The Art of War (Sun)/Section IV

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IV. 形篇

  1. 孫子曰昔之善戰者先爲不可勝以待敵之可勝
  2. 不可勝在己可勝在敵

IV. Tactical dispositions.

1. Sun Tzu said: The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy.

2. To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.


  1. 故善戰者能爲不可勝不能使敵必可勝
  2. 故曰勝可知而不可爲
  3. 不可勝者守也可勝者攻也
  4. 守則不足攻則有餘
  5. 善守者藏於九地之下善攻者動於九天之上故能自保而全勝也
3. Thus the good fighter is able to secure himself against defeat, but cannot make certain of defeating the enemy.

4. Hence the saying: One may know how to conquer without being able to do it.

5. Security against defeat implies defensive tactics; ability to defeat the enemy means taking the offensive.

6. Standing on the defensive indicates insufficient strength; attacking, a superabundance of strength.

7. The general who is skilled in defense hides in the most secret recesses of the earth; he who is skilled in attack flashes forth from the topmost heights of heaven. Thus on the one hand we have ability to protect ourselves; on the other, a victory that is complete.


  1. 見勝不過衆人之所知非善之善者也
  2. 戰勝而天下曰善非善之善者也
8. To see victory only when it is within the ken of the common herd is not the acme of excellence. 9. Neither is it the acme of excellence if you fight and conquer and the whole Empire says, “Well done!”


  1. 故舉秋毫不爲多力見日月不爲明目聞雷霆不為聰耳
  2. 古之所謂善戰者勝勝易勝者也
  3. 故善戰者之勝也無智名無勇功
10. To lift an autumn hair is no sign of great strength; to see the sun and moon is no sign of sharp sight; to hear the noise of thunder is no sign of a quick ear.

11. What the ancients called a clever fighter is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease.

12. Hence his victories bring him neither reputation for wisdom nor credit for courage.


  1. 故其戰勝不忒不忒者其所措必勝勝已敗者也
  2. 故善戰者立於不敗之地而不失敵之敗也
  3. 是故勝兵先勝而後求戰敗兵先戰而後求勝
13. He wins his battles by making no mistakes. Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated.

14. Hence the skilful fighter puts himself into a position which makes defeat impossible, and does not miss the moment for defeating the enemy.

15. Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.


  1. 善用兵者修道而保法故能爲勝敗之政
  2. 兵法一曰度二曰量三曰數四曰稱五曰勝
  3. 地生度度生量量生數數生稱稱生勝
16. The consummate leader cultivates the moral law, and strictly adheres to method and discipline; thus it is in his power to control success.

17. In respect of military method, we have, firstly, Measurement; secondly, Estimation of quantity; thirdly, Calculation; fourthly, Balancing of chances; fifthly, Victory.

18. Measurement owes its existence to Earth; Estimation of quantity to Measurement; Calculation to Estimation of quantity; Balancing of chances to Calculation; and Victory to Balancing of chances.


  1. 故勝兵若以鎰稱銖敗兵若以銖稱鎰
  2. 勝者之戰民也若決積水於千仞之谿者形也
19. A victorious army opposed to a routed one, is as a pound's weight placed in the scale against a single grain. 20. The onrush of a conquering force is like the bursting of pent-up waters into a chasm a thousand fathoms deep. So much for tactical dispositions.