The 36 Stratagems
(Sam Ship Yuk Gye)
Approximately 300 years ago, either towards the end of the Ming or the beginning of the Qing Dynasties, an unknown scholar compiled 36 military stratagems. Titled the Secret art of war (not to be confused with Sun Tzu's "Art of War". It is divided into six sections with six stratagems in each section. One of the things that makes this classic unique is its use of deception throughout.
- Stratagems when in a superior position.
??? Shengzhanji (Seung jeon gye)
- Stratagems for Confrontation
??? Dizhanji (Jeog jeon gye)
??? Gongzhanji (Gong jeon gye)
- Stratagems for confused situations
??? Hunzhanji ( Hon Gon jeon gye)
- Stratagems for gaining ground
??? Bingzhanji (Byeong jeon gye)
- Stratagems Desperate situations
??? Baizhanji (Pae jeon gye)
Six multiplied by six equals thirty-six. Calculations produce tactics which in turn produce calculations. Each side depends upon the other. Based on this correlative relationship, ploys against the enemy are devised. Rigid application of Military theory will only result in defeat on the battlefield.
*Note I have included some very basic combat applications. There are MANY applications if these strategies. The ones offered are just examples.
Stratagems when in a superior position
(Seung jeon gye)
?1? ????(????) ?Man ch’eon gwa hae
?2? ????(????) ?Wi wi gu jo
?3? ????(????) ?Ch’a do sar in
?4? ????(????) ?E il dae ro
?5? ????(????) ?Jin hwa t’a keom
?6? ????(????) ?Seong dong kyeok seo
1. Sneak across the ocean in broad daylight - Korean: Man cheon gwa hae
???? - Cross the sea under camouflage
This means to create a front that eventually becomes imbued with an atmosphere or impression of familiarity, within which the strategist may maneuver unseen while all eyes are trained to see obvious familiarities.
Combat application: Hiding your motion in motion. Example; light hopping in sparring can hide your attack.
2. Surround one state to save another. Korean: Wi wi gu jo
????- Besiege Wei to rescue Zhao
When a strong group is about to take over a weaker group, a third part can "have its cake and eat it too," gaining a good reputation by attacking the aggressor in apparent behalf of the defender, and also eventually absorb the weakened defender to boot, without incurring the same opprobrium that would be leveled at outright aggression.
Combat application: Protecting a loved one or friend.
3. Borrow a sword to attack another. Korean: Cha do sar in
????- Kill somebody by using another person's knife (kill someone through the agency of another)
When one side in a conflict is weakening, it may draw its own friends into battle, thus delivering a blow to its enemy while conserving its own strength.
Combat application: Literally disarm the attacker and use their weapon.
4. Face the weary in a condition of ease. Korean: E Il dae ro
???? -Wait at ease for the fatigued enemy
You force others to expend energy while you preserve yours. You tire opponents out by sending them on wild goose chases, or by making them come to you from far away while you stand your ground.
Combat application: Stay out of your attackers range and make them expend energy on useless attacks.
5. Plunge into a fire to pull off a robbery. Korean: Jin Hwa Ta Keom
???? - Loot the burning house
You use others' troubles as opportunities to gain something for yourself.
Combat application: Take advantage of your attackers misfortune, for example if the sun, rain, wind gets in their eyes, of they become distracted etc.
6. Feint east, strike west. Korean: Seong Dong Kyeok Seo
???? - Make faint to the east but attack in the west
You spread misleading information about your intentions, or make false suggestions, in order to induce the opponent to concentrate his defenses on one front and thereby leave another front vulnerable to attack.
Combat application: Feint, fake. In sparring fake a low kick and follow with a high strike when your attacker lowers their defense.
Stratagems for confrontation
??? - ???
(Jeok jeon gye)
?7? ????(????) ?Mu jung saeng yu
?8? ????(????) ?Am do jin ch’ang
?9? ????(????) ?Kyeok an gwan hwa
?10? ????(????) ?So ri jang do
?11? ????(????) ?Ri dae do gang
?12? ????(????) ?Sun su gyeon yang
7. Make something from nothing. Korean: Mu jung saeng yu
???? - Produce something out of nothing
You create a false idea in the mind of the opponent, and fix it in his mind as a reality. In particular, this means that you convey the impression that you have what you do not, to the end that you may appear formidable and thus actually obtain a security that you had not enjoyed before.
