Sun Tzu Art Of War: Martial Arts Applications

Sun Tzu

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On August 12, 2013
Last modified:December 25, 2017


Ancient Chinese text on war, has common sense philosophy applicable to your everyday life, including self defense situations.

Sun Tzu, or The Art of War, is an ancient Chinese text on warfare. It has come to be used as a guide in modern business as well, because, actually, it has real-world applications. In fact, one can follow much of the advice in Sun Tzu in everyday life. However, here we will examine the applications of The Art of War in martial arts.

The Warrior Wins Every Battle Without Fighting

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

This means you are very prepared, you’ve taken everything into consideration before-hand. You are so prepared, so in tune, that the battle may never begin.

In practical terms, this could mean you never engage in any activity that would spark a confrontation. It could mean that you have physically prepared, trained techniques and conditioned your body and mind so thoroughly that the battle is won before it’s begun; and once it’s begun, it’s over for the enemy.

However, I take this to mean, too, that you shut the opponent down before he can attack. Once it is clear a confrontation is about to commence, you attack before the aggressor even begins, shutting down his offense and defense simultaneously, in effect shutting down any attack before it starts.

Take the Higher Ground

“All armies prefer higher ground to low, and sunny places to dark.”

You have to be on top. That is the position of advantage: Your body, your hand, your legs, at various times, must be on or above your opponent’s. This is an old piece of wisdom past down through the ages. The position above always has the advantage and the one below is always a struggle. From this position you have the advantage of time, you will “be on top”, quicker; and you can see what’s going on, no obscurity; at the bottom, the weight is on top of you, you have a disadvantage and, especially if the opponent is on your back or you are bent over, vision is obscured.

This, of course, could mean a mental thing too: That your mind must be clearer and must see all possibilities, even the possibility of escape. This too is the higher ground, in your mind.


Make Use of Momentum

“I’m on a roll!” It’s an old saying that has a lot of truth to it. Once you start winning, when you’re doing well, everything seems to keep falling into place. You’ve got it made. Conversely, if that momentum is diverted or blocked, usually you are essentially “screwed” and will likely remain “screwed” for a good long while; at least until you can recuperate and figure out an alternative plan. Sun Tzu says, “When an army has the force of momentum, even the timid become brave; when it loses the force of momentum, even the brave become timid.” This means follow through and commit to techniques too. Hesitation can cost you dearly. At any rate, once you start in on your attack, keep it going as long as you have the momentum.

Don’t Fight the Enemy on His Territory

Well, more accurately, if you are to invade the territory, do it before fighting, to set up the element of surprise. “The condition of a military force is that its essential factor is speed, taking advantage of others’ failure to catch up, going by routes they do not expect, attacking where they are not on guard.

Going in before the battle begins is what Sun Tzu calls ‘heavy ground’, going deep into enemy territory without them knowing. However, waltzing in to have a head-to-head confrontation is considered unwise, because then you have nothing but brute force and desperation on your side, there’s no necessary finesse. This is called ‘deadly ground’.

Just personally, I’d say, in a very practical way, if you go into someone’s territory, they have the advantage of having their own allies handy and also of knowing the terrain. I’d say without a very good plan and back-up, just going into enemy territory is a bad idea.


Sun Tzu talks rather extensively about terrain. One relevant clause talks of terrain with mountainous heights, which means the army needs to take a higher and sunny position and force the enemy to come to them.

The main point is to understand your environment, use it, find objects for defense and offense, go where you are safe, find escape routes if necessary. A good study of the environment you’re in is invaluable.

Do Not Prolong The Fight

“There is no instance of a country benefiting from protracted warfare.”

And, I suppose, this is obvious. You expend resources, energy, lives. You will be depleted eventually. This is a testament to ending the fight as soon as possible. Individual or country, no different: Either don’t let the war start or end it quickly without prolonging it.

Common sense.

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Ancient Chinese text on war, has common sense philosophy applicable to your everyday life, including self defense situations.

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