Sun Tzu's Diagrams

Chinese science and philosophy is based upon a sophisticated system of ancient elements. Sun Tzu adapted these concepts to his own elements. Much of Sun Tzu's writing assumes the reader understands this elemental system and its classical graphical representations. SOSI used two different graphical systems to explain aspects of Sun Tzu's work based upon these traditionl systems.

The Compass/Cycle Diagram: Sun Tzu's system has eight external elements like the Bagua organized around his ninth elements, the core of mission. This Institute diagram fuses two original Chinese diagrams: the Element Compass and the Creation Cycle.

In this diagram, the five key elements defining a competitive position is shown as the four directions of a compass around the central core of mission. These elements fuse the current external conditions with current set internal capabilities, proving a static picture of a position at a given point of time.

The four key steps for advancing a position are shown as an adaptive loop. Each component of this loop connects one key element to another. This part of the diagram represents the dynamic parts of a position as it is being constantly transformed by our decisions, actions and external events.

The Armillary Diagram: The Institute's more recent map (shown on the left) adds concept of the yinyang philosophy to the traditional diagrams to capture another vital aspect of Sun Tzu's system.

This diagram is composed of three loops to illustrate the two-sided, cyclical nature of the key elements of position in Sun Tzu's system. In this diagram, one inner loop represents the climate/ground cycle of external events in which we position ourselves. The second inner loop, pierced by the arrow, represents the command/methods cycle of our competitive capabilities. The outer ring represents the Progress Cycle, by which positions are advanced. The arrow represents the direction and focus created by inner core of mission, represented by the center nucleus.

The Difference from Traditional Diagrams

Sun Tzu's basic arrangement of the elements defining a position and the steps to advancing a position combine the earliest forms of mapping into a specialized version of the ancient Bagua. If we map Sun Tzu's system to the "Before Heaven" form of the Bagua, with heaven in the north and the earth in the south, these relationships are consistent with Sun Tzu's model of climate in the north and ground in the south. The main difference in Sun Tzu's version is that the natural forces of "water" and "fire" (from the "Before Heaven" Bagua) are replaced with the "commander" and "methods" (see diagrams). Layers of connections often shown around the Bagua are how ancient Chinese scientists understood the deep connections in the natural order, illustrated in the first two charts above.

For Sun Tzu, fire and water were opposites, but not complementary opposites because one did not generate the other. For Sun Tzu, the idea of complementary opposites was the key to understanding all systems. Systems existed as a balance of complementary opposites. While fire is associated with methods, it is more accurate to say that it is associated with positioning, the skill that connects methods with the earth. Fire doesn't create metal directly, but it creates metal by smelting rock (earth). Metal is symbolic of command (leadership), and more precisely, knowledge. Metal creates fire by striking it against a rock (earth), but the key is knowing the right type of rock. As you can see, this system is quite precise and its relationships are comprehensive, but the only reason to explore them all is to better understand the original text, not Sun Tzu's system itself.

Though Sun Tzu almost certainly knew of some form of the Bagua in its "Before Heaven" form, he does not use all its elements as any direct basis for his work. The elements are used symbolically, but some are very important while others are relatively minor. Thunder, for example, is seldom used, and then symbolically to emphasize the obvious knowledge used by vision (known as aim). Water is symbolic of change, but lakes are symbols for hidden or secret changes. Woods are a minor symbol, used as a characteristic of ground, primarily representing stability.

The diagrams that reflect Sun Tzu's model are used in our and seminar videos, and are explained in more detail in our books. Sun Tzu's method of using diagrams defines him as a pragmatist rather than a philosopher. He was more interested in the real workings of the world than any "ideal" patterns behind it.