A Sun Tzu Companion

Main Index



Attack &

A Psychological

Attacking &
Defending Cities

Ambush &

The Baited Trap

Fire & Water

Traitors & Spies

Battle on the



Abreviations &

The Psychological Advantage

When the enemy troops are in high spirits, and, although facing you, do not join battle for a long time, nor leave, you must thoroughly investigate the situation.
- Sun Tzu

During the early morning spirits are keen, during the day they flag, and in the evening thoughts turn toward home.
- Sun Tzu

If the enemy general is obstinate and prone to anger, insult and enrage him, so that he will be irritated and confused, and without a plan will recklessly advance against you.
- Chang Yü

Frequently having a clear understanding of an opponent's psychology is more important in preparing for battle than other factors. The enemy army's level of discipline, whether its commander is arrogant or timorous, whether the army is fresh and enthusiastic or dull and tired - any one of these considerations could be decisive of itself.

Lü Pu Disdains His Opponents

Lü Pu was a bold and couragous commander, but disdainful of his opponents, whom he termed, "a lot of rats." He was arrogant to the extent that he chopped the head off one subordinate for being defeated in a night attack. Lü Pu felt his own reputation as a fighter had thereby been sullied.

To protect the capital, which was the objective of the opposing army, Lü Pu advanced and attacked so quickly and forcefully that his opponents did not even have time to form ranks. They were thrown back and took their stand near a gorge at the base of a hill.

Having just experienced Lü Pu in battle, Li Ts'ui, the commander of the opposing army, had no desire to do so again. Instead, he decided to play against Lü Pu's weaknesses: his impetuousity, disdainful pride and irritability.

So each day Li Ts'ui led his troops to the mouth of the gorge, enticing Lü Pu to battle. And Lü Pu, of course, obliged.

But as Lü Pu's soldiers approached, Ts'ui's troops retreated up the hill, throwing bolders and shooting arrows down on the heads of their opponents.

And, at that same moment, a unit commanded by one of Li Ts'ui's lieutenants approached Pu's troops from behind.

Lü Pu turned and charged against this new threat. But as he attacked, this unit also retreated up the hill and out of reach.

Then as Lü Pu regrouped, gongs sounded on the other side and Li Ts'ui came out against him again.

For days these baiting tactics continued, with an increasingly furious Lü Pu chasing between one or the other of the two companies of soldiers that constantly threatened, but never came to grips.

And while Lü Pu was kept distracted by these tactics, two units from Li Ts'ui's army slipped around Lü Pu and marched on the capital.

At the news that the capital was in danger, Lü Pu retreated his tired and discouraged army toward the city, but being pressed from behind, the retreat became a rout with heavy losses.

RTK, Vol. 1, pg. 89

Shih Chin Breaks Out

Village chieftan Shih Chin had been consorting with robbers. Being of a warlike nature himself, he enjoyed their company.

But when the authorities discovered this, 300 or 400 troops came at night and surrounded his village as he was feasting with the robber chiefs. But instead of surrendering, he determined to break out of the encirclement and join the robbers.

Though personally bold and skilled, there is no indication Shih Chin's villagers were particularly adept at war, so Shih Chin devised a plan to motivate them.

He ordered them to gather any of their easily-transportable possessions, then sent thirty or forty men throughout the village, setting fire to the thatched homes.

With all their non-transportable possessions being burned to the ground, the villagers had no reason to stay in the village. And with the heat growing more and more intense at their backs, they had every reason to leave - and that, quickly.

At this point, ferocious Shih Chin and the robber chiefs, followed by a horde of desperate villagers, burst out of the village gate and into the surrounding troops.

Shih Chin headed straight for the commanding officers, slaying both of them, and he, the robbers, and the crowd of villagers, broke through and made their way to the mountain lair of the robbers.

AMB, Vol. 1, pgs. 48-49

K'ung-ming Fools a Cautious General

Though brave, Ts'ao Ts'ao and his army were both somewhat nervous. Facing them was an army commanded by K'ung-ming, who had defeated them time and time again by various strategems.

But when Ts'ao Ts'ao's champion fighter went into the field between the two armies to battle K'ung-ming's champion, he was immediately victorious as K'ung-ming's man retreated at his first onslaught.

