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Beat the Grass to Startle the Snake

 

Disciplines > Warfare > The 36 Stratagems > Beat the Grass to Startle the Snake

Stratagem | History | Discussion | See also

This stratagem number: 13

This group: Stratagems for Attack
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Stratagem

Action

Do something that surprises, startles and perhaps frightens the enemy.

Then watch what they do and take advantage of any error, over-reaction or signs of confusion or fear.

A surprise attack may well reveal the hand of the enemy as they deploy a key strategy in response. This gives you useful information as you retreat and prepare for the main battle.

Number

This is the thirteenth stratagem of thirty-six.

Group name

Stratagems for Attack

Alternative names

Beat the Grass to Startle the Snakes

Or even:

Shock and Awe

History

During the Tang dynasty, the bookkeeper of an unpopular magistrate called Wang Lu received a letter from the local people accusing him of corruption. Wang Lu wrote on the letter 'by merely beating the grass, you have startled the snake hiding within'. This perhaps implied that he recognized the ploy, and was ready to fight back. Maybe also he realized that the stratagem had worked well as a warning to him that the population would not stand for his corrupt ways.

Discussion

When startled, a person's fight-or-flight reaction is triggered where they may retreat, fight back or even freeze, like a rabbit in the headlights of an oncoming car. What they will actually do may be unpredictable, which makes this stratagem one that should be used with care.

A person (or army) who feels threatened may react by attacking the source of the threat. You can avoid them attacking you by making them think the threat is coming from elsewhere or just an unknown source.

An unmoving opponent can be confusing as their strategy is unclear. A common tactic in martial arts is to stamp or slap to provoke a reaction, making them move in the direction they were thinking about.

Sending letters from lawyers is a common way of startling both individuals and companies. This can be used to make them back down from outrageous claims.

See also

Surprise principle, Arousal principle, Confusion in war, Fear in war, Surprise attack, Feint

 

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