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Want to know everything that a seasoned war general does? Yea, me neither.
Want to learn 10 strategic, life-saving lessons from one of the greatest war minds of all time? That’s more like it!
Sun Tzu was a Chinese war general and arguably one of the greatest military strategists that ever lived. He wrote The Art of War, which is a timeless book about military and strategic warfare, that many consider to be the best book on the subject.
Who better to learn about self defense and fighting than Sun Tzu.
Sun Tzu goes in depth about how to fight and win a war by using smart, calculated tactics and putting the odds in your favor. It’s no surprise that the infamous war general’s bible to victory has a handful of lessons that can be applied directly to modern day self defense.
We’ve pinpointed 10 of the most important self defense lessons derived from The Art of War and have used direct quotes from the book to summarize his lessons.
1. “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win”
Fights are won or lost before they're even fought.
Perpetrators look for easy victims who are weak. If you live a confident, fulfilling, active life, then your chances of being attacked in the first place are much lower. Empower your life so that you give off a strong, confident vibe that few attackers will want to mess with.
2. “The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy not coming, but on our readiness to receive him.”
A simple but profound quote. Always be ready, regardless of whether you’ve ever been attacked or ever expect to be attacked. Violent crime tends to be unpredictable. You may only be attacked once in your life, but you better be prepared for that one time.
3. “The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand.”
Sun Tzu preached preparing for battle like no one else. He would leave no stone unturned and memorize every last detail about his opponent, the battlefield and even the weather.
This is never more applicable than in today’s world. If you prepare and plan for a possible attack, then your chances of surviving the attack are much higher.
This includes being physically healthy, active, and strong. Being smart and responsible, and putting yourself into good situations. And being vigilant and aware of the objects in your environment.
4. "He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight."
It’s important to know when to physically engage an attacker and when to use other methods. Physical engagement and self defense should be your last resort after you have exhausted all other options.
Other self defense methods to try first are de-escalation, compliance, appeasement, and lying.
- De-escalation means decreasing the intensity of the situation using verbal skills.
- Compliance means obeying, agreeing and conforming to a rule or order. This might take the form of throwing your wallet 10 feet away so the bad guy has to choose whether he wants you or the money.
- Appeasement means to pacify or please someone by giving into their demands. There are occasions that appeasement can save your life.
- We’ve all lied before. Sometimes you can tell a lie to a perpetrator that will scare him away.
5. “All warfare is based on deception. Hence when able to attack we must seem unable. When using our forces we must seem inactive. When we are near we make the enemy believe we are far away.”
If you’re in danger, being attacked, or have been subdued, one of the best strategies to surviving is deception.
For example if you've already been captured and you have a self defense weapon accessible, it’s best not to reveal it and make your intentions known.
Instead, pretend to be weak and hopeless, so that the bad guy lessens his guard becoming more vulnerable for you to attack him.
6. “Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.”
This quote is similar to the first one. It doesn’t universally apply to all situations.
If you are very strong, you should appear weak - only if you are sure the perpetrator is going to attack you. If the perpetrator may not attack you, it'd be wise to seem even stronger to intimate him and deter him from attacking you.
If you already know the perpetrator is going to attack you, you want him to believe that he’ll have an easy time.
If you are strong and appear to be strong, he will muster up all of his strength, power, and speed to subdue you. But if he believes you are weak and defenseless, he will think that he doesn’t need all of his force to overtake you.
Similarly if you are actually very weak and can be easily overtaken by even minimal force, you should seem very strong before the perpetrator has begun his attack. This will make him second guess his decision to attack you since bad guys generally look for the easiest victims.
7. “If he is superior in strength, evade him.”
In a fight if someone throws a strike at you, you have three main options.
One, to take the strike, which is generally not what you want to do, but sometimes the only option to lessen the blow.
Two, to block the strike, using some defensive technique which ideally will thwart the strike to your arm or leg instead of its intended target and lessen the blow.
Three, to avoid or evade the strike, by getting out of the way.
Even if you are trained in self defense or martial arts, if you’re fighting a stronger opponent with powerful strikes, it might be best to avoid or evade a strike rather than block it. This is because even if you block his strike, it can still cause significant harm to you.
You might be wondering, “When would there actually be a good time to block the strike if you can just avoid it altogether?” Sometimes it's beneficial to block the strike instead of avoiding it, to set up a counter strike against your opponent. Also if you avoid a strike, you generally end up retreating and in a worse position while your opponent can continue to advance on you.
8. “Attack him where he is unprepared. Appear where you are not expected.”
Kick him in the groin area. Where the sun don’t shine is where he is most likely least prepared and you can inflict the most damage.
9. “There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.”
The longer you’re in a fight, the worse chance you have to survive. The longer you’re in the captivity of your kidnapper, the lower your chances are of survival. Get out as fast as you can, once the threat has been neutralized
10. “If they will face death, there is nothing they will not achieve.”
This is a motivational quote for victims facing an attacker. Fight like your life depends on it, because it does. Fight dirty, act crazy, and use every trick in the book to make it out alive.
Art of War in a Nutshell
Sun Tzu’s Art of War lessons are intended for military combat. However, it’s easy to see that much of his book can be applied to modern day street smarts.
In a nutshell, always be prepared, put yourself in good situations, don’t fight unless you have to, and create and use advantages to win.