Seizing the moment, Ts'ao Ts'ao decided to follow up the victory, and led his legions on an attack against K'ung-ming's army, driving it back.

But as Ts'ao Ts'ao pressed forward, he heard drums and trumpets and explosions on either side and concluded that his army was being led into a trap. Though none of K'ung-ming's men appeared from the sides, he ordered a quick retreat.

But the retreat became a disaster as soldiers trampled each other and were killed by K'ung-ming's men.

K'ung-ming's soldiers pursued Ts'ao Ts'ao's army into a nearby city, then shouted at one gate and and started a fire at another.

Already discouraged and confused, Ts'ao Ts'ao and his army became so frightened that they abandoned the town and retreated, as K'ung-ming's men repeatedly attacked from various directions, inflicting a serious defeat on Ts'ao Ts'ao's army.

RTK, Vol. 2, pgs. 128-130

Ssuma I Refuses Temptation

K'ung-ming could not attack the strong position of his opponent's army, so he attempted to provoke Ssuma I into an open battle.

Packing up a woman's hat and dress, he sent them to Ssuma I with a note saying that of Ssuma I that he had selected a comfortable, safe site for himself. "Are you not very like a woman?" K'ung-ming asked. Then K'ung-ming challenged him to accept the gift as fitting, or send it back and come out and fight.

Ssuma I wisely joked about the matter, treated the messenger well, and sent him back, though inwardly he was furious.

Badgered by his subordinates, who wanted to fight, he explained that the king would not permit him to attack, but that he would send a letter asking permission.

The king, having Ssuma I's position explained to him and understanding that Ssuma I really had no desire to fight, repeated his command that he stand fast, and Ssuma I's subordinates were forced into line.

RTK, Vol. 2, pgs. 456-459

Ssuma I Uses His Enemy's Greed

Realizing that the men of the Wu army facing him were virtually a mercenary force, motivated primarily by the hope of gain, Ssuma I decided to use their greed against them.

Drawing up several legions in battle order, Ssuma I placed huge stores of military supplies, wagons, oxen, horses, mules and donkeys in a confused mass in the center of his army.

Chuko Tan, the Wu commander, saw this confusion in the center of the Wei line and decided that was the weak spot to attack.

When he did attack, Ssuma I's men retreated, leaving all the goodies to the Wu men, who immediately broke ranks and began gathering the spoils.

With the Wu soldiers in confusion, Ssuma I's forces came back to the attack, along with reinforcements that were previously in hiding. The Wu forces were badly defeated.

RTK, Vol. 2, pg. 537

Fa Chêng Selects the Right Moment

Sometimes all that is required is the right psychological moment.

Fa Chêng had siezed a steep, flat-topped hill from which he could see into the defences of his enemy.

Hsiahou Yüan felt he must regain the hill or his own position would be threatened.

He rode out and shouted and raged at Fa Chêng and his men on the hill, trying to incite them to battle, but they didn't move. All morning and into the afternoon he tried every insult he could to tempt Fa Chêng into battle, but to no avail. By afternoon Hsiahou Yüan had become tired and discouraged.

Seeing Hsiahou Yüan disheartened, Fa Chêng ordered a sudden attack. Catching Hsiahou Yüan completely off guard, Fa Chêng killed him and chased his men from the field.

RTK, Vol. 2 pgs. 120-121

Ts'ao Ts'ao's Loses Sleep

After learning - at the cost of several armies - to respect his opponent K'ung-ming, Ts'ao Ts'ao had become very wary of his opponent, and extremely cautious in his movements. So K'ung-ming took advantage of Ts'ao's new caution, forcing him into retreat with nothing more than a set of firecrackers, the roll of drums and blare of horns.

Ts'ao Ts'ao had camped where K'ung-ming did not want him, so he hid a unit of soldiers behind a hill near Ts'ao Ts'ao's camp, then in the middle of the night, when all was peaceful, set off a signal bomb. At the sound of the bomb the troops behind the hill beat the drums and blew the horns.

Ts'ao Ts'ao's men, thinking a night attack was in progress, jumped up and ran out to defend themselves. But as there was nobody in sight they went back to sleep.

