The Art of War

The Art of War

2009, Military and War  -   64 Comments
Ratings: 8.05/10 from 74 users.

The Art of WarAlthough accounts differ over the Sun Tzu’s origins, according to a biography written by a 2nd century BC historian he was a general who lived in the state of Wu in 6th century BC.

Sun Tzu is most famous for the Art of War, praised as the definitive work on military strategy and tactics prior to the collapse of imperial China. Consisting of 13 chapters, the Art of War is one of the most famous studies on strategies for military success.

The most fundamental of Sun Tzu's principles is that "warfare is based on deception", and he believed that “the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting". One of his stratagems emphasizes the importance of knowing your enemy, “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”. Today his work has found new applications in areas totally unrelated to its original military purpose and used as a guide in business, sport, diplomacy, and even in dating!

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64 Comments / User Reviews

  1. risto

    could someone tell me the song in 13:16

  2. me

    get this frequency clear

  3. nico

    this is a terrible doc.

    1. marcus

      boring, right?


    The United States Military Establishment of today should reread this thing! And the documentary is available on YouTube.

  5. awful_truth

    A good documentary for generalizing the concepts of the 'Art of War' for the layman. I would still suggest for those who are interested to actually read the book itself. The main message that should be derived is 'wars are won and lost in the minds of men long before they are even fought'.
    Although the analogy of chess has some merit, I would not take it to heart. Gary Kasparov utilized many concepts of the 'Art of War', the best being a strategy coined over 2 millennium later as the 'intentional stance'. Once you know what motivates an individual, it is easy to predict his actions. (know your enemy) This premise allowed Kasparov to defeat a computer that could calculate many more moves in advance then himself. Since the computer is 'programmed' to win, it cannot contemplate concepts like 'stalemate' into a strategy. Thus, Kasparov only need play purely 'defensive' forcing Deep Blue to attack, leaving itself vulnerable. (the art of the counterpuncher is to make you fight his fight, not your own! )

  6. Alex

    This is a truly horrendous documentary. Seemingly created to panda to the hopelessly illiterate, the documentary's director seems to have taken an interesting subject and drowned it in an insipid soup of hyperbole, inappropriate musical and visual effects, and trashy tabloid-style journalistic techniques. I wonder if the creators feel bad about creating something which is of such poor quality on every level I can think of...

    1. Jeff

      Panda? I am certain you mean pander.
      Who's illiterate now?

  7. God loves Chicken

    These chess vs go comments amuse to me. Apparently the message wasn't conveyed properly.

    The History Channel didn't say go was better than chess. They are scholars, it's obvious they know the strategy chess has inside it. The point that they were trying to convey was that the war was not merely a 1 side vs another side. It was a war of ambushes and overwhelming encirclement.

    In chess you can clearly see both sides of the battlefield. You know how to strike weak points, it's just that you actually have to find them. Though in Go, the entire playing field is blank from the start. You don't know whats going to happen immediately because there aren't many pieces in the playing field. Go conveys the field of war in Vietnam much better than Chess because troops were blindly being placed into unknown territory. Also because the forces in Vietnam weren't very strong, every unit has the same value.

    In chess, point values are assigned to each piece. In go, all the values are the same. Even so, you don't win by pieces, you win by territory and how well you control the map. Poorly placed pieces actually give points to your enemy. Because America couldn't efficiently use their artillery and airforce, this meant that it was an infantry vs infantry war which gives each unit similar value despite experience. This was the main concept that History was trying to convey. This wasn't a war of people vs people. It was a war of territory and control.

  8. Rohyp Gnosis

    Yet another documentary I had to switch off after a few minutes! Why, oh why, do American documentaries have to always detract from the content through using excessive, irrelevant, 'dramatic' music... compounded by ruining the visuals by turning the whole tapestry into some kind of 'flashing disco extravaganza' through pointless constant 'dramatic' editing? Are American audiences so stupefied by a lifetime of glitzy advertising that childish productions are the only thing that'll maintain their attention? I find it totally patronising!

    1. Hexotica

      Totally agree! Well said. :)

  9. James Wilson

    just sent answer to your question 9 months ago.
    Rolling Stones. Heartbreaker from the 1973 album, Goatshead Soup.