Combat application: I once used my wallet as a pretend cell phone to scare off a car full of car thieves. From a distance they thought I was calling the police. This is similar to sticking your finger through your jacket and faking you have a gun. You could also pretend to know a stranger crossing the street, waving to them to plant the false idea in the attackers mind that you know them.
8. Cross the pass in the dark. Korean: Am do jin ch'ang
???? - Advance to Chencang by a hidden path
You set up a false front, then penetrate the opponent's territory on other fronts while they are distracted by your false front. (pretend to prepare along one path while secretly going along another)
Combat application: Zig then Zag, fake left go right etc.
9. Watch the fire from the opposite bank of the river. Korean: Kyeok an gwan hwa
???? Watch the fire from the other side of the river (showing non-concernedness)
You calmly look on when adversaries experience internal troubles, waiting for them to destroy themselves.
Combat application: Take advantage of any environmental distractions or misfortunes your attacker may suffer. Crossing the street when faced with multiple attackers for example can disorganize the group if there is traffic.
10. Hide a sword in a smile. Korean: So ri jang do
???? Conceal a knife in your smile
You ingratiate yourself with enemies, inducing them to trust you. When you have their confidence, you can move against them in secret.
Combat application: Don't let on you are about to attack.
11. One tree falls for another. Korean: Ri dae do gang
???? - The plum dies for the apricot
Individual sacrifices may have to made to achieve a greater goal. (substitute this for that)
Combat application: Create a false opening to bait the attacker into a trap.
12. Take the sheep in hand as you go along. Korean: Sun su gyeon yang
???? Make off with a sheep in passing by
You take advantage of any opportunity, however small, and avail yourself of any profit, however slight. This comes from the story of a destitute traveler walking on a road. As he went along, he came across a flock of sheep; making his way through them, when he emerged from their midst he had a sheep with him. He behaved so calmly and naturally, as it he had been leading his own sheep to market all along, that the shepherd never noticed him. (Lead away a sheep in passing)
Combat application: Hide your attack in a natural unthreatening motion.
Stratagems for attack
(Gong jeon gye)
?13? ????(????) ?Ta ch’o gyeong sa
?14? ????(????) ?Cha si hwan hon
?15? ????(????) ?Jo ho ri san
?16? ????(????) ?Yok geum go jong
?17? ????(????) ?P'o jeon in ok
?18? ?????(?????) ?Keum jeok seon keum wang
13. Beat the grass to startle the snakes. Korean: Ta ch'o gyeong sa
???? - Beat the grass and frighten away the snake
When opponents are reserved and unfathomable, you create some sort of stir to see how they will react. Yagyfi mentions this, and also notes that it is used in Sun (Zen). Certain Sun sayings and stories are used primarily to test people and find out what they are like.
Combat application: Test your opponents reactions with hand strikes, low kicks, verbal attacks etc. Push their buttons.
14. Borrow a corpse to bring back a spirit. Korean: Cha si hwan hon
???? - Resurrect in a new guise
You don't use what everyone else is using, but use what others aren't using. This can mean reviving something that has dropped out of use through neglect, or finding uses for things that had hitherto been ignored or considered useless. (Raise a corpse from the dead)
Combat application: Improvise a weapon from a natural object.
15. Train a tiger to leave the mountains. Korean: Jo ho ri san
???? - Lure the tiger out of the mountain
You don't go into the fastness of powerful opponents' territory, but induce them to come out of their stronghold.
Combat application: Bait your attacker with a false opening.
16. Let the enemy leave in order to catch him Korean: Yok geum go jong
???? - Let the enemy off so to snare them
When you want to take captives, leave them on the loose for a while. (Let the enemy off so to snare them) Fleeing enemies may turn again and strike desperately if pursued too hotly. If they are given room to run, on the other hand, they scatter and lose their energy. Then they can be taken captive without further violence.
Combat application: Control your attackers motion, cutting off his options and force them where you want them to be, for example drawing an attacker in between two parked cars, a stair case etc.
17. Toss out a glazed tile to draw a jade. Korean: P'o jeon in ok
???? - Cast a brick to attract a gem
You present something of superficial or apparent worth to induce another party to produce something of real worth.
Combat application: Bait your attacker with a pretend opening.