But shortly after they were once again settled, there came another bomb, roll of drums and a blast of horns. Again Ts'ao Ts'ao's troops were forced to jump to the defense, only to find no attack.

For three nights K'ung-ming kept up these tactics, keeping Ts'ao Ts'ao's men from sleep. Then, on the fourth day, Ts'ao retreated 30 li (9.3 miles) to a wide, open area among the hills, presumably less susceptible to night attack.

RTK, Vol. 2, pg. 127

Ts'ao Ts'ao Leads With His Luggage

Against the recommendation of his advisor, rash Yüan Shao had crossed the Yellow River to attack Ts'ao Ts'ao's veteran troops.

Though it is usually foolish for a general to put his supplies within easy reach of his opponent, Ts'ao Ts'ao recognized this instance as a special case. Perhaps he saw that Yüan Shao's troops were poorly disciplined in comparison to his own. But in any case, Ts'ao Ts'ao ordered his baggage train to the front of his troops, then marched toward Yüan Shao's army.

Seeing Yüan Shao's troops, the soldiers handling the baggage train fled, allowing Yüan Shao's men to sieze the supplies. Hearing this report, Ts'ao Ts'ao ordered his troops to rest in some nearby hills, leaving the cavalry's horses in front and unguarded.

After taking the supplies, Yüan Shao's troops then spotted the horses, and rushed to capture them as well, breaking ranks and falling into disarray.

With his opponent's army in complete disorder, Ts'ao Ts'ao ordered his army to attack.

Yüan Shao's troops were completely surprised and in the confusion Ts'ao Ts'ao's army surrounded them. All they could do was flee.

RTK, Vol. 1, pgs. 271-272

Ch'ing Ming Exhausts His Army

Ch'ing Ming was determined to defeat the robbers who made their lair on the Mountain of Clear Winds. But the robbers were ready.

As Ch'ing Ming approached the mountain, he heard a gong and saw a group of armed men coming out of the woods, led by Hua Yung.

Ch'ing Ming ordered his cavalry and infantry to attack, and he and Hua Yung personally fought repeated bouts. But then Hua Yung retreated into the woods at the foot of the mountain. Ch'ing Ming followed until Hua Yung shot an arrow that took the crest off the top of his helmet.

Disuaded, Ch'ing Ming drew back to regroup, but at that moment another group of robbers broke from the woods in another spot.

He charged to meet them, but as he approached, they fell back up the mountain.

As they did, Ch'ing Ming attempted to climb the mountain by another road, but encountered a troop that rolled rocks, stones and boiling filth down upon them. Thirty to fifty of his men died, and the rest retreated.

As he searched for another route up the mountain, the robbers attacked out of their mountain hideaway from another location. When Ch'ing Ming rushed to that spot and tried to fight them, they melted back into the mountain.

Twice more the increasingly furious Ch'ing Ming was diverted from scaling the mountain by sudden appearances of groups of robbers, who always retreated at his approach.

Finally, with evening coming on, Ch'ing Ming decided to take the main road up the mountain. Encountering another flight of arrows, he was forced to retreat down the mountain once again. This time, with his men exhausted, they stopped by a stream bed to camp, and began to light cooking fires.

But just then torches appeared on the mountainside, but as Ch'ing Ming started to pursue them, they blinked out.

In his rage Ch'ing Ming was about to light fire to the woods, but suddenly he heard drums beat, and as he approached he saw by firelight the two opposing commanders relaxing, drinking wine together, far out of reach up the mountainside.

They laughingly called down to him to stop raging, and go back to camp and rest for a big battle the next day.

As Ch'ing Ming cursed, a band of robbers suddenly attacked his troops, sending down flaming arrows and flaming balls of combustibles upon them. The soldiers ran down the mountain and back to the camp, hiding in the stream-bed for protection against the onslaught of arrows.

But it was no protection, as the robbers had damed the stream and now let it loose, drowning many in the flood and capturing the survivors.

AMB Vol. 1, pgs. 586-591

Han Hsin Appears Foolish to His Foes

Han Hsin, the commander of a Han army, planned to invade the Kingdom of Chao by advancing east through the Ching Gorge.

