“The Art of War is an ancient Chinese military text written around 500 BC. The work, which is attributed to the ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu (“Master Sun”, also spelled Sunzi), is composed of 13 chapters. Each one is devoted to a distinct aspect of warfare and how that applies to military strategy and tactics. The Art of War remains one of the most influential strategy texts in warfare and has a profound influence on both Eastern and Western military thinking, business tactics, legal strategy and beyond.” (from Wikipedia)
What can a 2500 year old book about warfare teach us about self-defense? Actually, quite a lot. I’ve taken a few of the quotes from Art of War which I believe capture the essence of Sun Tzu’s ideas as well as provide the foundation of our self-defense strategy.
“So the rule of military operations is not to count on opponents not coming, but to rely on having ways of dealing with them; not to count on opponents not attacking, but to rely on having what cannot be attacked.”
Most people simply hope they will never being the victim of a violent attack and therefore do nothing to prepare for it or learn how to avoid it. They just refuse to think about it. The first step in self-defense is realizing there are bad people in the world and that you may encounter one, or a few of them, in your lifetime. Hope is not a plan. Luck is not a tactic.
“A government should not mobilize an army out of anger, military leaders should not provoke war out of wrath. Act when it is beneficial, desist if it is not. Anger can revert to joy, wrath can revert to delight, but a nation destroyed cannot be restored to existence, and the dead cannot be restored to life.”
The great, American poet and philosopher Kenny Rogers sang, “Know when to walk away, know when to run.” Usually the best, and safest thing to do, is walk away if you can. Don’t let your pride or anger make you do something stupid. Once you pull out a gun, you cannot undo it. Once you’ve fired a bullet, you cannot make it come back. Self-defense is about protecting people. Weapons cannot be used to protect your pride or your property.
“Therefore, those who are not thoroughly aware of the disadvantages in the use of arms cannot be thoroughly aware of the advantages in the use of arms.”
Weapons do not make you safe. Simply running out to the local gun store and buying a gun does not make you safe. Never use a gun to bluff, scare or intimidate someone into leaving you alone. If you’re not willing to use it, don’t own it. Additionally, you could be criminally charged for aggravated assault or brandishing a dangerous weapon if you were not facing a deadly force threat.
“Those who use the military skillfully do not raise troops twice and do not provide food three times… The important thing in a military operation is victory, not persistence.”
There are no points for second place in combat. If you’re attacked, you must take immediate, effective action. You won’t get a second chance. You must win and do it quickly.
“Therefore those who win every battle are not really skillful – those who render others’ armies helpless without fighting are the best of all… Therefore one who is good at martial arts overcomes others’ forces without battle, conquers others’ cities without siege, destroys others’ nations without taking a long time.”
Fighting force on force is dangerous. That’s why we should fight against an opponent’s plans, capabilities, and desire to continue the fight. In the American Revolution, the colonists didn’t militarily defeat the British. They defeated their will to continue and the war ended. In Vietnam, the U.S. won the battles and lost the war because the communists defeated America’s will to continue.
“In military operations, what is valued is foiling the opponent’s strategy, not pitched battle.” – Wang Xi commented on Sun Tzu
“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 others and do not know yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.”
If you know and understand your opponent, you are better able to attack his plans and capability and therefore win without a force-on-force, all out brawl. Take active shooters for example. If you can understand their plans and thinking, you’ll be better able to survive an attack. First of all, active shooters are cowards. They choose to come after unarmed, peaceful people and murder them and they always stop actively killing as soon as law enforcement is on-scene or someone begins shooting at them. Their goal is to kill as many people in 3-5 minutes. If you can’t get out of the situation, but you can create enough of a delay that it slows down his objective of killing as many people as possible, you have a better chance of surviving. It’s essential to understand your enemy.
You also must seek self-awareness and know yourself. You need to know what you will do and what you won’t do in order to protect yourself from danger. If you know that you’d never kill anyone to save your own life, then don’t own a gun. It’s that simple. It’s hard to know what you would or would not do in each situation, but this is where you must ask yourself “what if”. Imagine a violent attack and ask yourself what you would do. Mentally put yourself into the situation. See it happening in your mind and feel what you would do.
If you don’t know yourself, and don’t know the opponent, then you’re an easy target. You are just prey waiting to be devoured.
“Plan for what is difficult while it is easy, do what is great while it is small. The most difficult things in the world must be done while they are still easy, the greatest things in the world must be done while they are still small. For this reason sages never do what is great, and this is why they can achieve that greatness.” – Tao-te Ching
Plan for an attack before it happens. We do not rise to the occasion. We fall to the level of our preparation and training. Your body can never go where your mind has never been. Deciding what to do during a life or death situation is nearly impossible without prior planning and training. That’s why many people freeze when attacked. They simple do not know what to do. You must plan what you will do before it happens. Then you must train according to your plan. I’ve pulled my handgun in the line of duty many times. I’ve never had to consciously think about doing it. It just happens. It’s a result of many years of training and continually thinking about “what if”.
