The Martial strategy of Sun Tzu…Laying Plans Part I….

The Martial strategy of Sun Tzu…Laying Plans Part I….

When starting this blog my intention was to direct it to those that were beginners or that were studying the artial arts on their own without an teacher.  Because it is a written blog it has limitations such as, you can’t demonstrate a technique for example.  That would have to be a Video blog which I do not have the time or equipment to make that happen.  I think most martial arts schools do a pretty good job of teaching techniques.  What is lacking from the majority of the schools is any teaching on martial philosophy or principles.  When I watch any MMA match it is obvious that very few of the fighters have any concept of timing, distance, ranges, angles, combinations, body mechanics, or strategy.  So since the written blog is adequate to communicate these ideas I will focus my efforts there.

So I have decided to start a series of blogs on the master of martial strategy himself, Sun Tzu.  Sun Tzu wrote his classic, The Art of war, during the Warring States period (480 to 221 BCE) in China.  He wrote this art of strategy and warfare to direct an army to protect a country.  So not all of his instruction is applicable to an individual in a fight for their life.  In the quotes that I do present if you see him mention the “state”, just transpose “state” to “you”.  Also in addition to omitting some of the lines of the text I won’t necessarily be presenting them in the order that they appear in his text.  If you find them helpful than I urge you to find one of the many translations of the Art or war for further study.  Lastly Sun Tzu wrote this text with the idea of protecting the state (country) in the life or death situation of war.  So these ideas certainly pertain to real self-defense situations and that is my purpose for conveying them but many could be applied to MMA or other competitions as well.


Laying Plans

“The art of war is of vital importance to the state.  It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.”

“Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat; how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.”

Sun Tzu


In my blog, “Martial arts, Understand your purpose….” I discuss how little thought, the vast majority of people beginning to learn the Martial arts, give to deciding which Martial art or school they will study.  There are many reasons for this and because these people are new to Martial arts they do not really understand why this consideration is so important.  If you change “the state” and “the general” to you, and “temple” to your mind, in the quote above he gives very good reasons why it matters.  If you are choosing to learn the Martial arts for self-defense reasons it is critical that you give your choice ample thought. It isn’t the style per say but how they practice and for what purpose.  If you are learning for many of the other reasons like, health, sport, competition, or discipline then it doesn’t really matter.  Be aware that while you can gain good health and the like in most Martial arts that are good for self-defense you cannot gain good self-defense skills from the arts that are taught for health or sport.  As you are being attacked is no time to realize that you have made the wrong choice or that the training you have been participating in is not effective to save your life right now, in this situation.

Although most techniques from any martial art in and of their selves could be used in a self-defense situation the method of how you learn to use them is completely different from one school to another.  If the art is for health you most likely will not practice any sparing or defenses against different attacks. If the art is for sport there are rules, and on the street there are none!  So even though you may spar, because of the rules that you follow you will develop bad habits.  In sport Karate or Tae Kwon do (nothing against these styles other than the sport emphasis mentioned as compared to self-defense ) there are rules against striking the groin, for obvious reasons.  So when these people spar they have no fear of being hit in the groin so they favor high kicks that leave their groin exposed.  An attacker on the street will not abide by these or any rules.  There is an old adage, “practice as you will fight”.  It is well known that when you practice things in a certain way over and over you develop a muscle memory.  So when you are put in a situation where you are under pressure, being mugged for example, you will likely do the same thing in the same way that you have practiced over and over.  There are many more examples of this other than a groin strike but the result is the same, it can be fatal. If you are learning a martial art for self-defense, which this series is directed, your method of practice is crucial:

Your practice of the techniques must be a realistic as possible.

It must contain detailed instruction of the execution of the individual techniques the particular system is comprised of.

It must contain instruction of the principles behind the techniques, what makes them work.

It must contain pair practice of the individual techniques.

It must contain some form of solo practice, kata, juru, form…etc.

It must contain some form of sensitivity training, push hands, Hubud, chi sao…etc.

It must contain as realistic as possible sparing.

Lastly and probably the most difficult to find it must contain a philosophy of how to make all that you learn work together when the time of need comes.


We will get more into the meat of Sun Tzu text in the next installment of the series.  This was just meant to be an introduction. The lessons of Sin Tzu will help with the last one as his strategy can be applied to any martial art regardless of style.  The reason for this is although the situations or weapons involved may change over time, like the principles behind physical techniques you learn, the principals behind his martial strategy are true and therefore do not change with time.   I will leave you with another applicable quote that did not originate with Sun Tzu but carries the same sentiment:

“Methods are many

Principles are few

Methods Change

Principles stay true”


**NOTE**  Over many years of studying the martial arts I wrote down any saying that I heard that seemed important to me.  Unfortunately for some reason, not intentional, I did not write down where the quote came from.  This was mainly due to the fact that at the time I wrote them down they were for my own personal use and study.  I was looking for a way to ingest them into my own practice. At that time I had no idea that someday many years in the future I would be writing a blog on the subject.  I just feel compelled to share these words of wisdom as they helped form my own martial philosophy.  I claim no credit for creating them whatsoever.  If anyone reading these blogs recognizes any of them and knows the source please let me know and I will surly give the person that uttered the words full credit.

One thought on “The Martial strategy of Sun Tzu…Laying Plans Part I….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s