Master Sun says leading many men is the same as leading a few. It is about how you divide them. This is also true for fighting. Use gongs and banners to organize and identify them.
Leadership always involves the same qualities, according to Sun. A general is essentially a manager, and one of his main tasks is organization. A well-ordered army would only need to receive one order for hundreds of thousands of men to mobilize in unison.
Different combinations of direct and indirect action can hold off the enemy. By understanding strength and weakness an army can crush an enemy like a stone crushing an egg. In war, attacking is direct but ensure success via indirect actions too. The general who can master this is infinite like heaven and earth; endless like the oceans; he never stops, like the cycles of the sun and moon; he is reborn like each season.
Within the single (Yin and Yang) pair of direct and indirect are limitless variations. The general harnesses his wisdom to position his strategy on the best point on that infinite scale, with disastrous effect for the enemy. Existing on that infinite plain, the general transcends regular warriors. Direct action would be engaging the enemy in battle, while indirect actions could be feigning retreat to draw the opponent into more advantageous terrain for the general’s army, or distracting the enemy with the battle while a crack team burns his abandoned camp.
There are only five notes, five colors, and five flavors, yet there are more varieties of their combinations than can ever be heard, seen, or tasted. In war, there is only direct and indirect, but the variety of their combinations are also endless. They call on each other in an infinite cycle.
Sun emphasizes the significance of this single pair—direct and direct. In traditional Chinese thought, there are five musical notes (gong, shang, jue, zhi, and yu), five base colors (qing—meaning blue and green—yellow, red, white, and black), and five flavors (sour, spicy, salt, sweet, and bitter).
Surging water can carry massive stones because of the force of its movement. A diving falcon breaks its prey’s back because of its pinpoint timing. The skilled general’s momentum is destructive and his timing perfect. He is like a stretched crossbow string, and his timing is like pulling the trigger.
By understanding the laws of nature, the general can decide on the best course of action to achieve the desired results. By concentrating his forces, he can create massive power that pushes through the enemy, or by taking the right action at the right time, can destroy his foe in one fell swoop. Sun refers to this as potential energy—harnessing the advantages of the situation to create overwhelming energy.
In the chaos of battle, everything might seem disordered, but victory is assured. Disorder, terror and weakness are all based on their opposites. Creating order from disorder is about good organization. Being valiant amid fear is about harnessing the potential energy of the moment. Creating strength from weakness is about working with the men’s temperament and ability.
According to the principle of Yin and Yang, opposite forces give rise to each other, just as the sun rises and falls. Thus, from weakness can be found strength. For example, pretending to be confused about one’s next step could draw out the enemy, who finds himself unexpectedly in battle against a well-positioned army.
Give the enemy a target and they will take the bait. Draw out the enemy and then hit him hard. The general takes advantage of the situation and does not blame the men. He uses them to the best of their ability, but it is about reacting to the circumstances.
The general plans the attack and must take responsibility for the outcome—it is his plan that succeeds or fails, not the men. Victory comes entirely from his correct interpretation of and response to the unfolding situation, and his manipulation of the enemy accordingly.
By understanding the situation, the general sends his men out like logs or stones rolling down a hill. They do not roll by their own energy, but that of the circumstances. On flat ground they lie, on hills they roll. If they are square they do not move, but if they are round they roll. It is all about potential energy.
By themselves, the men could not defeat the enemy, but the general knows the situation to put them in that will harness their natural characteristics. In this sense, the men can be neither praised nor blamed for their success nor defeat, as it is the general marshalling their movement.