36 Stratagems

The 36 Stratagems of War

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Table of Contents

1 -- Stratagems for the Stronger Force
2 -- Stratagems for Two Equal Forces
3 -- Stratagems for Direct Attack
4 -- Stratagems to Confuse the Enemy
5 -- Stratgems to Gain Ground
6 -- Stratagems Before the Last Stand

All Warfare is Based on Deception.
--Sun Tzu

1. Stratagems for the Stronger Force

Editor's Note: The 36 stratagems were divided into six categories, depending on situation. This division was always fluid and flexible, for the Chinese view of war is that the situation continually changes

In modern times, the divisions are, perhaps, even less applicable. Rather than viewing the first six stratagems as being most applicable for a stronger force to use, perhaps it will be better to apply a descriptor to them. These stratagems advocate ways to mis-direct the energy of others and to seize the advantage of misdirected energy.

01. Deceive the sky to cross the sea

Conceal your preparations by being completely open and public. The police of a town were looking for a cat burglar that continually struck in a certain wealthy neighborhood. Finally, after failing to catch him after weeks of trying, they set up a watch on either end of every street. The officers were ordered to note the arrival and departure of every person, so that all could be questioned. And yet, the burglaries continued for several days, until one observant policeman realized that a postman was making rounds on a postal holiday. The "postman" was finally nabbed. Yet he had succeeded for so long because he had made himself an acceptable part of the scenery while in the act of committing burglaries.

Another form of deceiving the sky to cross the sea is to make open preparations for war without ever actually going to war---until the enemy no longer takes you seriously.

02. Besiege Wei to rescue Zhao

To draw off the energy of an attack against an ally, let the enemy fully commit himself against his prey, and then---instead of rushing to the rescue---attack the enemy's dearest possessions.

When the small kingdom of Zhao was attacked by the mighty Wei forces, the kingdom of Zhao fortified itself and became a city under seige. It managed to get a few messengers out to ask for help from its allies. But the Wei forces had come prepared to lay a long seige, and so they dug in around Zhao and fortified themselves against both front and rear attacks.

The Wei military force encamped against Zhao was huge, so Zhao's allies decided not to confront the Wei army in the field. Instead, the allies marched boldly to the Wei capital, which had been left with a very light guardian force while the main body of troops was beseiging Zhao. Panicked recall messages were sent to the Wei troops, and these were allowed to get through.

The Wei attack force quickly broke camp and tried a forced march back to their capital to defend it. As soon as they embarked on their hasty retreat, the Zhao gates opened, and the small Zhao army pursued and harried their former attackers. Meanwhile, the allies of Zhao laid ambushes against the returning Wei forces and raided them on the open roads. And then the allies who had attacked the Wei capital met the Wei forces head on, while the Zhao army attacked from the rear.

Thus the Wei army was decimated and harried back to its capital, rendering it unable to carry out another massive seige.

03. Kill with a borrowed knife

Convince others to fight your battles for you. The most masterful strategists of the past have used deception to convince enemy kings that their best generals were about to betray them. So the rulers would order all their own best generals beheaded for treason. Thus the enemy did to himself what would have taken months or years to accomplish on the battlefield.

Another way to use this strategy is to cause discord between your enemy and another party. Your enemy exhausts himself and spends up his resources, so that he's decimated by somebody else's weaponry while you conserve your resources. The enlightened fighter lets somebody else do the fighting for him and can either watch the battle to its conclusion or else enter at the end and win.

04. Wait at ease for the enemy

Sun Tzu wrote these three maxims:
  • If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. (from Section One, "Laying Plans," AOW)
  • If the enemy is taking his ease, he can harass him; if well supplied with food, he can starve him out; if quietly encamped, he can force him to move. (from Section Six, "Weak Points and Strong," AOW)
  • To be near the goal while the enemy is still far from it, to wait at ease while the enemy is toiling and struggling, to be well-fed while the enemy is famished:--this is the art of husbanding one's strength. (from Section Seven, "Manuevering," AOW)
It's always an advantage to be one step ahead of your opponent, and it's a benefit for you get to the site of battle ahead of him. But if speed is not your gift, you can also simply force or entice him to come to you, where ever you are. An opponent who must destroy you to get his reward will come after you where ever you go, so cover hard ground that is unfamiliar to him. Lead him through awkward and expensive situations. Keep evading him and force him to spend himself up to reach you.

The commentators on Sun Tzu recommend that if you have a small force and your enemy a strong force, encamp your men in rocky, divided terrain so that you force the pursuer to break up his army. Thus, you create confusion in his troops, and he loses the advantage of being able to fight you with a single, massive charge.

05. Loot a burning house

Sun Tzu wrote, "While heading the profit of my counsel, avail yourself also of any helpful circumstances over and beyond the ordinary rules. According as circumstances are favorable, one should modify one's plans." (from Section One, "Laying Plans," AOW).

If your opponent suffers an adversity not related to your battle, you can use the diversion of his attention, energy, and resources to further weaken him. Later stratagems advise that you actually create any diversion possible to divide your opponent's focus, apart from the standard military diversions of the battle field: force him to camp in a swamp so that his troops get sick; alert his ruler about the debt of his army; warn local officials about his shady dealings. When his attention is divided and his spirits low, you can force him to compromise and make peace. Use the misery and distress of your opponent to bring him to terms.

06. Make a feint to the east while attacking in the west

The pre-requisite for this stratagem is that your opponent must have no real insight on what you are about to do. If you have been predictable in the past, then be wary of trying to fool an enemy who has already succeeded in out thinking you and correctly guessing your plans.

