Sun Tzu was a general and philosopher of ancient China, of whom it is not known whether he was a real character or not.
Historians commonly place it in China between 722 and 481 BC, but there is no irrefutable evidence of its existence. The only proven document that tells us about his figure is a biography written in the second century before Christ by the author Sima Qian.
Great sentences of Sun Tzu (and reflections)
Regardless of whether it really existed or not, his work “The Art of War” is considered a unique manual on philosophy and military tactics that can provide us with great knowledge, below you can enjoy the 90 best phrases of Sun Tzu (The Art of War) that you will surely love.
1. The best victory is to win without fighting.
If we’re smart enough, we won’t have to fight our way out of a problem.
2. If you use the enemy to defeat the enemy, you will be powerful wherever you go.
Knowing how to make third parties enemies can make us reach victory without moving a single finger.
3. Take them to a point where they can’t get out, and they’ll die before they can escape.
In this quote, Sun Tzu talks about the importance of surrounding our enemies.
4. Weapons are fatal instruments that should only be used when there is no other alternative.
The use of brute force will not always be necessary to achieve victory.
5. When you are near, you must seem far away, when you are far away, you must seem close. Bait is shown to incite the enemy. You pretend to mess up and crush him.
This quote explains that we must disorient our enemy in order to defeat him.
6. A victorious army wins first and engages in battle later; a defeated army fights first and attempts victory later.
The attitude with which we go into battle will largely determine our success.
7. If you want to feign cowardice to know the strategy of your opponents, you must first be extremely brave, because only then can you act like an artificial shy person.
Faking cowardice can lead to premature death, so one must be very brave to use this tactic.
8. Make your opponents see as extraordinary what is ordinary for you; make them see as ordinary what is extraordinary for you.
Knowing how to play our cards is extremely important in military tactics.
9. You have to carefully compare the opposition army with your own to know where the force is superabundant and where it is deficient.
Seeing our opponent’s weaknesses and being able to hide our own will allow us to achieve victory on the battlefield.
10. The supreme thing in the art of war is to subdue the enemy without giving him battle.
Long before the first arrow is fired, the war will have already begun.
11. The worst tactic is to attack a city. Besieging, cornering a city is only carried out as a last resort.
This quote tells us about ethics in war, civilian casualties are never necessary.
12. If your forces are in order while theirs are immersed in chaos, if you and your forces are in good spirits and they are demoralized, then, even if they are more numerous, you can go into battle. If your soldiers, your forces, your strategy and your courage are less than those of your adversary, then you must retreat and seek a way out.
Strategy and courage are two determining factors in being able to win a battle, without these factors on our side it is much more convenient to seek escape.
13. Manoeuvring with an army is advantageous. Manoeuvring with an undisciplined crowd is dangerous.
In order to lead an army on the battlefield, it must have been previously disciplined.
14. Generals who know the possible variables for taking advantage of the terrain know how to handle the armed forces. If generals do not know how to adapt advantageously, even if they know the condition of the terrain, they cannot take advantage of it.
The qualities of a general are those that will or will not lead him to victory, in such an important rank one has to be very skillful.
15. Don’t push a desperate enemy. An exhausted animal will continue to fight, for that is the law of nature.
We must allow our enemies a path of escape, for in this way they will surrender much sooner.
16. In order for them to perceive the advantages of defeating the enemy, they must also obtain their rewards.
Rewarding our soldiers is vital to the smooth running of an army.
17. Making you invincible means knowing yourself.
When we know our shortcomings we know how to correct them and take advantage of them in our favour.
18. Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer.
Having our friends around will allow us to get to know them in depth and to be able to detect their weaknesses.
19. Invincibility is a matter of defence, vulnerability is a matter of attack.
If we know how to defend ourselves we will never be defeated, for a premature attack weakens us greatly.
20. Even the best sword if left in salt water will eventually rust.
Over the years we all lose our qualities when it comes to war.
21. When the enemy is relaxed, make him try harder. When he is full, make him hungry. When he is seated, make him move.
Knowing how to sow confusion in our adversary will lead him unequivocally towards defeat.