  10. Justin Chen

    Some said that Vietnam war doesn't applies because Vietnam Communists had more troops and lost more than the US. But on the other hand, America got Southern Vietnam as ally, and boast MUCH higher technology and still not win. Who was really good? Taking mere number as standard is wrong, as is mentioned in Art of War.
    And back to North Vietnam, they won the war, but their economy was broken, society suffered. So do they win? War isn't just about win or lose, it has MANY side effects. That's why Sun Tzu told us to be cautious about war.

  11. Keiran Morton

    one of the texts studied at the American military academy at West Point is The Art Of War. It was also a favorite piece of reading material for Ho Chi Minh, so both sides of the conflict utilized the text.

  12. Keiran Morton

    Except North Vietnam did "win" the war. . . . .and ousted the khmer rouge from cambodia ?

  13. Rope Ricpe

    ****.... vietnam losses were 16 time biger than american

    someone is talking about a small army against a large...??????
    there were milions of vietnams and chineses

    think you kung fu fans
    kun fu did not work,,only in cinema...

    1. God loves Chicken

      It's not a small army against a large, it is a weak army against a strong.

  14. Van Bawi Tinhlawng

    Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" is indeed a masterpiece. It discusses war as the grand strategy; tactical maneuver; intelligence operation; PhysOp in soldiers morale as well as public support; leadership, chain of command ,,you name it. It discuss everything you can imagine in term of warfare.. even Ideological and cultural warfare ..I like it .. must try to get a copy of the book..

  15. Highball

    8 years olds or 80 years old, it is extremely disappointing, extremely! These experts are expert at what ???? Certainly not WAR ??? How dumb do they think 6th graders are?? What gives them the right to misinform them if they are that dumb??

    The whole premise is misconceived. Chess is not a game of elimination but of deception, it use was totally miss conceived. Checkers is elimination, they never played a good game of chess in their lives, too much X-Box and Wi time, not enough think time.

    A little up to date history might help also, Vietnam, after Sun Tzu being ignored by Westmoreland was won by Sun Tzu principle ultimately and then deserted later by Congress [commitment]. Eisenhower used Sun Tzu and flexibility to overcome Montgomery's failure to take Caen, it was not an intended diversion except in politically correct kindness to the Brits [Canadians] who died. Most of Lee's faults given here were for lack of cavalry, JEB Stuart was off marauding and out of contact with Lee, there are better Sun Tzu comparisons here.

    Shame, shame History Chanel.

  16. Gwayne Li

    this doc is the art of war for 8 year old kids -_-

  17. Shabbeer Farook

    Can anybody let me know the song that is played in background when the Vietnam era is shown for the first time.

    1. James Wilson

      Rolling Stones. Heartbreaker from the 1973 album Goatshead Soup.

  18. Guest


  19. dks2012

    i love it when chess players get defensive about their game. Chess is the battle, go is the war

  20. James B. Easter

    Please keep your worthless comments to yourself. or not.

  21. James B. Easter

    I only fall into the 20th percentile and can roundly assert that this must be one of the stupidest ( if not outwardly offensive ) documentaries existent.
    Does anyone out there need a documentary writer?

  22. Robin Propst

    to claim that sans-zu "predicted" the outcome of all the three war is ludicrous. just to write a book with strategy dosent mean that you predict victory for one or the other side.

    ( exscuse my poor spelling)

  23. kman67

    While I found the documentary interesting, I found the references to chess somewhat, if not totally inaccurate; though I haven't played Go in years I am a chess expert and chess is more complex than Go. There is much 'deception' in chess at a high level. Garry Kasparov won an amazing majority of his games by luring his opponent to one side of the board and attacking the other side.Up to move 40 in chess there is almost twice as many possibilities as there are electrons in the known universe. Sure in chess quite a bit of the time u have a fair idea of what your opponent is up to --- it's just 'how' he's going to do it is all important. Then again, in some games it's very difficult telling what your opponent is up to, or what he will do, because the possibilities are immense. I think the bottom line in Sun Zhu's philosophy is not to defeat yourself, then you have a chance of victory. In chess my motto is not to defeat myself --- to overcome my own demons or I have NO chance at all. In competition your first opponent is actually yourself; once you liberate yourself from fears and anxieties, and create earned confidence, then you can truly be objective. But all in all Sun Zhu was a very astute and logical man.

