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Beyond the Battleground Classic Strategies from the Yijing and Baguazhang for Managing Crisis Situations by Tom Bisio Book

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Beyond the Battleground Classic Strategies from the Yijing and Baguazhang for Managing Crisis Situations by Tom Bisio Book Read Online And Epub File Download

Overview: Drawing on ideas from classical military strategy, the Yijing (Book of Changes), and Chinese martial arts theory, Tom Bisio presents a fascinating exploration of how insights from these sources can be deployed to manage crisis situations in all aspects of our daily lives. Suggesting approaches for cultivating a strategic mindset that can be applied to one's relationships, work, and personal self-fulfillment, Beyond the Battleground offers methods of adapting to circumstances, conserving one's own resources, and avoiding or dissolving conflict that will aid any reader navigating the uncertainties of the changing world, including the business person, military theorist, or martial artist. Deftly interweaving his background in East Asian philosophy and history and his career in traditional Chinese medicine with his lifelong interest in the martial arts and military science, Bisio also presents examples of successful strategies from history’s great commanders such as Sunzi, Alexander the Great, Napoleon, and Mao Zedong. 

Beyond the Battleground Classic Strategies from the Yijing and Baguazhang for Managing Crisis Situations by Tom Bisio Book Read Online Epub - Pdf File Download More Ebooks Every Category Go Ebooks Libaray Online Website.

Beyond the Battleground Classic Strategies from the Yijing and Baguazhang for Managing Crisis Situations by Tom Bisio Book Read Online Chapter One

Ba Gua Zhang and Military Strategy

Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without peril. If you are ignorant of the enemy and know only yourself, you will stand equal chances of winning and losing. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you are bound to be defeated in every battle.7


Even if we show people the flexible tactics we used to gain victory in conformity with the changing enemy situation, they still cannot comprehend them. The enemy may know the tactics by which we win, but he does not know how we use the tactics to defeat him. Following each victory, we do not repeat the same tactics, we change them constantly to suit the changing circumstances.8


The Art of War and Ba Gua Zhang

The principles of military strategy and Chinese boxing are in many ways the same. The stratagems and principles of the Chinese martial arts are congruent with those of military strategy set out in The Art of War, also known as the Sunzi. Sunzi (Sun Tzu), the author of The Art of War (probably written in the Warring States Period: 453–221 BC), detailed many principles that reference deployment or shi, and were adopted by exponents of the martial arts in general, and Ba Gua in particular. Two of Sunzi’s most famous statements are particularly interesting to practitioners of the internal arts:

And therefore the victories won by a master of war gain him neither reputation for wisdom nor merit for valor. For he wins his victories without erring. “Without erring” means that whatever he does insures victory; he conquers an enemy already defeated. Therefore the skillful commander takes up a position in which he cannot be defeated and misses no opportunity to master his enemy.9

It is because of disposition (shi) that a victorious general is able to make his people fight with the effect of pent-up waters, which, suddenly released, plunge into a bottomless abyss. The nature of water is that it avoids heights and hastens to the lowlands. When a dam is broken, the water cascades with irresistible force. Now the shape of an army resembles water. Take advantage of the enemy’s unpreparedness; attack him when he does not expect it; avoid his strength and strike his emptiness, and like water, none can oppose you.10

Dong Haichuan, the founder of Ba Gua Zhang, stressed the importance of walking in a circle as a basic form of martial arts training. He is quoted as saying that “training in martial arts ceaselessly is inferior to walking the circle. In Ba Gua Zhang the circle walk practice is the fount of all training.”11 When confronting an opponent, the walking practice and the use of a curved step allow for quick changes of direction. The body postures and the steps must be in accordance with the opponent’s movements, changing freely and appropriately like flowing water. The walking method in Ba Gua is described as follows:

This skill comes from the curved step. Changes in the hands take place with the step. Hitting upward and holding the lower position, blocking across and evading, pushing, upholding, taking and leading, don’t leave the two arms.12

François Jullien describes shi as the potential born of disposition. In a military strategy this refers to the general’s ability to exploit, to his own advantage and to maximum effect, whatever conditions he encounters.13 Using walking and change as the basis of one’s strategic disposition prevents one from being immobilized or blocked, while allowing for spontaneous reaction to the opponent and the situation. Li Zi Ming, a famous Ba Gua practitioner from Beijing, describes Ba Gua as a form of guerrilla warfare and emphasizes the need for mobility and spontaneity, which in Ba Gua is developed and determined by circle walking:

But it should be obvious that in practical application the circle walking doesn’t proceed in a fixed pattern. It should proceed according to the situation and the movements of the opponent, changing and transforming ceaselessly. Whether training or in combat, one moves according to one’s opponent. We could decide to attack either the lateral side of the opponent by first moving straight in, or vice versa, in order to induce the opponent to enter an empty position and then defeat him. This is exactly the method of “evading and advancing to win.” The strategy of the Eight Diagram Palm may be summarized as attack, defend, advance, retreat. Therefore, it dictates to: “move before the enemy is going to move, be still as the enemy comes to rest, avoid the enemy when he strains, be supple when the enemy is strong and rigid, advance when the enemy retreats, retreat when the enemy advances, move when the enemy moves, and also move when the enemy does not move.”14

These strategies outlined by Li Zi Ming and Sunzi sound remarkably similar to the kinds of tactics Mao Zedong employed in his guerrilla war against the Japanese Imperial Troops and the Guomindang. Mao coined a short sixteen-character jingle to describe the tactics of his troops:

When the enemy advances, we retreat!

When the enemy halts, we harass

When the enemy seeks to avoid battle, we attack!

When the enemy retreats, we pursue!15

Orthodox and Unorthodox Strategies

B. H. Liddell Hart, whose book Strategy is considered one of the modern classics on the art of war, pays homage to the ideas of Sunzi and their application by Mao Zedong. Liddell Hart categorizes this type of strategy as the “indirect approach” to military strategy. He adds:

With deepened reflection, however I began to realize that the indirect approach had much wider application—that it was a law of life in all spheres: a truth of philosophy. Its fulfillment was seen to be the key to practical achievement in dealing with any problem where the human factor predominates, and a conflict of wills tends to spring from an underlying concern for interests. In all such cases, the direct assault of new ideas provokes a stubborn resistance, thus intensifying the difficulty of producing a change of outlook. Conversion is achieved more easily and rapidly by unexpected infiltration of a different idea or by an argument that turns the flank of instinctive opposition. The indirect approach is as fundamental to the realm of politics as to the realm of sex. In commerce, the suggestion that there is a bargain to be secured is far more potent than any direct appeal to buy. And in any sphere it is proverbial that the surest way of gaining a superior’s acceptance of a new idea is to persuade him that it is his idea! As in war, the aim is to weaken the resistance before attempting to overcome it; and the effect is best attained by drawing the other party out of his defenses.16

Hart’s application of the principles of military tactics to other areas of life is not unique. The Chinese and Japanese long ago appreciated the potential for universal application of principles of military strategy. Hence, the adoption of Miayamoto Musashi’s Book of Five Rings and the Sunzi to modern business practices. Musashi implied that correct learning in one area can be applied to other areas: the spirit of defeating a man is the same as defeating a million men. The strategist makes small things into big things, like building a great Buddha from a one-foot model. The principle of strategy is in knowing one thing, knowing ten thousand things. This is similar to a saying among Ba Gua practitioners: “from one change, a thousand changes.” From one technique, a thousand techniques.