18. To capture the brigands (rebels), capture their king. Korean: Keum jeok seon keum wang
????? - Catch the ringleader first in order to capture all his bandit followers
When confronted with a massive opposition, you take aim at its central leadership.
Combat application: Take out the leader or the most feared of the group and the group will usually become disorganized.
Stratagems for confused situations
??? - ???
(Hon Gon jeon gye)
?19? ????(????) ?Bu jeo ch’u sin
?20? ????(????) ?Hon su mo eo
?21? ????(????) ?Geum seon t'al gak
?22? ????(????) ?Gwan mun ch’ak jeok
?23? ????(????) ?Weon gyo geun gong
?24? ????(????) ?Ka do beol goek
19. Take the firewood out from under the pot. Korean: Bu jeo ch'u sin
???? - Take away the firewood under the cauldron
When you cannot handle an adversary in a head-on confrontation, you can still win by undermining the enemy's resources and morale. (take drastic measures to strike at source of a problem)
Combat application: Again using the environment, for example tipping over furniture, drawing them onto higher ground (you're higher) etc. The idea being if you are of equal or inferior skills you must use strategy to succeed.
20. Stir up the waters to catch fish. Korean: Hon su mo eo
???? - Fish in troubled water
You use confusion to your advantage, to take what you want. It may specifically mean taking advantage of a general or particular loss of direction in order to gather followers from among the uncommitted or disenfranchised. (try to take advantage of a disturbed situation to take in profits)
Combat application: Fighting with the sun to your back so it's in their eyes, or the wind. Bumping a car to activate the alarm to create confusion. Take advantage of your opponents distractions.
21. The gold cicada molts its shell. Korean: 21. Geum seon t'al gak
???? - Cast off the molted skin/gold cicada casts off its shell
This means leaving behind false appearances created for strategic purposes. Like the cicada shell, the facade remains intact, but the real action is now elsewhere. (escape unnoticed)
Combat application: Raise a hand high and kick low, toss something at your attackers face etc.
22. Lock the gates to catch the bandits. Korean: Gwan mun ch'ak jeok
???? - Close the gate to catch the thieves
You catch invading predators by not letting them get away. You don't let them get back to their homelands with what they can get from you. If they escape, you don't chase them, because you will thereby fall prey to the enemy's plot to wear you down. (Bolt the door to catch the thief)
Combat application: Stepping on your attackers foot, trapping their hands etc.
23. Make allies at a distance, attack nearby. Korean: Weon gyo geon gong
???? Befriend distant countries while attacking those nearby
When you are more vulnerable to those close by than you are to those far away, you can defend yourself by keeping those around you off balance, in the meantime cutting of their field of maneuver by securing a broader ring of alliances surrounding them.
Combat application: Concentrate on the immediate threat.
24. Borrow the right of way to attack the neighbor. Korean: ka do beol goek
???? Conquer Hao after obtaining permittance to cross another country
You secure the temporary use of another party's facilities in order to move against a mutual enemy. After having used these facilities to prevail over the enemy, you then turn and use them against the party from whom you borrowed them. (forge neutral alliances)
Combat application: Use one attacker against the other. Move when fighting so they constantly cross each other and get in one another's way. Use an attackers weapon against the other attacker.
Stratagems for gaining ground
(Byeong jeon gye)???
?25? ????(????) ?T'u ryang hwan ju
?26? ????(????) ?Ji sang mae goe
?27? ????(????) ?Ga ch’i bu jeon
?28? ????(????) ?Sang ok ch’u je
?29? ????(????) ?Su sang kae hwa
?30? ????(????) ?Ban gaek wi ju
25. Steal a beam to replace a pillar. Korean: T'u ryang hwan ju
???? - Replace the beams and pillars with rotten timber
You try to recruit top talent from among allies, inducing them to join your concern.
Combat application: Use negotiations and undermine their confidence, I remember one time an older master relates a time when a young punk with his friends started to harass him. He said to the harasser 'You know if you beat me up, all you did was beat up an old man. But on the other hand if I get a lucky shot in on you your friends will never let you forget an old man beat you. Either way it's not good' the young punk postured a little bit and then walked away.
Attack the legs.
26. Point at one to scold another. Korean: Ji sang mae goe
???? - Point at the mulberry only to curse the locust.
