Sun Tzu's Five Elements

In Sun Tzu's system, the five traditional elements are replaced by the five elements that define the competitive world: mission (path), ground, climate, command, and methods. The most interesting of these is the "mission," which is the center to his formation, because it was adopted from the Taoist school. As with the traditional Chinese philosophical systems, his five elements are reflected in many different aspects of his analysis and methodology.

Sun Tzu appropriated the tools for portraying and mapping traditional elements in his system. The reasons are simple. All educated Chinese in his era were trained to think in these terms. Sun Tzu was practical in designing his system around what everyone already knew. This includes not only the numeric associations with the five elements, but the many other numeric associations in his work. In his day, these patterns enabled students to easily learn and remember the many factors that played a role in competitive situations. Today, however, in true yinyang fashion, they have become one of the many barriers to understanding the same system.

You can compare the relationships in his system, shown below, and the table of the classical elements here. Without understanding these relationships, some critical parts of Sun Tzu's system, which are described in symbols and analogies, are impossible to understand.

The Five Key Factors in Sun Tzu and Their Elemental Relationships

Key Factors


CLIMATE


GROUND


MISSION


COMMAND


METHODS

directions

north

south

center

east

west

character

courage

intelligence

caring

good faith

discipline

actions

foreseeing

remembering

being

analyzing

acting

senses

sight

taste

smell

hearing

touch

elements

water

earth

spirit

metal

fire

seasons

spring

autumn

between

winter

summer

conditions

rain

dry

clear

cold

hot

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