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The Annotated Art of War (Parts 6.13-20: Knowing and Secrecy)


Disciplines > Warfare > The Annotated Art of War > Parts 6.13-20: Knowing and Secrecy

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VI. Weak Points and Strong


Sun Tzu said: Commentary
13. By discovering the enemy's dispositions and remaining invisible ourselves, we can keep our forces concentrated, while the enemy's must be divided.

If you know them and how they are likely to act, then you can make more reliable plans. This includes only defending where they will very likely attack, allowing you to make these forces stronger.

If you conceal your thoughts from them, then they cannot do the same to you, so increasing your advantage. They hence need to have defenses set up in many places in case you attack there.

If they do not know where your troops are positioned, then they may be paralyzed by indecision and risk.

It is often easier to get some information on a diffused force. If your forces are in one position, but concealed, then this adds to the confusion of the enemy. In this way, a concentrated force can gain further advantage.

While industrial espionage is frowned upon, it does happen. At the very least it makes sense to try to work out what their strategies may be and to respond accordingly.

14. We can form a single united body, while the enemy must split up into fractions. Hence there will be a whole pitted against separate parts of a whole, which means that we shall be many to the enemy's few. From your superior knowledge of their methods and intent, you can throw your whole force into the weakest area.

With their inferior knowledge about you, they will not know where to strike and so hold back (also to cover their defenses).

In business you also have limited resources. If you can use these to good effect you can win even if you have less than your competitors.

15. And if we are able thus to attack an inferior force with a superior one, our opponents will be in dire straits. If they have an inferior force in the first place, then to defend against possibilities, they will be spread exceedingly thin.

Even if they cluster together, your superior force will still easily defeat them.

16. The spot where we intend to fight must not be made known; for then the enemy will have to prepare against a possible attack at several different points; and his forces being thus distributed in many directions, the numbers we shall have to face at any given point will be proportionately few. When you have identified their weaker spots, even greater secrecy is needed, lest they learn your plans and rush to shore up the defense at your point of attack.

Even if they have a superior overall force, you can make them place an inferior force at each position by concealing your intent. In this way, your inferior total force can defeat their superior total force.

17. For should the enemy strengthen his van, he will weaken his rear; should he strengthen his rear, he will weaken his van; should he strengthen his left, he will weaken his right; should he strengthen his right, he will weaken his left. If he sends reinforcements everywhere, he will everywhere be weak. The 'van' is the vanguard, the forces at the front.

To strengthen any one part requires taking troops from elsewhere, so weakening that source.

When forces are spread evenly, each point is equally weak or strong. If you have a force greater than this 'average' then you can penetrate any defense they have.

There is skill in knowing how to spread the concentration of troops, including allowing the enemy smaller wins in order that your larger force can achieve a greater victory.

18. Numerical weakness comes from having to prepare against possible attacks; numerical strength, from compelling our adversary to make these preparations against us. The number of troops at any position is reduced by the need to spread defenses and increased by a lack of need to defend in many positions.
19. Knowing the place and the time of the coming battle, we may concentrate from the greatest distances in order to fight. When you know when and where a battle will be, then you have time to bring more troops to the battlefield. The longer you have, the further the distance you can move them and hence, even if your troops are dispersed, you can assemble a powerful host.

Timing can be critical in battles, including late but timely arrival of reinforcements that can turn fortunes around.

20. But if neither time nor place be known, then the left wing will be impotent to succor the right, the right equally impotent to succor the left, the van unable to relieve the rear, or the rear to support the van. How much more so if the furthest portions of the army are anything under a hundred LI apart, and even the nearest are separated by several LI! If there is no time to bring in reinforcements or rearrange troops, then your defenses are as they are now, without chance of rearrangement or strengthening.

In business there are many surprises and the action of competitors may mean you have to react. Preparation is key here. If you have seen the scenario and readied yourself then you may be able to respond sufficiently.



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