The Art of War Quotes and Meanings: 25 Best Sun Tzu Quotes

These The Art of War quotes and meanings help you understand the book deeper.

Are you familiar with The Art of War? It’s a book by Sun Tzu, a Chinese military general, strategist, and philosopher who lived in the 6th century BC.

The book is composed of 13 chapters, each of which is devoted to one aspect of warfare. It’s been praised as the definitive work on military strategy and tactics.

And it’s also one of my favorite books. I love quotes, and The Art of War is chock-full of them. This blog post will share 25 of the greatest Sun Tzu quotes and meanings. These quotes are about strategy, leadership, and life. And I hope they’ll provide you with some food for thought.

Table of Contents

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Are you familiar with The Art of War? It’s a book by Sun Tzu, a Chinese military general, strategist, and philosopher who lived in the 6th century BC.

This blog post will share 25 of the greatest Sun Tzu quotes and meanings. These quotes are about strategy, leadership, and life. And I hope they’ll provide you with some food for thought.”>

What is The Art of War?

The Art of War is an ancient Chinese military guide by Sun Tzu in the 5th century B.C. It comprises 13 chapters. Each focused on a different aspect of warfare strategy and tactics. The Art of War is a short read, yet packed with insightful ideas that can be applied in many areas of life, such as warfare, business, negotiation, and even relationships.

It is a guide on how to be cunning, deceptive, and clever in battle, teaching that it is just as important to know when not to fight as it is to know when to fight, as well as how to handle both superior and inferior forces. It even advises that it is sometimes better to conquer without fighting and to attack only undefended places. The Art of War emphasizes the importance of careful planning and preparation before engaging in battle and the need for dark and impenetrable plans that can surprise and confuse the enemy.

 

Who is Sun Tzu?

Sun Tzu was a Chinese general, military strategist, writer, and philosopher who lived in the Eastern Zhou period of ancient China (496 BC – 496 BC). He is best known for his influential work on military strategy, The Art of War, which has lasting effects on East Asian and Western philosophy and military thinking. Sun Tzu’s works focus heavily on alternatives to battle, such as stratagem, delay, and the use of spies, as well as emphasizing the importance of knowing one’s enemies and oneself to be victorious in battle. His teachings have been applied to business, politics, and other disciplines, and his ideas remain relevant today.

 

The 25 Best The Art of War quotes and Meaning by Sun Tzu

To be a great leader, you need to know how to win. And there’s no better book on strategy than The Art of War by Sun Tzu. Here are the 25 best The Art of War quotes by Sun Tzu and their meaning.

1. “Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.” Meaning

Sun Tzu’s quote suggests that it is best to be deceptive and use strategy when facing an enemy. Appearing weak when strong and strong when weak can make an opponent underestimate or overestimate your capabilities, allowing you to use a more tactical approach to gain the upper hand. Knowing your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses can help you develop an effective strategy and increase your chances of success.

2. “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” Meaning

Sun Tzu believes that the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting. He argues that all warfare is based on deception, and it is possible to gain victory without a battle. He also emphasizes the importance of understanding one’s strengths and weaknesses and those of the enemy and suggests finding a peaceful resolution to conflicts. He believes the best victory is achieved without a battle, encouraging deception and appearing weak when strong.

3. “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” Meaning

The Art of War quote, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles,” emphasizes the importance of understanding both your own and your enemy’s strengths and weaknesses to be successful in any conflict. Knowing oneself and one’s opponent will enable careful planning, recognizing weaknesses and strengths in the enemy’s strategy, anticipating enemy moves, and gaining confidence in one’s abilities.

4. “Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.” Meaning

This quote is all about the element of surprise. Sun Tzu believed that the best way to win a battle was to take your enemy by surprise. He advised military leaders to keep their plans secret and to make their moves swiftly and unexpectedly. This quote is also relevant to business and life in general. When planning something important, it is best to keep your cards close to your chest so that your opponents cannot anticipate your next move.

5. “Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.” Meaning

This quote from Sun Tzu highlights the importance of strategy and planning in warfare. A commander can save lives and resources by breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting. This is supreme excellence in Sun Tzu’s eyes.

6. “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity” Meaning

The quote “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity” by Sun Tzu refers to the potential of finding success and victory even amid difficult and uncertain circumstances. The idea is that while chaos may appear to offer little chance of success, it provides an opportunity to identify and capitalize on weaknesses in the enemy’s defense. Identifying opportunities in chaotic environments takes a keen eye, but they offer a unique platform for taking advantage of unexpected openings. For a strategist, chaos is a way to gain a tactical advantage over an enemy by finding loopholes or unannounced openings that can be turned into a victory.