But if you know that your opponent is information hungry and has a healthy fear of what you might do, the situation is ripe for creating a diversion. The best example of this tactic is the low-interest loan tactics so widely available today. Credit card companies or loan companies promise low interest on "transfer checks" that enable you to pay off other credit accounts. But they make their money when you start charging new purchases on their card. These new purchases are often made at a much higher rate of interest than is available via the "transfer checks", or else new purchases come with "finance charges" that are incredibly high. So by making consumers believe that they are fighting off debt by one method, many credit card companies keep the rate of debt high by other methods.

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2. Stratagems for Two Equal Forces

Editor's Note: These stratagems focus on immediate options that you have on hand. Using what you already have or what exists in your environment, create illusions, make new weapons, or form new and innovative plans. These stratagems require that you look at your own situation with fresh eyes and that you understand how your opponent looks at your environment and arsenal, so that you can create convincing illusions or put old items to new uses.

07. Create something out of nothing

Get what you need by trickery or illusion. A British agent planted in Vichy France had to procure his own funds. So he took on the persona of a carefree playboy and befriended a wealthy young German officer who had an easy assignment driving a German commander around and maintaining his staff car. The British agent stole the car one night when the young man was drunk, and sold it to a sympathetic French car mechanic. They stripped it of its military decoration that night.

The next day, in a panic, the young German officer came to his British friend and begged him for help. Somebody had stolen the staff car, and he would be punished for being drunk on duty. He could buy a replacement, but the French people wouldn't do business with Germans, and he had to get the car replaced before it was missed. The British agent told the young officer that it would probably be possible to get a car of the same make and model from the black market, but it would be expensive, and he would have to act as go-between. The officer said he could get any amount of money required, and so the British agent asked for twice the amount of the value of the car. The young officer got the amount for him, and the Brit went back to the French man and paid him exactly the same amount for which he'd sold it.

He drove it back to the young German officer, who was grateful for the favor and never knew that he had bought back his own car. The British agent, having received twice the cash value of a luxury car, was well financed to begin his espionage work.

08. Use a well-known path to advance by a hidden path

Use the commonly expected strategy to hide the real strategy. Military tactics, applied to certain terrains, suggest certain obvious attacks. Before Hitler invaded France, the French knew he was building up his military, but they supposed that no army could penetrate their famous "Maginot Line." They made their preparations for Hitler elsewhere. He used their military theory to further this illusion. But Hitler used a lightning fast attack force never yet seen, called panzer units. They burst through the antiquated defenses of the Maginot line.

Similarly, the D-Day invasion was expected, but the Germans assumed it would occur at or near Calais, which was a place more hospitable to a large force trying to land quickly. The rough seas and long, exposed stretch of Omaha Beach, fronting onto miles of confusing "lanes" that could mislead invading soldiers, was considered unlikely because it offered so little advantage. So it was lightly guarded. The main invasion force came in here.

09. Watch the fire burning across the river

Use delay if it enhances in-fighting within the enemy alliances. Westerners tend to under-value delay in their conflicts. Especially if you have an egotistical opponent or somebody who tries to advance by abusing others, then time is on your side. The wise fighter waits to let a foolishly aggressive or egotistical opponent alienate those around him and creates problems within his own administration. If things work out, the in-fighting that a manipulative, cruel, or controlling leader creates will eat up his energy and resources and increase the wise opponent's advantage over him.

10. Conceal a dagger in a smile

Never express anger, and never express sarcasm. They show weakness, and they show a hastiness in revealing motives. Concealing a dagger with a smile may be taken as advice to be treacherous, but it also has an honorable side. You can be powerful and dangerous---and polite. The kindly person who suddenly and decisively reveals the dagger sheathed in his belt is going to be taken more seriously than the fool who brandishes a dagger on any provocation. Threats, sarcasm, and open hostility serve no good purpose, no matter what your goal. Disassociate yourself from your ego and strike hard because you know it is time to strike, not because your anger is gratified in striking. Do this once in front of others, and your smile will be respected thereafter, because everybody will know there is a dagger behind it.

11. Cut down the plum tree to save the peach tree

When you cannot avoid losses, sacrifice the lesser for the benefit of the greater. The saying comes from the problem of blight infesting fruit tree groves. Farmers would decimate the blight by removing the plum trees, thus allowing the peach trees to get all the benefits of the nutrients in the soil.

Generals have been called upon to sacrifice one band of men to save another. In everyday life, recognizing that one cannot have his cake and eat it too forces us to choose our priorities. The person who knows that he must engage in struggle sets up a hierarchy of goals so that he knows ahead of time what he can sacrifice and what he cannot.

12. Steal any passing goat

Make use of everything you get from the other side. Sun Tzu advises us to "forage on the enemy,"(Section Two, "Waging War," AOW) and we can do this by eating his scraps but also by hoarding the information that he might carelessly provide. Look at how an opponent treats others. Note where he makes trouble for himself or where he has blinded himself. Take inventory of what irritates him and what frightens him. What the opponent views as inconsequential and the things he lets slip can provide you with valuable material for managing your side of the conflict.

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Editor's Note: These are the stratagems of "mind games". Two of them focus on intimidation; two of them focus on tempting the enemy's greed, and two of them focus on the enemy's premises, assumptions, or morality. The section is well named as "direct attack," for it shows that battle takes place in the mind, and direct attacks succeed if you know how your opponent thinks.

13. Beat the grass to startle the snake

Frighten or startle the enemy to see how he will react. You should note that making threats will probably undo you, especially against an opponent who is stronger or more ruthless than you. Instead, the enlightened fighter has to make the enemy feel threatened without stooping to make threats. A calm, straightforward demeanor in discussions helps a person's word to be more believable. Instead of speaking threats, the wise fighter arranges circumstances or performs actions that create the threat.