“Deep knowledge is to be aware of disturbance before disturbance, to be aware of danger before danger, to be aware of destruction before destruction, to be aware of calamity before calamity. Strong action is training the body without being burdened by the body, exercising the mind without being used by the mind, working in the world without being affected by the world, carrying out tasks without being obstructed by tasks. By deep knowledge of principle, one can change disturbance into order, change danger into safety, change destruction into survival, change calamity into fortune. By strong action on the Way, one can bring the body to the realm of longevity, bring the mind to the sphere of mystery, bring the world to great peace, and bring tasks to great fulfillment.” – The Book of Balance and Harmony
You don’t have to be a Jedi Knight to understand this… but it helps! The book, Left of Bang teaches people how to be aware of danger before it happens. Humans can make amazingly accurate observations within split seconds. “More than 100 scientific studies have demonstrated that people can make incredibly accurate intuitive judgments with just a little amount of information. These studies have researched a wide array of quick, accurate judgments made in a matter of seconds or minutes. For example, in just two seconds of observation, people can determine whether someone is a violent offender. In determining whether someone is lying, fifteen seconds of observation are better than three minutes. By looking at a group interacting for only thirty seconds, a person can accurately determine the role of each person in the group just based on body language and nonverbal signals.” You already have the ability to be aware of danger before danger. You just need to learn how to use it… and we’ll work on that.
“To sense and comprehend after action is not worthy of being called comprehension. To accomplish after striving is not worthy of being called accomplishment. To know after seeing is not worthy of being called knowing. These three are far from the way of sensing and response. Indeed, to be able to do something before it exists, sense something before it becomes active, see something before it sprouts, are three abilities that develop interdependently. Then nothing is sensed but is comprehended, nothing is undertaken without response, nowhere does one go without benefit.” – The Book of Balance and Harmony
Realizing the danger signs after something has happened doesn’t help much. It’s too late. This is along the lines of the previous quote, but I’ll take a different angle on this one. If you can sense something before it happens, you have the chance of altering its course completely. I’ll discuss this in-depth in the upcoming chapter on the OODA Loop. Once you Observe danger and Orient (sense) to it, you have altered the situation because now the opponent is reacting to you and you can guide the situation to your desired outcome instead of his.
Again, from Left of Bang, “It’s important to remember that the enemy stalking a Marine on patrol or a seemingly helpless woman on her way home is under duress. This stress manifests itself in physical actions. If we look for these particular physical actions when our limbic system gives us the “heads up, something’s not right” signal, we’ll be able to operate effectively ‘left of bang.’ It’s not Jedi mind tricks or mysticism. It’s simply understanding the signs out there for you to read. I’ll help you do that.
“Those who are good at knighthood are not militaristic, those who are good at battle do not become angry, those who are good at prevailing over opponents do not get involved.” – Tao-te Ching
Don’t let your pride and emotion get you into trouble. If you get angry, you are not thinking. If you’re not thinking, you’re not winning. Control your temper. Remain detached and just do what you need to do. This is where I see some police officers become part of the problem rather than the solution. They let their pride and ego drive their actions. They must to win the argument and always have the last word. When I’m training new officers, I always tell them to stay focused on the desired outcome and objective of any call for service or situation we’re involved it. Don’t let words get under your skin.
“A general must see alone and know alone, meaning that he must see what others do not see and know what others do not know. Seeing what others do not see is called brilliance, knowing what others do not know is called genius. Brilliant geniuses win first, meaning that they defend in such a way as to be unassailable and attack in such a way as to be irresistible.” – The Book of the Huainan Masters
The best way to remain safe is to deter any attack from happening in the first place. Potential attackers should take one look at you and know they can’t prevail. This is often as simple as looking people in the eye as you’re out and about. Of course, this means you must be aware of the people around you and not so engrossed in your phone that you don’t even realize they are there. Display strength by making eye contact, moving with purpose, and being aware of what’s happening around you. Wolves don’t attack unlucky deer. They attack the weak and unaware.
“Those who are skilled in combat do not become angered, those who are skilled at winning do not become afraid. Thus the wise win before they fight, while the ignorant fight to win.” – Zhuge Liang
I think this is my favorite quote on the subject and forms the basis of everything I try to do for the safety of my family and my own safety on the job. Continual training and working to master your emotions are the only way to not become angry or afraid. Neither emotion will help you. Continually training and preparing will give you the clarity of mind to win the fight before it happens.