7. “All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.” Meaning

All deception warfare involves misdirection and misinformation to create an advantage for the deceiver. Characteristics of this type of warfare include appearing weak when you are strong, appearing inactive when you are mobilizing forces, appearing far away when you are near, and appearing near when you are far away. It also involves making your opponents believe you have something that will influence their decisions when you may not. Deception can also lull opponents into situations that make them believe they are strong when they are not. Finally, deception can prevent opponents from making strong moves against you because they believe you are stronger than you are.

8. “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win” Meaning

This quote by Sun Tzu highlights the importance of planning and preparation in warfare. Victorious warriors know they must put in the work before engaging in battle, while those destined to lose charge into battle without any strategy. This is a metaphor for life in general – if you want to be successful, you need to put in the work and have a plan before taking action.

9. “If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.” Meaning

This quote from the Art of War encourages one to be prepared for and anticipate their enemy’s moves to gain an advantage. It is important to know your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses and use that knowledge to your advantage. If your opponent is secure and in superior strength, evading and avoiding confrontation is wise. On the other hand, if your opponent is temperamental, use that to your advantage. Pretend to be weak, so they become arrogant and make a mistake. Utilizing the enemy’s weaknesses and emotions can be a powerful tool in achieving victory.

10. “The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.” Meaning

This quote from the Art of War speaks to the power of negotiation, diplomacy, and compromise in avoiding conflict. It suggests that the most successful outcome does not require resorting to violence or warfare but is achieved through open dialogue and understanding. It implies that the best way to win a battle is to prevent it from happening in the first place. This timeless wisdom applies to both interpersonal relationships and international diplomacy and serves as a reminder of the power of peaceful resolution.

11. “Engage people with what they expect; it is what they are able to discern and confirms their projections. It settles them into predictable patterns of response, occupying their minds while you wait for the extraordinary moment — that which they cannot anticipate.” Meaning

This quote from Sun Tzu is about using people’s expectations against them. You can occupy their minds and wait for the perfect opportunity to strike by engaging with what they expect. This is a great quote for anyone looking to gain an advantage.

12. “There is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare.” Meaning

Sun Tzu argued that prolonged warfare does not benefit a nation as victory is more important than prolonged operations. It will lead to the state’s resources being drained and people being impoverished. He advises against it as it is not worth the cost.

13. “Thus we may know that there are five essentials for victory: Meaning

1. He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.

This quote is significant because it highlights the importance of knowing when to engage in battle and when to retreat. Too often, people rush into battle without thinking about the consequences.

2 He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces.

This quote from Sun Tzu is one of the most famous from “The Art of War.” It speaks to the importance of effectively utilizing your strengths and those of your opponent. In war, as in life, there will be times when you are at a disadvantage.

3. He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks.

This quote from Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” highlights the importance of having a unified force regarding morale and purpose. When everyone is working towards the same goal with the same level of commitment, it’s much easier to achieve victory. This is why it’s so important for leaders to ensure that their team is cohesive and focused.

4. He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared.

This quote by Sun Tzu is one of the most famous from “The Art of War.” It stresses the importance of preparation in warfare and how those who are prepared can take advantage of their enemies who are not. This principle can be applied to many areas of life, not just warfare.

5. He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.”

This is one of the most famous quotes from Sun Tzu’s Art of War, encapsulating his philosophy on achieving victory in battle. Sun Tzu believed the key to winning was a strong military force that the ruler did not hinder. This meant that the leader needed to be someone who could make decisions quickly and efficiently without being bogged down by emotion or personal opinion.

14. “Treat your men as you would your own beloved sons. And they will follow you into the deepest valley.” Meaning

Sun Tzu’s quote concerns treating your men with respect and care as if they were your children. By doing so, you will earn their loyalty, and they will follow you into dangerous situations without hesitation. This is a great way to build trust within a team and create an unbreakable bond.

15. “Move swift as the Wind and closely-formed as the Wood. Attack like the Fire and be still as the Mountain.” Meaning

Sun Tzu’s phrase, “Move swift as the Wind and closely-formed as the Wood,” is a metaphor for the importance of speed and unity in strategic planning and execution. It reminds readers of the need to move quickly and work together to achieve success and has applications in business, sports, and politics.

16. “When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard.” Meaning

This quote from Sun Tzu is a reminder that even when you seem to have your enemy cornered, you should never underestimate their resolve or capacity for fighting back. Always leave an escape route open, and never press too hard – otherwise, you may find yourself in a battle you can’t win.

17. “There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard.” Meaning

There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard. Sun Tzu often uses this quote to illustrate the principle of “unlimited potential in limited resources.” In other words, with a limited number of things (in this case, musical notes), we can create infinite possibilities (melodies).