In China, especially among martial artists, there arose the idea that life is strategy. Metaphors involving military strategy are common in many areas of Chinese culture, including common expressions, politics, and traditional Chinese medicine. In his wonderful book, A Treatise on Efficacy, Francois Jullien discusses the application of these ideas to politics and diplomacy. He echoes the words of Liddell Hart when he says that when the potential of a situation is deduced, one can deduce how to profit from it. Therefore, rather than following a predetermined, fixed course of action, the ancient treatises on strategy advise dealing with the inevitable unpredictability of constantly changing circumstances by observing the potential emanating from the situation.17 This can be applied to any situation in life, just as Liddell Hart suggests. Strategist-philosophers like the late Colonel John R. Boyd, who lectured to America’s modern military leaders and White House advisers, relate ideas about military strategy to the basic components of human behavior:

In a real world of limited resources and skills, individuals and groups form, dissolve, and reform their cooperative or competitive postures in a continuous struggle to remove or overcome physical and social environmental obstacles. In a cooperative sense, where skills and talents are pooled, the removal or overcoming of obstacles represents an improved capacity for independent action for all concerned. In a competitive sense, where individuals and groups compete for scarce resources and skills, an improved capacity for independent action achieved by some individuals or groups constrains that capacity for other individuals or groups. Naturally, such a combination of real world scarcity and goal striving to overcome this scarcity intensifies the struggle of individuals and groups to cope with both their physical and social environments.18

The ideas of military strategists like Sunzi, and his ancestor Sun Bin, did not develop in a vacuum. These men wrote in the Spring and Autumn period (722–481 BC) of Chinese history, and based their ideas on those of earlier thinkers. Later, other famous strategists like Zhuge Liang expanded upon them. Warfare in China increased in scope during the Spring and Autumn period. In the earlier Zhou period (1046–771 BC), warfare had been more sporadic and smaller in scope. Now battles were frequent and armies increased in size. In the Warring States period (beginning in 481 BC), small states were swallowed up by larger, more powerful states. By 403 BC there were seven states left. The Qin state, which eventually defeated the others and unified China, was the largest of the survivors, with an army estimated (by some) of one million men.19 In this period, larger campaigns involving hundreds of thousands of men were not uncommon. Battles involved engagements, offensives, and counter-offensives that went on for days, and sieges could last a year or more. As a consequence, the training of professional soldiers, sophisticated strategy and tactics, as well as the ability to control and direct large bodies of troops became not only more complex, but of vital importance for survival. Additionally, the use of crossbow (invented by the Chinese around 400 BC) became a widespread and important feature on the battlefield. For the Chinese, the activation of the mechanism of the crossbow was symbolic of the sudden unleashing of an army’s energy.20

Francois Jullien, expanding on Sun Bin’s mention of the crossbow, points out that “with a crossbow, one can kill people more than a hundred paces away without their companions realizing from where it was fired.” The same applies to the good general, who by using shi (“disposition”; “potential emanating from a situation”), manages with minimum effort to achieve the maximum effect from a distance (either temporal or spatial), simply by exploiting the factors in play, without common knowledge of how the result was achieved or by whom.21

As orthodox strategies and tactics evolved, methods of combating them with unorthodox tactics also developed. Sunzi stresses the importance of both kinds of tactics. Zheng refers to normal, orthodox, or direct force and qi to the indirect, unorthodox, or extraordinary. They are interlinked concepts, like links in a chain. Zheng can be a fixing or holding operation, while qi is a flanking or encircling operation. A qi operation is strange and unexpected, while a zheng operation is more direct, more obvious. Often the engagement occurs with zheng, while the decisive stroke, coming where the enemy least expects it, is qi.22

The orthodox and the unorthodox can be employed in countless variations. Sunzi points out that although there are only five colors, one can make from them innumerable hues; though there are only five flavors, they can be combined in endless varieties. Similarly, in military strategy there are only two types of operation, qi and zheng, yet their variations are limitless. They constantly change from one to the other, like moving in a circle with neither beginning nor an end. Who can exhaust their possibilities?23

An interesting example of effectively combining zheng and qi occurred in the Spring and Autumn period, when Yue attacked Wu. The armies of both states were deployed on either side of a river. At night, Yue had the left and right flanks of its army attack across the river, accompanied by the clamorous beating of drums. Wu was forced to divide its army to meet these threats. Then Yue’s central force crossed the river in silence, and only after the crossing attacked to the beating of drums. Confused and split in two, Wu’s army was defeated.

Unorthodox strategies have long fascinated Chinese writers and thinkers. The famous fire oxen of Tian Dan were used to overcome a large army besieging a city. The defenders, led by Tian Dan, attached sharp blades to the horns of the oxen and fire brands to their tails. Released at night, through gaps in the city walls, the crazed oxen surged through the enemy camp, followed by several thousand warriors. The psychological and physical shock of the attack routed the besiegers.24 The great Carthaginian General Hannibal used similar tactics in 217 BC when trapped on the Falernian plain by the Roman general Fabius, who placed crack troops blocking the defile through which Hannibal had entered the valley. Hannibal realized the Romans would not expect him to attack the defile, as to do so would leave him vulnerable to the rest of Fabius’s army. He had pitch-pine torches attached to the horns of several thousand cattle. Released at night near the defile, and maddened with pain and fear, the cattle scattered over the slopes of the hills surrounding the defile. The Roman troops in the defile thought the torches were the Carthaginians escaping through the woods, so they abandoned their positions to attack. Hannibal’s army promptly occupied their now empty position and escaped.25

Ba Gua Zhang actually defines itself by its unorthodox approach. The “Eight Contraries” specifically delineate how its methods differ from other approaches to hand-to-hand combat:

1. Everyone uses the ends of their limbs, but we use the root first when we want to use the ends.

2. Everyone likes to use varied fists, but we just use the straight pushing palm.

3. Everyone likes to turn the whole body around to face the rear, but in a single step we can move to deal with the eight directions.

4. Everyone advances straight forward with an erect body, but we strike with our palm and the feet follow.26

Ba Gua Zhang is characterized by change and transformation, therefore it employs zheng and qi interchangeably:

There are obvious functions and there are obscure functions. They are used to strike and break the body. They can transform and open the enemy’s methods. Maybe a hard advance is used. Maybe a soft advance is used. Maybe advancing is used and maybe retreating is used. Maybe inducing is used. Maybe I point up and they are used downwards. Maybe I point down and they are used upwards. Maybe I point left and strike right. Maybe I point to the front and strike to the rear. Maybe I point at this and strike it. Maybe he is hard and I am soft. Maybe he is soft and I am hard. Maybe he is low and I am high. Maybe he moves and I am still. Maybe he is still and I move. Observe the terrain. In expanding and contracting, coming and going, distinguish the terrain: the distances and defiles, whether it is broad and narrow, whether it contains dead or alive things. The body form contains movement and non-movement. Combine the inner and the outer into one Dao. Examine his body to see if it is high or low. Estimate his emotional form, is it full or empty? Examine his qi. Is it substantial or thin? You get his thinking. At your convenience consult the usage and be able to arrange what is appropriate. As for the inner functions of the fist, they are numerous. Then, whatever happens, the actions are transformed.27

A preference for using the indirect or unconventional approach does not mean it can be used exclusively. Qi and zheng are interdependent and rely upon each other. As Edward Luttwack points out, when he compares what he calls Relational Maneuver (essentially qi) with Attrition Warfare (essentially zheng), the avoidance of the enemy’s strength and the potential for surprise that occurs in Relational Maneuver creates the possibilities of results that are disproportionately large in relation to the resources applied. Attrition Warfare, on the other hand, virtually guarantees results in proportion to strength expended and resources applied. In Relational Maneuver, if one cannot achieve surprise and apply strength against the opponent’s weak points, one is bound to fail and may fail quite spectacularly. One has only to look at some of the elaborate and delicately balanced stratagems of the Three Kingdoms period found throughout this book to see that if one thing goes wrong, disaster can follow. Attrition Warfare, on the other hand, has a high cost but a lower risk factor. Additionally, a high level of skill is required in employing Relational Maneuver tactics.28 Therefore, although Chinese strategists appear to have a preference for the unconventional, there is a tacit recognition that the conventional and unconventional are two sides of a coin that not only operate as extensions of each other, but can transform into each other. If an unconventional operation is expected and one instead does something conventional, that catches the opponent by surprise, then what was normally zheng in effect becomes qi.