    1. James Pearson

      I'm not a fantastic chess player but decent enough and have to agree completly. The words Gambit, Tactic, Combination, Fork, Pin etc etc clearly have no meaning in chess according to this documentary because all we do is move forward and trade off haha.

    2. Alexander Stevenson

      While I agree that Chess is more complex than Go, the statement that:

      "There are almost twice as many possibilities as there are electrons in the known universe"

      Is absolutely ludicrous and 100% false, as anyone with even a cursory understanding of chemistry could tell you.

  24. kongkakingchongcha

    I don't like this 'show' because it made the Art of War look too bloody simple. But should give credits to their attempt.

    Not one single concept or a guild line from any ancient Chinese text should be taken word for word. You need to understand the context behind each sentence and character. Why? For example, critical characters been used in the text can have 5 different meanings (as to every Chinese character BTW)... When you put each meaning into the same sentence, it may become more different things... This also shows that it is not a "Gospel".

    Many westerners think this book is common sense. Well, what I can say is the concept is there that anyone have the opportunity to exploit and explore. But not everyone grasp the "common sense" very well. Just like the laws of physics. It's there already and waiting for people to discover. When Einstein proposed many of his theories, even it seems logical to you, I don't suppose you would still think it's common sense?

    From my personal experience from reading the Art of War, I assure you even if what it says makes logical sense to you, you will not discover most of the exploit without reading the book.

  25. adilrye

    I definitely like the comparison between wars in Ancient China under Sun Tzu and modern wars. Very interesting.

  26. wq

    Oh I saw this a long time ago. It's pretty good but severely lacking in details. i realize it's made for mass consumption but I really wish the history channel had included MORE information that'll help the average westerner understand Sun Tzu and the culture of his time. A lot of stuff were simply skipped over probably because the people at the history channel thought we wouldn't be able to understand it.

    1. kwethington1

      WQ, You could not be more right. I think the History Channel (HC)plays to the lowest common denominator. Foregoing the challenge of presenting a topic with information on two or more levels, its presentation is akin to a seventh grade, history film, targeting 12 year old more concerned with their latest cell phone text messages. Why, HC does not chose to present a subject on more than one level, defies my understanding and concept the level of logic required to trasfer this subject matter from Chinese written form to the screen, in the English language. Maybe, like our politicians' political analysts, they assume the least risk taken reaps the greater reward percentages. There will always be one-third that does not understand a topics second and third level meanings, a second third will take it at face value and miss the point entirely or agree with it for exactly the wrong reasons, and one-third will actually get it. The last one-third need to be able to watch this subject documentary and feel like it is more than a seventh grade history film given by an underpaid, burned out teacher. Faulkner was not written to be read and understood on the first attempt, neither should a treatice as valuable as this be presented without the thought and planning to include all areas of sutle implications and integrated meanings. Watching this documentary, although I still liked it, was is a bit like eating grade school, cafeteria meat loaf; you know it is mostly oatmeal and balony; it's bland, but it does make you feel full for a short time. I too wish that the HC would redo this book on Tzu's perspective on war via a prime time documentary with more effort to satisfy our curiosity on the matter. The books I have read or tried to read on the subject, differ considerably depending on whose translation is used and the background of the translator. Perception is reality. If you mistake the meaning of the words or the actions written about, you presentation in translated form suffers from mirror imaging.

  27. Betabot

    "Sun Tzu was thousands of years ahead of his time!"

    No, we're just thousands of years behind.

    1. PRIVATE

      totally agree with you, the same ideology of resorting to violence

  28. Mr Green

    It was a very interesting documentary the only part I disagree is their chess analogy which is very wrong. If anything they could of used chess to illustrate sun-tzus concepts a bit better but I think it would confuse alot of people who dont know chess. Chess is far far from being a game of "brute force" as they described it nor they showed full/proper chess board. I just expected for History channel to pay attention to detail a bit better, they are producing high quality documentaries after all. But for general public its good enough I guess to show the concepts of AoW.

