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The 33 Strategies of War

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Strategies for winning the subtle social game of everyday life-from the bestselling author of The 48 Laws of Power and The Art of Seduction Robert Greene's first two groundbreaking guides, The 48 Laws of Power and The Art of Seduction, espouse profound, timeless lessons from events in history to help readers vanquish an enemy or ensnare an unsuspecting victim.

Now, with The 33 Strategies of War, Greene has crafted an important new addition to this ruthlessly unique series. Structured in Greene's trademark style, The 33 Strategies of War is a brilliant distillation of the strategies of battle that can help us gain mastery in the modern world. It is the I Ching of conflict, the contemporary companion to Sun-tzu's Art of War.

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Прекрасная книга- новые мысли
26 July 2019 (20:12) 
Worth reading everyday. In fact would recommend reasing all of this authors books.
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I love this place. Reading is my hobby
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Yes I thought so too, but then I visited an underwear factory in China.
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The Art of Seduction (A Joost Elffers Production)

The 48 Laws of Power (A Joost Elffers Production)





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First published in 2006 by Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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To Napoleon, Sun-tzu, the goddess Athena, and my cat BRUTUS.





Life is endless battle and conflict, and you cannot fight effectively unless you can identify your enemies. Learn to smoke out your enemies, to spot them by the signs and patterns that reveal hostility. Then, once you have them in your sights, inwardly declare war. Your enemies can fill you with purpose and direction.


What most often weighs you down and brings you misery is the past. You must consciously wage war against the past and force yourself to react to the present moment. Be ruthless on yourself; do not repeat the same tired methods. Wage guerrilla war on your mind, allowing no static lines of defense--make everything fluid and mobile.


In the heat of battle, the mind tends to lose its balance. It is vital to keep your presence of mind, maintaining your mental powers, whatever the circumstances. Make the mind tougher by exposing it to adversity. Learn to detach yourself from the chaos of the battlefield.


You are your own worst enemy. You waste precious time dreaming of the future instead of engaging in the present. Cut your ties to the past; enter unknown territory. Place yourself on "death ground," where your back is against the wall and you have to fight like hell to get out alive.



The problem in leading any group is that people inevitably have their own agendas. You have to create a chain of command in which they do not feel constrained by your influence yet follow your lead. Create a sense of participation, but do not fall into groupthink--the irrationality of collective decision making.


The critical elements in war are speed and adaptability--the ability to move and make decisions faster than the enemy. Break your forces into independent groups that can operate on their own. Make your forces elusive and unstoppable by infusing them with the spirit of the campaign, giving them a mission to accomplish, and then letting them run.


The secret to motivating people and maintaining their morale is to get them to think less about themselves and more about the group. Involve them in a cause, a crusade against a hated enemy. Make them see their survival as tied to the success of the army as a whole.



We all have limitations--our energies and skills will take us only so far. You must know your limits and pick your battles carefully. Consider the hidden costs of a war: time lost, political goodwill squandered, an embittered enemy bent on revenge. Sometimes it is better to wait, to undermine your enemies covertly rather than hitting them straight on.


Moving first--initiating the attack--will often put you at a disadvantage: You are exposing your strategy and limiting your options. Instead, discover the power of holding back and letting the other side move first, giving you the flexibility to counterattack from any angle. If your opponents are aggressive, bait them into a rash attack that will leave them in a weak position.


The best way to fight off aggressors is to keep them from attacking you in the first place. Build up a reputation: You're a little crazy. Fighting you is not worth it. Uncertainty is sometimes better than overt threat: If your opponents are never sure what messing with you will cost, they will not want to find out.


Retreat in the face of a strong enemy is a sign not of weakness but of strength. By resisting the temptation to respond to an aggressor, you buy yourself valuable time--time to recover, to think, to gain perspective. Sometimes you can accomplish most by doing nothing.



Grand strategy is the art of looking beyond the battle and calculating ahead. It requires that you focus on your ultimate goal and plot to reach it. Let others get caught up in the twists and turns of the battle, relishing their little victories. Grand strategy will bring you the ultimate reward: the last laugh.


The target of your strategies should be less the army you face than the mind of the man or woman who runs it. If you understand how that mind works, you have the key to deceiving and controlling it. Train yourself to read people, picking up the signals they unconsciously send about their innermost thoughts and intentions.


In a world in which many people are indecisive and overly cautious, the use of speed will bring you untold power. Striking first, before your opponents have time to think or prepare, will make them emotional, unbalanced, and prone to error.


People are constantly struggling to control you. The only way to get the upper hand is to make your play for control more intelligent and insidious. Instead of trying to dominate the other side's every move, work to define the nature of the relationship itself. Maneuver to control your opponents' minds, pushing their emotional buttons and compelling them to make mistakes.


Everyone has a source of power on which he or she depends. When you look at your rivals, search below the surface for that source, the center of gravity that holds the entire structure together. Hitting them there will inflict disproportionate pain. Find what the other side most cherishes and protects--that is where you must strike.


Never be intimidated by your enemy's appearance. Instead, look at the parts that make up the whole. By separating the parts, sowing dissension and division, you can bring down even the most formidable foe. When you are facing troubles or enemies, turn a large problem into small, eminently defeatable parts.


When you attack people directly, you stiffen their resistance and make your task that much harder. There is a better way: Distract your opponents' attention to the front, then attack them from the side, where they least expect it. Bait people into going out on a limb, exposing their weakness, then rake them with fire from the side.


People will use any kind of gap in your defenses to attack you. So offer no gaps. The secret is to envelop your opponents--create relentless pressure on them from all sides and close off their access to the outside world. As you sense their weakening resolve, crush their willpower by tightening the noose.


No matter how strong you are, fighting endless battles with people is exhausting, costly, and unimaginative. Wise strategists prefer the art of maneuver: Before the battle even begins, they find ways to put their opponents in positions of such weakness that victory is easy and quick. Create dilemmas: Devise maneuvers that give them a choice of ways to respond-all of them bad.


Before and during negotiations, you must keep advancing, creating relentless pressure and compelling the other side to settle on your terms. The more you take, the more you can give back in meaningless concessions. Create a reputation for being tough and uncompromising, so that people are back on their heels before they even meet you.


You are judged in this world by how well you bring things to an end. A messy or incomplete conclusion can reverberate for years to come. The art of ending things well is knowing when to stop. The height of strategic wisdom is to avoid all conflicts and entanglements from which there are no realistic exits.




Since no creature can survive without the ability to see or sense what is going on around it, make it hard for your enemies to know what is going on around them, including what you are doing. Feed their expectations, manufacture a reality to match their desires, and they will fool themselves. Control people's perceptions of reality and you control them.


People expect your behavior to conform to known patterns and conventions. Your task as a strategist is to upset their expectations. First do something ordinary and conventional to fix their image of you, then hit them with the extraordinary. The terror is greater for being so sudden. Sometimes the ordinary is extraordinary because it is unexpected.


In a political world, the cause you are fighting for must seem more just than the enemy's. By questioning your opponents' motives and making them appear evil, you can narrow their base of support and room to maneuver. When you yourself come under moral attack from a clever enemy, do not whine or get angry; fight fire with fire.


The feeling of emptiness or void--silence, isolation, nonengagement with others--is for most people intolerable. Give your enemies no target to attack, be dangerous but elusive, then watch as they chase you into the void. Instead of frontal battles, deliver irritating but damaging side attacks and pinprick bites.


The best way to advance your cause with the minimum of effort and bloodshed is to create a constantly shifting network of alliances, getting others to compensate for your deficiencies, do your dirty work, fight your wars. At the same time, you must work to sow dissension in the alliances of others, weakening your enemies by isolating them.


Life's greatest dangers often come not from external enemies but from our supposed colleagues and friends who pretend to work for the common cause while scheming to sabotage us. Work to instill doubts and insecurities in such rivals, getting them to think too much and act defensively. Make them hang themselves through their own self-destructive tendencies, leaving you blameless and clean.


Overt power grabs and sharp rises to the top are dangerous, creating envy, distrust, and suspicion. Often the best solution is to take small bites, swallow little territories, playing upon people's relatively short attention spans. Before people realize it, you have accumulated an empire.


Communication is a kind of war, its field of battle the resistant and defensive minds of the people you want to influence. The goal is to penetrate their defenses and occupy their minds. Learn to infiltrate your ideas behind enemy lines, sending messages through little details, luring people into coming to the conclusions you desire and into thinking they've gotten there by themselves.


By infiltrating your opponents' ranks, working from within to bring them down, you give them nothing to see or react against--the ultimate advantage. To take something you want, do not fight those who have it, but rather join them--then either slowly make it your own or wait for the moment to stage a coup d'etat.


In a world where political considerations are paramount, the most effective form of aggression is the best hidden one: aggression behind a compliant, even loving exterior. To follow the passive-aggression strategy you must seem to go along with people, offering no resistance. But actually you dominate the situation. Just make sure you have disguised your aggression enough that you can deny it exists.


Terror is the ultimate way to paralyze a people's will to resist and destroy their ability to plan a strategic response. The goal in a terror campaign is not battlefield victory but causing maximum chaos and provoking the other side into desperate overreaction. To plot the most effective counterstrategy, victims of terror must stay balanced. One's rationality is the last line of defense.