A woman who is being stalked, instead of threatening to call the police, simply calls the police, thus startling the stalker by her decisive action and letting the authority of the law frighten him. She watches his reaction and learns how committed he is to continue this behavior.

Due to mismanagement of their own records, a credit card company sends a collection agency against a man who has actually paid his bills. After faxing copies of the checks that prove he's up to date, the man is still being harassed. Instead of threatening to get a lawyer, he asks a lawyer to write a letter to both companies, letting them know their legal danger. At this mark of serious consequences to their own negligence in record keeping, the credit company reveal their level of commitment to harassing him (not very committed, as it turned out).

Preliminary actions that don't commit you to a single course of behavior can still startle an opponent into revealing his mindset and goals.

14. Raise a corpse from the dead

Putting a "puppet" ruler on the throne is a means of raising a corpse from the dead. The ineffectual figurehead provides the credibility or the justification for the military coup. The Japanese Shoguns used this principle for centuries to justify their efforts to "protect the emperor" and thus rule Japan.

Calling upon a slogan that doesn't really mean anything is another means of raising a corpse from the dead. Citing "family values" or "love of democracy" is a means of gaining credibility and justification for power plays.

15. Lure the tiger out of the mountain

Bring the opponent out from a situation that favors him to a situation that favors you. Sun Tzu writes, "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, that he may grow arrogant." (from Section One "Laying Plans," AOW)

Farmers of ancient China who had the problem of a tiger raiding their sheep weren't eager to hunt him down in his own territory. So they would tether a lamb out in a field, and when the tiger appeared in that wide open place, they would rise up from the grasses and kill him.

16. Let the enemy off in order to snare him

This stratagem has two possible applications. The admonition can be taken quite literally in that---in a situation in which you defeat your enemy---you can sometimes more effectively snare the opponent by releasing him or forgiving him. (After all, if you execute an enemy general, then his lieutenant becomes general in his stead, so you still have an enemy to fight. But if you spare the general and win him over, you gain an ally.) Sun Tzu repeatedly urges that those who are defeated be treated humanely, because if you win their loyalties, then you increase your own fighting force with very little expenditure. The Chinese generals who wrote extensive commentaries on Sun Tzu have observed that feeding and clothing prisoners means you are really feeding and clothing recruits. The opportunity to be magnanimous shows the opponent that you are not the devil he assumed you to be. And after being defeated, a proud fighter may be much more approachable and agreeable when treated with dignity and respect.

The USA accomplished this, after a fashion, by bringing German POWs back to the USA for interment during WWII. One German prisoner wrote that they all knew they would understand their real conditions only when they arrived at the prison barracks. They were frightened and dispirited, and the incredibly long journey across a vast ocean had made them all feel cut off and isolated. There then followed several days of travel by bus, so that all of the young men felt that they were powerless to escape or return.

But when he entered the barracks and saw a row of neat bunks, each with a mattress, and clean sheets, and a small kit bag stocked with shaving cream, a razor, soap, a toothbrush, and toothpaste, he was overcome with both gratitude and humility. He realized that his captors were not cruel. Prisoners were not beaten nor humiliated, and they were required to attend classes on law, ethics, and the Constitution of the United States. Eventually, they were allowed to work off site, under guard, for ranchers in the area. By the end of the war, with the exception of three hold outs, all of the men in his section of the camp were willing to see Constitutional government with equal rights for all instituted in Germany.

On the other hand, relying on the loyalty of a former enemy can be dangerous to the point of disastrous. The second application of this stratagem is more pragmatic and quite efficient: Make the enemy believe that a means of escape is open to him, and---rather than fight whole heartedly---he will turn his energies to get away, and thus you can direct him into a trap or harry his troops as they try to flee.

Sun Tzu warns that trapped soldiers---your own or the other general's---will fight at their best if they think there is no hope. They will resolve to take as many of the enemy with them as possible, so the great general writes, "When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard" (from Section Seven, "Mauevering," AOW). It's better to get the other person to run for cover or run for escape. Provided you arrange the situation so that you know which way he will run, you can still effectively destroy his army. And this way, you suffer fewer losses.

17. Hold out a brick to attract a gem

In the great Drugstore Wars of the 1980's, entrepreneurs built up inventory and services. But the competition was equal across the board. One chain of stores broke the deadlock by offering blood pressure machines in their stores. Customers could wander in, sit at the machine with their arm in the automated cuff, and have their blood pressure taken for free. No hassle, no pressure to buy anything, no charge for the service. Each machine was placed back in the pharmacy section so the customers walked the length of the store to get to the machine.

Equipping each store with an automated blood pressure machine required an investment, but it turned casual customers into consistent customers. Thousands and thousands of people suffer from high blood pressure, and the handy, free reading prompted them to use this certain drug store chain whenever they needed any of the items stocked there. They could pick up what they needed and check their blood pressure. Thus, the outlay of a few thousand dollars per store, with maintenance of a few hundred dollars every year, returned thousands of dollars more in revenue and profit.

So, by tossing out a bait that cost relatively little, the drug store chain hauled in a lot of profit in return. It surely worked, because these days, no matter what drugstore you're in, chances are good that you'll find a blood pressure machine along a back wall.

18. To catch rebels, bring down their leader first

Douglas MacArthur, a general not known for military brilliance, proved himself the man for the job in the occupation of post WWII Japan. MacArthur respected the Asian point of view and had studied it more than his other West Point peers. Though he had been something of a plodder on the battle fields of the Pacific, he distinguished himself in humanely and efficiently running an occupation that began with both conquerors and conquered highly antagonistic towards each other and misinformed.

