Sunday, December 22, 2013

Applications: Sun Tzu's "Art of War"

This post is a follow up from my Martial Arts Musings. This follow up post continues for a series which I've labeled in the sidebar appropriately under "martial arts." This particular post focuses upon highlight excerpts and my own reflections from Sun Tzu's Art of War. The follow up to this post will feature Musashi's Book of Five Rings.

From my last post, I concluded that, for myself, all martial arts have merit to study so long as they meet these three criteria/principles:
  • The system must be biomechanically sound (it must make sense)
  • The art must employ and value efficiency of movement (it really cannot be "flashy")
  • The training must yield situationally adaptable skill sets (it needs to work in the vast majority of possibilities, environments, and scenarios)

For this post, I'm going to center around the writings of Sun Tzu. Thousands of years ago, the most famous Chinese military strategists, Sun Tzu, compiled content for which the "Art of War" was composed. This book contains topics and tactics for which are readily applicable not only to war and martial arts - this book spans wisdom into social psychology, economics, politics, and business.

Here begins a collection of my favorite quotes and content from Sun Tzu with some commentary from yours truly:

Favorite Quotes from Sun Tzu's Art of War

"Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without peril. If you are ignorant of the enemy and know only yourself, you will stand equal chances of winning and losing. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you are bound to be defeated in every battle."

I find this to be one of the self-evident and classic of Sun Tzu's writings. How true it is, whether in the world of martial arts, business, politics, or even customer service (not necessarily seeing the customer as "the enemy" but the problem set of satisfying the customer as "the enemy) - self awareness and situational awareness are the keys to success. Particularly when it comes to customer satisfaction, the firm providing the service must be very keen on being sure they are providing what they customer wants, not necessarily what the firm wants to provide.

"There is no fixed pattern in the use of tactics in war, just as there is no constant course in the flow of water. He who wins modifies his tactics in accordance with the changing enemy situation and this works miracles."

Being adaptable; fluid; amorphous, yet determinant - aren't these also of pivotal importance in life? If we are stuck in our ways, we will become stuck in rough terrain. If we do not change with the situation, the situation will overwhelm us. SO MUCH APPLICABILITY to our current times of healthcare economics. 

"There are five weaknesses of character for a commander. If he is stubborn and reckless, he may be deceived and killed. If he fears death more than anything else, he may be captured. If he is hot tempered, he may be provoked. If he is honest but has too delicate a sense of honor, he is open to insult. If he is too compassionate towards his people, he may be easily troubled and upset."

I feel that this quote is very telling for all levels of management. If anything, this quote tells us how to position ourselves against our "enemy" - but more importantly - how to position ourselves that we might not get manipulated by those who have studied the Art of War.

"If the enemy is close at hand and yet remains quiet, he is relying on the natural strength of his position; if he is at a distance and yet provokes you, he is luring you to advance; if he positions himself on level ground, it is because he has some advantage... If his emissaries sound humble and yet he steps up his readiness for war, he plans to advance; if their language is belligerent and they put on aggressive air, he plans to retreat..."

I just love this quote. How true! This should bring particular light to business dealings. Or, perhaps, if you enjoy a flutter at poker. #KeepItInMind!

"There are five factors leading to constant victory: A commander who has the trust of his sovereign and can direct his battles independently wins; one who knows the way of war wins; one who has the support of his soldiers wins; one who can unite his subordinates wins; and one who is adept at analyzing the enemy and sizing up the terrain wins."

This is a great expansion on some of the situational factors in warfare, and, in any business dealing. If a corporate structure is untrusting of line staff, the staff will get frustrated. If line staff do not respect nor like their managers, a department will eventually fail. This is true also for the team leads, shift leads, etc. which serve under their managers - much like the NCO's of our current world military systems.

"There are five factors leading to frequent defeat: A commander who is constrained by his sovereign loses; one who does not know the way of war loses; one who is at cross purposes with his generals loses; one who does not know how to use spies loses; and one who does not have the support of his soldiers loses."

I feel the lesson here is that when any level of management micromanages the tier below, it spells T-R-O-U-B-L-E. All lines and levels of business should be appropriately empowered to deal with their own frontline issues. I believe Ritz Carlton allows their line staff levity up to $1000 of value for service recovery until a supervisor needs to be informed/approve further value options. The line about "the spies" tells me that those who do not know how to acquire nor process information are lost - you will know nothing about your enemy.

Regarding Strengthening the Army:
King - "What then is the most crucial (to strengthening the army)?"
Sun - "Make the country prosperous."

"Against an enemy superior in number, it is possible to divide it into pockets so that they are unable to help each other... it is possible to make the well-armed troops unable to fully display their power, to make the courageous and fierce soldiers unable to protect their generals... Once you have exhausted the enemy and demoralized his generals and soldiers, then you are sure of victory. You can attack his right flank while tying down his left flanks so that it cannot come to the former's rescue, and vice versa. Then the enemy will find that his troops have been immobilized and cannot fight a battle, that he has few troops close by to meet his needs and the other forces have been distanced far away, rendering them useless to him..."

Bigger doesn't always mean better. Better means better. I feel this quote helps me during situations when the task seems insurmountable. Recalling that I can tie down the flanks (an item/facet/variable) of the situation allows me to deal with the mass of the situation at large. When the situation no longer remains a moving target, it becomes quiet easy to deal with.

Regarding Five Types of Army:
"There are five types of army: 1) powerful and tenacious, 2) arrogant and imperious, 3) head-strong and self-willed, 4) timid and suspicious, and 5) weak and hesitant.

When up against a powerful and tenacious enemy, appearing to be weak and await your chance. When faced by the arrogant and imperious, appear to be respectful and find an opportunity to eliminate him. When tackling the headstrong and self-willed, overcome him by inducement. When handling the timid and suspicious, threaten his front, harass his flanks and cut off his supply line by digging deep gullies and building high ramparts. When tackling a weak and hesitant enemy, frighten him with an uproar, disturb him with probes, set on him should he ever dare come out and encircle him if he doesn't."

Sun Tzu opened up his book with his famous quote: "All warfare is based on deception." This is an expansion of wisdom surrounding that opening statement. Again, I feel this is a big point of knowing yourself as well as your enemy. These are things you can do to subdue an opposing force; these are also ways you can, yourself, become subdued - be aware!

"An army will end in ruin if it hesitates when favored with excellent conditions, if it does not know how to make timely use of opportunities and if it realized its mistakes but does not know how to act correctly."

All too often, people hesitate at the moment of truth. When sparring, I'm certainly guilty of it - so many missed opportunities if I just wasn't mentally worried about "What if this doesn't work? I'll lose my position... THEN, I'll have to struggle the rest of the match." Additionally, if things are going wrong, one must develop the awareness to reverse the course swiftly and avoid disaster.

Closing Thoughts:
I gather that much of Sun Tzu's writings have much to do with a keen application of military strategy, martial arts, political science, economics, and psychology in the form of having a heightened levels of awareness of the situation, yourself, and your opponent. All three elements are required to ensure success and all three elements are equally important - one cannot just rely upon the single dimension. I feel that much of the wisdom written by Sun Tzu has amazing applications in business - particularly in business negotiations and in advanced marketing concepts - primarily in branding a service (which is quite a difficult thing to do).

I hope you've enjoyed this martial arts musing post and look forward to any stimulation discussion that sprouts. Take care!


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