If fighting is sure to result in victory, then you must fight, even if the ruler forbids it. If fighting will not result in victory, then you must not fight even at the ruler’s bidding. The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom. There are five dangerous faults which may affect a general: (1) Recklessness, which leads to destruction, (2) cowardice, which leads to capture, (3) a hasty temper, which can be provoked by insults; (4) a delicacy of honour which is sensitive to shame and (5) over-solicitude for his men, which exposes him to worry and trouble.
KNOW YOURSELF. KNOW YOUR ENEMY. If you know your enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself and not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
KNOW THE ENEMY. Though the enemy maybe be stronger in numbers, we may prevent him from fighting. Discover his plans and the likelihood of their success. Rouse him, and learn the principle of his activity or inactivity. Force him to reveal himself, so as to find out his vulnerable spots. Carefully compare the opposing army with your own, so that you may know where strength is superabundant and where it is deficient. 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.
BUILD ON STRENGHT. In battle, there are not more than two methods of attack, the direct and the indirect; yet these two combinations give rise to an endless series of manoeuvres. The clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy’s will to be imposed on him. You can be sure on succeeding in your attacks if you only attack places which are undefended. You can ensure the safety on your defence if you only hold positions that cannot be attacked. Hence the general is skilful in attacks where the opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skilful in defence where opponents does not know how to attack.
WARFARE IS BASED ON DECEPTION. 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 away, when far away we must make him believe we are near. The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then wait for an opportunity of defeating the enemy.
GENERALS THAT WIN MAKES MANY CALCULATIONS. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him. If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, then he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected. A clever general avoids an army when its spirit is keen, but attacks it when it is sluggish and inclined to return. This is the art of studying moods. Disciplined and calm, to await the appearance of disorder and hubbub amongst the enemy – this is the art of retaining self-possession.
WAGING WAR. Though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays. There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare. In war, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.
STRENGTH. It is the rule in war, if our forces are ten to the enemy’s one, to surround him; if five to one, to attack him; if twice as numerous, to divide our army into two. If equally matched, we can offer battle, if slightly inferior in numbers, we can avoid the enemy, if quite unequal in every way, we can flee from him. Though an obstinate fight may be made by a small force, in the end it must end it must be captured by the larger force.
FIVE ESSENTIALS FOR VICTORY. (1) He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight. (2) He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces. (3) He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks. (4) He will win who prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared. (5) He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.
TACTICS. A clever fighter wins his battles by making no mistakes. Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated. Hence the skilful fighter puts himself into a position which makes defeat impossible, and does not miss the moment for defeating the enemy.