Certainly, the Japanese had been portrayed as devils to American service men, and vice versa. For this problem, MacArthur ordered restraint and food. As GIs passed out food to a starving people, the Japanese lost their initial distrust of the American military; and the young American soldiers, seeing children who had gone hungry and giving them food, made them appreciate the humanity of their former enemies. And what prejudice could stand at the sight of children hungrily eating and remembering their manners long enough to say "Thank you" and bow with respect. The US occupation of Japan is remarkable for how thoroughly the transformation of attitude took place on both sides as enmity gave way to profound friendships and new understanding.

But there were nationalistic hold outs, and the threat of violence was never far away during the early days of the occupation. Japan's military tradition had been one of "Death or Victory," and there were leftover right-wing elements in Japan that were ready to riot.

MacArthur could not police an entire nation to that extent. If the old fervent patriotism took hold of the people again, catastrophe could ensue. So he arranged to have a public audience with Japan's emperor, a man reputed to be descended from the gods, and a man who had never been photographed for public view. When MacArthur met Hirohito, the American general wore his daily army uniform. He didn't even have a tie on. Hirohito dressed in fine Western clothes. MacArthur spoke politely but briefly with the emperor and then had their picture taken together. Japanese advisors urged against having the photograph published, but MacArthur over rode them. He ordered the picture published on the front page of the newspapers, and it appeared the very next day.

The Japanese people, who had never even been allowed to look directly at their divine ruler, saw a photograph of the laconic MacArthur, towering over the short and wilted looking Hirohito. This was their mighty emperor, a mere man dwarfed by the American General and unable to forbid the photograph.

Adroitly, MacArthur had provided perfect, unarguable proof that the emperor was merely a man, and not all that impressive of a man, even when he presented himself at his finest. The Japanese common man lost that reverential edge, and the hardcore nationalists found that the outcry to protect a divine emperor had lost a lot of its majestic ring.

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Editor's Note: If you want to confuse the other guy, then you must operate with proper and thorough method. These six stratagems all rise up from the commander's complete knowledge of what he has on hand, what the enemy has, and what the enemy will require in order to advance. Thus if you cannot outgun the enemy, you may be able to starve him. If you cannot starve him, you may be able to exhaust his other supplies. If you cannot exhaust his supplies you may be able to send him down the wrong path, etc., etc. No matter how strong the enemy's supplies, by attending to a systematic and thorough knowledge of the enemy, the commander may see where the enemy has damaged himself. In this section, two of the stratagems advocate waiting for the enemy's flaws to catch up to him.

19. Take away the fire from under the cauldron

If your enemy lives on rice, then steal the wood for the cauldrons, and the enemy will starve. If you cannot defeat your enemy by military tactics, you may be able to defeat him with non-military tactics. Or, put another way, any tactic that works is a military tactic. If his weapons are more powerful, his army more powerful, and his skills superior to yours, look for the non-military ways to defeat him.

Star Trek: Next Generation fans highly prize the two-part story in which the Enterprise and the Federation had to fight the Borg. Ultimately, the Borg could absorb all Federation knowledge and warcraft, so the Borg were always superior to the Federation. Yet the crew of the Enterprise, when they realized they could not outgun their deadly enemy, broadcast a low-security level command to the Borg to signal a brief, system-wide maintenance interval. The entire Borg force temporarily shut down, overpowered by non-military means, and the brief minutes of helplessness allowed enough time for the Enterprise to defeat them.

Anythng you do to interfere with the day to day operation or well being of the enemy may be enough to win the war for you.

20. Fish in troubled waters

Sometimes waters become troubled by storms you haven't created. Whether or not you throw your opponent's resources into confusion, be sure to take advantage of disarray in the other camp.

New leaders emerge (and old leaders lose credibility) during times of upheaval and uncontrolled change. Rudy Guilliani was declining in power and prestige as mayor of New York when the attack on the World Trade Center took place on 9/11. He instantly became the man on the scene: compassionate, organized, generous, courageous, and articulate. While George Bush was being whisked around the country to be protected, and Dick Cheney was no where to be found, Rudolph Guilliani showed himself to be an able and popular leader whose decision and command of the situation prompted others to compare him to Winston Churchill during the bombing of Britain.

You can make gains during troubled times if you have command of your composure and your communication skills. By swiftly taking advantage of troubled situations to provide guidance and solutions, you can gain prestige and influence.

21. The cicada sheds its skin

The cicada sheds its skin intact, so that the shell looks like a real cicada. Similarly, outnumbered generals or those who were targets for assassination created false impersonations of themselves to escape danger.

This stratgey again plays on the expectations of your opponent. If he expects you to be in a certain place or supposes you will try a certain tactic, you can create the illusion that you are where he expects you to be. Meanwhile, you can put your energies into your real plans.

George Washington used this plan effectively when he pulled his men back under the eyes of the British army. As night fell, Washington ordered all the fires lit and he ordered the pipers to play folk songs and favorite melodies, as was usually done in camp at night. Then in small groups his men slipped away into the dark forest, leaving behind a few coats propped up with muskets to pose as guards and sentries.

