14. Therefore the good fighter will be terrible in his onset, and prompt in his decision.
Tu Yu defines 節 here by the word 斷, which is very like “decision” in English. 短 is certainly used in a very unusual sense, even if, as the commentators say, it = 近. This would have reference to the measurement of distance mentioned above, letting the enemy get near before striking. But I cannot help thinking that Sun Tzŭ meant to use the word in a figurative sense comparable to our own idiom “short and sharp.” Cf. Wang Hsi’s note, which after describing the falcon’s mode of attack, proceeds: 兵之乘機當如是耳 “This is just how the ‘psychological moment’ should be seized in war.” I do not care for Capt. Calthrop’s rendering: “The spirit of the good fighter is terrifying, his occasions sudden.”
15. Energy may be likened to the bending of a crossbow; decision, to the releasing of a trigger.
“Energy” seems to be the best equivalent here for 埶, because the comparison implies that the force is potential, being stored up in the bent cross-bow until released by the finger on the trigger. None of the commentators seem to grasp the real point of the simile.
16. Amid the turmoil and tumult of battle, there may be seeming disorder and yet no real disorder at all; amid confusion and chaos, your array may be without head or tail, yet it will be proof against defeat.
形圓, literally “formation circular”, is explained by Li Ch‘üan as 無向背也 “without back or front.” Mei Yao-ch‘ên says; “The subdivisions of the army having been previously fixed, and the various signals agreed upon, the separating and joining, the dispersing and collecting which will take place in the course of a battle, may give the appearance of disorder when to near disorder is possible. Your formation may be without head or tail, your dispositions all topsy-turvy, and yet a rout of your forces quite out of the question.” It is a little difficult to decide whether 鬥亂 and 形圓 should not be taken as imperatives: “fight in disorder (for the purpose of deceiving the enemy), and you will be secure against real disorder.” Cf. I. § 20: 亂而取之.