The Art of War is the world’s most renowned text on martial strategy and tactics. More than just a military manual however, it also holds the keys to victory in life itself. Its principles have been applied by successful corporate CEO’s such as Larry Ellison of Oracle and Chip Conley of Joie de Vivre to reach the pinnacles of success, yet the text remains equally effective in helping the average person meet and overcome the daily challenges of life.
There have been countless translations of the Chinese text into English over the years, but all capture the essential spirit of Sun Tzu’s writings which is; crush your enemies. Ruthless and unequivocal to a flaw, the treatise reflects both Sun Tzu’s personality and incredibly efficient military mind. “Follow the principles of Sun Tzu and you will be victorious”, states the military strategist and author Mark McNeilly “ignore him at your own peril, because you will definitely lose.”
The Art of War is written in a very simple and direct manner, from its first cogent and compelling opening sentence to its enlightened conclusion. One can quickly and capably begin to grasp the principles of this work, the challenge is to muster the courage required to apply them. Not that the book preaches doing whatever it takes to eliminate your enemy, on the contrary, one must manifest a strong sense of morality to achieve success with these principles. Sun Tzu himself denigrates leaders of bad character when he states “"There are routes not to be taken; there are armies not to be attacked; there are walled cities not to be besieged; there are grounds not to be penetrated; there are commands not to be obeyed."
The basic tenet of The Art of War is that; to be victorious or successful one must have an intimate knowledge of themself and their enemies. Though some of the ancient aphorisms may mystify the modern reader, one advantage of the book is that it is only about fifty pages long. In those fifty or so leaves however, it offers a unique view of life that surpasses its original military intentions, generally compelling us to muster courage, build our strength, exercise good judgement based on sound knowledge, and constantly monitor our progress or lack thereof.
The most important teaching of the ancient text is probably best summed up in the line “Being victorious a hundred times in a hundred battles is not the most excellent approach. Causing the enemy to submit without battle is the most excellent approach." In other words, we have mastered the Art of War when we have learned to accomplish our goals without fighting or causing one.