Sun Tzu’s The Art of War | Overview & Summary

Welcome to I Am Your Target Demographic and
before we can dive in, we need to talk about pronunciation. The ancient Chinese general that we’re discussing
today is often called Sun Tzu but that’s not really an accurate pronunciation. As the book has been translated from its Mandarin
roots, the title has been changed and distorted, so we’re going with the more authentic pronunciation
Sun “Zuh”. So while it might be jarring, this is more
in line with what his title really was. So now let’s get to the outline of Sun Tzu’s
The Art of War. This is going to be a simplified overview,
outlining the 13 chapters and some basic principles that we can learn from them, applying them
to a variety of modern fields. Let’s start with a quick rundown of the
author. Born Sun Wu around 540 BC. I say around because a lot of Sun’s history
is disagreed on. Where he was born is even unclear. There are conflicting and unreliable stories
here, some even questioning if Sun Wu was one person or an amalgamation of other notable
men. You can understand after 2,500 years if things
get lost in translation. He eventually rose up to become a general,
earning the title of Sun Tzu, meaning Master Sun, and writing the military guide that we’re
discussing here today. Regardless what’s true and real about the
man known as Sun Tzu, the book that we’re talking about is a concrete thing, a real
thing. It’s been translated many times and we’ll
use the chapter headings from the 1910 translation from Lionel Giles, a curator at the British
Museum. He took aim at previous English translations,
saying that omissions were frequent and passages were skipped because they were difficult to
translate. So let’s dive into chapter one: Laying Plans. War is not a pleasant thing, argues Sun Tzu. It’s serious. It’s about survival. You should think carefully before engaging. If a general thinks closely about which side
is stronger, has more discipline, which is better trained and organized, than they can
work out who will and who will lose. If you look at the two sides and your enemy
has many advantages and many strengths, the wise move is to avoid conflict. You can predict your loss and therefore avoid
the loss. One major factor in this determination is
something called the Way, which is about the moral stance of a side. If the general is righteous and virtuous,
he will likely have more command over his men. Sun Tzu also flips his idea of strategizing
that you should learn all you can about your opponent, while making your opponent blind
to your true state. If they can’t gauge your strengths and weaknesses,
it’s harder for them to succeed in battle. This whole chapter is planning and preparation. Chapter two is called Waging War. This gets into some incredible detail that
seems specific but has massive repercussions. He outlines how many horses you should bring,
how many troops should follow a general. But what he’s saying is that money and human
lives are not be used recklessly, they are both finite resources. If you wage a huge war, it can be taxing on
an army. They become exhausted, their supplies dwindle. The key takeaway from this chapter is to strike
quickly. Your army should never need reinforcements
or new provisions. Strike quickly, so that the impact on your
treasury will be slight. Many losses at war are due to the attrition
of people and supplies. This chapter also talks about using the resources
of your enemy. Do not destroy supplies you can use, do not
burn food that you can eat, and don’t kill soldiers that can either give you information
or join your own ranks. This chapter is all about resources and using
them wisely, not recklessly. We move onto chapter three Attack by Stratagem. This begins by reinforcing the idea of not
destroying everything in war. A city razed to the ground is of little use
to, where it’s more beneficial to strategically destroy them politically and leave the city
and people intact. He then gives some very direct strategies
for how to attack based on your army versus another’s. If your forces outnumber the enemy largely,
surround them completely. If it’s five to one, attack them. At two to one, divide the enemy and fight
them that way. If it’s even, fight them head-on, one on
one. If they outnumber you, hide. If they outnumber you greatly, escape. Foolishly fighting a losing battle will end
horribly. Sun Tzu then outlines five essentials to consider
in your strategy here. You must know when to fight and when not to,
referencing the strategies I just talked about. You must know how to deploy an army and where. You must have united officers and men serving. You must be prepared for any surprise. And lastly, you need a general who can make
his own decisions without political leaders interfering without expertise. None of them essentials talk about more men
or more technology. It’s about strategy and preparation. He said paraphrased, “If you know the enemy
and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for
every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself,
you will succumb in every battle.” Chapter four is Tactical Dispositions. This chapter is all about when to advance
and force a battle. To attack, you become vulnerable, but to defend
is to become invulnerable. The idea of ying and yang is played into here,
with an ebb and flow based on your choice to advance or not. Sun Tzu even evokes imagery of moving under
the Earth when defending and striking from the heavens when attacking. There’s also the focus on a quick and decisive
attack, that some fights may never take place on a battlefield, if fought correctly. A skillful general seeks victory, not battle. A terrible general seeks battle first. Chapter five is Use of Energy. Managing a massive army is just as managing
a small one, but Sun Tzu focuses on dividing them up and knowing each of their purposes. You must push and pull these units to effectively
