The Denma Translation

Competitive Arenas: 

The Denma translation is one of the strangest, perhaps the most "fortune cookie" of all, in the sense of keeping the meaning vague. Either the version of the original Chinese the translators used was missing many lines that exist in all other translations, or they chose to ignore those lines. Other lines are shown out of their usual place in the text (see example below). The text also uses different section breaks (indicated by ***) than the other versions, so our sample stanza is a combination of two stanzas from their work.

The strength this work is that when a line of text is translated, it stays very close to the original. Reading it is like reading something closer to our character-by-character version than most English translations. In a few cases, the translators don't even translate the characters. For example, they refer to the Chinese character for "philosophy" or "way" as "Tao" (with a capital letter), making it seem as though Sun Tzu is referring to the great, unknowable Tao of Lao Tzu and the Taoists. In reality, Sun Tzu uses the word in a down-to-earth fashion, meaning the shared philosophy that unites a group of people.

The authors of this version make little attempt to "clarify" the meaning of the text in the way they translate it for the reader. In general, this creates a more authentic, if less readable, work than the many versions that extend and explain Sun Tzu rather than translating his words.

The Denma Art of War contains much more material than just the sparse translation. Following the translation itself is a section that contains three essays about the meaning and the time period of the text. The last section of the book is a commentary that emphasizes the philosophical rather than practical aspects of Sun Tzu.

Our Character Translation

Denma Translation

Without invitation right correct’s banner,

Do not engage well-ordered pennants.

Do not attack hall hall of formation, Do not strike imposing formations.
Here govern transform one also; This is ordering transformation. ***
Make use war’s method, And so the method of employing the military---:

High mound do not face,

Do not face them when they are on a high hill.

Back walls do not oppose,

Do not go against them when their back is to a mound.

Pretend flee do not follow,

Do not pursue them when they feign defeat.

Sharp soldiers do not attack,


Bait war do not feed,


Returning home legion do not block,

Do not block soldiers returning home. ---(different order)---

Encircling troops must watch-tower,

Leave a way out for surrounded soldiers.

Poor pillage do not force,


Here use war’s method also.

This is the method of employing the many.