The Art of War By Sun Tzu Study Guide Directions: Read each chapter closely. Answer

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The Art of War

By Sun Tzu
Study Guide
Directions: Read each chapter closely. Answer each question in complete sentences, using text references where appropriate.

  1. Simply stated, what does The Art of War teach? In what situations can Sun Tzu’s wisdom be applied?

  2. Why did Sun Tzu follow through with his decision to behead the two concubines who were the leaders of each company in the palace?

  3. Interpret this statement: “It [Sun Tzu’s knowledge] can give us the protection we need to watch our own children grow in peace and thrive” (7). Use L2 thinking.

    1. Laying Plans (9)

  1. Describe the five factors that will determine whether or not a general is victorious.

  2. According to former Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu, moral clarity—simply being clear about what is right and what is wrong—is necessary to winning the war against terrorism. Compare Sun Tzu’s and Netanyahu’s attitudes toward morality on the battlefield.

  3. The word “deception” typically has a negative connotation. As it is used on page 11 is it negative or positive? Cite evidence from the text to support your answer.

II. On Waging War (12)

  1. Discuss the value of time both as it pertains to waiting to attack and as it pertains to the length of the fight.

  2. How might a battle affect the economy?

  3. How might an army use its foe “to augment one’s own strength?” (14). Discuss Sun Tzu’s consideration for humanity.

III. The Sheathed Sword (15)

  1. Discuss the kind of strategy a person needs to “break the enemy’s resistance without fighting” (15).

  2. Discuss the following sentence: “Humanity and justice are the principles on which to govern a state, but not an army; opportunism and flexibility, on the other hand, are military rather than civic virtues” (17). What is Sun Tzu’s point?

  3. Sun Tzu says, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles” (18). Expert author Gerald Michaelson says “[...] accurate self-perception is the golden key to success.” What did Sun Tzu mean 2500 years ago? What does Michaelson mean today?

IV. Tactics (19)

  1. Discuss the irony in this statement: “To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself” (19).

  2. Phillip Fulmer, national-championship-winning football coach at the University of Tennessee says, “I constantly coach our players about having the intensity to be able to intimidate our opponents. This doesn’t mean to play outside the rules. It means that our players should be fundamentally sound and in such good physical condition that they can outlast and outwork their opponents.” How would Sun Tzu respond to Fulmer’s statements? Support your answer with evidence from the text.

  3. What, essentially, is “true excellence”?

V. Energy (21)

  1. What are direct methods of fighting? What are indirect methods?

  2. Explain the sentence, “[...] the good fighter will be terrible in his onset, and prompt in his decision” (22). What is the effect of the phrase “terrible in his onset”?

  3. Discuss this sentence: “Simulated disorder postulates perfect discipline; simulated fear postulates courage; simulated weakness postulates strength” (22). What is the effect of the repetition? The parallel structure? The diction?

  4. Why does a “clever combatant” not “demand perfection from the untalented”? (24).

VI Weak Points & Strong (25)

  1. Re-read the paragraph at the top of page 26 that begins, “An army may march great distances [...].” How is this paragraph related to the title of the chapter?

  2. Discuss the implications of this sentence: “If he sends reinforcements everywhere, he will everywhere be weak” (28).

  3. Discuss the analogy between water and the soldier (29).

VII. Maneuvering (30)

  1. When is maneuvering advantageous? When is it dangerous? Discuss the difference.

  2. Re-read this short paragraph: “Ponder and deliberate before you make a move. He will conquer who has learned the artifice of deviation. Such is the art of maneuvering” (32). Why does Sun Tzu use both “you” and “he” in this paragraph? What is the effect of switching pronouns?

  3. Sun Tzu commands, “ Do not interfere with and army that is returning home because a man whose heart is set on returning home will fight to the death against any attempt to bar his way, and is therefore too dangerous an opponent to be tackled” (35). Why? What is Sun Tzu’s point? Use L2 thinking!

VIII. Variation of Tactics (37)

  1. When “must” an army fight? What is a “desperate position”?

  2. Re-read and consider the following: “In the wise leader’s plans, considerations of advantage and of disadvantage will be blended together. If our expectation of advantage be tempered in this way, we may succeed in accomplishing the essential part of our schemes” (38-39). Discuss using L2 thinking.

  3. What does The Art of War “teach us to rely” on? (39). Explain.

  4. List the “five dangerous faults that may affect a general” (39-40). Which do you believe is the most critical? Why?

IX. The Army on the March (41)

  1. Sun Tzu makes several references to sunny places in this chapter. Locate some of them and discuss why he places such importance on being in the sun.

  2. How can an army anticipate his enemy’s intent?

  3. Why must a general understand the irony in his enemy’s behavior?

  4. According to Sun Tzu, what is the “certain road to victory” (49)? Discuss using L2 thinking.

X. Terrain (50)

  1. Clearly explain “the soldier’s best ally” (53).

  2. Discuss the “test of a great general” and the circumstances under which the general may be considered the “jewel of the kingdom” (53-54).

  3. Using L2 thinking, interpret the final sentence in the chapter.

XI. The Nine Situations (56)

  1. Explore the idea that rapidity is the “essence of war” (58).

  2. Study the paragraph that begins at the bottom of page 61 and ends at the top of page 62. Draw inferences regarding this statement: “If they will face death, there is nothing they may not achieve.”

  3. Identify and explain the lesson of the shuai-jan.

  4. Discuss and draw inferences from these two sentences. How are they related? “The only chance of life lies in giving up all hope of it” (67); and “For it is precisely when a force has fallen into harm’s way that it is capable of striking a blow for victory” (71).

  5. Study the three paragraphs on p. 71 that begin, “After the battle, some of Han Hsin’s officers came to him...” Explain Han Hsin’s thinking.

  6. Discuss what Sun Tzu considers a “vital act” of war.

XII. Attack by Fire (73)

  1. Contrast the effects of using fire and water in battle.

  2. What is the best way to maintain peace in a country? To maintain a complete army?

XIII. The Use of Spies (77)

  1. Study the fate of doomed spies. Respond to the use of spies in that fashion. Is it ethical? Just? Necessary? Why or why not?

  2. Discuss the “end and aim of spying” (82).

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