We live in a culture that promotes democratic values of being fair to one and all, the importance of fitting into a group, and knowing how to cooperate with other people. We are taught early on in life that those who are outwardly combative and aggressive pay a social price: unpopularity and isolation. These values of harmony and cooperation are perpetuated in subtle and not-so-subtle ways--through books on how to be successful in life; through the pleasant, peaceful exteriors that those who have gotten ahead in the world present to the public; through notions of correctness that saturate the public space. The problem for us is that we are trained and prepared for peace, and we are not at all prepared for what confronts us in the real world--war.

The life of man upon earth is a warfare.

JOB 7:1

Qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum (let him who wants peace prepare for war)


This war exists on several levels. Most obviously, we have our rivals on the other side. The world has become increasingly competitive and nasty. In politics, business, even the arts, we face opponents who will do almost anything to gain an edge. More troubling and complex, however, are the battles we face with those who are supposedly on our side. There are those who outwardly play the team game, who act very friendly and agreeable, but who sabotage us behind the scenes, use the group to promote their own agenda. Others, more difficult to spot, play subtle games of passive aggression, offering help that never comes, instilling guilt as a secret weapon. On the surface everything seems peaceful enough, but just below it, it is every man and woman for him-or herself, this dynamic infecting even families and relationships. The culture may deny this reality and promote a gentler picture, but we know it and feel it, in our battle scars.

It is not that we and our colleagues are ignoble creatures who fail to live up to ideals of peace and selflessness, but that we cannot help the way we are. We have aggressive impulses that are impossible to ignore or repress. In the past, individuals could expect a group--the state, an extended family, a company--to take care of them, but this is no longer the case, and in this uncaring world we have to think first and foremost of ourselves and our interests. What we need are not impossible and inhuman ideals of peace and cooperation to live up to, and the confusion that brings us, but rather practical knowledge on how to deal with conflict and the daily battles we face. And this knowledge is not about how to be more forceful in getting what we want or defending ourselves but rather how to be more rational and strategic when it comes to conflict, channeling our aggressive impulses instead of denying or repressing them. If there is an ideal to aim for, it should be that of the strategic warrior, the man or woman who manages difficult situations and people through deft and intelligent maneuver.

[Strategy] is more than a science: it is the application of knowledge to practical life, the development of thought capable of modifying the original guiding idea in the light of ever-changing situations; it is the art of acting under the pressure of the most difficult conditions.


Many psychologists and sociologists have argued that it is through conflict that problems are often solved and real differences reconciled. Our successes and failures in life can be traced to how well or how badly we deal with the inevitable conflicts that confront us in society. The common ways that people deal with them--trying to avoid all conflict, getting emotional and lashing out, turning sly and manipulative--are all counterproductive in the long run, because they are not under conscious and rational control and often make the situation worse. Strategic warriors operate much differently. They think ahead toward their long-term goals, decide which fights to avoid and which are inevitable, know how to control and channel their emotions. When forced to fight, they do so with indirection and subtle maneuver, making their manipulations hard to trace. In this way they can maintain the peaceful exterior so cherished in these political times.

This ideal of fighting rationally comes to us from organized warfare, where the art of strategy was invented and refined. In the beginning, war was not at all strategic. Battles between tribes were fought in a brutal manner, a kind of ritual of violence in which individuals could display their heroism. But as tribes expanded and evolved into states, it became all too apparent that war had too many hidden costs, that waging it blindly often led to exhaustion and self-destruction, even for the victor. Somehow wars had to be fought more rationally.

The word "strategy" comes from the ancient Greek word strategos, meaning literally "the leader of the army." Strategy in this sense was the art of generalship, of commanding the entire war effort, deciding what formations to deploy, what terrain to fight on, what maneuvers to use to gain an edge. And as this knowledge progressed, military leaders discovered that the more they thought and planned ahead, the more possibilities they had for success. Novel strategies could allow them to defeat much larger armies, as Alexander the Great did in his victories over the Persians. In facing savvy opponents who were also using strategy, there developed an upward pressure: to gain an advantage, a general had to be even more strategic, more indirect and clever, than the other side. Over time the arts of generalship became steadily more sophisticated, as more strategies were invented.

Although the word "strategy" itself is Greek in origin, the concept appears in all cultures, in all periods. Solid principles on how to deal with the inevitable accidents of war, how to craft the ultimate plan, how to best organize the army--all of this can be found in war manuals from ancient China to modern Europe. The counterattack, the flanking or enveloping maneuver, and the arts of deception are common to the armies of Genghis Khan, Napoleon, and the Zulu king Shaka. As a whole, these principles and strategies indicate a kind of universal military wisdom, a set of adaptable patterns that can increase the chances for victory.

"Well, then, my boy, develop your strategy So that prizes in games won't elude your grasp. Strategy makes a better woodcutter than strength. Strategy keeps a pilot's ship on course When crosswinds blow it over the wine-blue sea. And strategy wins races for charioteers. One type of driver trusts his horses and car And swerves mindlessly this way and that, All over the course, without reining his horses. But a man who knows how to win with lesser horses Keeps his eye on the post and cuts the turn close, And from the start keeps tension on the reins With a firm hand as he watches the leader."


Perhaps the greatest strategist of them all was Sun-tzu, author of the ancient Chinese classic The Art of War. In his book, written probably the fourth century B.C., can be found traces of almost all the strategic patterns and principles later developed over the course of centuries. But what connects them, in fact what constitutes the art of war itself in Sun-tzu's eyes, is the ideal of winning without bloodshed. By playing on the psychological weaknesses of the opponent, by maneuvering him into precarious positions, by inducing feelings of frustration and confusion, a strategist can get the other side to break down mentally before surrendering physically. In this way victory can be had at a much lower cost. And the state that wins wars with few lives lost and resources squandered is the state that can thrive over greater periods of time. Certainly most wars are not waged so rationally, but those campaigns in history that have followed this principle (Scipio Africanus in Spain, Napoleon at Ulm, T. E. Lawrence in the desert campaigns of World War I) stand out above the rest and serve as the ideal.

War is not some separate realm divorced from the rest of society. It is an eminently human arena, full of the best and the worst of our nature. War also reflects trends in society. The evolution toward more unconventional, dirtier strategies--guerrilla warfare, terrorism--mirrors a similar evolution in society, where almost anything goes. The strategies that succeed in war, whether conventional or unconventional, are based on timeless psychology, and great military failures have much to teach us about human stupidity and the limits of force in any arena. The strategic ideal in war--being supremely rational and emotionally balanced, striving to win with minimum bloodshed and loss of resources--has infinite application and relevance to our daily battles.

Inculcated with the values of our times, many will argue that organized war is inherently barbaric--a relic of man's violent past and something to be overcome for good. To promote the arts of warfare in a social setting, they will say, is to stand in the way of progress and to encourage conflict and dissension. Isn't there enough of that in the world? This argument is very seductive, but not at all reasonable. There will always be those in society and in the world at large who are more aggressive than we are, who find ways to get what they want, by hook or by crook. We must be vigilant and must know how to defend ourselves against such types. Civilized values are not furthered if we are forced to surrender to those who are crafty and strong. In fact, being pacifists in the face of such wolves is the source of endless tragedy.

The self is the friend of a man who masters himself through the self, but for a man without self-mastery, the self is like an enemy at war.


Mahatma Gandhi, who elevated nonviolence into a great weapon for social change, had one simple goal later on in his life: to rid India of the British overlords who had crippled it for so many centuries. The British were clever rulers. Gandhi understood that if nonviolence were to work, it would have to be extremely strategic, demanding much thought and planning. He went so far as to call nonviolence a new way of waging war. To promote any value, even peace and pacifism, you must be willing to fight for it and to aim at results--not simply the good, warm feeling that expressing such ideas might bring you. The moment you aim for results, you are in the realm of strategy. War and strategy have an inexorable logic: if you want or desire anything, you must be ready and able to fight for it.

Others will argue that war and strategy are primarily matters that concern men, particularly those who are aggressive or among the power elite. The study of war and strategy, they will say, is a masculine, elitist, and repressive pursuit, a way for power to perpetuate itself. Such an argument is dangerous nonsense. In the beginning, strategy indeed belonged to a select few--a general, his staff, the king, a handful of courtiers. Soldiers were not taught strategy, for that would not have helped them on the battlefield. Besides, it was unwise to arm one's soldiers with the kind of practical knowledge that could help them to organize a mutiny or rebellion. The era of colonialism took this principle further: the indigenous peoples of Europe's colonies were conscripted into the Western armies and did much of the police work, but even those who rose to the upper echelons were rigorously kept ignorant of knowledge of strategy, which was considered far too dangerous for them to know. To maintain strategy and the arts of war as a branch of specialized knowledge is actually to play into the hands of the elites and repressive powers, who like to divide and conquer. If strategy is the art of getting results, of putting ideas into practice, then it should be spread far and wide, particularly among those who have been traditionally kept ignorant of it, including women. In the mythologies of almost all cultures, the great gods of war are women, including Athena of ancient Greece. A woman's lack of interest in strategy and war is not biological but social and perhaps political.

Instead of resisting the pull of strategy and the virtues of rational warfare or imagining that it is beneath you, it is far better to confront its necessity. Mastering the art will only make your life more peaceful and productive in the long run, for you will know how to play the game and win without violence. Ignoring it will lead to a life of endless confusion and defeat.

The following are six fundamental ideals you should aim for in transforming yourself into a strategic warrior in daily life.


