04.26.04-1: SUN TZU’S INFLUENCE ON MANEUVER THEORY

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”. “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”. Maneuver theory allows a competitor to shape the conflict whether it is the battlefield or the marketplace to his advantage - and to the disadvantage of his opponent. The ability to shape is based upon knowledge of yourself and of your opponent. Sun Tzu again this time from Thomas Cleary’s translation: “So it is said that if you know others and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know others but know yourself, you win one and lose one; if you do not know yourself and do not know others, you will imperiled in every single battle”.

Griffith continues his introduction to The Art of War by describing Sun Tzu’s use of the expected and unexpected in order to generate maneuver advantage. He characterizes the use of the expected and unexpected as the “generals tactical instruments”. Griffith says: ...The normal direct or cheng force and the extraordinary, indirect or chi force - are reciprocal; there effects are mutually reproductive... Griffith defines cheng as fixed, static and immobile. Chi is described in terms of flanking, encircling or fluid and mobile. Another way of thinking of cheng and chi is in terms of the orthodox and unorthodox. Cheng and chi like their Chinese analogs yin and yang are inextricably linked - one giving rise to the other. The emphasis on one force over the other leads to disharmony. And although cheng and chi are only two forces the artful combination of them can lead to infinite possibilities.

Sun Tzu described the artful use of cheng and ch’i this way according to the Thomas Cleary translation of The Art of War: “There are only five notes in the musical scale, but their variations are so many that they cannot all be heard. There are only five basic colors, but their variations are so many that they cannot all be seen. There are only five basic flavors, but their variations are so many that they cannot all be tasted. There are only two kinds of charge in battle, the unorthodox surprise attack and the orthodox direct attack, but the variations of the unorthodox and the orthodox are endless. The unorthodox and the orthodox give rise to each other, like a beginningless circle - who could exhaust them?"