Sun Tzu



Written By Noel Hannan


The book is written in a terse style not unlike that of the original (?) Sun Tzu translation of other authors. It is well laid out and easy to read. However the author has not put enough of himself into the work. In many cases he has substituted 'executive' for 'general' and not developed the military strategy into a modern real doctrine. The appendix is more useful than all the rest of the book, with the exception of the Sun Tzu passages.

Krause cites the following as Sun Tzu's principles:

  1. Learn to fight
  2. Show the way
  3. Do it right
  4. Know the facts
  5. Expect the worst
  6. Seize the day
  7. Burn the bridges
  8. Do it better
  9. Pull together
  10. Keep them guessing

I intend to use these and Sun Tzu's text as a basis for this work.


1. Learn to fight/contention.
'Competition in life is inevitable' Krause points out. And indeed it may well be For the martial arts coach there are two levels of this 'competition'.

Self-competition and national competition.

While we in the College do not practice the second, the first is certainly true, as indeed is the natural healthy competition within the organisation. People naturally want to do better. As a coach you will need to recognise the two situation and nurture each accordingly to enable students to gain from the situation. It is up to you to ensure that in these 'competitions' no one loses.

It is also important to know when to 'compete' particularly against yourself. Where there is no benefit, action is a waste of effort.

2. Show the way/leadership.
The world is full of good managers but few are really effective leaders.

Correct and effective leadership, Sun Tzu tells us is vital to success on the battlefield. Only a coach he embodies most, if not all, of the characteristics of a leader will motivate his charges to excel. He must lead from the front be it in the form of a perfect demonstration or simply just being there.

He will work and live by a set of rules or ethics that may encompass, but will not necessarily depend upon, external guides. He teaches from the heart. It should be mentioned here that the Amateur Sports Karate Organisation is a non-profit making organisation and no instructors get paid, thus taking away the possible motivation of financial gain.

He gives direction, sets examples and is flexible enough to adapt his teaching to the newest beginner to the most senior student.

3. Do it right/ma-o-shimeru.
A coach must have strategies to cope with every situation; formed strategies and formless strategies. At all times he must present to his charges a progressive, decisive way forward and be able to demonstrate it.

Coaches in other fields may get along with intellectualising techniques and ideas, but not in the Amateur Sports Karate Organisation.

The formed strategies will be set ways which he has developed over the years of his own training, to help people attain a specific goal; the mechanics of gedan barrai, for example. The formless strategies are the vehicle on which the application of all techniques, all kata, all the years of kihon are passed on.

There can be one set way to coaching. Water finds its own level but rivers never take the same path. The coach must be able to negotiate all paths.

4. Know the facts/be constantly aware of your surroundings (terrain).
Generals employ spies, Sun Tzu recommends it. Modern companies, while none may admit to industrial espionage, place a lot of stock and resources in knowing the market place they are in. Failure to do so can be fatal.

So it is with the Amateur Sports Karate Organisation coach, he needs to be constantly aware of his surroundings, both in the dojo and in the marketplace that he recruits his students from. This is also about a heightened degree of sensory acuity in carrying out the teaching and practice of karate.

In any battle you need to know what is going on around you.

5. Expect the worst/plan!
The coaches strategies should take into account the worst - in College terms that everyone may leave. The atmosphere created should be such as to keep the students there, keep them practicing because they really want to be there.

There will also be times when the students do not perform as well as you would have hoped. This is where a high degree of flexibility in approach is vital. A willow tree bends in the wind and so the branches, being supple do not break.

6. Seize the day/be decisive.
The simplest methods are always the best for advancement. And lots of simple things add up to lots of advancement and by their nature are easier to attain. This puts less of an emotional strain on the students and offers feedback and goals quicker.

Speed is always of the essence in victory.

Successful strategies for the coach will be ones that are simple, quick and easy to understand and avoid difficult methods of practice.

Often a complex kata will be broken down into its constituent parts or techniques. Concentration on these smaller parts is easier, less overwhelming and also allows for simple well rehearsed strategies of teaching to be employed.

7. Burn the bridges/ seek out the edge of chaos.
Sun Tzu recognized that people are motivated by profit and gain.

The successful coach will motivate his students by clearly showing them the benefits that are available to them. He must focus on the positive, what is there to be achieved rather than the negatives, the risks, this adds the possibility of demotivation at seeing all kinds of imagined and unreal obstacles before them.

