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The Annotated Art of War (Parts 10.1-13: Six Kinds of Terrain)


Disciplines > Warfare > The Annotated Art of War > Parts 10.1-13: Six Kinds of Terrain

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X. Terrain


Sun Tzu said: Commentary
1. Sun Tzu said: We may distinguish six kinds of terrain, to wit: (1) Accessible ground; (2) entangling ground; (3) temporizing ground; (4) narrow passes; (5) precipitous heights; (6) positions at a great distance from the enemy.

Here are six different types of terrain which are described in more detail in paragraphs below.

Understanding is at the heart of any success. War is fought on the land, which means understanding the land is a core route to success.

Likewise in business there is virtual and geographic territory. Understanding this is key to success.

2. Ground which can be freely traversed by both sides is called accessible. When something is accessible for you, it likely will also be accessible for your enemies.

On open ground, a much stronger army will likely prevail, although even this is open to attacks from all sides.

3. With regard to ground of this nature, be before the enemy in occupying the raised and sunny spots, and carefully guard your line of supplies. Then you will be able to fight with advantage. Accessible ground need not be level, just easy to traverse. Within this, some places will be more advantageous than others. These are worth occupying first.

In accessible ground you may travel far, creating the need for a long and vulnerable supply line which your enemy may try to sever. Effort should be put into protecting this life-giving umbilical cord.

4. Ground which can be abandoned but is hard to re-occupy is called entangling. Ground that is hard to re-occupy includes hills, forests and other areas that give good cover.

Such places are good to keep once you have occupied them. It is important to try to prevent enemies from taking such ground.

5. From a position of this sort, if the enemy is unprepared, you may sally forth and defeat him. But if the enemy is prepared for your coming, and you fail to defeat him, then, return being impossible, disaster will ensue. Entangling ground is good for defending, so unless you are confident of a winning sortie, it may be better to take a defensive stance and let your enemy wear himself out on your defenses.

The worse case is where you leave and cannot return, perhaps because you are cut off or your enemy has taken the entangling ground whilst you were away.

6. When the position is such that neither side will gain by making the first move, it is called temporizing ground. Stalemate can ensue from equality, for example where both hold entangling ground or where there is a disadvantageous obstacle in the way.

Sometimes when neither army is motivated to fight, being equal and bereft of ideas, the ground may be taken as temporizing when it is not.

7. In a position of this sort, even though the enemy should offer us an attractive bait, it will be advisable not to stir forth, but rather to retreat, thus enticing the enemy in his turn; then, when part of his army has come out, we may deliver our attack with advantage. Beware of being lured out of a strong position, especially if the enemy also holds a strong position.

If going forward is disadvantageous then the alternative is to go sideways or backwards. If in doing so you can lure the enemy out into open ground, then you can gain advantage.

8. With regard to narrow passes, if you can occupy them first, let them be strongly garrisoned and await the advent of the enemy. Narrow passes are dangerous if the ground above can be taken and the people below showered from above. If the land above is untenable, then the pass may be held with only a few people, such as in the Spartan adventure at Thermopylae.

Building walls and a defensive garrison can turn a pass into an impregnable castle.

9. Should the army forestall you in occupying a pass, do not go after him if the pass is fully garrisoned, but only if it is weakly garrisoned. If the other side gets to the pass first and has created a garrison, attacking this is wasteful and likely futile, like laying siege.

The best hope is that the enemy is careless and has insufficient guards, allowing you to charge in with a wholesale attack, or maybe creep in at night.

10. With regard to precipitous heights, if you are beforehand with your adversary, you should occupy the raised and sunny spots, and there wait for him to come up. If you can occupy a high place that is warm enough, and if the enemy is obliged or motivated to attack such a position, then the height can give you a strong advantage as you fire down on him from this natural stronghold.
11. If the enemy has occupied them before you, do not follow him, but retreat and try to entice him away. As with entangling ground, the best approach when the enemy is in a position of defensive strength is to lure rather than directly attack.

In general, when the enemy is stronger, then the best tactics are those of subterfuge and surprise.

12. If you are situated at a great distance from the enemy, and the strength of the two armies is equal, it is not easy to provoke a battle, and fighting will be to your disadvantage. When you are far away but wish to fight, them you must approach them over ground that may tire your troops and which may be hazardous and unfriendly, such that when you reach the enemy your troops are exhausted and in poor condition for a fight.
13. These six are the principles connected with Earth. The general who has attained a responsible post must be careful to study them. As with other rule sets, these are derived from Sun Tzu's learning and experience. Study these to determine what you can use to best effect.



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