attack. If you see a weak point, pushing a unit into
that point may collapse the army. If you pull your forces back and bait the
enemy, you can engulf them as they arrive. Sun Tzu compares this to rivers and streams,
ebbing and flowing. Every directive to your army is either a direct
action or an indirect, there’s really nothing else, he affirms. How you use your army connects to chapter
six, Weak Points and Strong, or strengths and weaknesses. In your preparation, you want all the circumstances
to favor you and your army. If you arrive to battle first, your men rest
and wait, defending their ground. If you arrive to battle second, your troops
are already tired from marching and now must fight. Force your opponent into weakness. A strong army must eat, so how can you starve
them? An army that is steadfast and unmoveable,
how can you force their hand to make them adjust? The defender must defend all lines, making
every part weaker, so the general of an army must make a point to attack only a few points
with all their might. All of this relies on the plan being secret,
otherwise the defender would defend only those points. Secrecy is key. Chapter seven focuses on Maneuvering. This is the strategy of making commands and
orders of a physical army. If you force your army to march for 30 miles,
you’ll lose men for all sorts of reasons. There’s a balance between pushing them to
gain an advantage, and then pushing them too far. Early I mentioned getting to the battle first. That’s useful, if your entire army arrives
at all. He says commanding a force that listens and
obeys is one thing, whereas trying to command a force that’s disobedient can bring you
to ruin. There’s a story about Sun Tzu where he’s
challenged to train an army out of concubines, seemingly impossible. He gives an order, they laugh and carry on. He then executed two of the King’s favorite
concubines. Now, everyone listened and maneuvered exactly
as directed. In this chapter he’s saying that a force
must listen to the general, because it’s chaos if they don’t. He also talks about how to give these orders
here. If it’s night time, use torches. If you manage many, use drums when your voice
can’t carry. This speaks to communicating different in
different circumstances. Sun Tzu even brings up which troops you should
focus on. The men who are sharpest need very little
help, but the slow and homesick, the General can greatly affect and improve morale. Find weaknesses in your own men, in your structure,
in your processes, and try to avoid them or strengthen them before you arrive to battle. Chapter eight is Variation of Tactics. Circumstances sometimes call for different
tactics and different choices. There are cities you should not attack, there
are roads you should not take. In your preparation, you see that some choices
will be catastrophic. These tactics all come from the general and
there’s five major ways that a general can fail when deciding tactics. Being reckless and impatient leads to destruction. Cowardice and fear leads to eventual capture. A hasty temper means one can be baited and
provoked. A high standard of honor means one might be
susceptible and sensitive to shame. Lastly, an excessive compassion for the troops
might make a general second guess his decisions and worry about them, as opposed to focusing
on victory alone. Sun Tzu claims that whenever an army is defeated
or a leader slain, one of these five faults is to blame. Chapter nine is about The Army on the March. He gives some very specific instructions here,
including to camp in high places facing the sun, to always have the high ground when facing
your opponent but don’t expend your energy marching uphill needlessly. When fighting near a stream or river, let
the enemy try to advance all the way through and expend their energy, as opposed to rushing
to meet them. How your opponent rushes to face you tells
you of their situation. If they wait for you to approach, they have
strong defenses and might see some obstacles for you to overcome. If they’re approaching, look for signs,
such as trees moving and animals running scared. High dust in the distance might mean horses,
while low dust might mean walking troops. Also be aware that you’re giving off these
signals as well, as your army travels. Classification of Terrain is chapter ten and
literally lays out for the general how to read the terrain and the benefits of fighting
in each. Accessible terrain is terrain that anyone
can traverse easily. The advantage goes to the general who can
secure a high ground before the opponent arrives and has sufficient supplies to last throughout. Entangling ground means it’s easy to move
forward, to secure new land, but it’s difficult to backtrack or retreat. Make sure your enemy is vulnerable before
moving forward. In deadlock terrain, or temporizing as the
direct translation, there is no advantage for either side. If you can back out and make the enemy advance
into this terrain, you should be able to strike with advantage. Enclosed terrain is usually a narrow passage
with very little options. If you get to this location first, you can
block it or ambush. If the enemy garrisons this space, only advance
if you’re confident that it’s weakly protected. If you come upon terrain that is rocky and
has high peaks and low valleys, you should secure the high peaks first. If your enemy has the high ground, retreat
and force them to leave these advantages if they wish to pursue. In this same chapter, Sun Tzu outlines some
non-natural factors that a General must look out for, that can cause harm to the army. If the enemy outnumbers you ten to one, your
army will fly in fear or retreat. When the army troops are strong-willed and
determined, yet the officers incompetent, the result will be the troops not listening
to the officers. If it’s reversed, with strong competent
officers and weak soldiers, the result is decay and defection. If the officers act without command from the