Deception in Warfare

Deception is a part of warfare. To some degree, whether engaged in guerrilla warfare or more conventional combat, all warfare employs deception. One of the most quoted passages in the Sunzi discusses this aspect of conflict:

War is a game of deception. Therefore feign incapability when in fact capable; feign inactivity when ready to strike; appear to be far, when actually nearby, and vice versa. When the enemy is greedy for gains, hand out bait to lure him; when he is in disorder attack and overcome him; when he boasts substantial strength, be doubly prepared against him; and when he is formidable, evade him. If he is given to anger, provoke him. If he is timid and careful, encourage his arrogance. If his forces are rested wear them down. If he is united divide him. Attack where he is least prepared. Take action where he least expects you.29

The Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history began when the generals assigned to put down the Yellow Turban rebellion became stronger than the throne and fought among themselves for supremacy. By 205 AD, Cao Cao, who eventually won the conflict, had made himself dictator of Northern China. Cao Cao carved out huge state farms from land laid waste by war and settled landless, poor, and captured rebels to work them, thus making the state the greatest of all landlords. He established military colonies for hereditary military households, whose men would both farm and fight. For his cavalry he recruited the nomadic Xiongnu tribesman in large numbers, settling many in southern Shanxi. Two rival claimants to the throne attempted to thwart Cao Cao and his son. In the central and lower Yangzi valley and further south, the brothers Sun Ce and Sun Quan established the state of Wu. In the West, in Sichuan, a distant member of the Han imperial family, Liu Bei, guided by the legendary strategist Zhuge Liang, established a stronghold.30 The story of the Three Kingdoms comes down to us in the form of a historical novel, but it should not be underestimated in its role as a source of military wisdom and tactics applicable to the contemporary martial environment. Strategists from the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) have studied it avidly for useful lessons.31

The strategists of the Three Kingdoms use many ruses, traps, and tricks in a world marked by treachery, deceit, and unending warfare. Although Cao Cao is a clever and ruthless leader of vast forces, it is Zhuge Liang who is most remembered for his brilliant use of unconventional tactics. Using what has come to be known as the “Empty City Ploy,” Zhuge Liang and a few thousand men stayed in Yang Ping while the rest of the army went on to combine forces for other operations. The enemy arrived unexpectedly with many thousands of troops. Their scouts reported that the city was weakly defended. Zhuge Liang commanded that the battle flags be hidden and the military drums silenced. The streets were swept and sprinkled with water and the gates left open. Zhuge Liang then went onto the battlements and, in a relaxed mood, played the zither. The enemy, knowing his reputation, thought this was a ploy to deceive them, and that other troops must be lying in wait nearby. They withdrew without attacking.

Another example of Zhuge Liang’s strategic prowess was his method of borrowing arrows from the enemy. With his army short of arrows, Zhuge Liang employed boats with straw dummies dressed like soldiers to pass down the river in front of Cao Cao’s army. In the fog, with drums beating, it seemed as though Zhuge Liang’s men were attacking. Cao Cao’s archers feathered the straw dummies with thousands of shafts. By the time the enemy realized their mistake the boats had passed downstream and the arrows had been gathered.

These examples exemplify the idea of the insubstantial appearing substantial, or, in the case of the arrows, the insubstantial transforming to become substantial.32 Sunzi describes it as follows: “Subtle and insubstantial; the expert leaves no trace; divinely mysterious, he is inaudible. Thus he is master of his enemy’s fate.”33 This yin-yang dynamic is an important feature of the internal boxing arts. In Xing Yi Quan (a martial art that, like Ba Gua, is considered “internal” or of the nei jia or “inner school”), boxers say:

It is advisable to respond to exactly what the opponent is going to do. It is necessary to punch the fist without the fist, to have the intention without showing it, to have the real intention in no intention. In the alternations of the false and true, I am always in predominance. It is at my convenience to change unendingly and to make the enemy just parry the blows, so that it is difficult for him to ascertain how to dodge and guard against me. No matter what methods are used, head, shoulder, hand, hip, knee, or foot, the fist must punch the three sections without showing the form. Success is not possible if the form and its shadow can be spotted.34

Song Zhi-yong, a disciple of the famous Xing Yi boxer Li Gui-chang, is a master of the substantial and insubstantial. Try to punch him and his flesh literally seems to shrink from your hand. When you attack, he disappears, only to reappear inside your inner gate, your feet already leaving the ground as he uproots you. When he attacks, it is light and deceptive until the last instant of the strike. You don’t feel him coming, then he is there.

Deception is not just the use of traps and ruses, but of shaping and controlling expectations and intentions. In this way the opponent’s ability to detect and take advantage of developing opportunities is impaired, while his actions and intentions become more obvious and take on a concrete form. Once they take on form, they can be guided more predictably. Deception in strategy can take many forms: feeding the enemy false information, using spies and defectors to delude and confuse the enemy, making him see what he expects to see, or telling him exactly what he wants to hear.

Many of the most famous deceptions, like the Empty City Ploy or Operation Fortitude in World War II Normandy, involve leading the enemy’s mind. In Operation Fortitude, the allies deceived the Germans into believing that the main invasion of France would take place at Pas de Calais rather than Normandy. This was accomplished through a variety of means, including creating fake equipment and radio traffic that simulated an entire army and led Hitler to position key units in the wrong place. Hitler was deceived because the false invasion conformed with his expectations of what the allied forces might do, just as Zhuge Liang outwitted his opponent with the Empty City Ploy because he understood how his opponent would interpret his actions.

By creating disorder and confusion, Zhuge Liang was able to lead the mind of Cao Cao during the Three Kingdoms period. At the battle of the Han River he took advantage of Cao Cao’s suspicious nature by presenting him with events that were unusual, thereby creating doubt and hesitation. Upon observing the terrain, Zhuge Liang hid troops with drums and horns in hills by the headwaters of the river. The two armies squared off across the river. Cao Cao’s troops attempted to offer battle but Zuge Liang’s army held their positions and refused engagement. At night, as Cao Cao’s troops encamped and the lights of their fires died out, Zhuge Liang fired the signal bombard. The troops in the hills began to bang drums and sound their horns. Cao Cao’s men, fearing attack, came out to scout the area. Finding no one, they settled down again only to be roused a second time. Their rest was denied for three nights by these stratagems, so finally they retreated. Zhuge Liang now had his troops cross the river and set up positions with their back to the river. This bewildered Cao Cao, who sent a written challenge to do battle, which was accepted by Zhuge Liang. When attacked by Cao Cao’s troops, Zhuge Liang’s men retreated in apparent disorder across the river, leaving equipment, horses scattered on the ground, and their camps empty. Cao Cao called his troops back as they started to scoop up this booty. He was suspicious of all that had occurred: the enemy taking a position with their backs to the river, and the fact that they had left so much equipment behind. Cao Cao ordered a retreat in order to avoid what seemed to be a trap, but at that moment the army of Zhuge Liang attacked, throwing Cao Cao’s troops into disorder.35

In another example from the Three Kingdoms period, the hot-headed Zhang Fei was charged with capturing Liu Dai, the leader of Cao Cao’s vanguard. He initially tried to taunt Liu Dai into single combat. When that failed, Zhang Fei attempted a deception by feeding Liu false information in order to capture him. Zhang first planned a raid on Liu Dai’s camp. Then he spent the day drinking heavily and found fault with one of his men. He had him beaten and tied up and then threatened to execute him, only to secretly release him. As he anticipated, the man fled to Liu Dai’s camp and reported the impending raid. The marks and bruises of the dreadful beating convinced Liu that the man was telling the truth. Liu Dai evacuated his camp and posted his men outside it to await the attack. Zhang Fei divided his forces into three parts. One part attacked the camp and the other two circled around. The group attacking the camp fired the tents and this was the signal for Zhang’s other forces to attack from the sides and rear, surrounding Liu Dai’s forces as they converged on the camp.36

Themistocles employed deception at the battle of Salamis. In discussing strategy, he argued with fellow Greek allies that fighting at the isthmus of Corinth in the open sea would put them at a disadvantage against the larger Persian fleet and, worse, it would lead the Persians into the Peloponnese. Fighting at Salamis, on the other hand, had certain advantages based on the terrain and the configuration of the straits around the island. When it became apparent that he would lose the argument, Themistocles secretly gave instructions to his slave Sicinnus. Herodotus tells us that Sicinnus carried a message to the Persians informing them that the Greeks were leaving Salamis. As the Persians had already decided to battle at Salamis, they were given the story they wanted to hear—that the Greeks did not want to fight at Salamis. This made them want to attack even more quickly. Sicinnus also told the Persians that Themistocles’s preference was to join the Persians, thereby again telling them what they wanted to hear: that a traitor wanted to ally with them. This fit with the Persians’ impression of the alliance of Greek States. The Persians had been aided before by Greek traitors, so they had no reason to suspect Themistocles.37 The Persians forced the battle at Salamis, requiring the Greeks to employ Themistocles’s strategy, and the Greeks won the day.

