XI. THE NINE SITUATIONS
Sun Tzu said: The art of war recognizes nine varieties of ground: (1) Dispersive ground; (2) facile ground; (3) contentious ground;
(4) open ground; (5) ground of intersecting highways; (6) serious ground; (7) difficult ground; (8) hemmed-in ground;
(9) desperate ground.
When a chieftain is fighting in his own territory,
it is dispersive ground.
When he has penetrated into hostile territory,
but to no great distance, it is facile ground.
Ground the possession of which imports great
advantage to either side, is contentious ground.
Ground on which each side has liberty of movement
is open ground.
Ground which forms the key to three contiguous states,
so that he who occupies it first has most of the Empire
at his command, is a ground of intersecting highways.
When an army has penetrated into the heart of a
hostile country, leaving a number of fortified cities
in its rear, it is serious ground.
Mountain forests, rugged steeps, marshes and fens--all
country that is hard to traverse: this is difficult ground.
Ground which is reached through narrow gorges,
and from which we can only retire by tortuous paths,
so that a small number of the enemy would suffice to crush
a large body of our men: this is hemmed in ground.
Ground on which we can only be saved from
destruction by fighting without delay, is desperate ground.
On dispersive ground, therefore, fight not.
On facile ground, halt not. On contentious ground,
On open ground, do not try to block the enemy's way.
On the ground of intersecting highways, join hands
with your allies.
On serious ground, gather in plunder.
In difficult ground, keep steadily on the march.
On hemmed-in ground, resort to stratagem.
On desperate ground, fight.
Those who were called skillful leaders of old knew
how to drive a wedge between the enemy's front and rear;
to prevent co-operation between his large and small divisions;
to hinder the good troops from rescuing the bad,
the officers from rallying their men.
When the enemy's men were united, they managed
to keep them in disorder.
When it was to their advantage, they made
a forward move; when otherwise, they stopped still.
If asked how to cope with a great host of the enemy
in orderly array and on the point of marching to the attack,
I should say: "Begin by seizing something which your
opponent holds dear; then he will be amenable to your will."
Rapidity is the essence of war: take advantage of
the enemy's unreadiness, make your way by unexpected routes,
and attack unguarded spots.
The following are the principles to be observed
by an invading force: The further you penetrate into
a country, the greater will be the solidarity of your troops,
and thus the defenders will not prevail against you.
Make forays in fertile country in order to supply
your army with food.
Carefully study the well-being of your men,
and do not overtax them. Concentrate your energy and hoard
your strength. Keep your army continually on the move,
and devise unfathomable plans.
Throw your soldiers into positions whence there
is no escape, and they will prefer death to flight.
If they will face death, there is nothing they may
not achieve. Officers and men alike will put forth
their uttermost strength.
Soldiers when in desperate straits lose
the sense of fear. If there is no place of refuge,
they will stand firm. If they are in hostile country,
they will show a stubborn front. If there is no help
for it, they will fight hard.
Thus, without waiting to be marshaled, the soldiers
will be constantly on the qui vive; without waiting to
be asked, they will do your will; without restrictions,
they will be faithful; without giving orders, they can
Prohibit the taking of omens, and do away with
superstitious doubts. Then, until death itself comes,
no calamity need be feared.
If our soldiers are not overburdened with money,
it is not because they have a distaste for riches;
if their lives are not unduly long, it is not because they
are disinclined to longevity.
On the day they are ordered out to battle,
your soldiers may weep, those sitting up bedewing
their garments, and those lying down letting the tears run
down their cheeks. But let them once be brought to bay,
and they will display the courage of a Chu or a Kuei.
The skillful tactician may be likened to the
shuai-jan. Now the shuai-jan is a snake that is found
in the ChUng mountains. Strike at its head, and you
will be attacked by its tail; strike at its tail, and you
will be attacked by its head; strike at its middle,
and you will be attacked by head and tail both.
Asked if an army can be made to imitate the shuai-jan,
I should answer, Yes. For the men of Wu and the men
of Yueh are enemies; yet if they are crossing a river
in the same boat and are caught by a storm, they will come
to each other's assistance just as the left hand helps the right.
Hence it is not enough to put one's trust
in the tethering of horses, and the burying of chariot
wheels in the ground
The principle on which to manage an army is to set
up one standard of courage which all must reach.