General, the army will collapse. Disorganization occurs when the General can’t
articulate his plans so the army doesn’t move as one. When the General chooses to pit a weak army
or a weak detachment against a much stronger one, the only option is retreat or defeat. The best Generals know the terrain, know their
army, and know which difficulties they will face. Here are the keys to success as outlined by
Sun Tzu. If a ruler says not to fight, but a competent
General sees that victory is clear, they should fight. The same is true if a ruler says to fight
but defeat is certain, then do not fight. A good general makes decisions without seeking
fame or fearing blame. A general cannot be confident if any factor
of the battle is unsure. If the terrain is unclear, victory is not
certain. If he does not know his soldiers, victory
is not certain. He is confident with his movements, as any
doubt can sow doubt in the troops. Chapter eleven dives into scenarios, called
the Nine Situations. These are situations that an army might find
themselves in, not entirely reliant on the physical ground they’re on. Dispersive ground is when a General fights
in his own homeland, on familiar ground. You may have the advantage, but damage may
be done to your own supplies and property, so be wary. Facile ground is when you’ve broken into
enemy territory, so you should not slow down. You don’t have the advantage but you haven’t
gained much, so you must fight on. Contentious ground is when either side can
gain a great advantage by taking a particular place, so move forward but don’t engage
too aggressively until you have a clear advantage, otherwise you might lose a key victory. Open ground means that both armies have complete
freedom, therefore it’s wise to not try to stop the enemy’s movement, you have no
terrain to support you. There’s intersecting ground, where multiple
states or constituents have interest, this is your chance to make allies and not enemies. When you’re on heavy ground, it means you’ve
made much progress and there are entire cities behind you, this is your chance to plunder
and restock with so many resources available to you. You may run into intractable ground, or difficult
ground, which means it is full of marshes and forests and hard to get through terrain,
in this instance you must keep moving to get out of that disadvantage. You must also look out for enclosed or hemmed
in ground, which is twisty and narrow and leaves you vulnerable. In these instances, continuously keep an eye
open and remain vigilant. Lastly we have desperate ground, or some call
it death ground, where you are merely trying to survive and you must fight with every ounce
of your being. If your opponent is striking so powerfully,
it also means they are vulnerable there is still a chance for success here. Chapter twelve The Attack by Fire focuses
on weapons of war, though weapons at the time were very different. He brings up five ways to use fire: Burning
enemy soldiers, destroying supplies, destroying their supplies that are still in transit,
destroy their weapons and ammo, and destroying lines of communication and causing chaos. You should always have your weapons ready
and available for use at a brief notice, as long as the weather is hot and dry, ideal
for fire to spread. Sun Tzu then talks about when the fire breaks
out, there’s ways to adapt to it. If you attack with fire, follow immediately
with an physical attack to capitalize. If you attack and there’s no response from
the opposing army, it may mean that something isn’t as it seems. They may be baiting you, they may have been
prepared, so wait and watch as the fire continues to spread. When the fire reaches is greatest peak is
when you should attack, do not wait for it to go out. If you can start a fire from inside the camp,
that’s beneficial as opposed to trying to attack from outside. Always be upwind when starting fires and remember
that nighttime fires likely die quicker than daytime fires. If fire seems too risky or destructive, using
water as a weapon, if the terrain allows, can also be a clever move. Though here he’s saying fire, I think these
ideas can be transferred to other modern machines of war as well. Chapter thirteen brings up another type of
weapon, the Use of Spies. Early on in these tips, Sun Tzu brought up
the idea of preparation and knowing your enemy. That’s not always easy, so in this chapter
he emphasizes using men who know the enemy and sorts them into five types. Local spies live in the opposing nation or
group, internal spies are actually within the enemy structure or government, and double
agents are spies sent to find you that you have turned to your cause instead. There is a thing called doomed spies (or dead
spies in some translations) that exist to pass on false information to your enemy. So they might make your enemy think you are
starving or taking a route that you’re not actually taking. And lastly we have live spies, who infiltrate
and then return to your ranks with information though aren’t from that camp. Sun Tzu says that these intelligence gatherers
should be the best paid and best treated, as this wisdom is key to winning a victory,
especially a bloodless one. Every move that a General makes is based on
this intelligence. So now we’ve covered the thirteen chapters
and what Sun Tzu had to say about the art of war. There’s many ways that these tactics can
be used today, especially in business circles. How you run a business and compete with other
businesses is an obvious parallel. Intelligence is key, preparation can defeat
seemingly insurmountable odds, and knowing which battles to fight. Down in the comments, I want you to share
some ways that you’ve seen some of these tactics play out in your life, either in work,
in your personal life, or somewhere else. Hopefully you found this interesting, I hope
it helped you get a grasp on this!