Ba Gua employs deception through the nature of its continuously changing movements. The goal is to let the opponent see the shadow, but not the movements themselves—to hide the intent until the last moment. Therefore, in Ba Gua one attempts to close in and then suddenly retreat, retreat and then change to attack, appear and disappear unexpectedly. By constantly stepping and turning, stepping in arcs rather than straight lines, and always changing, the opponent can be kept off-balance and confused. One interesting example of this is Li Zi Ming’s ability to lead the opponent’s mind and body in the Changing Palms form. Li moves in, attacking high, anticipating the opponent’s strong resistance. When countered, he retreats, converting the high attack into a low kick to the knee as the opponent follows him, then when the opponent hesitates, he quickly turns back to pierce and enter. This parting shot to the opponent’s knee is similar to the famous “Parthian shot.” The Parthian shot was a tactic used by many nomadic steppe peoples like the Huns and Mongols, but made famous by the Parthians, whose empire (247 BC–224 AD) occupied all of modern Iran, Iraq, and Armenia as well as parts of Afghanistan and Central Asia. The Parthian horse-archers would feint retreat and then at full gallop would turn in the saddle and shoot at the pursuing enemy.


Understanding the terrain and how to use it to one’s advantage is an important feature of strategy and tactics. In the Sunzi there is a lengthy discussion of the different types of terrain and how to best employ them to gain victory.

Advantageous terrain can be a natural ally in battle. Superior military leadership lies in the ability to assess the enemy’s situation and create conditions for victory, to analyze natural hazards and calculate distances. He who fights with full knowledge of these factors is certain to win; he who fights without this knowledge is certain to lose.38

During the Song Dynasty, in the final years of the reign of Emperor Hui Zong An (1101–1125), a group of outlaws banded together to create a stronghold on a mountain surrounded by marshes in Shandong province. The story of these hundred men and women who lead an army of thousands against a corrupt and oppressive government is immortalized in the famous historical novel Outlaws of the Marsh. Historians confirm that the story is derived from fact, and over time it evolved into the folk legends that form the basis for the book. The stratagems employed by the bandits have been cited again and again by martial artists and military historians to illustrate essential principles of strategy. Mao Zedong enjoined his commanders to study the tactics of China’s mountain and marsh bandits, including those found in the fictional Outlaws of the Marsh, so that they could be used against Japanese and Guomintang forces that possessed superior numbers and firepower.39

The outlaws know the terrain. They often draw the enemy onto constricted or watery ground, using feigned retreats and other ruses to entice and manipulate the enemy. Because they are always outnumbered, the outlaws set up ambushes, luring the government troops onto disadvantageous ground that hampers mobility and disrupts the cohesion of their forces, preventing them from acting in a unified manner. By dividing the enemy forces, they can destroy them.

Innovative tactics, subterfuge, and maneuver are all required once the encounters shift to circumstances in which heroic violence and simple carnage cannot prevail. Always outnumbered, the bandits must eschew direct, set piece, force on force confrontations for harassing campaigns, multiple prongs and sallies, and a variety of unremitting but never predictable measures to disorder and confuse the enemy. Nighttime raiders and internally mounted incendiary strikes terrorize the enemy and deny important resources; incessant noise and random missiles prevent rest; attacking shipments and seizing provisions impoverishes them while augmenting the army’s own reserves just as Sun-tzu advocated.40

In one confrontation, Xu Ning teaches the outlaw troops the use of the barbed lance in order to counter the government’s heavy linked cavalry, whose armored horses are linked together in tandem, presenting an irresistible shock-force in the attack. The bandits come out to meet the cavalry waving banners and with different units appearing from different directions. They use cannon fire to further harass the government troops, who split their own forces to deal with what seem to be multiple threats. The outlaws retreat as though fleeing and draw the linked cavalry into the marshy reeds, where their abilities cannot be used, and then attack from hiding with hooked poles, pulling down both horses and riders.41

Similar ruses and stratagems appear also in stories about Yue Fei, the famous general of the Song Dynasty. Yue Fei was also a great martial artist who purportedly created both Eagle Claw boxing and Xing Yi Quan. Yue Fei and his loyal commanders battled in vain against the Jin Tartars, steppe nomads from what is today Manchuria, who repeatedly invaded the Southern Song. The story of the barbed lances, this time used against the Jin linked cavalry, is repeated in relationship to Yue Fei. When he instructs his troops in this tactic, Yue Fei references his knowledge of the exploits of Xu Ning and the marsh bandits.42

The bandits’ intimate knowledge of the marshy terrain in which they operate is exploited to the fullest in their stratagems, just as the Finnish army made the most of their frozen forests in the Winter War between Russia and Finland in 1939–1940. All great generals make use of the terrain and many battles have been lost because an army was forced to fight on unfamiliar ground not of their own choosing. In Ba Gua it is also understood that the tactics must conform both to the terrain and the circumstances of weather and light. Sun Lutang’s earlier quote bears repeating: “In expanding and contracting, coming and going, distinguish the terrain: the distances and defiles, whether it is broad and narrow, whether it contains dead or alive things.”43 The importance of the terrain is also stressed in Ba Gua’s rhymed mnemonics. On icy or snow-covered ground, one is advised to take small steps, to turn the front foot sideways (kou bu—hook step), to avoid straightening the body, and to strike high in order to avoid slipping.44 When fighting at night (“when the palm is extended without seeing the hand”) one is advised to “squeeze the eyelids and stare attentively” with the palm in the lower position. Lowering the body position is also advised, as it makes it easier to see an opponent in the dark.45 In general, Ba Gua’s mud-treading step allows one to adjust to uneven or obstacle-ridden ground before one’s weight is committed.


The Sunzi uses elemental imagery to express its principles. Similarly, in Ba Gua, songs, rhymes, and metaphors are used as mnemonics to inculcate correct practice methods. These songs also elucidate key tactical and strategic principles in dealing with different situations and different opponents. In the Sunzi we are told that:

War is based upon deception. Move when it is advantageous and create changes in the situation by dispersal and concentration of forces. When campaigning, be swift as the wind; in leisurely march, majestic as a forest; in raiding and plundering, like fire; in standing, firm as the mountains. As unfathomable as the clouds, move like a thunderbolt.46

In the practice of Ba Gua, similar imagery is used to convey ideas that are not easily put into words. Composite images of walking like a dragon, changing postures like an eagle, turning swiftly as a hawk, moving and turning like a lion rolling a ball, withdrawing as swiftly as a monkey seizing fruit, or crouching like a tiger convey the idea of changing, literally transforming, with the changing circumstances. Also similar to the Sunzi, the Ba Gua texts advise us to “move like the wind and stand as if nailed in place.” The Thirty-Six Songs and Forty-Eight Methods of Ba Gua Zhang further emphasize conforming one’s actions to the changing circumstances:

Observation Method (Xiang Fa)

Observe first in encountering a group of enemies,

It is natural to retreat before advancing.

In retreating inspect the situation and understand the changes,

To wait leisurely for a fatigued enemy, to lead them effortlessly.