22. What the ancients called a cunning fighter is one who not only wins, but who stands out for winning with simplicity.
When we win in a quick and easy way, that victory acquires much more value because it is seen by our opponents as much more fulminating.
23. Quick as the wind, silent as the forest, swift and devastating as fire, immovable as a mountain.
Sun Tzu speaks to us in this quote about the qualities of any good army.
24. The opportunity to secure against defeat is in our own hands, but the opportunity to defeat the enemy is provided by him.
We can all close ranks during a battle, but this way we will never achieve victory.
25. Look upon your soldiers as you look upon a newborn child; so will they be willing to follow you into the deepest valleys; look upon your soldiers as you look upon your dear children and they will gladly die with you.
The treatment you give your soldiers will be the treatment you receive from them. One of Sun Tzu’s most famous phrases.
26. If your enemy takes it easy, give him no respite. If his forces are united, separate them. Attack him where he is not ready, appear where he does not expect you.
We must anticipate our enemy so that he cannot foresee our attacks.
27. The wheels of justice turn slowly but surely.
Justice sooner or later reaches its goal.
28. If you send reinforcements everywhere, you will be weak everywhere.
Using our soldiers effectively can be very difficult.
29. Who knows when to fight and when not to fight will win.
Knowing how to engage in battle is something that many of us do not know how to do; we must fight only when conditions are right for us.
30. He who can modify his tactics according to his opponent and thus achieve victory can be called a captain born of the horn of heaven.
Knowing how to adapt to our opponents is a quality that every great captain must possess.
31. Good warriors make their adversaries come to them, and in no way do they allow themselves to be lured out of their fortress.
We must not let our enemies lead us into their territory, for then we shall surely be defeated.
32. The primary colors are only five, but their combinations are so infinite that we cannot see them all.
Knowing how to differentiate our soldiers on the battlefield is something of vital importance for any general.
33. Great results can be achieved with small efforts.
Even with the smallest acts we can make a dent in our opponent’s army.
34. He who arrives first on the battlefield awaits the arrival of the enemy to fight. He who arrives late on the battlefield has to hurry and arrives exhausted at the battle.
A great quote that tells us about the importance of punctuality, which we can use in all aspects of our lives.
35. Don’t go downstream. Don’t walk against the currents, or against the wind.
When we engage in battle, we must use the elements of the atmosphere to our advantage.
36. To be violent at first and then end up fearing the soldiers themselves is the height of ineptitude.
We will receive the treatment of our soldiers that we have previously earned.
37. Always remember danger when you are safe and chaos in times of order; remain alert to danger and chaos while they are not yet in form and avoid them before they arise; this is the best strategy of all.
We must be careful and act when the waters are calm, so that we can be much more effective.
38. The courageous can fight, the careful can act as a sentinel, and the intelligent can study, analyze and communicate. Everyone is useful.
We are all useful in war, because we bring our best to the common good.
39. A government should not mobilize an army out of anger, and military leaders should not provoke war out of anger.
When we start an enmity it has to be by our own thoughts, not by our momentary feelings.
40. If your strength is ten times greater than that of your opponent, surround him; if it is five times greater, attack him; if it is two times greater, divide him.
Using the right tactics in every situation is vital to achieving victory.
41. If the enemy is safe at all points, prepare for their attack. If he has superior strength, avoid him.
A good escape in time can prevent us from greater evils, we must know how to retreat.
42. The art of war is based on deception. Therefore, when it is capable of attacking, it must appear to be incapable; when the traps are moved, it must appear to be inactive.
If our enemy underestimates us, we’ll have beaten him before he realizes it.
43. If you know the enemy and you know yourself, you should not fear the outcome of hundreds of battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory you win you will also suffer defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
The knowledge of our weaknesses and the weaknesses of our opponent will lead us safely to victory or defeat.
44. If fighting assures victory, then you must fight, even if the governor forbids it; if fighting does not assure victory, then you must not fight even by order of the ruler.