There are not more than five primary colours, yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever been seen.

Sun Tzu’s quote reminds us that working together in unity can create a powerful force, enabling us to accomplish far more than we could ever achieve alone. It emphasizes the strength found in diversity and collaboration.

There are not more than five primary colors, yet they produce more hues than can be seen in combination. In the same way, there are not more than five cardinal virtues, yet in combination, they give rise to more than five hundred virtues. The primary colors are black, white, red, yellow, and blue; the cardinal virtues are humanity (jén), righteousness (yì), propriety (lǐ), wisdom (zhì), and sincerity (chéng).

There are not more than five cardinal tastes, yet combinations of them yield more flavours than can ever be tasted.”

This quote from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War suggests that there are only a limited number of basic tastes (sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami) but that by combining them, we can create an infinite number of flavors. This is a useful metaphor for thinking about strategy and leadership: combining different elements creatively can achieve more than we could ever imagine.

18. “who wishes to fight must first count the cost” Meaning

Sun Tzu’s quote, “who wishes to fight must first count the cost,” encourages strategists to consider the risks and rewards of a course of action before engaging in it. It emphasizes the importance of assessing potential losses and gains ahead of time to make the best decisions.

19.“When the enemy is relaxed, make them toil. When full, starve them. When settled, make them move.” Meaning

This quote from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is about using your enemy’s resources against them. When they are relaxed, make them work harder. When they are full, starve them. When they are settled, make them move. This will exhaust their resources and eventually lead to their defeat.

20. “The art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.” Meaning

This quote from Sun Tzu emphasizes the importance of studying warfare to protect one’s state. He argues that neglecting to do so can lead to ruin, making it clear The art of war plays a vital role in the success and survival of a state and is a matter of life and death. A state needs to possess the knowledge and strategies of warfare to protect itself from external threats and to expand its boundaries.

21.“To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.” Meaning

The quote, “To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill,” Sun Tzu, means that winning through combat is not the highest form of talent. The greatest accomplishment is to be able to successfully outsmart the enemy and achieve victory without having to engage in battle. This type of victory is the most effective and efficient way to win, as it conserves resources and minimizes losses.

22. “So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong, and strike at what is weak.” Meaning

This quote, “Avoiding what is strong and striking at what is weak,” is an important strategy in war. It involves identifying the enemy’s weaknesses and exploiting them, as well as understanding one’s strengths and weaknesses. This strategy is essential to the famous Art of War by Sun Tzu.

23. “Be extremely subtle even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent’s fate.” Meaning

The quote, “Be extremely subtle even to the point of formlessness,” by Sun Tzu, is an important lesson in strategy and tactics. It means that when facing an enemy, one should be as unnoticeable and undetectable as possible, almost to the point of invisibility. This invisibility will give one an advantage as the enemy cannot plan against an unknown force. It also implies deception and misdirection, as the enemy will be unable to anticipate one’s next move if one is subtle and appears inactive or dormant. In this way, the quote suggests that by being subtle and mysterious, one can control the enemy’s fate and become the master of the situation.

24. “The wise warrior avoids the battle.” Meaning

The quote “The wise warrior avoids the battle” means that a smart fighter will not seek out conflicts and battles but instead use other methods to achieve their goals. This is because, even when the odds are in their favor, the costs and risks of battle are often too great to be worth it. By avoiding battles, a wise warrior can better protect their resources and look for more creative solutions that will ultimately have a better outcome.

25. “The whole secret lies in confusing the enemy, so that he cannot fathom our real intent.” Meaning

Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” underscores the value of deception in combat, positing that it can be an invaluable asset in the pursuit of victory. Strategically concealing our plans and intentions can help keep opponents off-balance and hinder their ability to mount successful defenses. This renowned quote is a reminder of the potential power of deception in military operations.

 

The Art of War Short Summary

The Art of War is an ancient Chinese military guide written by Sun Tzu that dates back to the 5th century B.C. It consists of 13 chapters that provide advice and strategies on warfare, business, negotiation, and relationships. The key lessons presented in the book are to lead by example, appear weak when you are strong and strong when you are weak, and understand both the enemy and yourself to gain victory. Other key points presented in the book include misleading your enemies, using spies, and the idea that there is opportunity amidst the chaos.

 

FAQs

What is the best quote from The Art of War?

There are many great quotes from The Art of War, but one that stands out is, “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” This quote speaks to the importance of strategy and planning in warfare and how sometimes the best course of action is to avoid conflict altogether. This is a valuable lesson for those in the military and anyone who wants to succeed.

What is the main message of The Art of War?