Or adapting one’s tactics to fit the situation:

Application Method (Yong Fa)

The high, strike low, the low strike high,

No need to hesitate, strike the fat obliquely.

In meeting the thin and tall, just pull and lead,

In meeting the old and unskilled just look at him up and down.47

Li Zi Ming summarizes the strategy of the Ba Gua:

The creator of Eight Diagram Palm understood the effectiveness of striking to the heart when attacking opponents. Therefore, when the enemy attacks, it is important to protect our center (heart) as well, by turning the body. Strategically, the goal is to evade the real attack of the opponent while seeking a vulnerable spot to counter-attack. For these reasons, Eight Diagram Palm skills have been developed with walking and turning as its basic form. Tactically, there are multiple reasons for this walking and turning. The walking itself protects you and meanwhile allows you to observe the enemy. By walking you avoid a head-on confrontation with the enemy by flanking the lateral side or the back of the enemy in order to attack him. By walking, we can moderate the attack of the enemy by restricting him to fewer offensive options and wearing him down, while we wait to move from stillness, wait at our ease for an exhausted opponent. There is a saying “Hundreds of exercises are not as good as simply walking, walking is the master of hundreds of exercises.”48

Liddell Hart also describes this idea:

Thus a move round the enemy’s front against his rear has the aim not only of avoiding resistance on its way but in its issue. In the profoundest sense, it takes the line of least resistance. The equivalent in the psychological sphere is the line of least expectation. They are two faces of the same coin, and to appreciate this is to widen our understanding of strategy. For if we merely take what obviously appears the line of least resistance, its obviousness will appeal to the opponent also; and this line may no longer be that of least resistance.49

The Chinese refer to Hart’s idea of taking the line of least resistance as “luring the tiger out of the mountain.” In a military context, a “tiger in the mountain” symbolizes a strong enemy who enjoys the protection of a walled city, fortified camp, strategic mountain pass, or wide rushing water. One should lure the tiger out of its impregnable position before engaging it in battle. This allows you to fight the enemy on your terms and on favorable ground. The Mongols were masters of this kind of stratagem, using baited retreats to encourage pursuit, drawing the enemy out, and then, through maneuver, unpredictable counterattacks, and envelopments, they would destroy the enemy. In Ba Gua this kind of strategy is known as “dodge the body and dissolve the shadow: when the enemy does not come I force him to come, when he comes I dissolve his attack.”50 When the enemy won’t attack, the Ba Gua practitioner is advised to entice him to attack. When he attacks, the attack is dissolved by combining defensive hand movements with retreat and evasive footwork. When the attack falters, or when the enemy is overextended, one should then pursue and defeat the enemy. Li Zi Ming disciple Zhang Hua Sen liked to demonstrate this principle as a hit-and-run maneuver against two attackers. Piercing directly at the first attacker’s eyes to forestall his advance, Zhang would quickly change direction to hit the second opponent high and low simultaneously. This movement then immediately transformed into another attack at the first opponent just as he began to regain his forward momentum.

The use of the tactical retreat, pinning the enemy forces, and envelopment from the flanks and rear is not unique to the Mongols or Ba Gua Zhang. One of the stratagems the Chinese employed against the Jin Tartar cavalry in the Song Dynasty was to battle and then feign defeat and retreat, enticing the enemy to pursue.

After retreating for some distance, one stops and turns to challenge the enemy again, then feigns defeat and retreats. Eagerly seeking a decision, the enemy follows in hot pursuit, with no time to take a rest. On the other hand, one has planned the retreats beforehand and is able to use the intervals to rest and feed the troops. At nightfall, the enemy has become tired and hungry. Feigning defeat for the last time, one scatters cooked beans on the ground. When the enemy cavalry arrives, the horses are attracted by the fragrant beans and stop to feed.51

At that moment one can attack and achieve victory.

Contact with the horse people of the Eastern steppes, particularly the Huns, influenced Byzantine cavalry tactics. This tactical innovation emphasized mobility and flexibility over attrition-style warfare and was perhaps first employed by Byzantine military commanders like Belisarius in North Africa, against the Goths in Italy.52 One of the tactics adopted from the steppe horseman was to ride in a curved arc when attacking a strong, static defensive formation. This allowed the Byzantine horse archers to shoot all along the arc of the attack, ensuring that the enemy would receive arrows from multiple directions, some of them striking against their unshielded side. This also allowed for the famous Parthian Shot, in which the rider turns backward to release a final missile as his horse is moving away from the opponent (the final arrow on the left in figure 1-1 on the next page).53

Tactics stressing mobility and the use of arcs to find and exploit weaknesses in the opponent’s position are characteristic of Ba Gua Zhang’s reliance on circle walking and the curved step as the foundation of its martial tactics. Gao Ji-wu specifically mentions this in his recent book, The Attacking Hands of Ba Gua Zhang:

Ba Gua Zhang is a martial art characterized by walking the circle and rotating the body. The attacking and defending techniques are also based upon circle walking, and upon the palms. Striking the spot by surrounding it and striking from the side (at an angle) in order to avoid head-on conflict or striking the front from the side. Changes in circle walking and rotation of the body are seen everywhere in the attacking techniques of Ba Gua Zhang.54

Figure 1.1. Cavalry tactics of mounted archers

These kinds of tactics, combining attacks that come from multiple angles while walking in arcs, are particularly visible in the Ba Gua Saber.

In the Second Punic War, after his famous crossing of the Alps into Italy, the Carthaginian general Hannibal Barca used maneuver tactics against a superior Roman force at Cannae in 216 BC. Hannibal deliberately placed his weakest troops, the lightly armored Gauls and Spaniards, in the center of his battle formation. Offset to the side and slightly back were the more reliable and more heavily armored African infantry. As Hannibal expected, the strong Roman center pushed his own center backward. Hannibal’s center held, but folded around the blunt V shape formed by the Roman army. Meanwhile, Hannibal’s heavy cavalry on the Carthaginian left flank attacked and broke through the opposing Roman cavalry. They then raced around the back of the Roman army to the right flank, where the rest of the Roman cavalry were pinned by the hit-and-run tactics of Hannibal’s Numidian horsemen. Under this combined attack, the Roman cavalry fled the field. The Carthaginian cavalry then turned and attacked the rear of the Roman center, which was now trapped and unable to maneuver. Simultaneously, the African infantry turned inward and rolled them up from the side. The Roman army was massacred. With fifty thousand men against the Romans’ estimated eighty-six thousand, Hannibal inflicted fifty thousand casualties, his own troops losing eight thousand men.

In the nineteenth century, the great warrior and leader of the Zulu nation, Shaka, reorganized the Zulu military system, creating a military force that defeated the disparate clans to form the Zulu nation. His basic battle formation relied heavily on maneuver, timing, and envelopment. The army was divided into four basic units: the chest (or center), which made contact with the enemy, pinning them in place; the horns, which rapidly moved out to envelop the flanks; and the loins, a reserve force that could be sent wherever it was needed.55 In a battle with the Butelezi clan, he combined this tactical disposition with deception. Even though they outnumbered the Butelezi, he bunched his warriors at the beginning of the fight, having them hold their shields sideways, edge out, so that they seemed few. Then when the horns spread outward on the flanks they turned their shields to face outward, so that his army miraculously appeared to double in size in an instant. The enemy forces quickly collapsed under the physical and psychological shock of the attack.56 Some Ba Gua practitioners like Gao Ji-wu use a variation of this type of tactic, throwing arced punches combined with a slight withdrawal and a hidden kick to pin the opponent in place. The hooking punches, like the Zulu horns, draw the opponent’s attention to his flank, leaving him open for a rapid attack down the middle.