Great battles are fought before they begin, for without proper preparation we will have already lost before we take the field.
45. Thus, only a brilliant ruler or a wise general who can use the most intelligent for espionage can be sure of victory.
Wisdom is the most powerful weapon a human being can have, for with it he can anticipate any problem that may befall him.
46. Strategy without tactics is the slowest road to victory. Tactics without strategy are the noise before defeat.
Any strategy that is used will be achieved through the tactics necessary to form it.
47. There are five traits that are dangerous in general. Those who are willing to die may lose their lives; those who wish to preserve life may be made prisoners; those who are given to irrational passions may be ridiculed; those who are very puritanical may be dishonoured; those who are compassionate may be disturbed.
Our emotions can be used against us by our adversary, we must not let ourselves be carried away by them.
48. Give the enemy what they expect to receive; thus will they be able to discern and confirm their assumptions. By this you will make the enemy himself act with predictable patterns of response that will keep his strategists and his armies occupied. In the meantime, you will have to wait for the moment to act in a way that cannot be anticipated.
Giving a bait to our enemy so that he acts in a certain way is a tactic that in chess is called gambit, widely used in the military world.
49. Victory usually goes to the army that has better trained officers and men.
Pre-battle preparations are 90 percent of success.
50. You have to believe in yourself.
Trust is absolutely necessary, without it we will never succeed in defeating a motivated enemy.
51. The inhabitants are the basis of a country; food is the happiness of the people. The prince must respect this fact and be sober and austere in his public spending.
As leaders, good management can lead us to the top of personal success, otherwise we can lose everything we have achieved in our advancement.
52. If you make the opponents not know the place and date of the battle, you can always win.
Any lack of information about your opponent can be used against him.
53. It is necessary to reflect and deliberate before making any decision.
Reflecting on our movements carefully is extremely important, especially when human lives are at stake.
54. In an invasion, as a general rule, the further the invaders go into another’s territory, the stronger they become, to the extent that the native government can no longer drive them out.
The speed of an invasion is a determining factor for its success, as this quote explains very well.
55. Do not pursue the enemies when they feign a retreat, nor attack expert troops.
We must not fall into the traps our opponent has prepared for us; this can be a decisive factor in our victory.
56. An army prefers high ground and avoids low ground, appreciates light and detests darkness.
The environmental conditions in a battle are crucial, if we use them to our advantage we can gain a clear advantage over our opponent.
57. The quality of the decision is like the timely raid of a hawk, allowing it to attack and destroy its victim.
Being bold is something that can be very advantageous to us in battle.
58. If spies are not treated well, they can become renegades and work for the enemy.
In war, spies can change sides at the most unexpected moments.
59. Prisoner soldiers must be treated well, to get them to fight for you in the future.
Adding loyal men to our ranks is vital to the growth of our army.
60. The psychology of soldiers consists of resisting when they are surrounded, fighting when it cannot be avoided and obeying in extreme cases.
Soldiers must put military orders before their own safety, so that the battle comes to a successful conclusion.
61. Where there are great rewards, there are brave men.
The courageous man must be rewarded with a great deal of gratitude, so that he will always act in our favour.
62. A hundred victories in a hundred battles is not the greatest skill. To subdue the army of others without battle is the greatest skill.
Knowing how to win a battle before it starts is the quality of an invincible general.
63. Can you imagine what I would do if I could do everything I can?
Knowing how to instill fear in our adversary will weaken him and lead him to act more predictably.
64. Those who are not fully aware of the disadvantages of using weapons cannot be fully aware of the advantages of using them.
Everything has pros and cons, we must know when some are more numerous than others.
65. He who is wise and waits for an enemy who is not wise, will be victorious.
Anticipation is something that will lead us to victory in an unequivocal way, because with it our enemy will not be able to react to our tactics.
66. Show them a way to save their lives so that they are not willing to fight to the death, and then you can take advantage of that to attack them.
Knowing how to guide our enemy into the trap we have previously prepared is something very much used in battle.
