Sun Tzu is famous for his strategy manual The Art of War. In modern times this manual has been applied to domains such as business, but has it been applied to martial arts? Can Art of War be applied to martial arts? Are there aspects that are particularly applicable?

  • Can strategies described in the Art of War be applied to martial arts?
  • 2
    Isn't the Art of War already about martial arts?
    – mattm
    Apr 29, 2021 at 3:51
  • @mattm My sense is the text related to military strategy specifically, compared to a martial arts strategy manual such as Five Rings.
    – DukeZhou
    May 10, 2021 at 0:30
  • @DukeZhou - Martial Arts traditionally encompass any fields of study that are relevant to warfare. Hand to hand combat and use of weapons are only a fraction of that. In Sun Tzu's time, horse riding, military strategy, siege warfare, supply line management, weapon and armor maintenance and many other things were considered "martial arts", as no one but soldiers (and nobles who acted as de facto military officers) would need to learn them, and their only use was to wage war more efficiently.
    – Dungarth
    May 17, 2021 at 17:43

2 Answers 2


Know your enemy and know yourself

Understanding how an opponent thinks and their available weapons can determine the best strategy to engage them using your own strengths. For example, fighting a boxer at close range where you can grapple but they cannot punch you effectively may be a better alternative than engaging at punching distance.


Modern martial arts is not so concerned with the morale and motivation of conscripts, but the behavior of the opponent is critical. Annoying is a simple tactic that can cause a poor temperment to become impatient and make mistakes.


There are many possibilities:

  • Present an apparent hole in your defense as bait
  • Feign injury/weakness
  • Present as having opposite handedness

To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.

Fighting always has risks, and achieving your goals without fighting is best.


6. Weak Points And Strong

  • Sun Tzu said: Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to battle will arrive exhausted.

Conserve your energy. Make the opponent exert more energy. Don't fully commit until their energy is flagging.

  • Therefore the clever combatant imposes their will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy's will to be imposed on them.

You define the arena. "Don't box a boxer. Don't wrestle a wrestler." This is a common strategy in MMA.

  • By holding out advantages to themselves, they can cause the enemy to approach of its own accord; or, by inflicting damage, they can make it impossible for the enemy to draw near.

Don't charge in, make the opponent initiate so you can riposte cleanly. If they're crowding you, strike at grievous targets, such as the knees or eyes. (Musashi talked about stabbing at the face, which is not an optimal choice, except to deter or unsettle your opponent.)

  • If the enemy is taking his ease, they can can harass him;

A common strategy—throwing feints and weak strikes to annoy and force the opponent to defend. Don't let them rest, and try to piss them off to degrade their decision-making.

  • You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack places which are undefended. You can ensure the safety of your defense if you only hold positions that cannot be attacked.

No brainer—attack openings—people often drop their guard. Don't drop your guard—be conservative and disciplined.

  • Appear at points which the enemy must hasten to defend; march swiftly to places where you are not expected.

Attack openings, but then quickly attack new openings when they move to defend.

  • You may advance and be absolutely irresistible, if you make for the enemy's weak points; you may retire and be safe from pursuit if your movements are more rapid than those of the enemy.

This is actually a fairly good description of the tai chi notion of "pushing toward the center", but it has general applicability. Also explicates the tai chi notion of already moving force into the next vector "before the opponent" when countering. More concretely, even if you begin to step back just after an opponent steps forward, you can arrive at your new position more quickly.

  • Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows; the soldier works out his victory in relation to the foe whom he is facing.

  • Therefore, just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare there are no constant conditions.

  • He who can modify his tactics in relation to his opponent and thereby succeed in winning, may be called a heaven-born captain.

Be flexible! Be able to do a little of everything. (It is said of GTA that it is not the best FPS, or the best driving game, or the best flying game, but is has all three, and thereby dominates:)

  • All men can see the tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.

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