22. Bolt the door to catch the thief

Miyamoto Musashi made an oblique reference to this idea when he wrote,
"In the world, people tend to think of a robber
trapped in a house as a fortified enemy
[and thus are afraid to approach the house---Editor].
However, if we think of "becoming the enemy",
we feel that the whole world is against us
and that there is no escape. He who is shut
inside is a pheasant. He who enters to arrest
is a hawk. You must appreciate this.
----"The Fire Book", Book of Five Rings

Sometimes a person gets himself into a trap, and all that is necessary is that you shut the door. Bring his fears home to him, and he will collapse. Catching a person in a web of lies that he has been broadcasting is a means of shutting the door, for his own lies are ready to trap him. The enlightened general only needs to pick the proper time and have the proper words (and evidence) ready. "Bolting the Door" often requires patience in that the enlightened fighter has to let a person's harmful behavior build up so that very little action is required to trap him. This strategy is not a power move or something that requires great exertion. Rather, bolting the door to catch the thief is a natural strategy in which the enlightened fighter follows out a person's harmful activities and acts in harmony with the situation so that accumulated misdeeds come home to him.

The most effective way to "Bolt the door" is to understand what an overly aggressive, harmful person fears and dreads. The enlightened fighter also must practice iron composure so that he doesn't get dragged into the trap with the opponent. In any situtation where a general "bolts the door," it must be clear who is the thief and who is the good guy.

23. Befriend a distant state while attacking a neighbour

This stratagem has two applications: the first is the more obvious. Avoid a two-front war by making peace with everybody else before you go to war against an opponent. Additionally, if you have two battles to fight, it's wiser first to fight the one that is near at hand. But to do this, you must try to gain at least a temporary peace with the less emergent battle. One writer observes that a parent with a teen age son who eats junk food and drives too fast will first allow the junk food in order to focus on the battle of building responsibility in the boy's driving practices.

The second, less apparent application of this stratagem is that your route of advance must be organized. Sometimes, winning one battle makes the next battle easier to win. The order of operation can make your battles easier. In two-on-one fighting in taekwon do, the lone defender keeps moving so that the less aggressive of two attackers stays between the defender and the more aggressive attacker. This tactic wears out the aggressor in the middle and exposes him to deliberate kicks and punches from the defender and accidental kicks and punches from his ally. Thus, by economical manuevering, the defender can whittle away one opponent. When the "man in the middle" gives up or goes down, the defender can then concentrate on a single opponent. But if the defender focuses on the stronger, more aggressive opponent first, then the defender gets tied up in earnest fighting, and the weaker attacker can do him serious harm.

Situation and ability will often determine the best order of operation in a battle, but---as Sun Tzu wrote---it's usually wisest to husband your energy and resources while making your opponents spend up their energy and resources.

24. Borrow a route to conquer Guo

This stratagem advises using an ally's strategic location as a launch point for your own troops. One benefit is that a "middleman" gets the heat, and your own homeland can be saved from becoming a battlefield. Another benefit is that your forces can be stationed longterm on friendly turf so that problems of supply line management are limited in severity. And a third benefit is that if your battle is successful, you now have your troops stationed in somebody else's kingdom.

Again, though a superficial glance shows that this stratagem opens the way for treachery and takeover, it can be used to allow for mutual benefit. Without attempting outright conquest, the US has stationed troops in other countries as part of NATO agreements and has thus persuaded weaker allies to send their best and brightest to US schools, to trade ideas with us, and to become more open to the products that we market. The strategy has also given our own young men and women the opportunity to see other cultures and get a better picture of the vastness of the world in which we live. While US policy overseas has not been perfect, by borrowing a route to defend Europe and America from Russian Communism, the US also helped defuse radical fascism and present lawful democracy to the world as a successful form of government.

Husbanding your strength is the principle on which this stratagem rests. As Sun Tzu has noted, the ideal situation is one in which you conserve your own energy while forcing the opponent to use up his energy. Thus, gaining benefit from others outside the fray is another means of preserving your resources. Hiring lawyers, spokespeople, agents, and personal representatives are all ways in which people today borrow a route in order to conquer. They hire others to take on the responsibilities and pressures of a given conflict. Any time you persuade or hire somebody to act as your middleman or representative, you have borrowed a route to conquer Guo, buffering yourself as you pursue your campaign.

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Editor's Note: Trickery and deception are the key words for this section. Three of the stratagems are about deceiving the enemy about his own forces and position, and three of the stratagems are about deceiving the enemy about your own forces and position.

25. Replace the beams and pillars with rotten timber

Replace the enemy's strength with weakness. Sun Tzu wrote, "You may advance and be absolutely irresistible, if you make for the enemy's weak points; you may retire and be safe from pursuit if your movements are more rapid than those of the enemy" (from Section Six, "Weak Points and Strong," AOW).

One way of making for the enemy's weak points is to give the enemy weaknesses that he does not recognize. Infiltration of your own picked personnel to take key roles in the enemy's forces is one way of following this stratagem. But it's less costly and less risky to cause the opponent to switch out his own best people. As mentioned previously, the Nazis used false broadcast information and forged correspondence to make the paranoid Russian administration believe that Russia's best generals were traitors. Thus the Russian high command arrested and executed its best people and filled their slots with inexperienced commanders. In this way, the Russians replaced their own beams and pillars with rotten timber.

Another application is to confuse the opponent about how to prepare for you. "That general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skillful in defense whose opponent does not know what to attack" (Ibid). In taekwon do, if the opponent has great kicks, the fighter must jam him up and force him to use his fists. Thus the primary weapons are the "rotten timbers" of the less adept punches instead of the beams and pillars of the strong legs. I once watched a fight where a young man famous for his incredible kicks faced a man who had prepared for him accordingly. None of us onlookers were prepared for the fine demonstration of boxing that our famous leg man gave us. He never kicked once, and he pummeled his opponent and was never touched either by kick or punch. I had been training with him every week for the previous three months, and he had never let on that he was taking boxing lessons on the side. Thus, he forced his opponent to hurriedly train in fighting a leg man, and then on the night of the fight, he switched to fists. His opponent's hand skills had lost their edge, and he lost decisively.