  • I Am Your Target Demographic

    Hopefully you this enjoyed this summary of The Art of War! Thanks for watching!

  • Venito Crouch

    I loved the summary.. I've mastered the art of war this overview added to it

  • Mario U Comics and Cartoons

    10:12 11:03 Always have the high ground? Obi-Wan Kenobi was right! Anakin should have listened

  • Jão

    Underrated channel

  • Joel Beaudette

    Im shocked u dont have at least a hundred thousand subs man. Hats off and thank u for the share!

  • Ricardo Reyes

    How do you not have more subs great vid

  • Kay Jay

    This was extremely thorough and helpful, thank you

  • NorthWood

    Current day application: if a rival business is to the west of you, wait until morning, when the sun is in his eyes, to set his warehouse on fire.

  • Jake Nicholson


  • JCI1990

    id say i followed all these to a T as best I could with NO money

  • abh22ishek

    what is the background music?

  • inca

    good video

  • Cadmar DaWeirdo

    Who hit the thumbs down?? This video is Awesome.

  • Ash

    Helped a lot but focus more on content and not on authors, of course they need focus too but for the scope of content not here

  • Mike S

    The Art of War is listed by EVERYONE who's supposed to know great books, as a MUST READ.

  • Ryan Wilke

    Very well done!

  • Corgarian Chris

    Time to apply all this knowledge on the great war…


  • Aaron Cruz

    Great summary. Thanks

  • dharminder chouhan

    Fantastic & well explained all the chapters & principles …..very easy assimilation without reading a book….Thanks a ton

  • Luke Kingsley

    Great stuff. It'd be cool if you could add timestamps to the description for each chapter.

  • Liam J Shannon

    For The Art of War as applied to soccer/football, go to Twitter/SunTzuSoccer

  • Mark Homiak

    YIN…. Not YING.

  • Ben Mc

    11:31 … is that a fart?

  • D'lish Donut

    Sun Tizoo the Chinese Machabelli. Heheh.

  • Jules Wanless

    I was just talking with my son about this book and his ideas. And it came to me how I actually used this in my life. I had a teacher who was mean to me and was failing me. I came to him one day and thanked him because i didnt want to pass and go on to middle school because i was afraid of being bullied. He ended up passing me lol.

  • Arasch Djabbari

    So simple, yet so wise; so old, yet so current!

  • Rich Drizzledick

    In every edition of the art of war I've ever owned, the thirteenth chapter is titled "Espionage" and not "the use of spies". It's not a big deal, but I've been seeing this title being used in YouTube summaries, whereas every hard copy I've owned it's titled Espionage.

  • Maria Orozco

    This is great, thanks for posting! I'd been meaning to read this book for years, and just now seeing summary. Great stuff! Thanks again!!

  • Ronald Mungal


  • Einsteinz Vice

    I read it years ago; great book!!! He realized early on that strong, organized women were a powerful force! TY for the great review! 😉

  • Occlehnorton

    My issue is applying this to my life.


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