But the coach must also push his charges into realms that they may never have gone before. The student must be coaxed or seduced out of his comfort zone into areas where there may be no comfort (and quite a lot of discomfort!) at all. Once there it is vital that the student stays there and so the coach burns the bridges that crossed the gap of decision.

This place on the edge of chaos is where great leaps of progress and learning take place, but it is also a terrible and unforgiving place, of dreams and nightmares.

8. Do it better/ unpredictable.
Sun Tzu says there are only two strategies. The expected and the unexpected. Adaptability and innovation through the effective use of imagination.

Anyone can plan for the expected, but by definition it is impossible to plan for the unexpected.

Students are taken to many places on their journey of learning, but to progress at some point they need to be taken to places they have never been before. In this way will the teaching of unpredictability and imagination be passed on. By action rather than thought.

In battle it is always the innovative than triumph, they can take the possible out an impossible situation and turn it to their advantage, usually be sheer imagination.

9. Pull together/ promote a common direction.
It is one thing to instigate a practice or training method, it is quite another to put it all together into a meaningful part of a much wider goal. Whatever that goal may be. It must be realized that all parts of the practice are not really isolated parts at all, merely elements of something much greater.

The only way the Amateur Sports Karate Organisation coach can achieve this is by effective training. Long term training promotes a sense of sharing in the goals of the organisation, of belonging. It is at these moments that the teachings of the coach are most effective. And everyone will pull in the same direction, generally. Some may adventure out on their own from time to time.

This is when the benefits of practice are most obvious. And it also within this framework that 'bumping up' is most easily dealt with.

It is vital for the coach to stay focused and aware of the direction his students are taking. This information must be passed on from practice to practice to ensure continuity.

11. Keep them guessing / deception.
In warfare, deception is one of the greatest allies you can have.

If an enemy has no idea of your strategies or where you are going to attack, he will, by necessity have to defend many points and thus an initially stronger enemy will become weakened.

The strategies of coaching must be so adaptable as to appear to be 'made up as you go along'. Thus coping with all and any situation.

The coach may use deception with the student to enable him to think more about a given idea, practice more, etc. But it should be noted that this deception is in no way immoral. The student will in turn learn (consciously or unconsciously) the strategies of the teacher and use them to deceive his attackers.


It is always difficult to draw parallels from a tried and tested treaty on warfare and modern coaching and training methods, for, what has to be said, is a non-fatal and low risk activity.

War is obviously high risk, can be fatal and is about killing and is immoral. The mindset for the two activities are completely different and parallels cannot be taken at all levels. This is no doubt the moral dilemma the samurai had when the entered that period of enforced peace under the Tokugawa Clan in the early 17th century. The thrust of a wooden bokken at a classmate can never equal the thrust of a flashing blade against an enemy's torso.

Having said that, martial arts teaching should always be about reality and the situations are as real as they can possibly be. Students are taught to evade attacks effectively and easily, expending as little energy as possible from the very beginning of their training. This enables the later attacks to be very real as evasion becomes second nature.

Sun Tzu's work is about strategies and how to effectively use them.


