This is a translation of Chapter 5 of The Art of War by Sunzi. No English sources were used.
To command the many as if commanding the few; to combat the many as if combating the few; the three armies can receive enemy attacks without being defeated, can attack like a stone thrown at an egg.
Conventional combat achieves typical results. Invent surprises to achieve victory. Elite soldiers have the creativity of Heaven and Earth, the tirelessness of a river flowing into the sea. They finish and start again like the sun and the moon. They die and are reborn like the four seasons.
From the arrangements of five musical notes can be heard infinite sounds. From the arrangements of five colors can be seen infinite colors. From the arrangements of five flavors can be tasted infinite flavors.
The use of military power is limited to invention and convention. From convention and invention can be arranged infinite strategies.
Turbulent water can move a boulder in one swift impulse. A raptor can kill its prey in one swift swoop. The skilled at war create precarious tension and abrupt release like the rhythm of the bolt(s) fed through a repeating crossbow.
Though the battlefield is chaotic, your command structure must be in order.
- Numbers: one side is in chaos = the other side is ordered
- Potential: one side is cowardly = the other side is brave
- Form: one side is weak = the other side is strong
Those skilled at war move the enemy via the situation, the enemy follows the situation; provide bait, the enemy will seize it. Do not let your own troops be so moved.
Those skilled at war seek out potential by placing the right talent in the right circumstances like placing wood and stone. Wood and stone stand still on flat terrain, rolls down steep terrain. A square is easy to stand still. A round shape is easy to roll.
To command troops as if rolling a round stone down a 10,000-foot mountain. This is called "potential".
"Five musical notes" refers to the pentatonic scale. ↩︎