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How can Sun Tsu's Art of War improve your combat skills?

Updated: Jul 15, 2022


"When you make your move, you have to be fast. Speed is the essence of war. Take advantage of the enemy's lack of preparation; take unexpected routes and hit him where he has taken no precautions."

- Sun Tsu. The Art of War

The Art of War to become creative and generative in combat

We all know that Sun Tsu was a great military strategist, but what made him successful?

Sun Tsu understood that you have to be creative to win a battle. He didn't just rely on the same old tactics that had been used for centuries. He used his imagination to find new ways to defeat his enemies.

If you are someone who always uses the same tactics and strategies in your fights, you could easily be defeated by a creative fighter. This is because he is able to anticipate your moves and place a counter that you will not see coming.

So how do you defeat a creative fighter?

The key is to be creative and unpredictable yourself. Use a variety of different techniques and approaches in your fight so your opponent can't read you. This will keep them guessing and give you the upper hand in the fight.

Sun Tsu's creative approach is what allowed him to defeat much larger and better-equipped armies. His ability to think outside the box made him one of the greatest military commanders in history.

Why would a 2,500-year-old book like Sun Tzu's Art of War help you defeat your opponent?

Sun Tsu's Art of War could help you defeat your opponent by understanding his tactics and strategy. If you can understand and apply its principles, you will be on your way to victory in any battle. This ancient text is filled with advice on how to defeat your opponents, no matter their size or strength.

I have applied some of the principles of the art of war in my Karate Knockdown training. Isn't it amazing to think that a knowledge of over 2,500 years of the art of war can help us become better fighters in our discipline?

The Art of War by Sun Tsu is a small book of about 75 pages. Quite easy to read. If you are the least bit creative, it is possible to apply these principles in any competitive field other than fighting. I have done this with my books on psychoverbal self-defense and the way of the warrior as well.

Let's do an exercise together. Let's take an excerpt from Sun Tsu's Art of War and think about how we might apply it in our combat training. Let's take the quote at the beginning of this article and separate it into two parts:

Part One: "When you make your move, you have to be fast. Speed is the essence of war.

Part Two: "Take advantage of the enemy's lack of preparation; take unexpected routes and hit him where he has taken no precautions."


Speed in combat is the essence of combat according to Sun Tsu. Speed kills.

In order to discuss speed in karate fighting, it is important to know first that it is both objective and subjective. Objective speed is measured in terms of how quickly a fighter can perform physical actions, while subjective speed is determined by how quickly a fighter perceives that his or her opponent is moving to attack.

The notion of speed depends on many factors

The concept of speed in combat is not as simple as it sounds. There are objective and subjective factors that contribute to the speed of a movement in karate.

The objective factors are things like the physical attributes of the person performing the movement - such as muscle mass, flexibility and strength. Objective factors include such things as how fast a person can physically move (ma-ai), the rate and timing (hyoshi) at which he or she can strike the target with one of his or her 8 limbs ( foot-fist-knee-elbow), or the speed at which he or she can react to and counter an attack.

The subjective factors include things like a person's fear management and adrenaline rush, their ability to analyze and anticipate their opponent's movements, their confidence in their technical abilities, and their ability to remain totally aware of their opponent's muscular and nonverbal actions. Subjective factors are things like how well the person has trained and mastered the techniques, their very quick ability to change one technique into another, and their level of attention and concentration. All of these factors combine to determine how quickly a movement can be executed. Other factors such as the elasticity of the muscles, the range of motion of the joints and the form of the technique can also affect the speed of the movement.

The "holes" in our perception of the speed of a movement

There are also other factors to consider, such as blind spots in our perception and vision. If I am close to you, there will be blind spots in your field of vision. If you are looking me in the eye and I am close to you, I can hit you with a knee to the thigh while passing under your visual radar. The speed of my movement and a failure of your perceptual field for a brief moment is the perfect formula to create a beautiful and spectacular knockout. We often see this phenomenon in knockdown competitions with the well-placed application of an uppercut to the liver that has passed under the radar of the opponent's attention thanks to another movement.


Here are three strategies to make your movement speed more unpredictable. How can you turn this into battle tactics? Take a minute or two to think about each of these strategies. Then I'll give you my own interpretation that I made of this quote in my practice over 40 years ago.

1. Take advantage of the enemy's lack of preparation;

2. take unexpected routes;

3. hit him where he has taken no precautions."

1. Take advantage of the enemy's lack of preparation 

In other words, if your opponent is not ready for what you are about to do, he will not be able to defend himself properly. To do this, you must first assess your enemy's capabilities and weaknesses. Once you have a clear understanding of what you are up against, you can begin to direct the fight. In what area of distance does your opponent have more difficulty? What techniques does he seem less prepared for? Can you dominate him through stamina or resistance? How does he react to "blast effects" of intense energy or sustained fast attacks? Can they sustain a fast or intense pace? Discover your opponent's weaknesses and use them to your advantage in battle. Strike fast and strike hard.

2. Take unexpected routes 

This means that you should not fight your opponent the way he/she expects, but rather use your knowledge of his/her fighting style, techniques and strength against him/her. Use feints and distractions. Use the power of surprise. Play on your opponent's weaknesses. Keep your opponent guessing. Develop a versatile fighting style.

Don't do the same thing over and over again, as this makes it easy for your opponent to predict what you will do, and you will be easier to defeat. Surprise your opponent with new moves.

Don't be predictable, this is the worst flaw that can lead to your loss in any physical or psychological confrontation. If your opponent knows what you are going to do each time, they will be able to block or counter your moves. By being unpredictable, you will make it harder for your opponent to anticipate your next move and defend against them. To succeed, you must surprise your opponent with new and unexpected actions. This is the essence of creative fighting. This can be done by using different techniques in different situations or by changing your attack patterns. React to your opponent's techniques in a way that confuses him and finds new solutions to his tactics. This is the essence of generative combat. Keep your opponent guessing, and he will be less likely to defend against your assaults successfully.

3. Hit him where he has taken no precautions

You need to target your opponent's weak points, i.e., the areas where he has not taken precautions to protect himself. These can be the head, stomach, inner thigh, where he is less likely to have good musculature or defense. Hitting your opponent in these areas can help you gain an advantage over him and potentially lead to a quick win.

Aim for your opponent's weak points. For example, an opponent's neck is a vulnerable spot that is not always well protected. The Brazilian mawashi-geri or kakato geri is a good technique for striking at this point. The underside of the chin can also be vulnerable when we are close and use a jumping knee strike. Discovering an opponent's weak areas is a fun exercise that you can practice in any fight. Sun Tsu's advice is to study your opponent and find his weaknesses before you attack.

This will cause you to win the fight before you hit

Sun Tsu says that to win a fight, you must first win the battle mentally. You must be confident and focused on your goals, and know that you can defeat your opponent. Only then should you strike.

To achieve this state of mind, you must train hard and diligently to sharpen your skills and be ready for anything your opponent might throw at you.

Gaëtan Sauvé

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