Lose Not… to Win

Anyone who have even the slightest interest in ancient warfare would have heard of the Sun Tzu’s “Art of War”,  

The book (or should I say manuscript), written around 2,500 years ago, has since become a holy book of sorts for businessmen, political leaders, and purportedly, some football coaches (not to mention it makea a great ornament on your bookshelf to impress friends with).

But over the years, I have found many of those who claimed to have studied the book (for convenience sake, I am going to call it a book) do not really understand of what Sun Tzu was trying to say. If ask them on what it is all about, most would tell you, that it teaches them “how to win wars”.

Or is it so??   

Let’s take a look at this verse in Chapter 4 (军形):

“昔之善战者,先为不可胜,以待敌之可胜。不可胜在己,可胜在敌。故善战者,能为不可胜,不能使敌之必可胜。”

(roughly translated) “A good general can only make himself invincible against defeat, but he cannot guarantee the defeat of the enemy, as defence lies in our own hands, but the opportunity for attack lies with (the mistakes of) the other side.”

As we can see, Sun Tzu was advocating defense, NOT offense. He knew, in something as dynamic as war, one can never “plan to win”, only “plan NOT to lose” in something as . An insight that seems to escape many trainers and business authors who actually have the cheek to use “Art of War” as their topic.    

In fact, the venerable (and very dead) Master Sun warned against being someone who “wins 100% of his battles”.

“是故百战百胜,非善之善也;不战而屈人之兵,善之善者也。”

“…to fight and conquer in all your battles is NOT the best way; the best way is to conquer without fighting.”

Contrast it to the oft-misquoted line of:

“知己知彼,百战百胜”

“know thyself, know your enemy and you will win 100% of your battles”

You would never find the above verse in the book, but somehow, it got stuck, and people would parrot it and re-parrot it in their trainings or speeches as the definitive verse for the Art of War, without bothering to check with the source.

So be real careful when you it quoted, because you would know the speaker don’t really know what he is talking about.

An alleged portrait of Sun Tzu, the man who had a bestseller thousands of years after his death.

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