You criticize indirectly, getting your point across without confrontation. (scold one person through another)
Combat application: If with another you can pretend it's their fault and you will take care of them. (of course this as to be explained wink, wink to your friend)
27. Feign ignorance without going crazy. Korean: Ga ch'i bu jeon
???? - Feign foolishness
You pretend to be stupid and ignorant, but avoid talking loosely. (Pretend madness without loosing the balance)
Combat application: Fake injury, sickness, stupidity etc.
28. Let them climb the roof, then take away the ladder. Korean: Sang ok ch'u je
???? - Take away the ladder when the enemy is in the second floor
(Remove the ladder after the ascent) You maneuver enemies into a point of no return by baiting them with what look like advantages and opportunities.
Combat application: Like Bruce Lee's character in he movie Enter the Dragon when he asked his challenger to take the small rowboat to the small island to fight. When the challenger got on the boat he set it adrift. A modern application would be to let them through the door first and then lock it behind them.
29. Make flowers bloom on a tree. Korean: Su sang kae hwa
???? - False flowers on a tree
You dazzle and deceive the eyes of opponents by showy displays. (use decoys)
Combat application: Fake and feint or shatter their confidence with a demonstration of skill. I remember an older master discouraging a gang once by picking up a cobblestone from the street and breaking it in half.
30. Turn the guest into the host. Korean: Ban gaeg wi ju
???? - Make the guest to the host
This is when a business is taken over by one of its own clients or consultants.
Combat application: Use your attackers energy against them, when pushed-pull, when pulled-push.
Stratagems for desperate situations
(Pae jeon gye)
?31? ???(???) ?Mi in gye
?32? ???(???) ?Kong seong gye
?33? ???(???) ?Ban gan gye
?34? ???(???) ?Ko yuk gye
?35? ???(???) ?Yeon hwan gye
?36? ????(????) ?Ju wi sang gye
31 Scheme with beauties (Beauty Trap) Korean: Mi in gye
??? - Scheme with beauties
This refers to using the charms of women to influence key figures in an adversary organization. The stratagem of (making use of) a beautiful woman (as decoy)
Combat application: Use something attractive to the attacker, an opening, money, reward etc. A modern application could be dropping your wallet 'accidentally' as their eyes follow it attack.
32 Scheme with an empty castle (Empty castle ploy) Korean: Kong seong gye
??? The stratagem of (open gates and) an emptied city (with soldiers waiting in ambush)
You appear weaker than you really are, so that opponents may defeat themselves by one of three reactions to your supposed weakness: they may become conceited and complacent, leading to their downfall; they may become arrogant and aggressive, leading to their destruction; or they may assume you are setting up an ambush, leading them to flee of their own accord.
Combat application: When weak appear strong, when strong appear weak. Don't let the attacker know your state, lure him by pretending to be weak, discourage him by appearing strong.
33. Scheme with double agents. (Sow discord in the enemy’s camp) Korean: Ban gan gye
??? The stratagem of sowing the seeds of discord (among the enemies)
You compromise insiders of other organizations to get them to work for you.
Combat application: In a multiple attack situation, attack in a fast, aggressive and unpredictable manner, to confuse the group.
34. Scheme with self-inflicted wounds. Korean: Ko yuk gye
??? The stratagem of self-mutilation (in order to lure out the enemy)
(Inflict minor injury on oneself to gain the enemy’s trust) This a technique particularly for undercover agents: you make yourself look like a victim of your own people, in order to win the sympathy and confidence of enemies.
Combat application: Pretend to be injured or sick then attack.
35. Scheme in continuous circles (Interlocking stratagems) Korean: Yeon hwan gye
??? The stratagem of combining rings (of various stratagems)
When facing a more powerful enemy, you don't oppose by force, and don't concentrate all your resources on only one avenue of strategy; you keep different plans operating simultaneously in an overall scheme.
Combat application: Keep your awareness active, use what becomes available to you. Tip over furniture, throw objects etc.
36. Know when It is best to run (When retreat is the best option) Korean: Ju wi sang gye
???? The best stratagem is to run away
When overwhelmed, you don't fight; you surrender, compromise, or flee. Surrender is complete defeat, compromise is half defeat, flight is not defeat. As long as you are not defeated, you have another chance to win.
Combat application: Run!
* Special thanks to Ondrej Slechta for lending his linguistic skills and checking this translation.
Copyright 2006 Warrior-Scholar, Inc.