Look at things as they are, not as your emotions color them. In strategy you must see your emotional responses to events as a kind of disease that must be remedied. Fear will make you overestimate the enemy and act too defensively. Anger and impatience will draw you into rash actions that will cut off your options. Overconfidence, particularly as a result of success, will make you go too far. Love and affection will blind you to the treacherous maneuvers of those apparently on your side. Even the subtlest gradations of these emotions can color the way you look at events. The only remedy is to be aware that the pull of emotion is inevitable, to notice it when it is happening, and to compensate for it. When you have success, be extra wary. When you are angry, take no action. When you are fearful, know you are going to exaggerate the dangers you face. War demands the utmost in realism, seeing things as they are. The more you can limit or compensate for your emotional responses, the closer you will come to this ideal.

Although a goddess of war, [Athena] gets no pleasure from battle...but rather from settling disputes, and upholding the law by pacific means. She bears no arms in time of peace and, if ever she needs any, will usually borrow a set from Zeus. Her mercy is great.... Yet, once engaged in battle, she never loses the day, even against Ares himself, being better grounded in tactics and strategy than he; and wise captains always approach her for advice.


Judge people by their actions. The brilliance of warfare is that no amount of eloquence or talk can explain away a failure on the battlefield. A general has led his troops to defeat, lives have been wasted, and that is how history will judge him. You must strive to apply this ruthless standard in your daily life, judging people by the results of their actions, the deeds that can be seen and measured, the maneuvers they have used to gain power. What people say about themselves does not matter; people will say anything. Look at what they have done; deeds do not lie. You must also apply this logic to yourself. In looking back at a defeat, you must identify the things you could have done differently. It is your own bad strategies, not the unfair opponent, that are to blame for your failures. You are responsible for the good and bad in your life. As a corollary to this, look at everything other people do as a strategic maneuver, an attempt to gain victory. People who accuse you of being unfair, for example, who try to make you feel guilty, who talk about justice and morality, are trying to gain an advantage on the chessboard.


Depend on your own arms. In the search for success in life, people tend to rely on things that seem simple and easy or that have worked before. This could mean accumulating wealth, resources, a large number of allies, or the latest technology and the advantage it brings. This is being materialistic and mechanical. But true strategy is psychological--a matter of intelligence, not material force. Everything in life can be taken away from you and generally will be at some point. Your wealth vanishes, the latest gadgetry suddenly becomes passe, your allies desert you. But if your mind is armed with the art of war, there is no power that can take that away. In the middle of a crisis, your mind will find its way to the right solution. Having superior strategies at your fingertips will give your maneuvers irresistible force. As Sun-tzu says, "Being unconquerable lies with yourself."

And Athena, whose eyes were as grey as owls: "Diomedes, son of Tydeus...You don't have to fear Ares or any other Of the immortals. Look who is here beside you. Drive your horses directly at Ares And when you're in range, strike. Don't be in awe of Ares. He's nothing but A shifty lout..."...And when Diomedes thrust next, She drove his spear home to the pit Of Ares' belly, where the kilt-piece covered it.... [Ares] quickly scaled the heights of Olympus, Sat down sulking beside Cronion Zeus, Showed him the immortal blood oozing From his wound, and whined these winged words: "Father Zeus, doesn't it infuriate you To see this violence? We gods Get the worst of it from each other Whenever we try to help out men..." And Zeus, from under thunderhead brows: "Shifty lout. Don't sit here by me and whine. You're the most loathsome god on Olympus. You actually like fighting and war. You take after your hardheaded mother, Hera. I can barely control her either.... Be that as it may, I cannot tolerate you're being in pain..." And he called Paieon to doctor his wound...

Worship Athena, not Ares. In the mythology of ancient Greece, the cleverest immortal of them all was the goddess Metis. To prevent her from outwitting and destroying him, Zeus married her, then swallowed her whole, hoping to incorporate her wisdom in the process. But Metis was pregnant with Zeus's child, the goddess Athena, who was subsequently born from his forehead. As befitting her lineage, she was blessed with the craftiness of Metis and the warrior mentality of Zeus. She was deemed by the Greeks to be the goddess of strategic warfare, her favorite mortal and acolyte being the crafty Odysseus. Ares was the god of war in its direct and brutal form. The Greeks despised Ares and worshipped Athena, who always fought with the utmost intelligence and subtlety. Your interest in war is not the violence, the brutality, the waste of lives and resources, but the rationality and pragmatism it forces on us and the ideal of winning without bloodshed. The Ares figures of the world are actually quite stupid and easily misled. Using the wisdom of Athena, your goal is to turn the violence and aggression of such types against them, making their brutality the cause of their downfall. Like Athena, you are always one step ahead, making your moves more indirect. Your goal is to blend philosophy and war, wisdom and battle, into an unbeatable blend.


Elevate yourself above the battlefield. In war, strategy is the art of commanding the entire military operation. Tactics, on the other hand, is the skill of forming up the army for battle itself and dealing with the immediate needs of the battlefield. Most of us in life are tacticians, not strategists. We become so enmeshed in the conflicts we face that we can think only of how to get what we want in the battle we are currently facing. To think strategically is difficult and unnatural. You may imagine you are being strategic, but in all likelihood you are merely being tactical. To have the power that only strategy can bring, you must be able to elevate yourself above the battlefield, to focus on your long-term objectives, to craft an entire campaign, to get out of the reactive mode that so many battles in life lock you into. Keeping your overall goals in mind, it becomes much easier to decide when to fight and when to walk away. That makes the tactical decisions of daily life much simpler and more rational. Tactical people are heavy and stuck in the ground; strategists are light on their feet and can see far and wide.


Spiritualize your warfare. Every day you face battles--that is the reality for all creatures in their struggle to survive. But the greatest battle of all is with yourself--your weaknesses, your emotions, your lack of resolution in seeing things through to the end. You must declare unceasing war on yourself. As a warrior in life, you welcome combat and conflict as ways to prove yourself, to better your skills, to gain courage, confidence, and experience. Instead of repressing your doubts and fears, you must face them down, do battle with them. You want more challenges, and you invite more war. You are forging the warrior's spirit, and only constant practice will lead you there.


The 33 Strategies of War is a distillation of the timeless wisdom contained in the lessons and principles of warfare. The book is designed to arm you with practical knowledge that will give you endless options and advantages in dealing with the elusive warriors that attack you in daily battle.

Then back to the palace of great Zeus Came Argive Hera and Athena the Protector, Having stopped brutal Ares from butchering men.


Each chapter is a strategy aimed at solving a particular problem that you will often encounter. Such problems include fighting with an unmotivated army behind you; wasting energy by battling on too many fronts; feeling overwhelmed by friction, the discrepancy between plans and reality; getting into situations you cannot get out of. You can read the chapters that apply to the particular problem of the moment. Better still, you can read all of the strategies, absorb them, allowing them to become part of your mental arsenal. Even when you are trying to avoid a war, not fight one, many of these strategies are worth knowing for defensive purposes and for making yourself aware of what the other side might be up to. In any event, they are not intended as doctrine or formulas to be repeated but as aids to judgment in the heat of battle, seeds that will take root in you and help you think for yourself, developing the latent strategist within.

Against war it can be said: it makes the victor stupid, the defeated malicious. In favour of war: through producing these two effects it barbarizes and therefore makes more natural; it is the winter or hibernation time of culture, mankind emerges from it stronger for good and evil.


The strategies themselves are culled from the writings and practices of the greatest generals in history (Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Genghis Khan, Napoleon Bonaparte, Shaka Zulu, William Techumseh Sherman, Erwin Rommel, Vo Nguyen Giap) as well as the greatest strategists (Sun-tzu, Miyamoto Musashi, Carl von Clausewitz, Ardant du Picq, T. E. Lawrence, Colonel John Boyd). They range from the basic strategies of classical warfare to the dirty, unconventional strategies of modern times. The book is divided into five parts: self-directed war (how to prepare your mind and spirit for battle); organizational war (how to structure and motivate your army); defensive war; offensive war; and unconventional (dirty) war. Each chapter is illustrated with historical examples, not only from warfare itself but from politics (Margaret Thatcher), culture (Alfred Hitchcock), sports (Muhammad Ali), business (John D. Rockefeller), showing the intimate connection between the military and the social. These strategies can be applied to struggles of every scale: organized warfare, business battles, the politics of a group, even personal relationships.

Without war human beings stagnate in comfort and affluence and lose the capacity for great thoughts and feelings, they become cynical and subside into barbarism.


Finally, strategy is an art that requires not only a different way of thinking but an entirely different approach to life itself. Too often there is a chasm between our ideas and knowledge on the one hand and our actual experience on the other. We absorb trivia and information that takes up mental space but gets us nowhere. We read books that divert us but have little relevance to our daily lives. We have lofty ideas that we do not put into practice. We also have many rich experiences that we do not analyze enough, that do not inspire us with ideas, whose lessons we ignore. Strategy requires a constant contact between the two realms. It is practical knowledge of the highest form. Events in life mean nothing if you do not reflect on them in a deep way, and ideas from books are pointless if they have no application to life as you live it. In strategy all of life is a game that you are playing. This game is exciting but also requires deep and serious attention. The stakes are so high. What you know must translate into action, and action must translate into knowledge. In this way strategy becomes a lifelong challenge and the source of constant pleasure in surmounting difficulties and solving problems.

Nature has made up her mind that what cannot defend itself shall not be defended.


In this world, where the game is played with loaded dice, a man must have a temper of iron, with armor proof to the blows of fate, and weapons to make his way against men. Life is one long battle; we have to fight at every step; and Voltaire very rightly says that if we succeed, it is at the point of the sword, and that we die with the weapon in our hand.