In schools of the internal martial arts, body movements must contain oppositional forces: extending/retracting, opening/closing, rising and falling, etc. In advancing there is also retreating. Within an inward holding, hooking, and wrapping force there is an outward, stretching, resisting force.57 These oppositional forces must be in harmony. When they are harmonious, each spontaneously generates the other and there is potential for movement in any direction; the body can move naturally—advancing and retreating, moving inside and outside, up and down, front and back—all unfolding according to circumstances. If the opponent presses against the left side of the body, the left side becomes insubstantial and he is struck by the right side, like a door closing and opening, as though the body is hinged. Ba Gua and Xing Yi practitioners like to use the example of a snake to illustrate this dynamic. The snake’s body is flexible, seemingly jointed everywhere. Grab the head and the tail attacks, grab the tail and the head attacks. Grab the middle and both head and tail attack.

In military strategy, the distribution of forces can also be used in this way, folding the center so the wings can envelop, or retreating one end of the line so the other end can extend, overlap, and turn the enemy’s flank, like a door turning on its hinge. At Leuctra in 371 BC, Thebes defeated Sparta—the beginning of the end for Spartan supremacy in Greece. The Thebans under Epaminodas massed their phalanx fifty ranks deep on their left wing. Usually the mass of heavily armored infantry making up a phalanx was eight to twelve ranks deep. The men moved together to keep the line unbroken all along the front, and the mass of men provided enormous momentum that could break the enemy’s line. The shields of the soldiers in the phalanx overlapped, each man’s shield protecting the man on his left. This often produced a rightward drift, because each man would unconsciously move to his right to hide behind his comrade’s shield.58 For this reason the most experienced troops were placed on the right wing. Epaminodas arranged his battle line on the oblique, so that his weak right flank was pushed back and withdrew, thereby extending the Spartan left, while his massive left wing pushed forward, crushing the Spartan right and destroying their line so that they could be rolled up from the side.

The Schlieffen Plan employed in 1914 during World War I was the German army’s overall strategic plan for the Western front. The plan called for weak German forces on the German left, where Germany bordered France. The main weight of the German army on the right would then sweep through Belgium and down to Paris, outflanking the French left flank and enveloping them from the rear. For various reasons the plan failed, but in conception it was a large-scale version of Epaminodas’s strategy at Leuctra.

Boyd points out that part of the problem with the execution of the Schlieffen Plan was the top-down command and control structure, which restricted imagination and initiative in the lower echelons. This, and the obsession with attempting to achieve concentration of force, led to stagnation of movement and attrition through direct attacks against hardened resistance. Although the lethality of weapons had increased dramatically, battlefield tactics had not changed accordingly.59 The German army learned from its mistakes, and during the invasion of France in 1940, with a somewhat similar general plan, but a very different command structure, organization, and strategy, they were successful.


Ba Gua attempts to eliminate the problem of a top-down, structured chain of command through rigorous training aimed at unifying the entire body. There is no definite plan of attack or defense, only movements and changes that are designed to create and exploit opportunities, based on a deep understanding of instinctive human reactions. Rather than predetermined plans, Ba Gua seeks to find stillness within movement, so that the opponent’s movements and intentions can be clearly apprehended, allowing one to seize the initiative at the appropriate moment. Often in learning Ba Gua, the student encounters seemingly obscure statements like:

First seek stillness in the middle of movement, then seek movement in the middle of stillness.60

Change postures like moving clouds.61

You must change randomly. It is mysterious and unfathomable.62

Eliminating preset plans and a top-down command structure does not mean that the body is not connected. Although every part of the body is moving in arcs and circles, and circles within circles, the body is integrated at all levels, united by one qi. Hence, the emphasis on the Six Harmonies in internal boxing:

Harmony between hand and foot

Harmony between elbow and knee

Harmony between shoulder and hip

Harmony between heart (Xin) and mind/intention (Yi)

Harmony between mind/intention and qi

Harmony between qi and strength/force (Li)

This allows spirit, intention, and force to combine into one.

In Ba Gua, it is said that “intention is like a waving command flag, also like a lighted lamp.”63 In ancient China, troops were trained to change battle formations and to advance and retreat guided by waving a command flag. At night, lighted lamps were used instead to command the troops. In practicing Ba Gua, the movements must be guided by the intention and not performed carelessly or casually.

During the Taiping Rebellion in 1850, a large Qing Dynasty imperial force established a base close to the Taiping stronghold at Jintian. The Taiping forces took up defensive positions spread in a wide arc between the Qing forces and Jintian. Their defensive strategy employed sophisticated communications between their positions: “Each major Taiping encampment had its own signal flag, depending on its strategic location: red for the South, black for the North, blue for the East, and white for the West. The center had a yellow banner as well as a duplicate of the other four banners. With these large banners as the main signals, backed by smaller triangular flags to request troop reinforcements, complex instructions could be conveyed in the heat of battle, and at considerable distance.”64 For example, if the enemy is active in the east, the eastern section would hoist a small triangular white flag next to their main banner. The middle station would transmit the message to the west and the troops from the west would be dispatched to reinforce the east.65 When the fighting began, the Qing commander attempted to force his larger army through the center of the Taiping line. The Taiping forces, in a coordinated attack, curved around the flanks of the imperial forces, routing them.66

The battle formation used by the Taiping rebels was an ancient battle array known as the Five Phase Formation. Students of Chinese philosophy know that the color and position of the banners correspond to the Five Phases or Five Elements. Other classical Chinese battle formations were the Four Animal Formation, corresponding with the four heraldic animals (azure dragon, red bird, white tiger, and black snake-tortoise); the Six Flowers Formation67; and the Eight Diagram Battle Formation. The Eight Diagram formation is attributed to Zhuge Liang, who employed it against the Wei army in the Three Kingdoms.68 Zhuge Liang’s arrangement is said to have had four sides and eight directions. Whichever part was struck, the two adjoining sections could come to aid it. Also, in this formation the front could quickly become the rear and vice-versa.

Ba Gua employs this same idea when walking on the circle or threading through the nine palaces. The nine palace diagram below and the eight trigrams below it are essentially Zhuge Liang’s Eight Diagram formation. In Ba Gua Zhang, the practice of nine palace walking, weaving between nine posts set in the ground (as illustrated below), teaches principles of combat and movement in relation to multiple opponents as well as how to manipulate and penetrate the Eight Diagram formation.

Figure 1.2. Nine Palace Arrangement in Ba Gua Zhang

Many Ba Gua practitioners relate the hand formations and postures of Ba Gua to the trigrams and hexagrams in the Yijing (Classic of Change). These diagrams are composed of yin (broken) lines and yang (unbroken) lines. As with Zhuge Liang’s formation, the lines and their positions are not fixed. A broken line can join to become unbroken and an unbroken line can stretch and separate to become broken. The diagrams, which can represent different troop formations or fighting postures, can change form moment to moment. Both in military strategy and in Ba Gua, one uses form to become formless, able to respond appropriately to the situation at hand. Ancient strategists advise: “First manifest form and cause the enemy to follow it. The pinnacle of military deployment approaches formlessness.”69

The ancient Roman legions also employed a flexible and unique battle formation, which was organized in maniples (“handfuls”). Although no one is really sure how the Roman manipular legion fought, it is clear that it used a triple battle line with a screen of skirmishers to the front. Generally, a legion consisted of about 4,200 men. A swarm of the more lightly armored velites used javelins to disrupt and skirmish with the enemy, but could also close to fight hand-to-hand. Behind them came the more heavily armored hastati, and then principes divided into ten groups each—the aforementioned maniples. Both groups had swords and pilia, heavy throwing javelins. Lastly, there were ranks of triarii, who carried long thrusting spears. Gaps between the maniples allowed maneuver and tactical flexibility—units could support one another while at the same time each maniple had an internal cohesion that allowed for some measure of independent operation. The gaps in the line may also have allowed troops to retreat through the lines with the triarii as a reserve to plug the gaps, if they were exploited by the enemy. Because the Romans fought a variety of opponents, in many lands and in many situations, such flexible tactics served them well in adapting to the situation at hand.70

Figure 1.3. Nine Palace Arrangement of Yi Jing Trigrams

Methods of hand-to-hand combat often emphasize stances, and a variety of ready positions are sometimes taught at the basic training level. In Chinese martial arts, stances such as ma bu (“horse stance”) use the word bu (“step”), denoting movement or progress, as in jin bu (“advancing step” or “forward step”). Alternatively, postures are referred to as shi, which translates as “pattern.” In Xing Yi Quan and Ba Gua Zhang, san ti shi denotes a posture or “body pattern” of mental and physical readiness that allows movement in all directions. San ti shi loads the body so that it can move in any direction with root and power. As a mental attitude, it conveys a readiness to act according to the changing circumstances. In Ba Gua and Xing Yi, combat techniques are merely an extension of standing and walking. Ba Gua in particular bases its strategy on walking, and walking itself stems from standing. Hence the importance of stake-standing or standing-post exercises (zhan zhuang) and fixed pattern/posture walking and turning (ding shi) in Ba Gua training. By creating offensive and defensive actions that arise from the most primal movements—standing, walking, breathing, pulling inward, and pushing outward—one can adjust flexibly and naturally to the situation at hand while maintaining body cohesion.

Flexibility and Adaptability

Liddell Hart observes that great military commanders always operate by having multiple objectives in mind. He points out that if the opponent knows your objective and methods, it is easy for him to protect himself and foil your aims. By implementing a strategy that threatens (or embraces) alternative objectives, you not only distract and confuse the enemy, you also leave your own options open. This is economical, as you keep your own forces flexible while pinning down the opponent’s resources.71 Napoleon Bonaparte called this faire son theme en deux facons (“present your theme in two ways”). Hart goes on to point out that seventy years later William Tecumseh Sherman relearned this lesson, which he called putting the enemy on the horns of a dilemma, during his march through Georgia toward the end of the American Civil War.72

Napoleon exploited to the fullest the new developments in weaponry, organization, and training that his predecessors had brought to the French army. The introduction of the independent divisional structure and the ability of troops to forage or “live off the land” increased tactical flexibility and removed the need for supply routes that were susceptible to attack. This, combined with the increase in light troops and mobile field guns, as well as abandonment of the traditional marching step in favor of the quick step, afforded Napoleon the ability to outmaneuver and outmarch his opponents and, more important, to react more quickly to the changing circumstances. In his 1805 campaign in Austria, Napoleon outmaneuvered the Austrian army at Ulm by feigning one line of march, to pin the enemy while marching around to their rear, cutting them off from their Russian allies and forcing a surrender. Later, at Austerlitz, Napoleon met the combined Russo-Austrian army. He tricked the allies, giving them the impression that his army was weak and that he desired to negotiate peace. He deliberately abandoned his strong central position and left his right flank weak. He counted on the allies to heavily attack the weakened right, thereby leaving their own center vulnerable. These tactics, combined with reinforcements secretly force-marching from Vienna, surprised the allies, resulting in a significant victory for the French.

Napoleon felt that rather than making definite plans, one must bend with the changing circumstance: “A battle is my plan of campaign and success is my whole policy.”73 Napoleon’s strategy often involved isolating an opponent, either through diplomatic or military means. Militarily, he aimed at the destruction of the enemy’s field army rather the occupation of terrain, therefore his strategic preparations often involved long and rapid advances that penetrated into enemy territory, but were not directed at a specific objective or location. This bold advance, by posing a threat that could not be ignored, drew the enemy out, forcing them to react and commit their forces.74 This allowed Napoleon to know his opponents’ intentions and to respond flexibly and appropriately, using terrain to restrict the opponent’s movements while simultaneously employing maneuver, flanking, and envelopment tactics or operations on the enemy’s interior lines, thereby splitting and dividing their forces. Similarly, Ba Gua employs the piercing palm, combined with deceptive footwork, to create a deep, penetrating attack that cannot be ignored, while blending and adapting the footwork and handwork with the opponent’s response.

In his early campaigns, Napoleon adhered to this idea, creatively combining ambiguity, surprise, deception, and rapid maneuver to divide and defeat superior forces piecemeal. Napoleon employed highly mobile skirmishers, sharpshooters armed with rifles, to harass and confuse the enemy. These skirmishers were combined with screens of cavalry whose job was to mask the movements of the main body of French troops and search out weak points in the enemy’s disposition. Meanwhile, his mobile horse artillery created confusion and weakened these chinks in the enemy’s positions. This allowed the infantry columns to move up, ready to exploit any weak point that presented. Cavalry and infantry screens could also cloud and distort strategic maneuvers that would open up flanking attacks, or allow Napoleon to split the enemy forces. All of these factors allowed Napoleon to seize and keep the initiative.

Using the same zheng and qi dynamic as Chinese strategists, Napoleon also employed forces that pinned the enemy in place so that he could maneuver to flank, divide, and envelop the enemy forces.75 Similarly, Ba Gua uses the hands to screen the actions of the feet, and the hands and feet to cloak the movements of the body. If the enemy attacks fiercely and with great strength, the hands, combined with body alignment, create a structure that make them think and feel that the defender is still in front of them, while the defender’s feet have already begun to transfer their body to the side. This allows one to end up standing next to the enemy with hands and feet poised to strike them in the flank or rear. When caught in the center between two opponents, the principle is the same. By using an arcing step that can change direction at any moment, one is able to initially meet both opponents’ attacks, fixing them in place momentarily, while the footwork has already changed so that we can empty the central position and move around the flank of one of the opponents. This is one of the uses of the so-called Yin-Yang Boring Arcing Step. All of these tactics require cohesion or “internal connection” of the entire body in the same way that the various units of an army must maintain cohesion in order to be effective. This means linking the hands and the feet and driving the step from the dantien (the center of gravity located one to three inches below the navel), while the arms and body unite to split through the opponents like a wedge. This use of the body is described in one of the Ba Gua songs:

Pile the rear elbow, protect the heart with the elbow,

Turn and drop the hand and extend it forward.

Follow to the front elbow to create embracing power,

The front and rear hand join together to gather spirit.76

In later campaigns, Napoleon departed from the flexible thinking described above and relied increasingly on dense infantry columns, massed artillery fire, and cavalry charges that often ended up attacking directly into the enemy’s strength.77 Even when victorious, his armies suffered crippling attrition.

Blitz and Counter-Blitz

Sherman’s concept of “putting the enemy on the horns of a dilemma” was exemplified by the German blitzkrieg (“lightning warfare”) tactics as employed on the Western front in 1940 by imaginative commanders such as Erich von Manstein, Erwin Rommel, and Heinz Guderian. Surprising the French by quickly crossing the Meuse river, the Germans created multiple breakthroughs and threatened multiple objectives by employing fast-moving armored units combined with air support. Avoiding battles and their resulting attrition and stagnation of momentum and initiative, and exploiting developing opportunities, the Germans kept the larger French forces physically and psychologically off balance. The French counter-movements simply could not keep pace with the changing situation. They were confused by an enemy who did not appear to proceed according to a fixed plan. The German forces were trained to operate independently, constantly seeking and creating opportunities to penetrate and exploit gaps in the French dispositions, thereby controlling the timing and rhythm of the action. The French inability to adapt led to paralysis, loss of the initiative, and defeat.

Israel skillfully employed blitzkrieg tactics in the 1967 Six Day War against Egypt. Fluidly combining air power with armor, paratroops, artillery, and combat engineers, they grounded and destroyed the Egyptian air force. Simultaneously, they launched a series of lightning strikes by ground forces that avoided direct confrontation and, having bypassed the Egyptian units, were able to seize key routes of communication and effectively surround them. The entire action lasted four days.