From Sun Tzu:
O divine art of subtlety and secrecy!
Through you we learn to be invisible, through you inaudible;
and hence we can hold the enemy's fate in our hands.
(from Section Six, "Weak Points and Strong," AOW).

26. Point at the mulberry only to curse the locust

To the person who can carry it off, clearly telling an opponent his strategic mistakes and promising to exploit them and defeat the opponent is one way to win. Clear and forceful guarantees that the choice to go to war with you will be costly and painful for the other side can work, but mere threatening and storming will not work.

Some leaders take this stratagem a step further and "make an example" of a front man from the other side. Most of us have probably read accounts of soft drink companies who drag a lunch counter operator to court for trademark violation because the small businessman had signs for Coca Cola or a similar drink in the store window but did not actually serve Coca Cola (or the advertised drink). We're amazed at the trouble they take to haul such a minor moneymaker to court, but the effect is to subdue other, would-be trademark violators. This is an example of the use of pointing at the mulbery to curse the locust strategy.

Of course, the strategy can backfire, as was illustrated when McDonald's started writing letters and notifications to small food services in Europe. They told one lunch counter with the McDonald's name to lose the name, even though it was the name of the person who owned the business. The golden arches company suffered a setback when the head of the McDonald clan in Scotland opened a sham restaurant with his name on it. He notified McDonald's that he would be gracious enough not to sue them for using his name without permission (and his claim to having had the name first was certainly easily verifiable by generations of the McDonald clan). Further, he let it be known to McD's and all others that his family insignia was two golden balls. As far as I know, the American McDonald's did not reply, nor did they sue him.

27. Feigning foolishness

King David, Odysseus, Claudius, and an early writer of the I Ching were all men who survived danger by pretending to be insane or mentally deficient. It's not fun to be thought of as stupid, but it is safer than to be reckoned intelligent and therefore dangerous.

The war about other people's opinions is one that has to be fought in your own mind. Once you're clear that there will always be other people who dislike you or have a low opinion of you, you can free yourself up to answer only to God and your own integrity. And then you will not be ruled by what other people think of you.

Fighters often cultivate the opponent's opinion of them. As I wrote above, a well known "leg man" in the martial arts cultivated the opinion of others that--because he was so good at kicks---he was poor at using his punches in a fight. When his big fight came, he defeated his opponent strictly by boxing with him at close range.

A small, lightweight woman kickboxer was attacked by a serial rapist. She slammed a shin kick across his liver and midsection, paralyzing him for a moment with pain and loss of breath. She ran up to her apartment, locked herself in, and phoned the police. He was over six feet tall, and she was five foot one. Her decisive, aggressive kick exploited his opinion that she was a "mere girl" (and a small one at that). (She was also the first of his prey who got a good look at him, and she gave the police his description. Eventually, he was caught and imprisoned.)

28. Remove the ladder after the ascent

Create an opening into a precarious place and draw the opponent into a trap. One application of this stratagem advocated by the Chinese commentators on Sun Tzu was to lure the enemy army into attacking what appears to be your own weakened front line. Once they commit to an attack, half your forces rush their flank or rear, thus enabling you to harass them from two sides.

Luring an antagonistic person into saying too much in front of others, or tricking a boaster into making a claim in front of witnesses that he cannot back up, or getting a commitment from an adversary to do things your way are all methods of removing the ladder after the enemy has ascended your walls. An impatient, overly sensitive, choleric person is prone to say too much, and so the best way to handle such a person is by patience and quietness at the start and then firmness and immoveable resolution at the end.

29. Putting fake blossoms on the tree

All warfare is based on deception.
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 away;
when far away, we must make him believe we are near.
-- Sun Tzu, from Section One, "Laying Plans," AOW
If the above quotation is true, then it is also true that when you are weak, you must appear strong to the opponent.

As I wrote in Letters to a Great Lady I had the opportunity to explain the concepts of warfare to a very refined, wealthy woman whose husband had publically humiliated her after having admitted to an affair to her. After she made the decision to divorce him, he harassed her and stalked her and continued to do things in public to embarass her. When I first wrote to her, she was afraid even to sit across a table from him and speak to him face to face. She had a lot of inner resolve though, and up to that point had met his ridicule with stony and dignified silence. I used Miyamoto Musashi's excellent treatise, The Book of Five Rings in conjunction with Sun Tzu to teach her how to relax in front of her husband and thus unnerve him by her sudden courage.

After a few months of weekly communication with me on these ideas, she had to meet him again in a legal setting. And though inwardly she dreaded it, she had practiced the art of accepting his bad behavior without acquiescing to it or trying to force him to change it. She realized that he would never be sorry for the pain he had caused her, nor had he ever genuinely loved her. But she stopped fighting these things and simply accepted them. Thus, in his presence, when he accused her of this or that or tried to ridicule her, she would simply say things like, "Well, I accept that you have this opinion of me, and it's okay because it demonstrates that I need to divorce you." No matter how outrageous his remarks, she softly turned everything he said to support her actions and decisions until he lost his temper and started yelling at her, frustrated because he could no longer control her emotions.

She still found him to be dreadful, and she never felt at ease when she had to face him. But by hanging the blossoms of the truths she had learned thus far on the branches of her demeanor, speech, and carriage, she thwarted him and made him feel that he was losing control of her. And this, of course, was what he dreaded most.

A beautiful golden goat of the fabled species was contentedly wandering through the semi-wild glens near her home pastures, when a great fierce tiger jumped out onto the path before her.