--Arthur Schopenhauer, Counsels and Maxims, 1851



War, or any kind of conflict, is waged and won through strategy. Think of strategy as a series of lines and arrows aimed at a goal: at getting you to a certain point in the world, at helping you to attack a problem in your path, at figuring out how to encircle and destroy your enemy. Before directing these arrows at your enemies, however, you must first direct them at yourself.

Your mind is the starting point of all war and all strategy. A mind that is easily overwhelmed by emotion, that is rooted in the past instead of the present, that cannot see the world with clarity and urgency, will create strategies that will always miss the mark.

To become a true strategist, you must take three steps. First, become aware of the weakness and illness that can take hold of the mind, warping its strategic powers. Second, declare a kind of war on yourself to make yourself move forward. Third, wage ruthless and continual battle on the enemies within you by applying certain strategies.

The following four chapters are designed to make you aware of the disorders that are probably flourishing in your mind right now and to arm you with specific strategies for eliminating them. These chapters are arrows to aim at yourself. Once you have absorbed them through thought and practice, they will serve as a self-corrective device in all your future battles, freeing the grand strategist within you.



Life is endless battle and conflict, and you cannot fight effectively unless you can identify your enemies. People are subtle and evasive, disguising their intentions, pretending to be on your side. You need clarity. Learn to smoke out your enemies, to spot them by the signs and patterns that reveal hostility. Then, once you have them in your sights, inwardly declare war. As the opposite poles of a magnet create motion, your enemies--your opposites--can fill you with purpose and direction. As people who stand in your way, who represent what you loathe, people to react against, they are a source of energy. Do not be naive: with some enemies there can be no compromise, no middle ground.

Then [Xenophon] got up, and first called together the under-officers of Proxenos. When they were collected he said: "Gentlemen, I cannot sleep and I don't think you can; and I can't lie here when I see what a plight we are in. It is clear that the enemy did not show us open war until they thought they had everything well prepared; and no-one among us takes the pains to make the best possible resistance. "Yet if we give way, and fall into the king's power, what do we expect our fate will be? When his own half-brother was dead, the man cut off his head and cut off his hand and stuck them up on a pole. We have no-one to plead for us, and we marched here to make the king a slave or to kill him if we could, and what do you think our fate will be? Would he not go to all extremes of torture to make the whole world afraid of making war on him? Why, we must do anything to keep out of his power! While the truce lasted, I never ceased pitying ourselves, I never ceased congratulating the king and his army. What a vast country I saw, how large, what endless provisions, what crowds of servants, how many cattle and sheep, what gold, what raiment! But when I thought of these our soldiers--we had no share in all these good things unless we bought them, and few had anything left to buy with; and to procure anything without buying was debarred by our oaths. While I reasoned like this, I sometimes feared the truce more than the war now. "However, now they have broken the truce, there is an end both to their insolence and to our suspicion. There lie all these good things before us, prizes for whichever side prove the better men; the gods are the judges of the contest, and they will be with us, naturally.... "When you have appointed as many commanders as are wanted, assemble all the other soldiers and encourage them; that will be just what they want now. Perhaps you have noticed yourselves how crestfallen they were when they came into camp, how crestfallen they went on guard; in such a state I don't know what you could do with them.... But if someone could turn their minds from wondering what will happen to them, and make them wonder what they could do, they will be much more cheerful. You know, I am sure, that not numbers or strength brings victory in war; but whichever army goes into battle stronger in soul, their enemies generally cannot withstand them."



In the spring of 401 B.C., Xenophon, a thirty-year-old country gentleman who lived outside Athens, received an intriguing invitation: a friend was recruiting Greek soldiers to fight as mercenaries for Cyrus, brother of the Persian king Ataxerxes, and asked him to go along. The request was somewhat unusual: the Greeks and the Persians had long been bitter enemies. Some eighty years earlier, in fact, Persia had tried to conquer Greece. But the Greeks, renowned fighters, had begun to offer their services to the highest bidder, and within the Persian Empire there were rebellious cities that Cyrus wanted to punish. Greek mercenaries would be the perfect reinforcements in his large army.

Xenophon was not a soldier. In fact, he had led a coddled life, raising dogs and horses, traveling into Athens to talk philosophy with his good friend Socrates, living off his inheritance. He wanted adventure, though, and here he had a chance to meet the great Cyrus, learn war, see Persia. Perhaps when it was all over, he would write a book. He would go not as a mercenary (he was too wealthy for that) but as a philosopher and historian. After consulting the oracle at Delphi, he accepted the invitation.

Some 10,000 Greek soldiers joined Cyrus's punitive expedition. The mercenaries were a motley crew from all over Greece, there for the money and the adventure. They had a good time of it for a while, but a few months into the job, after leading them deep into Persia, Cyrus admitted his true purpose: he was marching on Babylon, mounting a civil war to unseat his brother and make himself king. Unhappy to be deceived, the Greeks argued and complained, but Cyrus offered them more money, and that quieted them.

The armies of Cyrus and Ataxerxes met on the plains of Cunaxa, not far from Babylon. Early in the battle, Cyrus was killed, putting a quick end to the war. Now the Greeks' position was suddenly precarious: having fought on the wrong side of a civil war, they were far from home and surrounded by hostile Persians. They were soon told, however, that Ataxerxes had no quarrel with them. His only desire was that they leave Persia as quickly as possible. He even sent them an envoy, the Persian commander Tissaphernes, to provision them and escort them back to Greece. And so, guided by Tissaphernes and the Persian army, the mercenaries began the long trek home--some fifteen hundred miles.

A few days into the march, the Greeks had new fears: their supplies from the Persians were insufficient, and the route that Tissaphernes had chosen for them was problematic. Could they trust these Persians? They started to argue among themselves.

The Greek commander Clearchus expressed his soldiers' concerns to Tissaphernes, who was sympathetic: Clearchus should bring his captains to a meeting at a neutral site, the Greeks would voice their grievances, and the two sides would come to an understanding. Clearchus agreed and appeared the next day with his officers at the appointed time and place--where, however, a large contingent of Persians surrounded and arrested them. They were beheaded that same day.

One man managed to escape and warn the Greeks of the Persian treachery. That evening the Greek camp was a desolate place. Some men argued and accused; others slumped drunk to the ground. A few considered flight, but with their leaders dead, they felt doomed.

That night Xenophon, who had stayed mostly on the sidelines during the expedition, had a dream: a lightning bolt from Zeus set fire to his father's house. He woke up in a sweat. It suddenly struck him: death was staring the Greeks in the face, yet they lay around moaning, despairing, arguing. The problem was in their heads. Fighting for money rather than for a purpose or cause, unable to distinguish between friend and foe, they had gotten lost. The barrier between them and home was not rivers or mountains or the Persian army but their own muddled state of mind. Xenophon didn't want to die in this disgraceful way. He was no military man, but he knew philosophy and the way men think, and he believed that if the Greeks concentrated on the enemies who wanted to kill them, they would become alert and creative. If they focused on the vile treachery of the Persians, they would grow angry, and their anger would motivate them. They had to stop being confused mercenaries and go back to being Greeks, the polar opposite of the faithless Persians. What they needed was clarity and direction.

Xenophon decided to be Zeus's lightning bolt, waking the men up and illuminating their way. He called a meeting of all the surviving officers and stated his plan: We will declare war without parley on the Persians--no more thoughts of bargaining or debate. We will waste no more time on argument or accusation among ourselves; every ounce of our energy will be spent on the Persians. We will be as inventive and inspired as our ancestors at Marathon, who fought off a vastly larger Persian army. We will burn our wagons, live off the land, move fast. We will not for one second lay down our arms or forget the dangers around us. It is us or them, life or death, good or evil. Should any man try to confuse us with clever talk or with vague ideas of appeasement, we will declare him too stupid and cowardly to be on our side and we will drive him away. Let the Persians make us merciless. We must be consumed with one idea: getting home alive.

The officers knew that Xenophon was right. The next day a Persian officer came to see them, offering to act as an ambassador between them and Ataxerxes; following Xenophon's counsel, he was quickly and rudely driven away. It was now war and nothing else.

Roused to action, the Greeks elected leaders, Xenophon among them, and began the march home. Forced to depend on their wits, they quickly learned to adapt to the terrain, to avoid battle, to move at night. They successfully eluded the Persians, beating them to a key mountain pass and moving through it before they could be caught. Although many enemy tribes still lay between them and Greece, the dreaded Persian army was now behind them. It took several years, but almost all of them returned to Greece alive.

Political thought and political instinct prove themselves theoretically and practically in the ability to distinguish friend and enemy. The high points of politics are simultaneously the moments in which the enemy is, in concrete clarity, recognized as the enemy. 

CARL SCHMITT, 1888-1985 


Life is battle and struggle, and you will constantly find yourself facing bad situations, destructive relationships, dangerous engagements. How you confront these difficulties will determine your fate. As Xenophon said, your obstacles are not rivers or mountains or other people; your obstacle is yourself. If you feel lost and confused, if you lose your sense of direction, if you cannot tell the difference between friend and foe, you have only yourself to blame.

Think of yourself as always about to go into battle. Everything depends on your frame of mind and on how you look at the world. A shift of perspective can transform you from a passive and confused mercenary into a motivated and creative fighter.

We are defined by our relationship to other people. As children we develop an identity by differentiating ourselves from others, even to the point of pushing them away, rejecting them, rebelling. The more clearly you recognize who you do not want to be, then, the clearer your sense of identity and purpose will be. Without a sense of that polarity, without an enemy to react against, you are as lost as the Greek mercenaries. Duped by other people's treachery, you hesitate at the fatal moment and descend into whining and argument.