How to make the best of both strong and weak--that
is a question involving the proper use of ground.
Thus the skillful general conducts his army just
as though he were leading a single man, willy-nilly, by
It is the business of a general to be quiet and thus
ensure secrecy; upright and just, and thus maintain order.
He must be able to mystify his officers and men
by false reports and appearances, and thus keep them
in total ignorance.
By altering his arrangements and changing
his plans, he keeps the enemy without definite knowledge.
By shifting his camp and taking circuitous routes,
he prevents the enemy from anticipating his purpose.
At the critical moment, the leader of an army
acts like one who has climbed up a height and then kicks
away the ladder behind him. He carries his men deep
into hostile territory before he shows his hand.
He burns his boats and breaks his cooking-pots;
like a shepherd driving a flock of sheep, he drives
his men this way and that, and nothing knows whither he
To muster his host and bring it into danger:--this
may be termed the business of the general.
The different measures suited to the nine
varieties of ground; the expediency of aggressive or
defensive tactics; and the fundamental laws of human nature:
these are things that must most certainly be studied.
When invading hostile territory, the general
principle is, that penetrating deeply brings cohesion;
penetrating but a short way means dispersion.
When you leave your own country behind, and take
your army across neighborhood territory, you find yourself
on critical ground. When there are means of communication
on all four sides, the ground is one of intersecting highways.
When you penetrate deeply into a country, it is
serious ground. When you penetrate but a little way,
it is facile ground.
When you have the enemy's strongholds on your rear,
and narrow passes in front, it is hemmed-in ground.
When there is no place of refuge at all, it is desperate ground.
Therefore, on dispersive ground, I would inspire
my men with unity of purpose. On facile ground, I would
see that there is close connection between all parts
of my army.
On contentious ground, I would hurry up my rear.
On open ground, I would keep a vigilant eye
on my defenses. On ground of intersecting highways,
I would consolidate my alliances.
On serious ground, I would try to ensure
a continuous stream of supplies. On difficult ground,
I would keep pushing on along the road.
On hemmed-in ground, I would block any way
of retreat. On desperate ground, I would proclaim
to my soldiers the hopelessness of saving their lives.
For it is the soldier's disposition to offer
an obstinate resistance when surrounded, to fight hard
when he cannot help himself, and to obey promptly when he
has fallen into danger.
We cannot enter into alliance with neighboring
princes until we are acquainted with their designs. We are
not fit to lead an army on the march unless we are familiar
with the face of the country--its mountains and forests,
its pitfalls and precipices, its marshes and swamps.
We shall be unable to turn natural advantages to account
unless we make use of local guides.
To be ignored of any one of the following four
or five principles does not befit a warlike prince.
When a warlike prince attacks a powerful state,
his generalship shows itself in preventing the concentration
of the enemy's forces. He overawes his opponents,
and their allies are prevented from joining against him.
Hence he does not strive to ally himself with all
and sundry, nor does he foster the power of other states.
He carries out his own secret designs, keeping his
antagonists in awe. Thus he is able to capture their
cities and overthrow their kingdoms.
Bestow rewards without regard to rule,
issue orders without regard to previous arrangements;
and you will be able to handle a whole army as though
you had to do with but a single man.
Confront your soldiers with the deed itself;
never let them know your design. When the outlook is bright,
bring it before their eyes; but tell them nothing when
the situation is gloomy.
Place your army in deadly peril, and it will survive;
plunge it into desperate straits, and it will come off
For it is precisely when a force has fallen into
harm's way that is capable of striking a blow for victory.
Success in warfare is gained by carefully
accommodating ourselves to the enemy's purpose.
By persistently hanging on the enemy's flank, we shall
succeed in the long run in killing the commander-in-chief.
This is called ability to accomplish a thing
by sheer cunning.
On the day that you take up your command,
block the frontier passes, destroy the official tallies,
and stop the passage of all emissaries.
Be stern in the council-chamber, so that you
may control the situation.
If the enemy leaves a door open, you must rush in.
Forestall your opponent by seizing what he holds dear,
and subtly contrive to time his arrival on the ground.
Walk in the path defined by rule, and accommodate
yourself to the enemy until you can fight a decisive battle.
At first, then, exhibit the coyness of a maiden,
until the enemy gives you an opening; afterwards emulate
the rapidity of a running hare, and it will be too late
for the enemy to oppose you.