Sun Tzu, The art of war for executives, Donald G Krause
Sun Tzu and the Art War for Business, Law, Management and Sports
* 1982 The Book of Five Rings: The Real Art of Japanese Management (Gorin no sho) by Musashi Miyamoto. Translated by Nihon Services Corp., Brown, Kashiwagi, Barrett and Sasagawa. Bantam Books, New York, 1982. Translation of ancient writings of the legendary Japanese Swordsman. Musashi is the object of several Kurosawa films with Toshiro Mifune in the starring role.
* 1987 Mobilizing Invisible Assets, by Hiroyuki Itami and Thomas W. Roehl, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1987. The authors quote Sun Tzu in the book's Epilogue.
* 1988 China, Inc., by Roderick MacLeod, Bantam Books, New York, 1988. MacLeod managed to assemble this book without a single indexed reference to Sun Tzu, and there is no bingfa to be found in the bibliography! China, Inc. gives both broad overviews and nuts and bolts insights to Chinese business culture. And you thought only the Japanese had incorporated!
* 1988 The Chinese Mind Game: The Best Kept Trade Secret of the East, by Chin-ning Chu, AMC Publishing, Beaverton, 1988. The author is a Chinese woman, born in China, raised and educated in Taiwan. Chin-ning Chu is a business consultant in Antioch, California. This book is full of Sun Tzu and also contains the 36 Classical Strategies and Thick Face, Black Heart. Chin-ning Chu's latest business venture is taking her to the World Wide Web (soon?) Strategic Learning Institute (SLI), but unfortunately, right now this link takes you to The International Robotics Foundation (as of 20 April 1997).
* 1991 The Asian Mind Game: Unlocking the Hidden Agenda of the Asian Business Culture - A Westerner's Survival Manual, by Chin-ning Chu, Rawson Associates, New York, 1991. Like her 1988 book, this revised and expanded version is loaded with Sun Tzu and more insights to the 36 Classical Strategies and Thick Face, Black Heart. See Thick Face, Black Heart by Chin-ning Chu, 1992. BOOK REVIEWS -- TV Guide -- Time Warner -- Chicago Tribune (March 8, 1993 review by Yates, in China News Digest, March 21, 1993).
* 1991 Strategy: Seeking and Securing Competitive Advantage, Editors Cynthia A. Montgomery and Michael E. Porter, anthology from Harvard Business Review Books, 1991. In an essay by Kenichi Ohmae ("Getting Back to Strategy") is found; As the great Sun Tzu observes 500 years before Christ, the smartest strategy in war is one that allows you to achieve your objectives without having to fight" (page 62).
* 1992 Thick Face, Black Heart: The Path to Thriving, Winning, & Succeeding, Warner Books, New York, 1992. The author based her book on the controversial writings of Lee Zhong Wu in 1911, which in recent years were banned in both China and Taiwan. Lee stated that; "When you conceal your will from others, that is Thick. When you impose your will on others, that is Black." This book is an example of the Art of War applied to the business world. A distinguishing feature of Thick Face, Black Heart system is that it is based not on traditional Chinese writing, but on ancient texts from India, written in Sanskrit. Apparently Lee Zhong Wu based his conclusions upon those, and Chin-Ning Chu does not list works by Chinese authors in her bibliography.
* 1993 The Winner Within: A Life Plan for Team Players, by Pat Riley, Berkley Books, New York, 1993. The famous basketball coach quotes Sun Tzu on page 73.
* 1993 The Art of Strategic Planning for Information Technology, by Bernard A. Boar (AT&T Co.), John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1993. Boar seems much impressed by the Chinese Art of War, he constructed his whole book around Sun Tzu. Reviewing his index finds him quoting Sun Tzu on 46 different pages of his book. Boar quotes Machiavelli on 18 pages. Boar wrote" "Few have know strategy as deeply in the manner as have Sun Tzu and Machiavelli, the Mozarts of strategic thinking. All strategic wisdom starts with them.....The majority of aspiring strategists would be much better off studying the teachings of Sun Tzu and Machiavelli than most teachers of business or IM&M* strategy.....There is more to be learned in the classics section of the library than the business section." (page 338). [* IM&M = Information Movement and Management]
* 1994 How to Argue and Win Everytime, Gerry Spence. The superlawyer who led the legal claims on behalf of Karen Silkwood and also defended Randy Weaver and Imelda Marcos quotes Sun Tzu on page 85.
* 1994 The Rise & Fall of Srategic Planning, by Henry Mintzberg, The Free Press, New York, 1994. Mintzberg quotes Sun Tzu from Griffith's Oxford edition (page 146).
* 1994 Organizing Strategy: Sun Tzu Business War Craft (Based on a Major Study of Asean Corportations), by Foo Check Teck and Peter Hugh Grinley, Butterworth-Heinemann Asia, Singapore, 1994.
* 1995 The Art of War for Executives, by Donald G. Krause, Perigee, New York, 1995.
* 1995 Negotiating in China: 36 Strategies, by Laurence J. Brahm, Naga Group, Ltd., Singapore, 1995.
* 1995 Sun Tzu on Management: The Art of War in Contemporary Business Strategy (Based on a Major Study of Asean Corportations), by Foo Check Teck and Peter Hugh Grinley, Butterworth-Heinemann Asia, Singapore, 1995.
* 1994 Hands on Strategy: The Guide to Crafting Your Company's Future, by William C. Finnie, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1994. Finnie quotes Sun Tzu on page 153, To win without fighting is best, but quotes heavily from The Super-Strategists by Col. John R. Elting, US Army Ret., Charles Scribner & Sons, New York, 1985.
* 1991 Harvard Business Review - Strategy: Seeking and Securing Competitive Advantage, Ed. Montgomery and Porter, Boston, 1991.
* 1988 The Art of Strategy, R. L. Wing, Dolphin Doubleday, New York, 1988.

Courtesy of Noel Hannan, Sensei in the Arts

All information on this ASKO website is 2000-2001 Blackrock Karate Club.
Last updated on Thursday, December 6th, 2001.