The Art of War teaches that success in battle or conflict comes from understanding your enemy, knowing yourself, and using wise tactics. Sun Tzu emphasizes deception and preparation and uses strategy to overcome strength and avoid prolonged warfare.

What are Sun Tzu’s principles of war?

Sun Tzu’s principles of war are as follows:

  1. Quickness: Sun Tzu emphasizes the importance of speed and efficiency in warfare, believing that the side that acts quicker and more decisively will be the side that emerges victorious.

  2. Knowing when to fight and when not to fight: Sun Tzu believes that an important part of being successful in war is knowing when to fight and when it is more beneficial to wait and observe.

  3. Benevolence, justice, and righteousness: Sun Tzu emphasizes the importance of treating people with benevolence, justice, and righteousness to ensure a strong and unified army.

  4. Prolonged warfare is unbeneficial: Sun Tzu emphasizes that prolonged warfare is not beneficial and can lead to destruction.

  5. The art of war is vital: Sun Tzu believes that war is an important subject matter that should never be neglected.

  6. Leave an outlet free: Sun Tzu advises leaving an opening for retreat when surrounding an army.

  7. Move swiftly: Sun Tzu believes it is important to move quickly to gain the upper hand in a battle.

  8. Attack strategically: Sun Tzu advises to attack strategically and to be still as the mountain when necessary.

  9. Breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting: Sun Tzu believes that it is possible to break the enemy’s resistance without fighting and that this is the ultimate form of excellence.

  10. Prepare before engaging in battle: Sun Tzu believes it is important to prepare before engaging in battle to maximize the chances of victory.

  11. Avoiding battle: Sun Tzu emphasizes that great soldiers know when to avoid and fight on their terms.

  12. Logistics: Sun Tzu believes logistics is important for a successful battle.

  13. Victory before battle: Sun Tzu believes that it is important to win the battle before engaging in it.

  14. Small forces can achieve great results: Sun Tzu emphasizes that small forces can achieve great results.

  15. Knowing the evils of war: Sun Tzu believes it is important to understand the evils of war to appreciate its benefits.

  16. No hesitation: Sun Tzu stresses the importance of not hesitating when in battle.

  17. Burning boats and bridges: Sun Tzu advises against having any hankering after home and suggests burning the boats and bridges to make this clear.

  18. Treating soldiers as your beloved sons: Sun Tzu advises treating the soldiers as though they are your sons to ensure that they are loyal and willing to serve.

  19. Counting the cost: Sun Tzu emphasizes the importance of counting costs before engaging in battle.

  20. Knowing how to conquer without being able to do it: Sun Tzu believes that knowledge and understanding are important but not the same as acting on them.

  21. Supreme excellence: Sun Tzu believes that supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.

 

What is the most famous war quote?

Sun Tzu’s famous quote, “If you know the enemy and you know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles,” highlights the importance of understanding one’s strengths and weaknesses and those of the enemy to develop an effective strategy for victory.

Which army is stronger?

Sun Tzu emphasizes the importance of strategy in achieving victory, suggesting that a smaller but more strategically adept army can defeat a larger one by attacking the enemy’s weak points, taking advantage of their inactivity, and obscuring their plans. The generals’ skill and ability to create and implement effective strategies will determine which army is stronger.

What could the fallout be?

The potential fallout of a confrontation could include the following:

  • Hurt feelings
  • Loss of relationships
  • Damage to reputation
  • Misunderstandings or misinterpretations
  • Increased stress or anxiety
  • Increased conflict
  • Strained or difficult communication
  • Financial losses
  • Sacrificing valuable time or resources
  • Legal action or punishments
  • Compromising personal values or beliefs.

Why do they think the way they do, would you in their position?

We must strive to understand why people think differently than us, consider our biases and judgments, and be aware of our self-doubts and insecurities to form successful and meaningful relationships. Empathy and respect are key components of this process.

Where peace is advocated and we all are striving to achieve it, how does “art of war” is relevant in today’s times?

Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” remains relevant today, as its teachings focus on balancing aggression and diplomacy, understanding the enemy, and the importance of strategy. His concepts can be applied to any conflict or situation and help us work toward a peaceful and effective resolution. Following Sun Tzu’s teachings, we can strive for victory without engaging in harmful and destructive battles.

Conclusion

If you want to learn the art of war, there is no better teacher than Sun Tzu. Sun Tzu was a Chinese military general, strategist, and philosopher who lived in the 6th century BC. He is known for his work The Art of War, an influential treatise on military strategy that has affected Western and East Asian philosophy and military thinking. The Art of War is not only a great book on strategy; it’s also full of quotes that can be applied to many different aspects of life. This post has collected 25 of the greatest Sun Tzu quotes on strategy, leadership, and life.

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