​The Art of War

The Art of War

The first time I heard of Sun Tzu and his classic treatise The Art of War was in the hit movie Wall Street (1987), which perfectly encapsulated the 1980s. Michael Douglas, as Gordon Gekko, quoted Sun Tzu often throughout the film.

At the time, it was in vogue to equate business with war. CEOs and executives were reading ancient books on strategy and trying to use martial arts tactics for corporate takeovers and market domination.

It shouldn’t be forgotten, though, that The Art of War is a book of strategy regarding war specifically, and even though its lessons can be applied to other subjects, it is first and foremost instruction for winning a conflict — and that is why you should read it.

“All warfare is deception.” — The Art of War, Sun Tzu


The concept that all war is deception is one every martial artist should take to heart because it has so many applications. Here are three ways you can implement this bit of wisdom in your training:
  • Don’t telegraph your strikes or intentions.
  • Fake high and go low; fake low and go high.
  • Use facial expressions to hide your true feelings. In other words, develop a “poker face.”

There are endless applications of the notion that you can cloak your attacks by never letting them be known. The strategic use of purposeful deception is a powerful tool.

“Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” — The Art of War, Sun Tzu

This maxim advises readers to see their opponents and themselves honestly. In a world of photo filters and exaggerated claims on social media, knowing others and oneself is virtually alien, and it may require some extra effort to achieve an honest assessment. Here are some things you can do:

Know your enemy

  • Replace the word “enemy” with “opponent” and learn about the people you train with in your martial arts school. What are their favorite techniques? What are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • Is a tournament coming up? Are there any past matches you can study on YouTube to know how your potential opponent(s) might attack?

Know yourself

  • Make a list of what you are bad at doing and practice those things. Are your punches too slow? Do you need to improve your application of that submission you know but never practice? Get to work.
  • What are your weaknesses? Procrastination? Fear? Stop making excuses. Write them down and eliminate them.
  • Meditate. It doesn’t have to be for more than a few minutes, and it will do wonders when you can see yourself from within with no external interference.

The ideas and concepts presented in The Art of War have endured through the ages because they are useful and they are sound. Whether you practice karate, kung fu, jiu-jitsu or anything else, you will benefit from reading The Art of War.

So train hard, practice your techniques with intention and stream the movie Wall Street as you pick out pearls of wisdom from the master.


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