Focus on an enemy. It can be someone who blocks your path or sabotages you, whether subtly or obviously; it can be someone who has hurt you or someone who has fought you unfairly; it can be a value or an idea that you loathe and that you see in an individual or group. It can be an abstraction: stupidity, smugness, vulgar materialism. Do not listen to people who say that the distinction between friend and enemy is primitive and passe. They are just disguising their fear of conflict behind a front of false warmth. They are trying to push you off course, to infect you with the vagueness that inflicts them. Once you feel clear and motivated, you will have space for true friendship and true compromise. Your enemy is the polar star that guides you. Given that direction, you can enter battle.

He that is not with me is against me.

--Luke 11:23


In the early 1970s, the British political system had settled into a comfortable pattern: the Labour Party would win an election, and then, the next time around, the Conservatives would win. Back and forth the power went, all fairly genteel and civilized. In fact, the two parties had come to resemble one another. But when the Conservatives lost in 1974, some of them had had enough. Wanting to shake things up, they proposed Margaret Thatcher as their leader. The party was divided that year, and Thatcher took advantage of the split and won the nomination.

I am by nature warlike. To attack is among my instincts. To be able to be an enemy, to be an enemy--that presupposes a strong nature, it is in any event a condition of every strong nature. It needs resistances, consequently it seeks resistances.... The strength of one who attacks has in the opposition he needs a kind of gauge; every growth reveals itself in the seeking out of a powerful opponent--or problem: for a philosopher who is warlike also challenges problems to a duel. The undertaking is to master, not any resistances that happen to present themselves, but those against which one has to bring all one's strength, suppleness and mastery of weapons--to master equal opponents.


No one had ever seen a politician quite like Thatcher. A woman in a world run by men, she was also proudly middle class--the daughter of a grocer--in the traditional party of the aristocracy. Her clothes were prim, more like a housewife's than a politician's. She had not been a player in the Conservative Party; in fact, she was on its right-wing fringes. Most striking of all was her style: where other politicians were smooth and conciliatory, she confronted her opponents, attacking them directly. She had an appetite for battle.

Most politicians saw Thatcher's election as a fluke and didn't expect her to last. And in her first few years leading the party, when Labour was in power, she did little to change their opinion. She railed against the socialist system, which in her mind had choked all initiative and was largely responsible for the decline of the British economy. She criticized the Soviet Union at a time of detente. Then, in the winter of 1978-79, several public-sector unions decided to strike. Thatcher went on the warpath, linking the strikes to the Labour Party and Prime Minister James Callaghan. This was bold, divisive talk, good for making the evening news--but not for winning elections. You had to be gentle with the voters, reassure them, not frighten them. At least that was the conventional wisdom.

In 1979 the Labour Party called a general election. Thatcher kept on the attack, categorizing the election as a crusade against socialism and as Great Britain's last chance to modernize. Callaghan was the epitome of the genteel politician, but Thatcher got under his skin. He had nothing but disdain for this housewife-turned-politician, and he returned her fire: he agreed that the election was a watershed, for if Thatcher won, she would send the economy into shock. The strategy seemed partly to work; Thatcher scared many voters, and the polls that tracked personal popularity showed that her numbers had fallen well below Callaghan's. At the same time, though, her rhetoric, and Callaghan's response to it, polarized the electorate, which could finally see a sharp difference between the parties. Dividing the public into left and right, she charged into the breach, sucking in attention and attracting the undecided. She won a sizable victory.

Thatcher had bowled over the voters, but now, as prime minister, she would have to moderate her tone, heal the wounds--according to the polls, at any rate, that was what the public wanted. But Thatcher as usual did the opposite, enacting budget cuts that went even deeper than she had proposed during the campaign. As her policies played out, the economy did indeed go into shock, as Callaghan had said it would, and unemployment soared. Men in her own party, many of whom had by that point been resenting her treatment of them for years, began publicly to question her abilities. These men, whom she called the "wets," were the most respected members of the Conservative Party, and they were in a panic: she was leading the country into an economic disaster that they were afraid they would pay for with their careers. Thatcher's response was to purge them from her cabinet. She seemed bent on pushing everyone away; her legion of enemies was growing, her poll numbers slipping still lower. Surely the next election would be her last.

[Salvador Dali] had no time for those who did not agree with his principles, and took the war into the enemy camp by writing insulting letters to many of the friends he had made in the Residencia, calling them pigs. He happily compared himself to a clever bull avoiding the cowboys and generally had a great deal of fun stirring up and scandalizing almost every Catalan intellectual worthy of the name. Dali was beginning to burn his bridges with the zeal of an arsonist.... "We [Dali and the filmmaker Luis Bunuel] had resolved to send a poison pen letter to one of the great celebrities of Spain," Dali later told his biographer Alain Bosquet. "Our goal was pure subversion.... Both of us were strongly influenced by Nietzsche.... We hit upon two names: Manuel de Falla, the composer, and Juan Ramon Jimenez, the poet. We drew straws and Jimenez won.... So we composed a frenzied and nasty letter of incomparable violence and addressed it to Juan Ramon Jimenez. It read: 'Our Distinguished Friend: We believe it is our duty to inform you--disinterestedly--that your work is deeply repugnant to us because of its immorality, its hysteria, its arbitrary quality....' It caused Jimenez great pain...."


Then, in 1982, on the other side of the Atlantic, the military junta that ruled Argentina, needing a cause to distract the country from its many problems, invaded the Falkland Islands, a British possession to which, however, Argentina had a historical claim. The officers of the junta felt certain that the British would abandon these islands, barren and remote. But Thatcher did not hesitate: despite the distance--eight thousand miles--she sent a naval task force to the Falklands. Labour leaders attacked her for this pointless and costly war. Many in her own party were terrified; if the attempt to retake the islands failed, the party would be ruined. Thatcher was more alone than ever. But much of the public now saw her qualities, which had seemed so irritating, in a new light: her obstinacy became courage, nobility. Compared to the dithering, pantywaisted, careerist men around her, Thatcher seemed resolute and confident.

The British successfully won back the Falklands, and Thatcher stood taller than ever. Suddenly the country's economic and social problems were forgotten. Thatcher now dominated the scene, and in the next two elections she crushed Labour.


Margaret Thatcher came to power as an outsider: a middle-class woman, a right-wing radical. The first instinct of most outsiders who attain power is to become insiders--life on the outside is hard--but in doing so they lose their identity, their difference, the thing that makes them stand out in the public eye. If Thatcher had become like the men around her, she would simply have been replaced by yet another man. Her instinct was to stay an outsider. In fact, she pushed being an outsider as far as it could go: she set herself up as one woman against an army of men.

At every step of the way, to give her the contrast she needed, Thatcher marked out an opponent: the socialists, the wets, the Argentineans. These enemies helped to define her image as determined, powerful, self-sacrificing. Thatcher was not seduced by popularity, which is ephemeral and superficial. Pundits might obsess over popularity numbers, but in the mind of the voter--which, for a politician, is the field of battle--a dominating presence has more pull than does likability. Let some of the public hate you; you cannot please everyone. Your enemies, those you stand sharply against, will help you to forge a support base that will not desert you. Do not crowd into the center, where everyone else is; there is no room to fight in a crowd. Polarize people, drive some of them away, and create a space for battle.

Everything in life conspires to push you into the center, and not just politically. The center is the realm of compromise. Getting along with other people is an important skill to have, but it comes with a danger: by always seeking the path of least resistance, the path of conciliation, you forget who you are, and you sink into the center with everyone else. Instead see yourself as a fighter, an outsider surrounded by enemies. Constant battle will keep you strong and alert. It will help to define what you believe in, both for yourself and for others. Do not worry about antagonizing people; without antagonism there is no battle, and without battle, there is no chance of victory. Do not be lured by the need to be liked: better to be respected, even feared. Victory over your enemies will bring you a more lasting popularity.

The opposition of a member to an associate is no purely negative social factor, if only because such opposition is often the only means for making life with actually unbearable people at least possible. If we did not even have the power and the right to rebel against tyranny, arbitrariness, moodiness, tactlessness, we could not bear to have any relation to people from whose characters we thus suffer. We would feel pushed to take desperate steps--and these, indeed, would end the relation but do not, perhaps, constitute "conflict." Not only because of the fact that...oppression usually increases if it is suffered calmly and without protest, but also because opposition gives us inner satisfaction, distraction, relief...Our opposition makes us feel that we are not completely victims of the circumstances.

GEORG SIMMEL, 1858-1918

Don't depend on the enemy not coming; depend rather on being ready for him.

--Sun-tzu, The Art of War (fourth century B.C.)


We live in an era in which people are seldom directly hostile. The rules of engagement--social, political, military--have changed, and so must your notion of the enemy. An up-front enemy is rare now and is actually a blessing. People hardly ever attack you openly anymore, showing their intentions, their desire to destroy you; instead they are political and indirect. Although the world is more competitive than ever, outward aggression is discouraged, so people have learned to go underground, to attack unpredictably and craftily. Many use friendship as a way to mask aggressive desires: they come close to you to do more harm. (A friend knows best how to hurt you.) Or, without actually being friends, they offer assistance and alliance: they may seem supportive, but in the end they're advancing their own interests at your expense. Then there are those who master moral warfare, playing the victim, making you feel guilty for something unspecified you've done. The battlefield is full of these warriors, slippery, evasive, and clever.