The Chao king, Ch'en Yü, thought his army was at least twice as strong as Han Hsin's army, so he camped in the open near the mouth of the gorge, where he felt his superior numbers could be better deployed than in the constricted valley.

Further, Ch'en Yü refused to listen to the advice of a subordinate, who suggested that Ch'en Yü strengthen his camp while he took a force along secret paths to the rear of Han Hsin's advancing army, cutting off Han Hisn's supply wagons.

When Han Hsin's spies told him of Ch'en Yü's refusal to follow his advisor's plan, he advanced confidently through the gorge to within 30 li (9.3 miles) of Ch'en Yü's army.

Then, in the night, he sent 2,000 cavalrymen, each man equiped with a Han flag, into hiding in the mountains overlooking Ch'en Yü's army. Han Hsin told them that when the Chao army had completely abandoned its fortified camp to attack the main Han army, they were to rush in and occupy the camp, replacing the Chao flags with Han flags.

Then Han Hsin marched out of the gorge with 10,000 men, and in violation of accepted military wisdom, drew up his army with its back to a river, much to the amusement of the Chao army.

Leaving a contingent to guard the camp, the Chao army attacked, and after a feigned retreat by part of the Han army, the troops remaining in the camp were ordered to join the others in completing the defeat of the Han. So they abandoned the camp and joined the battle.

But now the wisdom of Han Hsin's dispositions became clear. By setting his army with its back to the river, he had given his troops the choice of death by drowning, or victory in battle, so they fought ferociously.

At the same time, with the Chao camp empty, the Han cavalrymen came out of hiding, occupied the camp and flew the Han banners.

The Chao army, already becoming discouraged at its inability to defeat the Han army, then noticed the Han flags flying over its own camp - and concluding its generals had been captured - broke and ran.

RGHC, Vol. 1, pgs. 214-217. Also, RH, pgs. 182-184

Han Hsin Trades on His Reputation

Han Hsin had just won a great victory, and wanted to immediately march north and attack the kingdom of Yen.

But Po-li Hsi, an advisor, warned against this move. Though his opponents were fearfully expecting Han Hsin to attack at any time, his men were really in no condition to do so, having been wearied by marching and fighting. To attack the cities of Yen would mean a long, unsuccessful campaign.

Instead, he said, the army should rest where it was and Han Hsin should send envoys to Yen telling of the superiority of Han Hsin's army and instructing the country to submit.

Han Hsin followed his advice and Yen submitted.

"In warfare," Po-li Hsi said, "the important thing is to publicize yourself first, and act afterward."

RGHC, Vol 1., pgs. 217-219

Mo-tun's Limited Generosity

The strong Eastern Barbarians, hearing that Mo-tun had just murdered his father and taken command of the barbarian Hsiung-nu, sought to test the mettle of the new ruler. They sent a messenger saying they would very much like to have his father's famous thousand-li (310-mile-a-day) horse.

Mo-tun's advisers were aghast. The horse, they said, was one of the treasures of the Hsiung-nu. They strongly advised against giving it away.

But Mo-tun took a more relaxed view, saying, in effect, that a horse was a horse, and why he should begrudge it to his neighbors. He sent it off directly.

Sensing that Mo-tun was going to be a pushover, the Eastern Barbarians sent another envoy. Would Mo-tun please send them one of his wives? they asked.

Mo-tun's advisors flew into a rage at such arrogance and begged Mo-tun to attack the Eastern Barbarians.

But Mo-tun again took the conciliatory path, asking why he should begrudge neighbors a woman. He sent them his favorite.

Feeling increasingly confident, the Eastern Barbarians occupied a large uninhabited tract of land between the two tribes, then sent a messenger to the Hsiung-nu. The land is useless to the Hsiung-nu, the messenger said, and the Eastern Barbarians would appreciate Mo-tun giving them the property.

Mo-tun's advisors split over the question. Some said it was worthless land, so why not give it away? Others said it must not be ceded.

This time Mo-tun flew into a rage. He said land is the basis of a nation, then killed all those who suggested giving it away.

Then he quickly attacked and defeated the Eastern Barbarians, who, because they despised Mo-tun, had made no defense preparations.

RGHC, Vol. 2, pgs. 161-162

© Copyright 2003, Brad Haugaard.

“I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”
Psalm 16:8i