    Overall its insightful and a good doc.

  29. temp

    Just want to clear this up: Go is the Japanese name for the Chinese game of WeiQi

  30. Larry

    The biggest problem with Terrorism is that they are organized in small unidentified cell structures within society. This method was first indroduced by the Russians.

    Even though this may at first seem like a disadvantage, you must consider the vast advances in intelligence. For example, they can read the date on a dime on your sidewalk from space, they can drive by your home and see whos inside with a device that can literally see through walls, they can attach small GPS devices to your car that can transmitt locations to a similar device in your car, they even have a mechanical fly that can fly into the back seat of your car and serve as a transmitter.

    All of this incorporated into the tactics of Sun Tzu creates and unbeatabe force.

  31. Larry

    What I liked so much about the movie was the fact that he attacked a far superior force first! Excellent! that is Psychological warfare at it's best.

  32. gero2006

    Correction to myself: Sun Tzu gives little guidance for 'War on Terror'... except on the use of spies and disinformation. But I think we Brits are quite good at that kinda thing anyway and have been at least since Sir Francis Walsingham (Tudor) or Mrs Aphra Behn (Restoration).

  33. gero2006

    Very interesting documentary but not sure I would take it as 'gospel'. @puppetandmuppets makes my point (I think) i.e. that Sun Tzu is vulnerable to lightening fast attacks which come out of nowhere in overwhelming force. This is how Genghis Khan won so much of Eurasia and how the Axis powers won so much of Europe at the beginning of WW2. Sun Tzu also provides relatively little guidance for the 'War on Terror' which is a form of warfare (if it really is 'warfare') that is neither about defeating armies nor about holding territories. One minor complaint: the narrator's voice is grating (I think it's meant to be deep, gravely, and sexy but it is just cheesy). Also I was a bit surprised by the way he pronounced 'swath' but I guess this is just the difference between American and British English. Americans pronounce the 'a' as in 'apple'. We Brits pronounce it as 'au' as in 'audio'.

  34. e4c5

    Obviously the writers are not chess players, but needed to make some analogies for the sake of story telling. For, although, amateur chess players take to the game of chess by simply advancing pieces and hoping for the best, an advanced player knows that all of Sun Tzu's teachings relate directly to the chess board and are reiterated in every chess book on the shelf.
    Playing the game of Go does incorporate some of Tzu's teaching, but all of his teachings are utilized in the game of chess. It was simply a writers tool to use Go and Chess as contrasting philosophies, when in actuality they are not.

  35. just1truth

    @Spence Are you really one who should be pointing out grammatical errors? Read your post again. The personal pronoun "I" should be capitalized, "Wow!", is not a complete sentence, you should capitalize the first word of a sentence, "flip side" is slang, and a period should follow the end of a sentence. If you are going to be a grammar Nazi and attack people for grammatical errors because you disagree with their statements, you should get the grammar correct yourself.

  36. just1truth

    @mark Did you think Sun Tzu was like Ghandi? He thought of the big picture and did what he had to do to prove his point. Remember you aren't living in the same world he lived in.

  37. Herdervriend

    Damn, I gonna use this for my games in the future:) So smart:D

    To bad this stupid Youtube stuff get's jammed around the 3th parth 4 minutes:S

  38. Sailor

    i have to start playing the game Go

  39. Quark


    Probably you don't know, but there's more than one language in the world, being English the most common. But it is not the mother language of 3/4 of the world's population.
    Therefore, try not to lecture someone you know nothing about. Is "Respect" part of your dictionary?

    Or try to learn my language: "És um puto tão estúpido, que nem ten a capacidade de comentar o maravilhoso documentario que acabaste de ver. Fazes do TDF uma forma de andares a criticar os outros, por lacunas gramaticais. Provavelmente por causa de carências afectivas (e sociais). Mas não te preocupes - isso passa com a idade."

    See? ;)


  40. Randy

    The Ancient Art of War is one of the most important books ever written.

    It has implications in almost every aspect of everyday living. I can not tell you how important it has been to me in business.

    It is the essence of the Beta-Male outwitting the Alpha-Male, (Alpha, all muscle and force, Beta, outsmarting and conquering the hulking giants...).