Understand: the word "enemy"--from the Latin inimicus, "not a friend"--has been demonized and politicized. Your first task as a strategist is to widen your concept of the enemy, to include in that group those who are working against you, thwarting you, even in subtle ways. (Sometimes indifference and neglect are better weapons than aggression, because you can't see the hostility they hide.) Without getting paranoid, you need to realize that there are people who wish you ill and operate indirectly. Identify them and you'll suddenly have room to maneuver. You can stand back and wait and see or you can take action, whether aggressive or just evasive, to avoid the worst. You can even work to turn this enemy into a friend. But whatever you do, do not be the naive victim. Do not find yourself constantly retreating, reacting to your enemies' maneuvers. Arm yourself with prudence, and never completely lay down your arms, not even for friends.

As one travels up any one of the large rivers [of Borneo], one meets with tribes that are successively more warlike. In the coast regions are peaceful communities which never fight save in self-defense, and then with but poor success, whereas in the central regions, where the rivers take their rise, are a number of extremely warlike tribes whose raids have been a constant source of terror to the communities settled in the lower reaches of the rivers.... It might be supposed that the peaceful coast people would be found to be superior in moral qualities to their more warlike neighbors, but the contrary is the case. In almost all respects the advantage lies with the warlike tribes. Their houses are better built, larger, and cleaner; their domestic morality is superior; they are physically stronger, are braver, and physically and mentally more active and in general are more trustworthy. But, above all, their social organization is firmer and more efficient because their respect for and obedience to their chiefs and their loyalty to their community are much greater; each man identifies himself with the whole community and accepts and loyally performs the social duties laid upon him.


People are usually good at hiding their hostility, but often they unconsciously give off signals showing that all is not what it seems. One of the closest friends and advisers of the Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Tse-tung was Lin Biao, a high-ranking member of the Politburo and possible successor to the chairman. In the late 1960s and early '70s, though, Mao detected a change in Lin: he had become effusively friendly. Everyone praised Mao, but Lin's praise was embarrassingly fervent. To Mao this meant that something was wrong. He watched Lin closely and decided that the man was plotting a takeover, or at the very least positioning himself for the top spot. And Mao was right: Lin was plotting busily. The point is not to mistrust all friendly gestures but to notice them. Register any change in the emotional temperature: unusual chumminess, a new desire to exchange confidences, excessive praise of you to third parties, the desire for an alliance that may make more sense for the other person than for you. Trust your instincts: if someone's behavior seems suspicious, it probably is. It may turn out to be benign, but in the meantime it is best to be on your guard.

You can sit back and read the signs or you can actively work to uncover your enemies--beat the grass to startle the snakes, as the Chinese say. In the Bible we read of David's suspicion that his father-in-law, King Saul, secretly wanted him dead. How could David find out? He confided his suspicion to Saul's son Jonathan, his close friend. Jonathan refused to believe it, so David suggested a test. He was expected at court for a feast. He would not go; Jonathan would attend and pass along David's excuse, which would be adequate but not urgent. Sure enough, the excuse enraged Saul, who exclaimed, "Send at once and fetch him unto me--he deserves to die!"

David's test succeeded because it was ambiguous. His excuse for missing the feast could be read in more than one way: if Saul meant well toward David, he would have seen his son-in-law's absence as no more than selfish at worst, but because he secretly hated David, he saw it as effrontery, and it pushed him over the edge. Follow David's example: say or do something that can be read in more than one way, that may be superficially polite but that could also indicate a slight coolness on your part or be seen as a subtle insult. A friend may wonder but will let it pass. The secret enemy, though, will react with anger. Any strong emotion and you will know that there's something boiling under the surface.

Often the best way to get people to reveal themselves is to provoke tension and argument. The Hollywood producer Harry Cohn, president of Universal Pictures, frequently used this strategy to ferret out the real position of people in the studio who refused to show what side they were on: he would suddenly attack their work or take an extreme position, even an offensive one, in an argument. His provoked directors and writers would drop their usual caution and show their real beliefs.

Understand: people tend to be vague and slippery because it is safer than outwardly committing to something. If you are the boss, they will mimic your ideas. Their agreement is often pure courtiership. Get them emotional; people are usually more sincere when they argue. If you pick an argument with someone and he keeps on mimicking your ideas, you may be dealing with a chameleon, a particularly dangerous type. Beware of people who hide behind a facade of vague abstractions and impartiality: no one is impartial. A sharply worded question, an opinion designed to offend, will make them react and take sides.

Man exists only in so far as he is opposed.

GEORG HEGEL, 1770-1831

Sometimes it is better to take a less direct approach with your potential enemies--to be as subtle and conniving as they are. In 1519, Hernan Cortes arrived in Mexico with his band of adventurers. Among these five hundred men were some whose loyalty was dubious. Throughout the expedition, whenever any of Cortes's soldiers did something he saw as suspicious, he never got angry or accusatory. Instead he pretended to go along with them, accepting and approving what they had done. Thinking Cortes weak, or thinking he was on their side, they would take another step. Now he had what he wanted: a clear sign, to himself and others, that they were traitors. Now he could isolate and destroy them. Adopt the method of Cortes: if friends or followers whom you suspect of ulterior motives suggest something subtly hostile, or against your interests, or simply odd, avoid the temptation to react, to say no, to get angry, or even to ask questions. Go along, or seem to turn a blind eye: your enemies will soon go further, showing more of their hand. Now you have them in sight, and you can attack.

An enemy is often large and hard to pinpoint--an organization, or a person hidden behind some complicated network. What you want to do is take aim at one part of the group--a leader, a spokesman, a key member of the inner circle. That is how the activist Saul Alinsky tackled corporations and bureaucracies. In his 1960s campaign to desegregate Chicago's public-school system, he focused on the superintendent of schools, knowing full well that this man would try to shift the blame upward. By taking repeated hits at the superintendent, he was able to publicize his struggle, and it became impossible for the man to hide. Eventually those behind him had to come to his aid, exposing themselves in the process. Like Alinsky, never aim at a vague, abstract enemy. It is hard to drum up the emotions to fight such a bloodless battle, which in any case leaves your enemy invisible. Personalize the fight, eyeball to eyeball.

Danger is everywhere. There are always hostile people and destructive relationships. The only way to break out of a negative dynamic is to confront it. Repressing your anger, avoiding the person threatening you, always looking to conciliate--these common strategies spell ruin. Avoidance of conflict becomes a habit, and you lose the taste for battle. Feeling guilty is pointless; it is not your fault you have enemies. Feeling wronged or victimized is equally futile. In both cases you are looking inward, concentrating on yourself and your feelings. Instead of internalizing a bad situation, externalize it and face your enemy. It is the only way out.

The frequent hearing of my mistress reading the bible--for she often read aloud when her husband was absent--soon awakened my curiosity in respect to this mystery of reading, and roused in me the desire to learn. Having no fear of my kind mistress before my eyes, (she had given me no reason to fear,) I frankly asked her to teach me to read; and without hesitation, the dear woman began the task, and very soon, by her assistance, I was master of the alphabet, and could spell words of three or four letters...Master Hugh was amazed at the simplicity of his spouse, and, probably for the first time, he unfolded to her the true philosophy of slavery, and the peculiar rules necessary to be observed by masters and mistresses, in the management of their human chattels. Mr. Auld promptly forbade the continuance of her [reading] instruction; telling her, in the first place, that the thing itself was unlawful; that it was also unsafe, and could only lead to mischief.... Mrs. Auld evidently felt the force of his remarks; and, like an obedient wife, began to shape her course in the direction indicated by her husband. The effect of his words, on me, was neither slight nor transitory. His iron sentences--cold and harsh--sunk deep into my heart, and stirred up not only my feelings into a sort of rebellion, but awakened within me a slumbering train of vital thought. It was a new and special revelation, dispelling a painful mystery, against which my youthful understanding had struggled, and struggled in vain, to wit: the white man's power to perpetuate the enslavement of the black man. "Very well," thought I; "knowledge unfits a child to be a slave." I instinctively assented to the proposition; and from that moment I understood the direct pathway from slavery to freedom. This was just what I needed; and got it at a time, and from a source, whence I least expected it.... Wise as Mr. Auld was, he evidently underrated my comprehension, and had little idea of the use to which I was capable of putting the impressive lesson he was giving to his wife.... That which he most loved I most hated; and the very determination which he expressed to keep me in ignorance, only rendered me the more resolute in seeking intelligence.


The child psychologist Jean Piaget saw conflict as a critical part of mental development. Through battles with peers and then parents, children learn to adapt to the world and develop strategies for dealing with problems. Those children who seek to avoid conflict at all cost, or those who have overprotective parents, end up handicapped socially and mentally. The same is true of adults: it is through your battles with others that you learn what works, what doesn't, and how to protect yourself. Instead of shrinking from the idea of having enemies, then, embrace it. Conflict is therapeutic.

Enemies bring many gifts. For one thing, they motivate you and focus your beliefs. The artist Salvador Dali found early on that there were many qualities he could not stand in people: conformity, romanticism, piety. At every stage of his life, he found someone he thought embodied these anti-ideals--an enemy to vent on. First it was the poet Federico Garcia Lorca, who wrote romantic poetry; then it was Andre Breton, the heavy-handed leader of the surrealist movement. Having such enemies to rebel against made Dali feel confident and inspired.