Now this goat was golden-fleeced and had huge blue eyes and very winning ways, but to the tiger, she smelled like food, and that was all he cared about. So he opened his mouth wide and yelled (since tigers have to boast about every single thing they do), "I'm the great and ferocious Tiger, and you are my next meal!" And then he called her a lot of names that I won't type. (Tigers also berate their prey. Insults are like appetizers to them.)

The beautiful goat said, "Oh please, fierce tiger! Don't eat me! Spare me! Spare yourself!" she said on sudden inspiration.

This checked him. "What do you mean?" he asked. "Speak up or I'll bite off your leg!"

"I am a goat very treasured by the gods," she told him, making things up as she went along. "Don't you see how lovely I am? The gods have set their mark on me."

"Lovely Shmovely!" he shouted at her. "There's only food that's fit to eat and food that's not fit to eat, and you're food that's fit to eat!"

"But if you harm me, the gods will punish you dreadfully," she said. And she shed many tears from her beautful blue eyes. She was really crying from fear for herself, for she didn't think she could convince him not to eat her. But he supposed she was crying out of genuine concern for him and what the gods might do to him. (Tigers are self-absorbed, loud, brash, vain, and always driven by appetite. Do you know anybody like that?)

"How do I know this isn't a trick?" he asked. "Speak up, or I'll eat your ears right off your head!"

Once again, the little goat thought quickly, with a remarkable insight that showed she had more enlightenment than she gave herself credit for. "Oh mighty Tiger, if you want to see how the gods have set their mark on me, just follow me up the path and see what happens," she said.

"If I let you go up the path, you'll run away!" he snapped.

"No, you can follow closely, just a pace or two behind," she told him.

"All right, show me what happens when you walk up the path!" he growled.

So she trotted ahead of him by only two paces, and she was sweating and trembling the whole way. This, of course, made her smell more like food to him than ever, and he kept his eye fixed right on her to make sure she didn't run away.

But then he realized that, as beautiful goat was walking up the path, all of the other animals---the squirrels, rabbits, birds, even the foxes! Took one look at her and raced out of her way, diving for cover. Every single creature scattered and hid as she approached. The forest became very silent and still. And he realized that everything with eyes was staring at her from under cover. He began to be frightened, and he felt that he'd made a dreadful mistake.

At last he stopped her and said, in a much more respectful voice, "You're right. The gods must have their mark on you." And he raced away before the gods could strike him down for all the nasty things he'd said to her at first.

So beautiful goat was left in peace, and she ambled back to her safe pastures. Now, of course, the animals had fled at sight of Tiger right behind goat, and the more curious had dared to stare at the awful sight of Tiger only one or two paces behind his prey. But it didn't occur to gentle goat to brag about her cleverness. She just wanted to get to her fragrant and soft clover and visit her flowers, for goat loves beauty and peace.

But a rat watched the whole thing, and *he* told everybody.

30. Host and guest reversed

This stratagem applies to taking over without violence. Some commentators apply it to swallowing up an ally, rather than an enemy. Either way, it relies on role reversal with the other side. You make the other person dependent on you and give that person reasons to stay dependent. In a negative sense, it was used by the British to snare Chinese trade in the 1800's. The British actively hooked the Chinese people on opium, thus giving them a need to trade with Britain, making them dependent on Britain.

In business, becoming an authority on your boss's job (or the job of any higher person) so that you cause that person to come to you for advice is a means of role reversal. The adroit ladder climber starts by offering free advice and giving guidance, and ultimately the role sticks. The person who has climbed the ladder either takes on the coveted role officially or is otherwise promoted in order to keep his or her expertise available.

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Editor's Note: The final set of stratagems are the riskiest of the entire group, and they require finesse and skill. These are reserved for the high stakes gamble and can be used successfuly only by experienced commanders.

31. Beauty trap

The "Beauty Trap" is the oldest stratagem in the book: use prostitutes to distract the military commander, drug him, or get information from him. The French Resistance in WWII, called the FFI, used this ploy with great success. They employed prostitutes loyal to France who were willing to sleep with Nazi commanders, do anything they wanted, and thus gain information during pillow talk. The prostitutes passed this information on to their FFI comrades.

It may be startling to realize that such an immoral trade would be so successful. But there's a reason to note that this strategy comes towards the end of the list. It is a "last stand" measure, something to use when all else fails. Even in France, it was used by a people whose army had already been defeated, and even while employing this strategy, the French had to be saved by their allies. All the prostitutes in the world could not reassemble the French army and throw the Nazis out of Paris.

Taking the stratagem negatively, we can see that Sun Tzu had a reason to insist that the commander must be a man of integrity and moral uprightness. The commander who does not commit adultery will be immune to this stratagem. Many Chinese generals made it a point of honor to eat exactly what their men ate while in the field. They did not enjoy luxuries until they were home again, and the war was over. This standard of behavior not only wins over the hearts of the foot soldiers, it also ensures that the commander will not be trapped by luxury.

Sex, drugs, gambling, cash, riches, even sympathy and flattery, are "beauty traps" that will break the will of a leader. Moral integrity and a realistic moral inventory of one's own weaknesses help to keep a person on-track in any struggle.

32. Empty city ploy

From Sun Tzu:
If we do not wish to fight, we can prevent
the enemy from engaging us even though
the lines of our encampment be merely traced
out on the ground. All we need do is to throw
something odd and unaccountable in his way.
-- from Section Six, "Weak Points and Strong," AOW
If all is lost, and your resources are exhausted or depleted, try the unexpected. In a few such situations in the past, commanders threw open the gates of their fortress, inviting the enemy to come and attack. Legend has it that one such outnumbered leader of a cavalry stockade, when surrounded by Indians, had the men open the gates and sweep the entryway to the stockade. Allegedly, the Indians were so puzzled by this behavior that they decided not to attack.

