sun tzu quotes

100+ Best Sun Tzu Quotes on War

Sun Tzu was a military strategist and general in ancient China who is best known for his book The Art of War. There is little to no biographical information on Sun Tzu. He lived around 500 B.C., but The Art of War was written during the later stages of the Warring States Period (the division of China), from 481 to 221 BCE. Sun Tzu has plenty of wisdom on warfare. Enjoy these Sun Tzu quotes of all things related to war, victory, the enemy, and everything in between. 

Sun Tzu’s teachings in The Art of War focused on military strategy and how it can be considered a supreme art. In this book, divided into 13 chapters, he covers all aspects of war, strategy, and victory, including how to prepare for an attack, fighting and using strategy to defeat one’s opponent through tactics of deception and the enemy’s unpreparedness, secret operations, and more. While it might seem as if he glorified war, that is not the case. Sun Tzu’s principles and philosophy in The Art of War just raised points about the vital importance of tactics and military thinking, and how to properly attack and defeat an opponent

Sun Tzu quotes
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Sun Tzu Quotes About the Art of War

“Quickness is the essence of the war.” — Sun Tzu

“He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.” — Sun Tzu

“When one treats people with benevolence, justice, and righteousness, and reposes confidence in them, the army will be united in mind, and all will be happy to serve their leaders.” — Sun Tzu

“There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.” — Sun Tzu

“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.” — Sun Tzu

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

“Move swift as the Wind and closely-formed as the Wood. Attack like the Fire and be still as the Mountain.” — Sun Tzu

“To fight and conquer in all our battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy‘s resistance without fighting.” — Sun Tzu

“Every battle is won before it’s ever fought.” — Sun Tzu

“Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.” — Sun Tzu

“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” — Sun Tzu

“One mark of a great soldier is that he fight on his own terms or fights not at all.” — Sun Tzu

“The wise warrior avoids the battle.” — Sun Tzu

“The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy‘s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.” — Sun Tzu

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

“Even the finest sword plunged into salt water will eventually rust.” — Sun Tzu

“Who wishes to fight must first count the cost.” — Sun Tzu

“One may know how to conquer without being able to do it.” — Sun Tzu

“Great results can be achieved with small forces.” — Sun Tzu

“Who does not know the evils of war cannot appreciate its benefits.” — Sun Tzu

“The worst calamities that befall an army arise from hesitation.” — Sun Tzu

“When your army has crossed the border, you should burn your boats and bridges in order to make it clear to everybody that you have no hankering after home.” — Sun Tzu

“If soldiers are punished before they have grown attached to you, they will not prove submissive; and, unless submissive, then will be practically useless. If, when the soldiers have become attached to you, punishments are not enforced, they will still be unless.” — Sun Tzu

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” — Sun Tzu

“Sweat more during peace: bleed less during war.” — Sun Tzu

“All wars are won or lost before they are ever fought.” — Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu Quotes About Strength and Weaknesses

“When strong, avoid them. If of high morale, depress them. Seem humble to fill them with conceit. If at ease, exhaust them. If united, separate them. Attack their weaknesses. Emerge to their surprise.” — Sun Tzu

“Appear weak when you are strong and strong when you are weak.” — Sun Tzu

“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. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put a division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.” — Sun Tzu

“Concentrate your energy and hoard your strength.” — Sun Tzu

“If the enemy knows not where he will be attacked, he must prepare in every quarter, and so be everywhere weak.” — Sun Tzu

“If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.” — Sun Tzu

“If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him.” — Sun Tzu

“So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and strike at what is weak.” — Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu Quotes About Authority and Leadership

“If there is a disturbance in the camp, the general’s authority is weak.” — Sun Tzu

“There are five dangerous faults which may affect a general: (1) Recklessness, which leads to destruction; (2) cowardice, which leads to capture; (3) a hasty temper, which can be provoked by insults; (4) a delicacy of honor which is sensitive to shame; (5) over-solicitude for his men, which exposes him to worry and trouble.” — Sun Tzu

“It is only the enlightened ruler and the wise general who will use the highest intelligence of the army for the purposes of spying, and thereby they achieve great results.” — Sun Tzu

“Hence that general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend, and he is skillful in defense whose opponent does not know what to attack.” — Sun Tzu

“If words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood, then the general is to blame. But, if orders are clear and the soldiers nevertheless disobey, then it is the fault of their officers.” — Sun Tzu

“The skillful employer of men will employ the wise man, the brave man, the covetous man, and the stupid man.” — Sun Tzu

“The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand.” 