Enemies also give you a standard by which to judge yourself, both personally and socially. The samurai of Japan had no gauge of their excellence unless they fought the best swordsmen; it took Joe Frazier to make Muhammad Ali a truly great fighter. A tough opponent will bring out the best in you. And the bigger the opponent, the greater your reward, even in defeat. It is better to lose to a worthy opponent than to squash some harmless foe. You will gain sympathy and respect, building support for your next fight.

Being attacked is a sign that you are important enough to be a target. You should relish the attention and the chance to prove yourself. We all have aggressive impulses that we are forced to repress; an enemy supplies you with an outlet for these drives. At last you have someone on whom to unleash your aggression without feeling guilty.

Leaders have always found it useful to have an enemy at their gates in times of trouble, distracting the public from their difficulties. In using your enemies to rally your troops, polarize them as far as possible: they will fight the more fiercely when they feel a little hatred. So exaggerate the differences between you and the enemy--draw the lines clearly. Xenophon made no effort to be fair; he did not say that the Persians weren't really such a bad lot and had done much to advance civilization. He called them barbarians, the antithesis of the Greeks. He described their recent treachery and said they were an evil culture that could find no favor with the gods. And so it is with you: victory is your goal, not fairness and balance. Use the rhetoric of war to heighten the stakes and stimulate the spirit.

What you want in warfare is room to maneuver. Tight corners spell death. Having enemies gives you options. You can play them off against each other, make one a friend as a way of attacking the other, on and on. Without enemies you will not know how or where to maneuver, and you will lose a sense of your limits, of how far you can go. Early on, Julius Caesar identified Pompey as his enemy. Measuring his actions and calculating carefully, he did only those things that left him in a solid position in relation to Pompey. When war finally broke out between the two men, Caesar was at his best. But once he defeated Pompey and had no more such rivals, he lost all sense of proportion--in fact, he fancied himself a god. His defeat of Pompey was his own undoing. Your enemies force on you a sense of realism and humility.

Remember: there are always people out there who are more aggressive, more devious, more ruthless than you are, and it is inevitable that some of them will cross your path. You will have a tendency to want to conciliate and compromise with them. The reason is that such types are often brilliant deceivers who see the strategic value in charm or in seeming to allow you plenty of space, but actually their desires have no limit, and they are simply trying to disarm you. With some people you have to harden yourself, to recognize that there is no middle ground, no hope of conciliation. For your opponent your desire to compromise is a weapon to use against you. Know these dangerous enemies by their past: look for quick power grabs, sudden rises in fortune, previous acts of treachery. Once you suspect you are dealing with a Napoleon, do not lay down your arms or entrust them to someone else. You are the last line of your own defense.

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Authority: If you count on safety and do not think of danger, if you do not know enough to be wary when enemies arrive, this is called a sparrow nesting on a tent, a fish swimming in a cauldron--they won't last the day.--Chuko Liang (A.D. 181-234 )


Always keep the search for and use of enemies under control. It is clarity you want, not paranoia. It is the downfall of many tyrants to see an enemy in everyone. They lose their grip on reality and become hopelessly embroiled in the emotions their paranoia churns up. By keeping an eye on possible enemies, you are simply being prudent and cautious. Keep your suspicions to yourself, so that if you're wrong, no one will know. Also, beware of polarizing people so completely that you cannot back off. Margaret Thatcher, usually brilliant at the polarizing game, eventually lost control of it: she created too many enemies and kept repeating the same tactic, even in situations that called for retreat. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a master polarizer, always looking to draw a line between himself and his enemies. Once he had made that line clear enough, though, he backed off, which made him look like a conciliator, a man of peace who occasionally went to war. Even if that impression was false, it was the height of wisdom to create it.



What most often weighs you down and brings you misery is the past, in the form of unnecessary attachments, repetitions of tired formulas, and the memory of old victories and defeats. You must consciously wage war against the past and force yourself to react to the present moment. Be ruthless on yourself; do not repeat the same tired methods. Sometimes you must force yourself to strike out in new directions, even if they involve risk. What you may lose in comfort and security, you will gain in surprise, making it harder for your enemies to tell what you will do. Wage guerrilla war on your mind, allowing no static lines of defense, no exposed citadels--make everything fluid and mobile.

Theory cannot equip the mind with formulas for solving problems, nor can it mark the narrow path on which the sole solution is supposed to lie by planting a hedge of principles on either side. But it can give the mind insight into the great mass of phenomena and of their relationships, then leave it free to rise into the higher realms of action. There the mind can use its innate talents to capacity, combining them all so as to seize on what is right and true as though this were a single idea formed by their concentrated pressure--as though it were a response to the immediate challenge rather than a product of thought.



No one has risen to power faster than Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821). In 1793 he went from captain in the French revolutionary army to brigadier general. In 1796 he became the leader of the French force in Italy fighting the Austrians, whom he crushed that year and again three years later. He became first consul of France in 1801, emperor in 1804. In 1805 he humiliated the Austrian and Russian armies at the Battle of Austerlitz.

For many, Napoleon was more than a great general; he was a genius, a god of war. Not everyone was impressed, though: there were Prussian generals who thought he had merely been lucky. Where Napoleon was rash and aggressive, they believed, his opponents had been timid and weak. If he ever faced the Prussians, he would be revealed as a great fake.

Among these Prussian generals was Friedrich Ludwig, prince of Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen (1746-1818). Hohenlohe came from one of Germany's oldest aristocratic families, one with an illustrious military record. He had begun his career young, serving under Frederick the Great (1712-86) himself, the man who had single-handedly made Prussia a great power. Hohenlohe had risen through the ranks, becoming a general at fifty--young by Prussian standards.

To Hohenlohe success in war depended on organization, discipline, and the use of superior strategies developed by trained military minds. The Prussians exemplified all of these virtues. Prussian soldiers drilled relentlessly until they could perform elaborate maneuvers as precisely as a machine. Prussian generals intensely studied the victories of Frederick the Great; war for them was a mathematical affair, the application of timeless principles. To the generals Napoleon was a Corsican hothead leading an unruly citizens' army. Superior in knowledge and skill, they would outstrategize him. The French would panic and crumble in the face of the disciplined Prussians; the Napoleonic myth would lie in ruins, and Europe could return to its old ways.

In August 1806, Hohenlohe and his fellow generals finally got what they wanted: King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia, tired of Napoleon's broken promises, decided to declare war on him in six weeks. In the meantime he asked his generals to come up with a plan to crush the French.

Hohenlohe was ecstatic. This campaign would be the climax of his career. He had been thinking for years about how to beat Napoleon, and he presented his plan at the generals' first strategy session: precise marches would place the army at the perfect angle from which to attack the French as they advanced through southern Prussia. An attack in oblique formation--Frederick the Great's favorite tactic--would deliver a devastating blow. The other generals, all in their sixties and seventies, presented their own plans, but these too were merely variants on the tactics of Frederick the Great. Discussion turned into argument; several weeks went by. Finally the king had to step in and create a compromise strategy that would satisfy all of his generals.

He [Baron Antoine-Henri de Jomini] --often quite arbitrarily--presses [the deeds of Napoleon] into a system which he foists on Napoleon, and, in doing so, completely fails to see what, above all, really constitutes the greatness of this captain--namely, the reckless boldness of his operations, where, scoffing at all theory, he always tried to do what suited each occasion best.


A feeling of exuberance swept the country, which would soon relive the glory years of Frederick the Great. The generals realized that Napoleon knew about their plans--he had excellent spies--but the Prussians had a head start, and once their war machine started to move, nothing could stop it.

On October 5, a few days before the king was to declare war, disturbing news reached the generals. A reconnaissance mission revealed that divisions of Napoleon's army, which they had believed was dispersed, had marched east, merged, and was massing deep in southern Prussia. The captain who had led the scouting mission reported that the French soldiers were marching with packs on their backs: where the Prussians used slow-moving wagons to provision their troops, the French carried their own supplies and moved with astonishing speed and mobility.

Before the generals had time to adjust their plans, Napoleon's army suddenly wheeled north, heading straight for Berlin, the heart of Prussia. The generals argued and dithered, moving their troops here and there, trying to decide where to attack. A mood of panic set in. Finally the king ordered a retreat: the troops would reassemble to the north and attack Napoleon's flank as he advanced toward Berlin. Hohenlohe was in charge of the rear guard, protecting the Prussians' retreat.

On October 14, near the town of Jena, Napoleon caught up with Hohenlohe, who finally faced the battle he had wanted so desperately. The numbers on both sides were equal, but while the French were an unruly force, fighting pell-mell and on the run, Hohenlohe kept his troops in tight order, orchestrating them like a corps de ballet. The fighting went back and forth until finally the French captured the village of Vierzehnheiligen.

Hohenlohe ordered his troops to retake the village. In a ritual dating back to Frederick the Great, a drum major beat out a cadence and the Prussian soldiers, their colors flying, re-formed their positions in perfect parade order, preparing to advance. They were in an open plain, though, and Napoleon's men were behind garden walls and on the house roofs. The Prussians fell like ninepins to the French marksmen. Confused, Hohenlohe ordered his soldiers to halt and change formation. The drums beat again, the Prussians marched with magnificent precision, always a sight to behold--but the French kept shooting, decimating the Prussian line.

Never had Hohenlohe seen such an army. The French soldiers were like demons. Unlike his disciplined soldiers, they moved on their own, yet there was method to their madness. Suddenly, as if from nowhere, they rushed forward on both sides, threatening to surround the Prussians. The prince ordered a retreat. The Battle of Jena was over.

