to win. This holds true even when the enemy is yourself. If your particular plan is a workout regimen and you know that you have a weakness for sleeping in, staying out until 3 on a Friday will result in a wasted Saturday, so you you would best choose not to go out at all if you think you'd be likely to stay out that late. Or, you cheat. You stay out late, but you don't go to bed. Instead you immediately come home and spend those last few hours before dawn being productive, spend saturday training, and going to bed extra early. This way you get everything that you want, at the price of a good night's sleep. If that result is what you consider a victory, and you know you're more likely to follow through with that than to get up early on Saturday, by all means, do it.

18. All warfare is based on deception.
19. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far awar; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.
20. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.
21. If he is secure in all points, prepare for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him.
22. If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.
23. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest.
24. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.
25. These military devices, leading to victory, must not be divulged beforehand.
26. Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations before hand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculations at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.

This closing section is relatively straight forward. You increase you chances to win by thinking ahead and understanding the situation. Appear to be in the opposite condition and the enemy will be unprepared when the engagement begins. This idea applies heavily to actual combat as a martial artist. By properly tailoring what techniques you use, you can lure an adversary into behaving exactly as you wish them to. I'm a lefty, for example. I will often begin a match in a right sided stance, leading my opponent to expect more powerful strikes from my right and implying that I prefer that side. I'll trade a few strikes favoring my right, and when they go on the offensive, I retreat to a left stance and immediately strike with my better left side. 

Or, say you are held at knife point. As a rule, you should always surrender, assuming their goal isn't to take your life or harm your person. However, if the situation arises and you must defend yourself, the immediate thing you should do is put your hands up, palms facing them. This puts your hands in a ready to strike position without putting the attacker on edge, as it is a known "don't stab me" stance. This is your best shot at gaining enough of a chance to disarm the attacker. I want to emphasize, this is a worst case scenario, and I am not suggesting you always do this. This is a strategy to maximize you chance of success in the face of a superior threat, and assumes you will come to harm if you surrender. 

Thus concludes Sun Tzu's musings on the laying of plans. If you disagree with anything that I've said, I absolutely want to hear it. Best way to analyze a text, in my opinion, is to discuss it with someone who reached a different conclusion. I'll be returning to The Art of War at a later date, but next, something completely different!

I'd like some feedback on this. If you liked reading my little analysis of The Art of War, thought it was boring, or think I should try something else, let me know in the comments or on facebook.

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