The Art of War

by

Sun-tzu

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Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) Character Analysis

The writer/narrator of The Art of War, Master Sun shares his wisdom and experience with the reader over the course of thirteen chapters. Not only does he provide theoretic guidance on matters of strategy, he also offers specific advice, for example suggesting the best way to move troops through various types of terrain. Given the range and depth of his insights, Master Sun appears to be a vastly experienced warrior, general, strategist, and schemer. He values careful preparation and considered action, while warning against fits of rage or the temptations of arrogance. While he does not see war as a lifestyle or a desirable endeavor, he does not shy away from the brutal reality of what is required to emerge victorious. Each chapter opens with the line “Master Sun said:” which is commonly understood to suggest his sayings were written down and compiled by his disciples.

Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) Quotes in The Art of War

The The Art of War quotes below are all either spoken by Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) or refer to Master Sun (Sun-Tzu). For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of The Art of War published in 2002.
Chapter 1 Quotes

War is
A grave affair of state;
It is a place
Of life and death,
A road
To survival and extinction,
A matter
To be pondered carefully.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Ruler, The People
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

The Way of War is
A Way of Deception.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Enemy
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

In War,
Victory should be
Swift.
If victory is slow,
Men tire,
Morale sags.
Sieges
Exhaust strength;
Protracted campaigns
Strain the public treasury.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Men
Page Number: 9-10
Explanation and Analysis:

I have heard that in war
Haste can be
Folly
But have never seen
Delay that was
Wise.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Men, The People
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

Ultimate excellence lies
Not in winning
Every battle
But in defeating the enemy
Without ever fighting.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Enemy
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

So it is said:
"Know the enemy,
Know yourself,
And victory
Is never in doubt,
Not in a hundred battles."

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Enemy
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

A victorious army
Is like
Pent-up water
Crashing
A thousand fathoms
Into a gorge.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Enemy, The Men
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

In the dynamics of War,
There are but these two-
Indirect
And direct-
And yet their permutations
Are inexhaustible.
They give rise to each other
In a never-ending,
Inexhaustible circle.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Enemy
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

A rushing torrent
Carries boulders
On its flood;
Such is the energy
Of its momentum.

A swooping falcon
Breaks the back
Of its prey;
Such is the precision
Of its timing.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Men
Related Symbols: Water, Animals
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

His energy is like
A drawn crossbow,
His timing like
The release of a trigger.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

Skillfully deployed soldiers
Are like round boulders
Rolling down
A mighty mountainside.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Men
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

The Skillful Warrior attacks
So that the enemy
Cannot defend;
He defends
So that the enemy
Cannot attack.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Enemy, Spies
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

His form is visible,
But I am
Formless;
I am concentrated,
He is divided.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Enemy
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

Victorious campaigns
Are unrepeatable.
They take form in response
To the infinite varieties
Of circumstance.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker)
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

Military dispositions
Take form like water.
Water shuns the high
And hastens to the low.
War shuns the strong
And attacks the weak.
Water shapes its current
From the lie of the land.
The warrior shapes his victory
From the dynamic of the enemy.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Enemy, The Men
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 37-38
Explanation and Analysis:

War has no
Constant dynamic;
Water has no
Constant form.
Supreme military skill lies
In deriving victory
From the changing circumstances
Of the enemy.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Enemy
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

The difficulty of the fray
Lies in making
The crooked
Straight
And in making
An advantage
Of misfortune.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Enemy
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

Be rushing as a wind;
Be stately as a forest;
Be ravaging as a fire;
Be still as a mountain.
Be inscrutable as night;
Be swift as thunder or lightning.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

He regards his troops
As his children,
And they will go with him
Into the deepest ravine.
He regards them
As his loved ones,
And they will stand by him
Unto death.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Men
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:

Know Heaven,
Know Earth,
And your victory
Is complete.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

To the question
"How should we confront
An enemy,
Numerous and well arrayed,
Poised to attack?"
My reply is
"Seize something
He cherishes,
And he will do your will."

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Enemy
Page Number: 72-73
Explanation and Analysis:

It is the business of the general
To be still
And inscrutable,
To be upright
And impartial.
He must be able
To keep his own troops
In ignorance,
To deceive their eyes
And their ears.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Men
Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:

Success in war
Lies in
Scrutinizing
Enemy intentions.
And going with them.
Focus on the enemy,
And from hundreds of miles
You can kill their general.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Enemy
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:

At first,
Be like a maiden;
When the enemy opens the door,
Be swift as a hare;
Your enemy will not
Withstand you.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Enemy
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13 Quotes

It is therefore callous
To begrudge the expense of
A hundred taels
Of silver
For knowledge
Of the enemy's situation.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Enemy, Spies
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:
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Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) Character Timeline in The Art of War

The timeline below shows where the character Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) appears in The Art of War. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
War as a Means to Protect Peace Theme Icon
The Responsibility of Authority Theme Icon
Master Sun says that war is a very serious business for a nation. It is a matter... (full context)
The Responsibility of Authority Theme Icon
...who will win and lose from these alone. The reader that learns the lessons that Master Sun has to offer will win, while those who do not take the lesson to heart... (full context)
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
...victory, having less makes for uncertainty, while having none will lead to defeat. This is Master Sun ’s view, which shows him who will be the victor. (full context)
Chapter 2
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
War as a Means to Protect Peace Theme Icon
Master Sun says that for an army with 1,000 chariots pulled by four horses, with 1,000 wagons... (full context)
Chapter 3
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
War as a Means to Protect Peace Theme Icon
Master Sun says it’s better to conquer a state and keep it whole than raze it to... (full context)
Chapter 4
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
Master Sun says the skilled general of old first ensures his own strength, then waits for the... (full context)
Chapter 5
The Responsibility of Authority Theme Icon
Master Sun says leading many men is the same as leading a few. It is about how... (full context)
Chapter 6
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
Master Sun says getting to the battlefield first means you fight fresh. The one who arrives later... (full context)
Chapter 7
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
The Responsibility of Authority Theme Icon
Master Sun says the ruler gives orders to the general, who assembles the men and an army.... (full context)
Chapter 8
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
The Responsibility of Authority Theme Icon
Master Sun says the ruler gives orders to the general, who assembles the men and an army.... (full context)
Chapter 9
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
Master Sun says, when choosing positions and taking on the enemy, stay close to valleys when crossing... (full context)
Chapter 10
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
Master Sun says there are different forms of terrain: accessible, entangling, deadlock, enclosed, precipitous, and distant. Accessible... (full context)
Chapter 11
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
Master Sun says there are nine kinds of ground. Enemies fighting on the home turf is scattering... (full context)
Chapter 12
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
Master Sun says when attacking by fire, there are five ways to do it, burning men, supplies,... (full context)
Chapter 13
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
War as a Means to Protect Peace Theme Icon
The Responsibility of Authority Theme Icon
Master Sun says waging large-scale war with 100,000 men costs the people and the nation 1,000 silver... (full context)