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 ~


Saturday, December 18, 2010

The 36 Strategies, #36: Run Away

Next to The Art of War by Sun Tzu, The 36 Strategies is the most widely known Chinese book on strategy. Where AoW is almost a textbook like overview of the subject, The 36 Strategies attempts to teach the general concepts of strategy with six groups of six maxims each.

Before we examine the last of the 36 Strategies, let's review what we've read so far:

The 36 Strategies, briefly translated by Thomas Cleary, in The Japanese Art of War.

One: Strategies When Commanding Superiority

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.

Two: Strategies for Confrontation

7. Make something from nothing

You create a false idea in the mind of the opponent, and fix it in his mind as a reality. In partricular, this means that you convey the impression that you have what you do not, to the end that you may appear formidable and thus actually obtain a security that you had not enjoyed before.

8. Cross the pass in the dark

You set up a false front, then penetrate the opponent's territory on other fronts while they are distracted by your false front.

9. Watch the fire from the opposite band of the river

You calmly look on when adversaries experience internal troubles, waiting for them to destroy themselves.

10. Have a sword in a smile

You ingratiate yourself with enemies, inducing them to trust you. When you have their confidence, you can move against them in secret.

11. One tree falls for another

Individual sacrifices may have to be made to achieve a greater goal.

12 Take the sheep in hand as you go along

You take advatange of any opportunity, however small, and avail yourself to any profit, however slight. This comes from the story of a destitute traveler walking on a road. As he went along, he came across a flock of sheep; making his way through them, when he emerged from their midst he had a sheep with him. He behaved so calmly and naturally, as if he had been leading his own sheep to market all along, that the shepherd never noticed him.

13 Beat the grass to startle the snakes

The opponents are reserved and unfathomable, you create some sort of stir to see how they will react. Yagyu mentions this, and also notes that it is used in Zen. Certain Zen sayings and stories are  used primarily to test people and find hout what they are like.

14. Borrow a corpse to bring back a spirit

You don't use what everyone else is using, but use what  others aren't using. This can mean reviving something that has dropped out of use through neglect, or finding uses for things that had hitherto been ignored or considered useless.

Three: Strategies for Attack

15. Train a tiger to leave the mountains

You don't go into the fastness of a powerful opponents' territory, but induce them to come out of their stronghold.

16. When you want to take captives, leave them on the loose for a while.

Fleeing enemies may turn again and strike desperately if pursued too hotly. If they are given room to run, on the other hand,  they scatter and lose their energy. Then they can be taken captive without further violence.

17. Toss out a glazed tile to draw a jade

You present something of superficial  or apparent worth to induce another party to produce something of real worth.

18. To capture the brigands, capture their king

When confronted with a massive opposition, you take aim at it's central leadership.

Four: Strategies for Confused Situations

19 Take the firewood out from under the pot

When you cannot handle an adversary in a head on confrontation, you can still win by undermining the enemy's resources and morale.

20. Stir up the waters to catch fish.

You use confusion to your advantage, to take what you want. It may specifically mean taking advantage of a general or particular loss of direction in order to gather followers from among the uncommitted or disenfranchised.

21. The gold cicada molts it's shell

This means leaving behind false appearances created for strategic purposes. Like the cicada shell, the facade remains intact, but the real action is now elsewhere.

22. Lock the gates to catch bandits

You catch invading predators by not letting them get away. You don't let them get back to their homelands with what they can get from you. If they escape, you don't chase them, because you will thereby fall prey to the enemy's plot to wear you down.

23. Make allies at a distance, attack nearby

When you are more vulnerable to those close by than you are to those far away, you can defend yourself by keeping those around you off balance, in the meantime cutting off their field of maneuver by securing a broader ring of alliances surrounding them.

24. Borrow the right of way to attack the neighbor

You secure the temporary use of another party's facilities in order to move against a mutual enemy. After having used these facilities to prevail over the enemy, you then turn and use them against the party from whom you borrowed them.

Five: Strategies for Gaining Ground

25. Steal a beam to replace a pillar

You try to recruit top talent, inducing them to join your concern. This both strengthens your side, and denies the talent to others.

26. Point at one to scold another

You criticize indirecly, getting your point across without confrontation.

27. Feint ignorance without going crazy

You pretend to be stupid and ignorant, but avoid talking loosely

28. Let them climb the roof, then take away the ladder

You maneuver enemies into a point of no return by baiting them with what looks like advantages and opportunities

29. Make flowers bloom on a tree

You dazzle and deceive the eye of opponents by showy displays.

30. Turn the guest into the host

This is when a business is taken over by one of it's own clients or consultants

Six: Strategies for Desparate Straits

31. Scheme with beauties

This refers to using the charms of women to influence key figures in an adversary organization.

32. Scheme with an empty castle

You appear weaker than you really are, so that opponents may defeat themselves by one of three reactions to your supposed weakness: They may become conceited and complacent, leading to their downfall; they may become arrogant and aggressive, leading to their destruction; or they may assume you are setting up an ambush, leading them to flee of their own accord.

33. Scheme with double agents

You compromise insiders of other organizations to get them to work for you.

34. Scheme with self inflicted wounds

This is a technique particularly for undercover agents; you make yourself look like a victim of your own people, in order to win the sympathy and confidence of enemies.

35.  Scheme with continuous circles


When facing a more powerful enemy, you don't oppose by force, and don't concentrate all your resources on only one avenue of strategy; you keep different plans operating simultaneously in an overall scheme.

... and now the final strategy, #36: Run Away.

When all seems lost, as long as you're living and breathing, you're not done yet. Run away. Catch your breath and bind your wounds. Regroup. As long as there is an once of life left in you, you still have a chance.

2 comments:

Matt said...

good stuff!

C360CHIEFARCHITECT said...

It is better to retreat and fight again another day.