Sun Tzu (544 - 496 BC)

sun tzu philosophy Sun Tzu was an ancient Chinese philosopher, military general and strategist and although the exact date of his birth is unknown, it is said to have taken place during the Spring and Autumn Period of China (the first half of the Eastern Zhou dynasty).

He purportedly wrote the renowned Art of War so needless to say; he had considerable impact on Chinese and Asian history and culture.

Unlike the thinking of other major Eastern philosophers, Sun Tzu philosophy did not focus on spiritual matters, but dealt more with practical and immediate issues.

Warfare in ancient China was considered by the nobility to be a chivalrous sport, thus the rules were to be adhered to and not broken. Sun Tzu, however, changed this prevailing practice by applying Taoist principles to warfare and by refusing to view it as sport.

In the precepts of Taoism, one finds the way for living well in doing what is natural rather than following the conventional wisdoms of society. It emphasizes the spontaneous ease of living by acting in accordance with the natural way of things.

This spontaneous ease of living was emphasized in Sun Tzu’s writing as the natural path to victory rather than the standard one employed in the military engagements of the time.

The great Taoist work, the Tao-Te Ching, delineates the horror of war and outlines aspiration for peace which is similarly reflected in Sun Tzu's writing.

Sun Tzu advocates that the best way to achieve peace is by a swift victory or, even better, by defeating the enemy before war is even begun. He writes:

"To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting".

Sun Tzu's strategy (from the Tao-Te-Ching) is to "Yield and overcome, empty and become full, bend and become straight." In other words, by adapting oneself to a situation, rather than rigidly holding to one's preconceived ideas, one can recognize the variability of conditions and thus act accordingly and therefore more expediently.

In addition to many practical military principles, Sun Tzu's philosophy, as depicted in the Art of War, contains other important philosophical ideas.

These ideas have been relevant and useful in social, political and commercial fields, with the most prevalent being the concept of winning without actually going to battle or engaging in confrontation. Who wouldn't want to avoid a difficult, costly battle if it could be avoided?

Here are some key points in Sun Tzu's philosophy in the Art of War:

  • Know your enemy as yourself Know your enemies'weaknesses and vulnerabilities
  • Know the difference between strategy and tactics
  • Analyze and make good use of intelligence when planning
  • Employ diplomacy in order to garner allies
  • Engage in building morale
  • Develop your character as a leader to maximize the potential of your men
  • Be organized and capable

Today the Art of War is as important and relevant today as when it was written - important for military personnel and CEOs alike because it contains within psychological strategies that are applicable far beyond the battlefield.

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