67. He who devises a tactic to achieve it, takes advantage of its opportunity, accepts its weaknesses and recognizes its strengths, triumphs.
Knowing how to engage in battle by measuring all the aspects that make it up is the quality of every good general.
68. One should never attack out of anger and with haste. It is advisable to take time in planning and coordinating the plan.
Preparation is of vital importance before engaging in any combat, without it we are lost.
69. Opportunities multiply as they are taken.
As a battle unfolds, opportunities present themselves and grow in number.
70. Defense is for times of scarcity, attack is for times of plenty.
We must attack when we are strongest and best prepared.
71. Let your plans be dark and impenetrable like the night, and when you move, it falls like lightning.
The enemy must never know how and when we will act.
72. The enlightened ruler is attentive, and the good general is full of caution.
This quote explains the two most important qualities in a ruler and a general, no doubt Sun Tzu knew very well what he was talking about.
73. A leader leads by example, not by force.
Our example will be the greatest flag we can carry, so that others can follow us into battle.
74. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of no sound. This way you can be the director of your opponent’s destiny.
Lies can be a great asset during war, as they can disconcert our opponents.
75. The supreme excellence is to break the resistance of the enemy without fighting.
There are many techniques to break the spirit of our enemy, when our enemy considers us invincible he will surrender before going into battle.
76. If your opponent has an angry temper, try to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, so that he becomes arrogant.
Knowing how to use our enemy’s emotions against him will give us a great opportunity to achieve victory.
77. This is how in war, the victorious strategist seeks the battle only after victory has already been won, while the one destined for defeat first fights and then seeks victory.
He who knows how to prepare a battle will achieve victory before he even faces his opponent.
78. Anger can be converted into joy, and anger can be converted into pleasure. But a nation can never be rebuilt, and a life cannot be reborn.
The military actions we take can change the world forever, for time cannot be turned back.
79. It should be considered and deliberated before making a move. He who has learned the art of deviation will conquer.
Distraction is something that on the battlefield, can allow us to defeat our opponent or be defeated by him.
80. Hence the saying: know the enemy and know thyself, and on thy victory no doubt shall fall; know the Heaven and the Earth, and thy victory shall be assured.
Information is vital in all aspects of a war, as it is the foundation of all major strategies and tactics.
81. To know your Enemy you must become your Enemy.
Knowing how your enemy thinks and acts will allow us to anticipate his movements.
82. All men can see the tactics, but what no one can see is the strategy that makes these observations evolve into victory.
Not everyone is able to foresee a convoluted strategy on the battlefield.
83. The lowlands are wet, which causes disease and makes fighting difficult.
The type of terrain where you fight can be crucial to the proper functioning of our army.
84. On the day war was declared, borders were closed, laissez-passer were broken and emissaries were prevented from crossing.
When a war starts, it affects every aspect of society.
85. Speed is the essence of war.
Speed is a fundamental quality in any great army, for with it our adversary will not be able to anticipate our movements.
86. The prudence and firmness of a small number of people can become tiresome and dominate even numerous armies.
A small group of properly trained people can wreak havoc even in much larger ranks.
87. In military matters, it is not necessarily more beneficial to be superior in forces, only to avoid acting with unnecessary violence; it is enough to consolidate your power, to make estimates about the enemy and to manage to gather troops; that is all.
How we act with our army will lead us to victory or not, even when everything seems to be in our favour the tables can be turned.
88. Practice martial arts, calculate the strength of your enemies, make them lose their courage and direction, so that even if the enemy army is intact it is useless: this is winning without violence.
Getting into our opponent’s mind so that he loses confidence is something that can be very beneficial to us.
89. Success in war is achieved by taking care to adapt permanently to the purpose of the enemy.
Anticipation is everything in the art of war, foreseeing the movements of our adversary and using them to our advantage.
90. Only when you know every detail of the terrain can you maneuver and fight.
Knowledge of the terrain is crucial in any battle; it allows us to be much more effective in combat.