Perhaps a better way to read the stratagem is to say that if attack seems inevitible and unwinnable, cause the enemy to believe that you have retreated or deserted the battle field. We know the story of George Washington secretly pulling his men into the dark forest at night and retreating through the woods. When the British attacked the next morning, they found an empty camp.

Well, what if---after the Brits had scrounged through everything and were standing around figuring out how to track Washington---the minutemen had suddenly rushed back through the trees, muskets firing?

In a sense, this was the ploy of the Greeks in the final attack on Troy. The Greeks convinced the Trojan army that they had withdrawn, leaving only the great Trojan horse as a parting offering. Thus, the Greeks created an "empty city" appearance that was so convincing that the men of Troy opened their gates and pulled the great horse within their city walls. They believed that they had nothing left to fear.

One aspect of the deception is to give every sign of the front line being "empty," so that after the enemy assures himself that he has won, you attack. Perhaps this tactic should be used only in situation in which the enemy has demonstrated an upper hand all along and believes himself to be the sure victor.

33. Use the enemy's spies to sow discord in the enemy's camp

In the final chapter of The Art of War, Sun Tzu advocates the use of spies, and he openly advocates bribing the enemy's spies in order to win them over. Once won over, these spies will deceive their former comrades with false information and act against them in the enemy camp. Disputes and discord will arise as the divided spies advise their masters of the situation.

This tactic can be enormously successful, but it is stowed away in the last section of the stratagems because creating double agents and sowing believable rabbit trails in the mind of the opponent require time and a great deal of finesse.

Remember that people tend to believe what they fear and dread the most, and they will actualyl say what they fear the most, but you have to be observant to catch the message. A person's own mouth will act as the spy that reveals his heart and mind. In explaining the wisdom of Musashi and Sun Tzu to the woman I mentioned previously, I noticed that her antagonistic and emotionally abusive husband continually made public comments that he and she were too old to divorce, that she was too old to leave him. I consulted his words as his spies, and I told her they revealed that he was afraid of being old, that he was actually revealing that he feared that the consequences of his actions---coming this late in his life---marked a sad end that he could not remedy. From this we concluded that he was perpetually haunted by a fear of being impotent (in every sense of the word) and unable to control his own life. As events continued to unfold, she came to agree with me. She told me I was wise, but actually this foolish man had betrayed himself!

There's no end of tale bearing among groups of people. But even when you have no access to "spies" as such, remember to listen to what your opponent says. His or her words will reveal the thinking and the heart's deception behind them. And when you know your opponent's thoughts, then you can disrupt and discredit his thinking.

34. Inflict injury on oneself to win the enemy's trust

A strategy that has worked when a leader absolutely had to find out what his foes were thinking was to create an open disruption between himself and a trusted assistant. A king would openly accuse a general of treason. Or a general would openly accuse a lieutenant of insubordination or incompetence. The innocent accused, who was in on the deception, would be whipped, or branded, or beaten, and then banished or tossed into prison. A slightly different tactic would be for the trusted assistant to be deliberately overlooked for a promotion or reward that everybody had assumed he would get.

After several weeks of suffering, the "injured" person would likely be approached by anybody fomenting takeover plans or an assassination attempt. Or he might even seek out the enemies of his leader and offer to help them bring down the person who had treated him so unjustly. The ploy was believable because the suffering of the "injured" person was so convincing. The enemy, already nursing a grievance, would quickly trust a person who had seemingly suffered a similar injury.

The planted person could soon gather abundant information to return to his own superiors and hasten the end of those who were plotting an overthrow or coup.

35. Interlocking stratagems

From Sun Tzu:
Walk in the path defined by rule,
and accommodate yourself to the enemy
until you can fight a decisive battle.
-- from Section Eleven, "The Nine Situations," AOW
If your own forces are exhausted and depleted, then the time is not right to launch a decisive battle. Rather, use all the rules and strategies to whittle down the opponent. Sun Tzu advises that if you have only a small force, you must retreat to rocky and broken terrain to prevent the opponent from making a concerted charge against you. Divide the enemy forces so that you can take them on a little at a time. Fine places easy to defend and force him to make charges that cannot succeed. Create illusions that he strikes at with no success. Annoy him, irritate him, and harass him.

By means of patiently forcing the enemy to come after you and spend up his resources and energy, you open up opportunities for yourself and create more equal conditions.

36. He Who Runs Away Today Lives to Fight Another Day

If you cannot win, then losing is no solution, and dying will not solve any military justice. Therefore, flee. Return when the time is right.

Westerners who have grown up on Hollywood's version of courage may be surprised ot see that the Chinese generals include running away as an acceptable option. But there are a lot of dead brave men who accomplished nothing because they chose to die in a hopeless battle. And there are many generals who wanted to win so much that they retreated when they could not win. Then they figured out new strategies and came fresh to the attack and won.

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End Notes: The stratagems do not have a single author, and their wisdom pre-dates Sun Tzu. Indeed, some stratagists find links between the 36 stratagems and the ancient I-Ching. The 36 stratagems are laid out in Chinese as brief, pithy proverbs. The English translation fails to catch the flavor of this ancient and wise language, but it conveys the meaning. More than just advice on how to win, the stratagems can also be viewed as proverbs of wisdom: observations of the way life runs whether we are at war or not at peace.

A more complete and detailed discussion of the 36 stratagems has been published, but I believe it is now out of print. You can check Bibliofind for copies of Lure the Tiger out of the Mountains: The 36 Stratagems of Ancient China by Gao Yuan, Simon & Schuster, 1991.

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