    All warfare is based on deception. This can be applied to basic hand to hand combat, the business meeting, or the large scale, international war. Just for one example...

    Sun Tzu was thousands of years ahead of his time!

  41. D-K

    Sun's rationality and practical approach to scenarios is what struck a chord with me. Haven't seen this doc, but I've read the book a couple of times. His resourcefullness comes for scrutinizing every possible scenario, covering all of his bases and anticipating on probable situations.

    The power lies in not letting ethical and moral convictions cloud rational judgement.

    @Mark: Yeah, I'm sure he'll be devastated. Focus on the message, not the messenger.

  42. Mark

    Wow... only 5 minutes through and I have lost all respect for Sun Tzu as a person. Killing the women because they laugh?

  43. Jimmy

    In this world of life and death, temporal gain or ruin, proper preparation goes a long way in controlling the outcome of any endeavor. The most important preparation is not logistically, but mentally. The confident and focused spirit will improvise and overcome.

    I think this is all common sense and anyone who asks themselves to perform successfully in any challenge must be familiar with these prudent imperatives. They are the key to self-efficacy.

  44. Gil

    I don't see it that way. Sun Tzu was the one being tested. He used the concubines to prove his point. They were expendable although I'm sure he would have preferred he did'nt have to kill 2 of them. Even the great Sun Tzu would have trouble convincing these spoilt people he was serious.

  45. Jonno

    The exercise with the concubines is misunderstood here, as it most always is. It was not a test of discipline as much as it was a test of the king. Was he truly serious about raising an army and doing what it takes to win a war? It was not a test of the concubines. Sun Tzu was testing the king.

  46. Spence

    Wow! What a suprisingly great doc. good summary costakiid. HateMachine, you are all over these comment boards, and they are consistently well informed. There are still people who value grammar. On the flip side, i laughed so much at quark's comment I'm convinced it has to be written with tongue in cheek. LOVE the site vlatko. keep up the hard work

  47. Caroline Harris

    Haha! I apply the Art of War to the Art of Love. It works well in that arena too. I read the Art of War (obviously not the orininal text but a supposedly good translation and I am delighted to see how much of it I remember all of these years later and how I continue to find it useful in my life and in my role of being other's confidantes. ;-)

  48. HaTe_MaChInE

    @Ashish - I agree but I would like to say that it is maybe a little less "emotion" and a little bit more "human problem solving". What I mean is that if you present a problem to someone its not pure logic vs emotion, alot of it is just how people tackle problems.

    There is another documentary on this site about Maths. One part of the doc showed how people consistently made bad decisions playing a game called "lets make a deal"

    That shows that to predict human behavior you have to understand what a persons problem solving system is.

    I think this is where art of war shines. But I do have to mention that I have never read the entire thing. I tried a few years ago and it seemed a bit like Nostradamus. With all the stuff he wrote down there is no doubt that alot of it would have to be correct. I ended up reading a "cliff notes" of art of war.

  49. Ashish

    not to mention game theory.

  50. Ashish

    As a mathematician I cant help but draw parallels to the Utility maximization problem. Which is basically Sun's idea expressed in mathematical form. maximise gain, minimise loss. Sun Tzu was a truly rational thinker who also accounted for human emotion.

  51. puppetandmuppets

    in reality Sun Tzu theory The Art of War failed when facing Genghis Khan

  52. Quark

    Sun Tzu is 100% right, and it does not only applies to warfare, but also to work: I've convinced a seniot CEO to promised a hole lot of money if I could achieve a bold gold. (doen't matter what those golds were, only the time to achieve them: 5 months).

    Sun Tzu says: there are 5 elements you should consider BEFORE going to war..
    I verified the 5 elements BEFORE the "war" and reckon they were all in my favour... so I WON!
    Straight & simple!

    PS - Don't waste your time reinventing the wheel...

  53. rebelliuss

    excellent... very insightful..

  54. Cliff

    I though Jewish was a religion.

  55. Costakidd

    Very interesting. This documentary applies Sun Tzu's "The Art Of War" to both victories and failures of historical battles.

    Tzu's writings of strategy can be applied to anything from sports to psychology. Check this one out, you'll probably like it.