Like a house of cards, the Prussians quickly crumbled, one fortress falling after another. The king fled east. In a matter of days, virtually nothing remained of the once mighty Prussian army.


A bat fell to the ground and was caught by a house-ferret. Realizing that she was on the point of being killed, she begged for her life. The house-ferret said to her that she couldn't let her go, for ferrets were supposed to be natural enemies to all birds. The bat replied that she herself was not a bird, but a mouse. She managed to extricate herself from her danger by this means. Eventually, falling a second time, the bat was caught by another house-ferret. Again she pleaded to the ferret not to eat her. The second ferret declared that she absolutely detested all mice. But the bat positively affirmed that she was not a mouse but a bat. And so she was released again. And that was how she saved herself from death twice by a mere change of name. This fable shows that it is not always necessary to confine ourselves to the same tactics. But, on the contrary, if we are adaptable to circumstances we can better escape danger.



The reality facing the Prussians in 1806 was simple: they had fallen fifty years behind the times. Their generals were old, and instead of responding to present circumstances, they were repeating formulas that had worked in the past. Their army moved slowly, and their soldiers were automatons on parade. The Prussian generals had many signs to warn them of disaster: their army had not performed well in its recent engagements, a number of Prussian officers had preached reform, and, last but not least, they had had ten years to study Napoleon--his innovative strategies and the speed and fluidity with which his armies converged on the enemy. Reality was staring them in the face, yet they chose to ignore it. Indeed, they told themselves that Napoleon was the one who was doomed.

You might find the Prussian army just an interesting historical example, but in fact you are likely marching in the same direction yourself. What limits individuals as well as nations is the inability to confront reality, to see things for what they are. As we grow older, we become more rooted in the past. Habit takes over. Something that has worked for us before becomes a doctrine, a shell to protect us from reality. Repetition replaces creativity. We rarely realize we're doing this, because it is almost impossible for us to see it happening in our own minds. Then suddenly a young Napoleon crosses our path, a person who does not respect tradition, who fights in a new way. Only then do we see that our ways of thinking and responding have fallen behind the times.

Never take it for granted that your past successes will continue into the future. Actually, your past successes are your biggest obstacle: every battle, every war, is different, and you cannot assume that what worked before will work today. You must cut yourself loose from the past and open your eyes to the present. Your tendency to fight the last war may lead to your final war.

When in 1806 the Prussian generals...plunged into the open jaws of disaster by using Frederick the Great's oblique order of battle, it was not just a case of a style that had outlived its usefulness but the most extreme poverty of the imagination to which routine has ever led. The result was that the Prussian army under Hohenlohe was ruined more completely than any army has ever been ruined on the battlefield.

--Carl von Clausewitz, ON WAR


In 1605, Miyamoto Musashi, a samurai who had made a name for himself as a swordsman at the young age of twenty-one, was challenged to a duel. The challenger, a young man named Matashichiro, came from the Yoshioka family, a clan itself renowned for swordsmanship. Earlier that year Musashi had defeated Matashichiro's father, Genzaemon, in a duel. Days later he had killed Genzaemon's younger brother in another duel. The Yoshioka family wanted revenge.

I never read any treatises on strategy.... When we fight, we do not take any books with us.

MAO TSE-TUNG, 1893-1976 

Musashi's friends smelled a trap in Matashichiro's challenge and offered to accompany him to the duel, but Musashi went alone. In his earlier fights with the Yoshiokas, he had angered them by showing up hours late; this time, though, he came early and hid in the trees. Matashichiro arrived with a small army. Musashi would "arrive way behind schedule as usual," one of them said, "but that trick won't work with us anymore!" Confident in their ambush, Matashichiro's men lay down and hid in the grass. Suddenly Musashi leaped out from behind his tree and shouted, "I've been waiting long enough. Draw your sword!" In one swift stroke, he killed Matashichiro, then took a position at an angle to the other men. All of them jumped to their feet, but they were caught off guard and startled, and instead of surrounding him, they stood in a broken line. Musashi simply ran down the line, killing the dazed men one after another in a matter of seconds.

Musashi's victory sealed his reputation as one of Japan's greatest swordsmen. He now roamed the country looking for suitable challenges. In one town he heard of an undefeated warrior named Baiken whose weapons were a sickle and a long chain with a steel ball at the end of it. Musashi wanted to see these weapons in action, but Baiken refused: the only way he could see them work, Baiken said, was by fighting a duel.

REFRESHING THE MIND When you and your opponent are engaged in combat which is dragging on with no end in sight, it is crucial that you should come up with a completely different technique. By refreshing your mind and techniques as you continue to fight your opponent, you will find an appropriate rhythm-timing with which to defeat him. Whenever you and your opponent become stagnant, you must immediately employ a different method of dealing with him in order to overcome him.


Once again Musashi's friends chose the safe route: they urged him to walk away. No one had come close to defeating Baiken, whose weapons were unbeatable: swinging his ball in the air to build up momentum, he would force his victim backward with a relentless charge, then hurl the ball at the man's face. His opponent would have to fend off the ball and chain, and while his sword arm was occupied, in that brief instant Baiken would slash him with the sickle across his neck.

Ignoring the warnings of his friends, Musashi challenged Baiken and showed up at the man's tent with two swords, one long, one short. Baiken had never seen someone fight with two swords. Also, instead of letting Baiken charge him, Musashi charged first, pushing his foe back on his heels. Baiken hesitated to throw the ball, for Musashi could parry it with one sword and strike him with the other. As he looked for an opening, Musashi suddenly knocked him off balance with a blow of the short sword and then, in a split second, followed with a thrust of the long one, stabbing him through and killing the once undefeated master Baiken.

A few years later, Musashi heard about a great samurai named Sasaki Ganryu, who fought with a very long sword--a startlingly beautiful weapon, which seemed possessed of some warlike spirit. This fight would be Musashi's ultimate test. Ganryu accepted his challenge; the duel would take place on a little island near the samurai's home.

It is a disease to be obsessed by the thought of winning. It is also a disease to be obsessed by the thought of employing your swordsmanship. So it is to be obsessed by the thought of using everything you have learned, and to be obsessed by the thought of attacking. It is also a disease to be obsessed and stuck with the thought of ridding yourself of any of these diseases. A disease here is an obsessed mind that dwells on one thing. Because all these diseases are in your mind, you must get rid of them to put your mind in order.

TAKUAN, JAPAN, 1573-1645 

On the morning of the duel, the island was packed. A fight between such warriors was unprecedented. Ganryu arrived on time, but Musashi was late, very late. An hour went by, then two; Ganryu was furious. Finally a boat was spotted approaching the island. Its passenger was lying down, half asleep, it seemed, whittling at a long wooden oar. It was Musashi. He seemed lost in thought, staring into the clouds. When the boat came to shore, he tied a dirty towel around his head and jumped out of the boat, brandishing the long oar--longer than Ganryu's famous sword. This strange man had come to the biggest fight of his life with an oar for a sword and a towel for a headband.

Ganryu called out angrily, "Are you so frightened of me that you have broken your promise to be here by eight?" Musashi said nothing but stepped closer. Ganryu drew his magnificent sword and threw the sheath onto the sand. Musashi smiled: "Sasaki, you have just sealed your doom." "Me? Defeated? Impossible!" "What victor on earth," replied Musashi, "would abandon his sheath to the sea?" This enigmatic remark only made Ganryu angrier.

Then Musashi charged, aiming his sharpened oar straight for his enemy's eyes. Ganryu quickly raised his sword and struck at Musashi's head but missed, only cutting the towel headband in two. He had never missed before. In almost the same instant, Musashi brought down his wooden sword, knocking Ganryu off his feet. The spectators gasped. As Ganryu struggled up, Musashi killed him with a blow to the head. Then, after bowing politely to the men officiating over the duel, he got back into the boat and left as calmly as he had arrived.

From that moment on, Musashi was considered a swordsman without peer.

Anyone can plan a campaign, but few are capable of waging war, because only a true military genius can handle the developments and circumstances.



Miyamoto Musashi, author of The Book of Five Rings, won all his duels for one reason: in each instance he adapted his strategy to his opponent and to the circumstances of the moment. With Matashichiro he decided it was time to arrive early, which he hadn't done in his previous fights. Victory against superior numbers depended on surprise, so he leaped up when his opponents lay down; then, once he had killed their leader, he set himself at an angle that invited them to charge at him instead of surrounding him, which would have been much more dangerous for him. With Baiken it was simply a matter of using two swords and then crowding his space, giving him no time to react intelligently to this novelty. With Ganryu he set out to infuriate and humiliate his haughty opponent--the wooden sword, the nonchalant attitude, the dirty-towel headband, the enigmatic remark, the charge at the eyes.

Musashi's opponents depended on brilliant technique, flashy swords, and unorthodox weapons. That is the same as fighting the last war: instead of responding to the moment, they relied on training, technology, and what had worked before. Musashi, who had grasped the essence of strategy when he was still very young, turned their rigidity into their downfall. His first thought was of the gambit that would take this particular opponent most by surprise. Then he would anchor himself in the moment: having set his opponent off balance with something unexpected, he would watch carefully, then respond with another action, usually improvised, that would turn mere disequilibrium into defeat and death.

Thunder and wind: the image of DURATION. Thus the superior man stands firm And does not change his direction. Thunder rolls, and the wind blows; both are examples of extreme mobility and so are seemingly the very opposite of duration, but the laws governing their appearance and subsidence, their coming and going, endure. In the same way the independence of the superior man is not based on rigidity and immobility of character. He always keeps