The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Monday, September 12, 2005

The 36 Strategies: #6, Feint east, strike west


The 36 strategies is a famous text from Asia, second only to the Art of War by Sun Tzu. Any literate Asian is familiar with the 36 strategies, not so much to try and manipulate others, but to recognise when someone is trying to apply these strategies on them!

For this reason along, they are worth the time and trouble to study. I don't know about you, but I'm not planning any hostile takeovers of multibillion dollar companies this week, but I do want to make it to the weekend with my peace of mind relatively intact. That's what the nuts and bolts of studying strategy is about: you and I getting through our daily lives, despite the efforts of some of those around us.

6. Feint east, strike west

You spread misleading information about your intentions, or make false suggestions, in order to induce the opponent to concentrate his defenses on one front and thereby leave another front vulnerable to attack.

A very famous example is from WWII. A phantom army was built around Gen. Patton in England, prior to the D-Day invasion. He had fake tanks, fake barracks, fake radio traffic. This was all set up to give the impression that he would lead the invasion near Cherbourg, which is the closest part of France to England. So convinced were the Germans that Patton was going to lead the heavy blow, that they delayed for weeks after the D-Day invasion, before transferring troops away from defending Cherbourg, waiting for an invasion by Gen Patton that never came.

To sum up the first six of the 36 Strategies:

1. Sneak across an ocean in broad daylight

This means to create a front that eventually becomes imbued with an atmosphere or impression of familiarity, within which the strategist may maneuver unseen while all eyes are trained to see obvious familiarities.

2. Surround one state to save another.

When a strong group is about to take over a weaker group, a third part can "have it's cake and eat it too," gaining a good reputation by attacking the aggressor in apparent behalf of the defender, and also eventually absorb the weakened defender to boot, without incurring the same opprobrium that would be leveled at outright aggression.

3. Borrow a sword to kill another

When one side in a conflict is weakening, it may draw it's own friends into battle, thus delivering a blow to it's enemy while conserving it's own strength.

4. Face the weary in a condition of ease

You force others to expend energy while you preserve yours. You tire opponents out by sending them on wild goose chases, or by making them come to your from far away while you stand your ground.

5. Plunge into a fire to pull off a robbery

You use others' troubles as opportunities to gain something for yourself.

6. Feint east, strike west

You spread misleading information about your intentions, or make false suggestions, in order to induce the opponent to concentrate his defenses on one front and thereby leave another front vulnerable to attack.

You might find a theme running through these first six strategies. The way they are organized, there are six broad categories of six strategies each. The six categories are:

ONE: Stratagems When Commanding Superiority
TWO: Stratagems For Confrontation
THREE: Stratagems For Attack
FOUR: Stratagems For Confused Situations
FIVE: Stratagems For Gaining Ground
SIX: Stratagems For Desperate Straits

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