Kaufman's Translation

Kaufman's Translation: This version is subtitled "The Definitive Interpretation of Sun Tzu's Classic," which, given the multilayered nature of the original Chinese, hits us as a strange statement to make. Kaufman is a martial arts expert who thinks that most other translations are too business-oriented. This is also a strange position, considering that none of the standard translations except for Gagliardi's were written by a businessperson.

Despite the claims of authenticity, this version seems to have the least respect for the original Chinese. It ignores whole phrases in the original, the specific meaning of the ideograms used, and the ordering and weight of the phrases. It is unlikely that the author was translating the same Chinese characters as other translators, despite our attempting to use a stanza that is complete in all major Chinese sources. Instead, he was likely working, probably without knowing it, from one of the less popular and less complete variants.

If you see brevity as a virtue in translation, you will not like this one. Though many phrases in the original are ignored completely, most are expanded and often extended with the author's own ideas. Of course, it is possible that his extensions relate in some way to the phrases we see as not translated, but it is difficult for us to make the connection.

The author also seems to prefer the choice of awkward words. Instead of simply saying, "never attack an enemy whose back is to a wall," he chooses the more cumbersome "whose back is to a barrier to retreat." His choices of words and ideas are certainly the furthest away from the convergence of the other translations. This gives this version a pidgin Chinese flavor.

If the Ames translation seems the most authoritative of the non-Gagliardi versions, this seems to us to least resemble the original.

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Our Character Translation

Kaufman's Translation

Without invitation right correct’s banner, Never attack if you see the enemy in prime condition and his appearance is strong and steady.
Do not attack hall hall of formation, His organization may be stronger than yours
Here govern transform one also; and you will need to replan your strategy.
Make use war’s method, Not translated.

High mound do not face,

Do not attack the enemy if he hold the high ground. It is important to consider your resources when this type of battle is indicated.

Back walls do not oppose,

Never attack an enemy when his back is against a barrier to retreat. He will fight with desperation and inflict serious damage if he sees no way out.

Pretend flee do not follow,

If he pretends to retreat, do not follow him unless you see his entire army moving away from you.

Sharp soldiers do not attack,

Not translated.

Bait war do not feed,

Never permit offerings of deception to force you into combat based on your overconfidence.

Returning home legion do not block,

If you encounter the enemy on his march home, do not attack. He is leaving and has submitted to you. If you attack when he is in retreat, he will have no alternative but to die for his honor. This type of warrior is exceedingly dangerous.

Encircling troops must watch-tower,

If you surround the enemy, you must see that he has a way out.

Poor pillage do not force,

If you press an enemy when he is trying to leave the area of battle, he will fight with desperation and you will encounter great loss regardless of your organization.

Here use war’s method also.

Understand these principles well. They are the foundation of the proper and intelligent manipulation of troops.