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How ‘The Art of War’ Relates to Combat Sports

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Stepping into the ring, cage or octagon comes with a wide array of threats that all fighters must overcome. These threats are extremely similar to what a commander or soldier goes through when engaging in battle. Consequently, there are numerous things for a fighter to learn from the great general Sun Tzu’s, ‘The Art of War.’

The Art of War has been around for over 2,000 years. The book is considered a military classic in China and is still recognized today as source for military strategy and tactics in Asia.

It is broken down into 13 Chapters and those who compete in combat sports should apply these techniques if they choose to be successful. Most importantly, chapters one, two, three and 10.

Chapter 1: ‘Detail Assessment and Planning,’ also known as ‘Laying Plans,’ explores the five fundamental factors and seven elements that determine the outcomes of military battles. The five factors include the way, the seasons, the terrain and the leadership/management. Just as a fighter would prepare for a bout, the ‘Art of War’ stresses the importance of thinking, assessing and comparing these factors. In doing so, a trainer or fighter can calculate his chances of victory as would a commander or soldier. Fighting requires a lot of muscle memory and faith in proper training. In both war and combat sports, habitual deviation of prior calculations will ensure failure caused by improper action.

Chapter 2: ‘Waging War,’ also known as the ‘The Challenge,’ breaks down how to understand the economy of warfare and how success requires winning decisive engagements quickly. This section advises that successful military campaigns require limiting the cost of competition and conflict.

Chapter 3: ‘Strategy and Attack’ defines the source of strength as unity, not size, and discusses the five factors that are needed to succeed in any war. In order of importance, these vital factors are: Attack, Strategy, Alliances, Army and Cities. In any type of battle, one must attack with strategy and take a superior position. Just as a battle in war favors those on higher ground, a fighter wants to control the fight and chase his opponent around the ring. This can be combated by the opponent if they are excellent at jiu-jitsu and can use the energy of the attacker to their advantage.

Chapter 10: ‘Configurations of Terrain’ or ‘Situational Positioning’ pertains to mixed martial arts in that a fight can take place in a ring, cage or an arena and a fighter must know how to navigate through these different atmospheres. In ‘The Art of War,’ there are three general areas of resistance pertaining to terrain; distance, dangers and barriers as well as six types of ground positions that can arise from them; (1) Accessible ground; (2) entangling ground; (3) temporizing ground; (4) narrow passes; (5) precipitous heights; (6) positions at a great distance from the enemy. Each of these six field positions will offer certain advantages and disadvantages for a fighter.

Below are English translations of the best phrases for fighters partaking in combat sports.

Last verse Chapter 3:

“So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss.

If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose.

If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.”

Verse 18/Chapter 1:

“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.”