The Art of War

Posted by: Diane Brady on April 3, 2008

Thomas Huynh, a regular reader of this blog and founder of Sonshi.com, has just come out with a new book: The Art of War—Spirituality for Conflict.

A lot of leaders have found Sun Tzu’s Art of War to be instructive in the world of business. Among the principles, written up 2,500 years ago: prevent conflicts before they arise; resolve them when they do; act with courage, intelligence and benevolence in conflict situations; convert potential enemies into friends and control your emotions before they control you.

The book contains a foreword by Marc Benioff of salesforce.com, who credits Larry Ellison of Oracle Corp. with introducing him to the Chinese military classic. In Benioff’s view, the goal of the text was to “teach a disadvantaged person or persons how to shift the balance of power … how David can topple Goliath.” Huynh, who came to the U.S. as a political refugee and now has a site that’s the leading resource on Tzu’s philosophy, has come up with some insightful commentary to accompany the text. Check it out.

Reader Comments

Thomas H

April 4, 2008 9:21 AM

Hi Diane,

In addition to Marc Benioff's excellent Foreword, readers who are into the Asian classics may recognize the name Thomas Cleary, author of over 75 books translated from 7 different languages. He wrote the Preface to my book.

And thanks so much for the mention of The Art of War--Spirituality for Conflict. I wrote the book from a practical standpoint, with concepts that a businessperson can realistically apply every day.

Craig Wang

April 5, 2008 1:05 AM

I had a chance to look at Huynh's new book. It's a mixed bag. On the positive side, his commentaries are easy to read and usually correct--although I must note here that Huynh offers nothing terribly new or different from the many other English editions of The Art of War. On the negative side, it has become rather obvious that Huynh is not a native speaker of Chinese. His translation is therefore not a translation at all, but a mishmash of work done by others. If a real translator compares this book with the original Chinese, he would notice several mistakes on every page, and that is not an exaggeration. Fortunately, most Americans are probably gullible enough, and probably don't care about accuracy, so this shortcoming won't be noticed by anyone except very few individuals who actually know the original.

Thomas H

April 7, 2008 9:42 AM

Craig,

You must of missed the Introduction where it explains the book's translation process and background. We translated The Art of War from scratch and then had the feedback from established scholars of the work, most of whom are our close colleagues. For example, Dr. Thomas Cleary, the preeminent translator of the best known modern Art of War translation. He also happens to be my teacher. That's why we believe "The Art of War--Spirituality of War" is the ultimate edition because of its review from outside sources.

I also disagree with your opinion that the book offers nothing new. If you read the book thoroughly, you'll see it offers perspectives that are rarely seen in past works, e.g., the practicality of why Sun Tzu stresses preservation over aggression, and perhaps most importantly, the universal truths found in The Art of War as confirmed by the world's greatest spiritual beliefs, which I painstakingly melded in "The Art of War--Spirituality for Conflict."

Thomas Huynh

Reggie Black

April 12, 2008 1:08 AM

What is the best version of Sun Tzu's Art of War?

Thomas H

April 12, 2008 10:18 AM

Reggie,

After 10 years of public discourse on Sun Tzu's The Art of War, I find the one factor that's most important is the level of familiarity the reader has to the book. In other words the best version depends on what you expect from that version. If this is your first Art of War book, I would highly recommend Thomas Cleary's (along with my own version). That's exactly how I started 20 years ago. If you're very familiar with the text, try Minford's. His translation is extremely succinct and can confuse first time readers yet is a delight to old timers like me!

So here is a listing of Sun Tzu versions ranked from the beginner to the advanced reader (DON'T confuse "beginner" with "less accurate"; it is how clear the book is in explaining Sun Tzu's concepts):

Cleary (with Huynh)
Wing
Giles
Huang
Sawyer
Griffith
Ames
Sonshi
Denma
Minford

As far as pure rankings, all things being equal, stop by Sonshi.com where we ranked the "best Sun Tzu books," each with reviews and personal interviews; we at Sonshi.com have close ties to every major Art of War author and scholar (except Griffith who died in 1983).

Perhaps a little long-winded but I hope that helps!

Thomas Huynh

Reggie Black

April 13, 2008 12:03 AM

Thomas, Thank you for your insights. Your site is fantastic, and I am now a big fan of it. I noticed that there is a mention of seven martial classics of ancient china. What are the similarities and disimilarities between each classic? Are all of those books are insightful as Sun Tzu?

Thomas H

April 13, 2008 11:41 AM

Reggie,

The Seven Military Classics is a fascinating collection gathered during the Sung Dynasty (960–1279 CE), and was required reading for all ranking Chinese government officials due to required imperial examinations. I highly recommend Ralph Sawyer's excellent translation, which is now in paperback.

1) T'ai Kung's Six Secret Teachings
2) The Methods of Ssu-ma
3) Sun Tzu's Art of War
4) Wu Tzu
5) Wei Liao Tzu
6) Three Strategies of Huang Shih-kung
7) Questions and Replies between T'ang T'ai-tsung and Li Wei-kung

It may surprise some here to learn that these texts were heavily focused on benevolence (Sun Tzu included) rather than the violence and destruction many Western military texts tend to focus on, notably Clausewitz.

Nevertheless, in my personal opinion, there is a stark difference between Sun Tzu and the rest in terms quality of thought. Sun Tzu simply packed much more wisdom in his short book than the others in twice the space (and even then all came short). After I realized this, it soon became apparent in my mind why Sun Tzu's Art of War is most popular, even in the Western world.

However, read the book and see for yourself. I'm not saying that the other six are bad; a few are excellent such as The Methods of Ssu-ma. They simply pale in comparison next to Sun Tzu.

Thomas Huynh

Reggie Black

April 14, 2008 11:52 PM

Craig,

What version of Sun Tzu's Art of War do you recommend?

Lawrence J Caldwell

May 22, 2008 7:11 PM

Often overlooked but not to be forgotten is Myamoto Musashi's "A Book of Five Rings".

Armand Tamzarian

June 1, 2008 5:59 PM

I have buyer's remorse for this edition of The Art of War. I really did not enjoy the biased annotations... it would have been a lot more enjoyable if you let readers draw their own conclusions, instead of inserting your own personal moral philosophy. If you were going to do that, you should have at least left the annotations objective and inserted an 'author's opinion' section at the end, after the annotated translation.

Thomas H

September 1, 2008 10:31 AM

Armand, sorry I didn't receive your reply until now. With 20 years of intense study and research, not to mention the countless feedback of notable scholars specializing in The Art of War, they aren't "opinions" nor are they only mine. And most definitely they aren't my personal moral philosophy, although I do agree with everything that Sun Tzu had to say. They are an amalgamation of knowledge that others (past and present) and I have learned. I merely added real-life examples to make Sun Tzu's lessons more explicit for you the reader. In many ways, I've been there when I struggled with the text starting out; I wanted to make sure first-time readers now don't have to struggle like I did. Stick with it, think over the annotations, and I wish you great success in your life's calling! Thomas

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