The Martial strategy of Sun Tzu…Attack by Stratagem Part I

The Martial strategy of Sun Tzu…Attack by Stratagem Part I

“In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy’s country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not good.

Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence, supreme excellence consist of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.

Thus the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy’s plan; the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy’s forces.

Therefore, the skillful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field.

With his forces intact he will dispute the mastery of the Empire, and thus, without losing a man, his triumph will be complete. This method of attacking by Stratagem.”


Sun Tzu mentions “breaking the enemy’s resistance” and “subduing the enemy” without fighting. So how can we apply this idea to self-defense?  I know I will probably get some eye rolling with this but it really is obvious and not followed by so many people.  I know you have probably heard it all before but it has to be mentioned.  The best option you have is situational awareness.  Avoiding being in a bad situation in the first place is the best defense. This is the fighting without fighting. It is not just something in a bad 1970’s Kungfu movie (The art of fighting without fighting).  Your strategy of life should not start the moment you are attacked.  You should merge good strategy in with your everyday life. Using your brain power to avoid being in or where a conflict might begin.  Although in a sense this is relatively simple and an exercise in common sense it is at the same time somewhat difficult to convey because people are generally looking for a “what do I do if they do that” sort of answer.  This way of thinking will never work because, just like in martial arts practice, whatever response you practice to one situation there will always be a different situation where that response does not work.  This is where learning some principles that you can apply in any situation is better.  Let’s start with a simple one.


Principle #1 Darkness is not your friend.

Where are you most likely to be attacked, in the daytime or at night? In the dark or a well-lit area?  Well obviously in the dark or at night.  The darkness gives the attacker an advantage because he has surprise and the cloak of darkness on his side.  So ideally if we avoid being by ourselves in dark places that eliminates that threat right?  Well, yes it does but of course life is not that simple.  The principle here is to recognize that being in the dark especially on your own puts you at a high risk. So if it can be avoided that is the simplest way. So if you have to go into a dark area what can you do?  The first thing is don’t go alone. Go in a group or at least with one other person.  Having someone else with you will not stop all attackers but it improves your chances, if you are attacked, greatly.

Another very simple concept is parking your car in a well-lit area not in a space that you know will be dark when you come back out.  While you are still inside the building where there is light, get your keys out and have the key to your car between your fingers before you exit the building.  This way when you get to the car you are ready to quickly open it, get in, and look the car door behind you.  Many women will walk to their car with their keys in their purse and then stand by the car in the dark rummaging through the purse trying to find the keys.  The whole time they are focused on finding the keys they are not looking and aware of who may be in the shadows.


Principle #2 Be aware of who and what is around you.

The next principle is to be generally aware of your surroundings.  Whether it is dark or light this makes sense.  Look around how many people do you see walking around with a phone in their face.  Are they aware of what is going on around them?  They don’t even need an attacker.  How many have you heard that have walked into things, walked in front of cars, fallen into holes?  I even saw a video recently of someone walking right off the edge of the platform in a subway and then get hit by a train!  How are these people aware?  When you are moving in an unfamiliar place keep your eyes open and be aware of who and what is going on around you. Don’t totally focus on something right in front of you, like the phone.

Another good example of this is going to an ATM machine.  People will go up to the machine and then get engrossed in putting in their numbers and checking their balance but are totally unaware that someone has come up behind them.  Before they know it they are getting mugged. This is why they put those little convex mirrors right at eye level.  Even if you need to keep looking forward with the mirror you can still see behind you.

A friend of mine has a sister that lives in Washington D.C.  She has an alarm system on her home where you have to enter a code to disarm it before you enter the house.  One day after work she came home and was having trouble putting in her code to disarm the alarm system because she was carrying a lot of stuff in her hands.  While she was engrossed in trying to shuffle the stuff from hand to hand so she wouldn’t drop it while trying to put the code in she had not realized that two men had come up behind her.  They had guns and one of them shot her and left her bleeding on the front step while they both went in to see if there was actually anything inside worth stealing (this is how much these thugs value your life).   Luckily she ended up surviving the gun shot.  I am not saying that if these two thugs with guns had wanted to get into her house that they wouldn’t have if she was just practicing awareness.  The point is if she would have put the stuff down and had been looking around she may have been able to enter the code correctly and got in the house before the two men got to her.  She could have set the alarm off on purpose and maybe scared the thugs away.  The point is if she had been aware she would at least have some options.

It has become habit for me that when I go into any restaurant, café, or bar I sit with my back to the wall facing toward the entrance.  This is not paranoia.  I have lived half my life overseas where terrorism, among other things, is a real threat.  Sitting where there is nothing or no one behind you, even if you cannot sit with your back to the wall just makes sense. You can see what is happening inside the establishment and who is coming in the door while you are having a conversation or eating your food.


Principle #3 Don’t appear venerable.

If you go out somewhere and get blinded out of your mind (drunk) and decide to walk home by yourself you are obviously an easy target.  Because you are not in your normal state of mind you are not aware of what is going on around you.  Also if you are very drunk you cannot be in any condition to defend yourself should you be attacked.  Lastly since alcohol removes you inhibitions if you are threatened you may wrongly feel you are somehow invincible.   Criminals would prefer to attack an easy target.


Principle #4 Don’t draw attention to yourself.

If you travel overseas all you have to do is look around and you can pick out all the tourist.  They are often constantly looking up at the sites or looking confused about where they are.  They also will often dress in a way that is totally different than the locals.  And sadly most westerners for some reason are loud!   All of these things makes it obvious that you are a tourist and therefore at target.  Tourist generally equal money in the mind of a crook.


These all seem like simple common sense things but people often make all of these mistakes.  There are of course many more but these give you the basic idea. So what I am saying is that your strategy to “fight without fighting” or to “win a fight without fighting” should become part of your lifestyle or habit. “Thus the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy’s plan” If you are not where the attacker wants you to be or where it is his advantage you have balked the enemy’s plan.  If you don’t stand out as being an easy target you reduce the chances that an attacker will pick you to attack.


“Therefore, the skillful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field.”


As in the last section we covered in the last post Sun Tzu warns again to avoid “lengthy operations in the field’.  He keeps bringing this up again and again so obviously this is a very important point.  When in a self-defense situation you must not allow the conflict to go on a long period of time.  The longer it takes to end the conflict the more likely the attacker will succeed with one of his strikes.  You cannot afford to let this happen.  As we mentioned in the last post a real fight for your life can not be a trade one of your strikes for one of their strikes situation.  How many times have you seen in professional sport fighting where one of the fighters throws a single punch and the other fighter is out, it is over. If you allow the attacker a chance to keep attacking or throwing strikes at you the simple odds are that one is going to get through.  If it happens to be one like you saw take out the fighter, what will happen to you while you lay unconscious on the ground?  It is scary to think about.


More on Attack by Stratagem in part II.

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