The Thirty-Six Stratagems

Ancient Chinese Warfare Philosophy for Today

An ancient Chinese General Wang Jingze created the thirty-six stratagems. The stratagems were thirty-six strategies for ancient warfare.  As with many philosophies these principles have stood the test of time, and with a little work can be applied to today.

How could thirty-six ancient Chinese warfare tactics possibly have any impact on my life? More than you think. The stratagems can be directly applied to business, negotiations and winning situations. Let’s review a few of the stratagems that have some easy applications today.

“Borrow a corpse to resurrect the soul.” Kind of morbid, but hang in there. Take something that has disappeared, fallen out of style, an old technology, and use it to reinvent your business or yourself. This follows the saying, “There are no new ideas, just respun old ones.” You do not need to reinvent the wheel. Many times the things you need are already available; you just need to find a new application.

“Take the opportunity to pilfer the goat.” Who needs a goat? You might need a goat. Be flexible in your plan. Opportunities arise all the time; do not be too rigid to embrace them.

“Replace the beams with rotten timbers.” I don’t build houses, and its okay if you don’t. Change the rules. Go against common thought. People take strength from understood rules. Make the rules to your favor.

“Wait at leisure while the enemy labors.” Can be taken literally, but pick the time and place for a confrontation, engagement or challenge. Bring a challenge into your home court. Make the timing of an event to benefit you. Be prepared while allowing for your opponent to do all the extra work.

“If all else fails, retreat.” This is probably the most famous of the stratagems. If you survive, then you are still in the fight. Know when to quit and regroup. Live to fight another day.

“Chain stratagems.” One should be weaving many stratagems and tactics together to be successful. Be flexible in your strategies. Change them as needed. He, who adapts, will win.

I really like the aspect of flexible planning. I think everyone has life lessons they can learn from a good deal of planning, but keeping a flexible plan in order to embrace opportunities as they come along.

Please take a look at the full list. Maybe an ancient Chinese strategy or two can help you accomplish your goals.

Other people have correlated these strategies into business books. Here’s a link The Art of Advantage.

The Art of the Advantage: 36 Strategies to Seize the Competitive Edge

This is  another good interpetation of thirty-six strategies.

The 36 Stratagems for Executives (Sun Tzu’s The Art of War for Executives)

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2 thoughts on “The Thirty-Six Stratagems”

  1. Shaolin shadowboxing, and the Wu-Tang sword style.
    “If what you say is true, the Shaolin and the Wu-Tang
    could be dangerous”
    “Do you think your Wu-Tang sword can defeat me?”


    “En garde, I’ll let you try my Wu-Tang style
    I wait for one to act up
    Now I got him backed up
    Gun to his neck now, react what?
    And that’s one in the chamber
    Wu-Tang banger, 36 styles of danger.”

    Raekwon the Chef, 1993

    This is a great topic and anyone can apply it to any aspect of what he /she may be dealing with in their life. It kind of reads like an old proverb which, to me, makes it easier to apply to any number of things rather than being singularly PACIFC and constrained. Another book or point of reference that I enjoy looking to when crushing my enemies is Robert Greene’s 48 laws of power. A very good friend, much smarter than I, gave it to me and when I find myself in a spin, I often look to it for balance. In it are very useful “codes” to live by, and they are very plainly spoken. So no need to wonder about which goat to pilfer. Heres a link
    Thanks Mr. Scholar for your posts, I don’t always get to reply but I enjoy the read!

    1. Shampoo, thanks for reading the post. I picked up the 48 Laws of Power, and it is in my reading queue. 48 Laws of Power sounds like a great topic for a future blog. I believe that when you stay true to your ideals, keep things simple, and stay firmly flexible, you can live a successful warrior scholar lifestyle. Keep the posts coming!

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