Six Myths about Sun Tzu's the Art of War

Because the term "war" appears in the work's English title, people instantly jump to a lot of wrong ideas about Sun Tzu's work. Sun Tzu wrote his work to overcome these same misconceptions in his own era.

Myth One: The Art of War teaches hostile conflict.

Reality: The opposite is true. Sun Tzu's book teaches winning without conflict. He taught that a general that fights and wins a hundred battles is not a great general. A great general finds a way to win without fighting a single battle.

Myth Two: Sun Tzu teaches winning at any cost.

Reality: Again, the opposite is true. Sun Tzu taught that the secret to success is making winning pay. We make winning pay by keeping our costs low. We don't avoid conflict for moral reasons because fighting is expensive.

Myth Three: Sun Tzu explains the use of military weapons.

Reality: Sun Tzu teaches the use of only one weapon: the human mind. His book is so timeless because unlike all other books on strategy, it doesn't discuss specific weapons or types of troops at all.

Myth Four: Sun Tzu teaches us how to destroy our enemies.

Reality: Again, the opposite is true. Sun Tzu teaches that our opponents create our opportunities. We avoid all wars of attrition because they are costly. Even if we win, our resulting weakness multiplies our opponents.

Myth Five: The Art of War is a collection of general sayings.

Reality: In translation, the Art of War reads like vague aphorisms because the original Chinese is written in mathematical formulas that translate only very generically. Like translating E=MC2 as "Matter contains a great amount of energy," much is lost in simple translation.

Myth Six: Sun Tzu taught that competition is an "art."


This is another artifact of poor translation. The Chinese term translated as "art" actually means systems, procedures, and skills. Sun Tzu taught that competition was a scientific system, not an art.

Competitive Arenas: