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7. The Dao of War


We are in the core principle of Chinese internal martial arts such as Tai Chi Chuan where the following notions of warfare are fully used.

Although he is renowned for his negative attitude toward warfare, Lao Zi never fails to see the harsh reality of frequent military conflicts launched in a diversity of names. Accordingly he gives due consideration to what people suffer from war, meanwhile offering insights into strategies and tactics connected with the employment of weapons. Lao Zi proposes a defensive policy that is firmly based on his notion of retreat as advance. Thus developed from this defensive policy are such military strategies and tactics as "wait at one's ease for an exhausted enemy," "defend in order to attack," and "retreat in order to advance," which is all aimed at "gaining mastery or winning victory by striking only after the enemy has struck." (Cf. chs. 57, 68 and 69.)
The Dao of warfare can, it seems to us, be generalized, if not over-simplified, into one underlying principle: "An army should be operated in an unusual way" (yi qi yong bing). By "unusual way" or extraordinary way (qi) is meant utilizing the whole gamut of secret, tricky and unexpected strategies and tactics. To be sure, military operations in an unusual way are a necessity because all warfare is grounded on deception. "Therefore," points out Sun Zi, the author of The Art of War (Sun Zi Bing Fa), "when able to attack, we must pretend to be unable; when employing our forces, we must seem inactive; when near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Offer bait to lure the enemy when he covets small advantages; strike the enemy when he is in disorder.... Launch attack where the enemy is unprepared; take action when it is unexpected. These are the keys to victory for the strategist."
The counterpart of the "unusual way" (qi) is the "normal way" (zheng). Being a pair of opposite and yet complementary categories, qi and zheng are not only recommended by Lao Zi for application in battle, but also by Sun Zi, known as the most outstanding military strategist in ancient China. In his book The Art of War, Sun Zi arrives at the conclusion that "it is due to the operation of qi (extraordinary way and force) and zheng (norm way and force) that the whole army can sustain an enemy all-out attack." It is simply owing to the similarities in the particular aspect of Lao Zi and Sun Zi that the Dao De Jing; has been proclaimed by some people (e.g. Mao Zedong) to be a book on warfare.
To be exact, that "an army should be operated in an unusual way" is a guiding principle for military actions. However, the principle itself cannot be fully effective unless it is implements in accordance with another rule, that of non-competition either quick victory or instant glory. This may sound paradoxical but it can be justified as a dialectical viewpoint by a scrutiny of the message as hidden in Lao Zi's exposition as follows: "A adept commander does not display his martial prowess. An adept warrior does not become angry. An adept conqueror does not wrestle with his enemy. An adept manager of men places himself below them. This is called the virtue of non-competition. This called the use of others' force...." (Ch. 68)




 

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