“The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.” — Sun Tzu

“A wise general makes a point of foraging of the enemy.” — Sun Tzu

“Leadership is a matter of intelligence, trustworthiness, humaneness, courage, and sternness.” — Sun Tzu

“The art of giving orders is not to try to rectify the minor blunders and not be swayed by petty doubts.” — Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu Quotes About Strategy and Tactics

“Thus we may know that there are five essentials for victory: (1) He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight; (2) he will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces; (3) he will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks; (4) he will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared; (5) he will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.” — Sun Tzu

“The line between disorder and order lies in logistics.” — Sun Tzu

“Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterward looks for victory.” — Sun Tzu

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” — Sun Tzu

“Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows; the soldier works out his victory in relation to the foe whom he is facing.” — Sun Tzu

“The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.” — Sun Tzu

“The victorious army is victorious first and seeks battle later; the defeated army seeks battle first and seeks victory later.” — Sun Tzu

“Supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy’s strategy.” — Sun Tzu

“The peak efficiency of knowledge and strategy is to make conflict unnecessary.” — Sun Tzu

“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.” — Sun Tzu

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

“Energy may be likened to the bending of a crossbow; decision, to the releasing of a trigger.” — Sun Tzu

“Ponder and deliberate before you make a move.” — Sun Tzu

“Begin by seizing something which your opponent holds dear; then he will be amenable to your will.” — Sun Tzu

“Move not unless you see an advantage; use not your troops unless there is something to be gained; fight not unless the position is critical.” — Sun Tzu

“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.” — Sun Tzu

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

“The skillful tactician may be likened to the shuai-jan. Now the shuai-jan is a snake that is found in the Ch’ang mountains. Strike at its head, and you will be attacked by its tail; strike at its tail, and you will be attacked by its head; strike at its middle, and you will be attacked by head and tail both.” — Sun Tzu

“The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim.” — Sun Tzu

“Attack is the secret of defense; defense is the planning of an attack.” — Sun Tzu

brown and black metal crane

Sun Tzu Quotes About Perseverance and Creating Opportunities

“You have to believe in yourself.” — Sun Tzu

“There are roads which must not be followed, armies which must not be attacked, towns which must not be besieged, positions which must not be contested, commands of the sovereign which must not be obeyed.” — Sun Tzu

“Never venture, never win!” — Sun Tzu

“Opportunities multiply as they are seized.” — Sun Tzu

“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.” — Sun Tzu

“The opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.” — Sun Tzu

“The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy.” — Sun Tzu

“To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.” — Sun Tzu

“Victory comes from finding opportunities in problems.” — Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu Quotes About Victory

“Unhappy is the fate of one who tries to win his battles and succeed in his attacks without cultivating the spirit of enterprise, for the result is waste of time and general stagnation.” — Sun Tzu

“What the ancients called a clever fighter is one who not only wins but excels in winning with ease.” — Sun Tzu

“For 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

“Those who win every battle are not really skillful—those who render others’ armies helpless without fighting are the best of all.” — Sun Tzu

“He wins his battles by making no mistakes.” — Sun Tzu

“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.” — Sun Tzu

“Bravery without forethought causes a man to fight blindly and desperately like a mad bull. Such an opponent must not be encountered with brute force, but maybe lured into an ambush and slain.” — Sun Tzu

“In battle, there are not more than two methods of attack–the direct and the indirect; yet these two in combination give rise to an endless series of maneuvers.” — Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu Quotes About the Enemy 

“Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and you know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt; if you know Heaven and you know Earth, you may make your victory complete.” — Sun Tzu

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.” — Sun Tzu

“When the enemy is relaxed, make them toil. When full, starve them. When settled, make them move.” — Sun Tzu

“To know your enemy, you must become your enemy.” — Sun Tzu

“Build your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across.” — Sun Tzu

“Those skilled in warfare move the enemy and are not moved by the enemy.” — Sun Tzu

“Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder and crush him.” — Sun Tzu

“Be where your enemy is not.” — Sun Tzu

“He who is prudent and lies in wait for an enemy who is not will be victorious.” — Sun Tzu

“It is easy to love your friend, but sometimes the hardest lesson to learn is to love your enemy.” — Sun Tzu

“Do not swallow bait offered by the enemy. Do not interfere with an army that is returning home.” — Sun Tzu

“Do not engage an enemy more powerful than you. And if it is unavoidable and you do have to engage, then make sure you engage it on your terms, not on your enemy’s terms.” — Sun Tzu

“For them to perceive the advantage of defeating the enemy, they must also have their rewards.” — Sun Tzu

“It is more important to out-think your enemy than to outfight him.” — Sun Tzu

“Do not press an enemy at bay.” — Sun Tzu

“Those skilled at making the enemy move do so by creating a situation to which he must conform; they entice him with something he is certain to take, and with lures of ostensible profit, they await him in strength.” — Sun Tzu

“Convince your enemy that he will gain very little by attacking you; this will diminish his enthusiasm.” — Sun Tzu

“When your opponent gives you an opening, be swift as a hare.” — Sun Tzu

“The whole secret lies in confusing the enemy so that he cannot fathom our real intent.” — Sun Tzu

“If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril.” — Sun Tzu

“Keep your friends close, your enemies even closer.” — Sun Tzu

“Know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories.” — Sun Tzu

“If you are far from the enemy, make him believe you are near.” — Sun Tzu

“Thus, the expert in battle moves the enemy and is not moved by him.” — Sun Tzu

“When envoys are sent with compliments in their mouths, it is a sign that the enemy wishes for a truce.” — Sun Tzu

“We cannot enter into alliances until we are acquainted with the designs of our neighbors.” — Sun Tzu

brown stone wall with human face carved

Sun Tzu Quotes About Life and Death

“Anger may in time change to gladness; vexation may be succeeded by content. But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come again into being; nor can the dead ever be brought back to life.” — Sun Tzu

“Prohibit the taking of omens, and do away with superstitious doubts. Then, until death itself comes, no calamity needs to be feared.” — Sun Tzu

“If quick, I survive. If not quick, I am lost. This is death.” — Sun Tzu

“If you fight with all your might, there is a chance of life; whereas death is certain if you cling to your corner.” — Sun Tzu

“If the mind is willing, the flesh could go on and on without many things.” — Sun Tzu

Other Sun Tzu Quotes

“There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard. There are not more than five primary colors, yet in combination, they produce more hues than can ever be seen. There are not more than five cardinal tastes, yet combinations of them yield more flavors than can ever be tasted.” — Sun Tzu

“Plan for what is difficult while it is easy; do what is great while it is small.” — Sun Tzu

“Wheels of justice grind slow but grind fine.” — Sun Tzu

“Foreknowledge cannot be gotten from ghosts and spirits, cannot be had by analogy, cannot be found out by calculation. It must be obtained from people, people who know the conditions of the enemy.” — Sun Tzu

“When the outlook is bright, bring it before their eyes; but tell them nothing when the situation is gloomy.” — Sun Tzu

“Using order to deal with the disorderly, using calm to deal with the clamorous, is mastering the heart.” — Sun Tzu

“Rewards for good service should not be deferred a single day.” — Sun Tzu

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About the author

January Nelson

January Nelson

January Nelson is a writer, editor, and dreamer. She writes about astrology, games, love, relationships, and entertainment. January graduated with an English and Literature degree from Columbia University.