By applying maneuver theory, campaigners can approach Sun Tzu’s ideal of winning without fighting. Sun Tzu’s approach to fluidity in shape and intentions is the foundation of maneuver theory:
“So a military force has no constant formation, water has no constant shape: the ability to gain victory by changing and adapting according to the opponent is called genius(1)”.
Maneuver tactics were first described by Sun Tzu in the “Art of War” more than 2000 years ago. The late Samuel B. Griffith a retired Brigadier General in the U.S. Marine Corps authored one of the best translations of the Art of War. In the introduction of his 1963 translation, Griffith introduces for the first time the key concept behind maneuver theory called “shaping”(2).
“The prudent commander bases his plans on his antagonist’s shape. Shape him, Sun Tzu says. Continuously concerned with observing and probing his opponent, the wise general at the same time takes every possible measure designed to prevent the enemy from shaping him”.
(1). The Art of War. Thomas Cleary. Boston & London: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1988.
(2). The Art of War. Samuel B. Griffith. London Oxford New York Oxford University Press. 1963