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Fool the Sky to Cross the Sea


Disciplines > Warfare > The 36 Stratagems > Fool the Sky to Cross the Sea

Stratagem | History | Discussion | See also

This stratagem number: 1

This group: Stratagems When Commanding Superiority
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Openly act as if you are intending one thing then do something else.

Create false alarms until they no longer take notice of alarms.

Lull them into a sense of false security by appearing innocuous. Then when they ignore you, you can attack at will.

You can also do the reverse, acting mysteriously and pretending to know things you do not. When you try different things, watch their responses. They will react most strongly to that which worries them most.


This is the first stratagem of thirty-six.


Stratagems When Commanding Superiority

Alternative names

Fool the Emperor to Cross the Sea

Deceive the Heavens to Cross the Ocean

Cross the Ocean in Broad Daylight

Or even:

Hide in the Open

Hide in Plain Sight

Pull the Wool Over Their Eyes


In 643, the Tang Emperor was unhappy about crossing the sea to fight Koguryo. So his general, Xue Rengui, led him down a dark tunnel to a big wooden room where they feasted for several days. Unknown to the Emperor, the room was in the ship!

in 589, He Nuobi defeated Chen Shubao by conducting exercises nearby until Chen ignored him. Then after Chen had been out celebrating, Nuobi suddenly swept in, facing hardly any defending forces.

In the second world war, the Nazis leaked information so often about an imminent invasion of France they were eventually ignored. The Allies did this too, parachuting mannequins several times before the real Normandy invasion and setting up other fake operations.


When everything can be seen, you cannot sneak up on your enemy, so you need a deceptive strategy (which is a common theme across many of the 36 Stratagems).

In some naming of this stratagem, 'the sky' is replaced by 'the Emperor', who is all-seeing and may be considered as a god (it also refers to the original Tang episode).

When we see new things, we look for threats. But when we become familiar, we assume that the same level of threat continues, and so we come to ignore apparently harmless things we have seen before. In this way we adapt to a wide range of situations.

This strategy can be applied to any situation where you want to get close and there is nowhere to hide. The key is to appear non-threatening until it is too late for them to respond.

This duality of nature is reflected in how we think and behave, and can be used in changing minds. If you tell a person to look up, they must think of down in order to not look there. Hence you can play with overt and covert action, familiarity and surprise, regularity with variation, and so on.

See also

Art of War: Deception, Deceit, Conceal Tactics

Deception principle, Distraction principle, Confusion principle

Learning, Meaning, Adaptation


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