A number of authors have commented on the time-rhythm component of the blitzkrieg as an important disrupting factor. Colonel John R. Boyd described the blitzkrieg principle as “presenting many (fast-breaking) simultaneous and sequential happenings to generate confusion and disorder thereby stretching-out time for the adversary to respond in a directed fashion. [This] multiplies opportunities to uncover, create, and penetrate gaps, exposed flanks, and vulnerable rears.”78 This has the result of creating shock, panic, and disorder, ultimately destroying the adversary’s cohesion, bringing about paralysis and collapse.79 To put it another way, being able to infiltrate, penetrate, or otherwise get inside the adversary’s system generates many moral-mental-physical noncooperative centers of gravity.80

Li Zi Ming’s description of attacking in Ba Gua is almost identical to Colonel Boyd’s analysis above: “Twisting and coiling, turning and circling, each movement conceals many strikes. Therefore one would be able to change at any time according to the actual situation in combat. Attaining this level of performance is an extraordinary experience, calm in the mind and comfortable in the body and smooth in the hundreds of meridians so that the heart can feel at ease throughout. This results in the enemy becoming puzzled in mind, deranged in spirit, and thereby defeated in battle.”81

Boyd also describes the blitzkrieg as employing “multiple thrusts, bundles of multiple thrusts, or bundles of thrusts inside bundles of thrusts.”82 In Ba Gua, the principle of the penetrating palm is to continuously pierce and thrust, moving into the enemy as one shifts right or left, inside and outside. This opens gaps in the enemy’s defense, restricting their options and confusing them. Ba Gua practitioners repeatedly practice sequences of three penetrating strikes or “piercing palms” that come one on top of the other, screening the body, which changes its orientation with each strike. This type of attack is very difficult for the opponent to stop, hence the saying “Even the most marvelous under heaven fear the three penetrations.”83

In Chinese military strategy this idea of having a flexible plan with multiple objectives in mind is often referred to as “attacking the east to attack the west, or making noise in the east to attack the west.” The noise refers to an attack. The attack to the west does not necessarily imply that the west was the true objective. In the Chinese martial arts there is a saying, “True but not true, false but not false.” Either attack could be the true attack or a false attack. If the enemy defends tenaciously, the true attack becomes a false attack, as one of the other objectives now becomes the true one. If the enemy does not defend, or if the defense is weak, then the initial attack was the true objective.

Wong Shi-tong, a disciple of Guo Gu-min (one of the great practitioners of Ba Gua in Beijing), explained and demonstrated these ideas in concrete terms. When Wong attacks to the face, it is both a feint and a real attack at the same time. If the opponent reacts by raising his hands to protect the face, the attack is already en route to another objective, such as the groin. If the opponent fails to react, or does not protect well enough, the original attack goes through to the face, because it was, from the beginning, true but not true. Similarly, Wong demonstrated the principle straight but not straight, bent but not bent. An attack that appears to follow a straight path can curve around the defense to attack an alternative target, or the same target from a different angle. On the other hand, a curving, indirect attack can suddenly become straight in order to make a direct attack. This principle is further exemplified in Ba Gua’s unique use of curved steps that allow a defensive, evasive maneuver to suddenly become a direct attack, all within a single step.

A remarkably similar approach was proposed by President Lincoln during the American Civil War. Lincoln’s difficulty was that the Confederate troops, though less numerous, were often superior on the battlefield. The Union had more troops, but at the “point of collision” troop concentrations often ended up being fairly equal. In a letter to two of his generals, Lincoln proposed gaining the advantage by “menacing him [the enemy] with superior forces at different points, at the same time; so that we can safely attack, one, or both if he makes no change; and if he weakens one to strengthen the other, forbear to attack the strengthened one, but seize and hold the weakened one, gaining so much.”84

In Chinese military strategy, there is the phrase besiege Wei to rescue Zhao. To rescue an ally, it is better to invade the invader’s territory and besiege the enemy’s base, rather than attacking the enemy besiegers directly in a heroic rescue operation. Either the enemy abandons his attack on your ally, or he loses his base and his line of communication and supply is cut. The Roman general Scipio Africanus used this strategy to draw Hannibal out of Italy after years of futile attempts to defeat him there. Scipio landed in Africa and attacked and devastated the land around Carthage, while subverting the allies of the Carthaginians and disrupting communications and seizing vital supplies. This forced Hannibal’s return, making him come to Scipio seeking battle. Scipio could now control the time and the place of their encounter. He drew Hannibal out into unfamiliar terrain, and by initially refusing battle, forced Hannibal to camp in an area not supplied with water. Hannibal could not retreat, as Scipio now had a large body of Numidian cavalry who could easily pursue and harass his army; nor could he simply hold position without water. Consequently, he was forced to do battle at Zama and was defeated.85

Li Zi Ming describes the Ba Gua version of these tactics as follows:

Like the tactics of “relieving the Zhao State by besieging the Wei State,” or the method of “making a feint to the East while attacking the West,” when I am under attack from all directions I must be calm in the mind and behave like nothing is happening around me. If enemies are attacking from all sides, my gestures cannot be sluggish or empty, but rather crisp and sudden so that I can confuse the enemies with a movement as difficult to track as a butterfly fluttering among the flowers. With the enemies puzzled and confused, I can deal with front as well as the back. I can advance and retreat as I like. I can also evade the real method to conquer the enemy by mixing the real and the false according to individual situation and circumstance.86

Li Zi Ming’s remarks give insight into strategies for countering the blitzkrieg, or “blitz-attack” as it is sometimes called in hand-to-hand combat. In Ba Gua, when strikes with fists and feet are coming rapidly from all directions, one should follow the dictum: The quicker you are, the slower I am. To move slowly means to be harmonious and still within movement, changing postures freely, observing the opponent and waiting to strike his weak point with the power of the whole body.87 The practice of Ba Gua trains the mind to be calm and the breathing to be relaxed and natural. This allows the vision to be clear and the reactions quick even in the heat of battle.

The principles of the “counter-blitz,” according to Boyd, are similar and yet more specific. He advises using obstacles and delaying actions, along with hit-and-run tactics and/or baited retreats, in order to disrupt and disorient the enemy. Disrupt the rhythm of his attacks, attempt to stretch his actions out in time and make his maneuvers pile up, thereby breaking the opponent’s momentum. Simultaneously and/or alternatively, break up the enemy’s cohesion by channeling and redirecting his momentum and then counterattacking. Hit the enemy unexpectedly through gaps in his flank or rear, or blindside to make a decisive stroke.88 Ba Gua also employs this idea of redirection by turning the body: “In fighting, if I cannot use my hand and foot, because the opponent is close to me (adheres to me), it is advisable to adopt the chest-withdrawing and waist-turning method. Only in this way can the danger be avoided, and the unfavorable situation be reversed.”89

Guerrilla Warfare and Counterinsurgency

Ba Gua practitioners often liken their art to guerrilla warfare. Guerrilla warfare subverts the normal clashing (of fighters and/or armies), which often heavily relies on power, numbers, and strength of the defensive posture. It does this by being dynamic, continuously changing, transforming, and moving. “Static defense has no part in guerrilla action, and fixed defense no place, except in the momentary way involved in laying an ambush.”90 Guerrilla actions seek to avoid battle, evading direct engagements in which damage and attrition might be suffered. In Ba Gua this is achieved through hit-and-run tactics that employ timing, footwork, turning, and evasion, combined with the use of “hidden kicks and ambushing hands.” Beijing Ba Gua exponent Gao Ji-wu is a master of the hidden kick. He screens his kicks by combining them with evasive footwork and deceptive arcing hand strikes. The opponent only sees his hands attacking; the kick, concealed within the footwork, comes in undetected from below.

T. E. Lawrence realized the potential of guerrilla warfare during the Arab Revolt against the Turks in 1918. A keen student of military history, Lawrence noted early on that the more mobile but weak Arab forces could only win by avoiding contact. “Most wars were wars of contact, both forces striving into touch to avoid tactical surprise. Ours should be a war of detachment. We were to contain the enemy by the silent threat of the vast unknown desert, not disclosing ourselves till we attacked.”91 Lawrence used hit-and-run tactics that took place over a wide area and prevented the Turks from concentrating their forces against his own. The Arabs could not afford to lose men, so rather than attacking the Turkish troops, the Arabs focused on attacking the enemy’s empty spaces: destroying sections of track and trains, cutting telegraph wires and harrying small outposts, thereby severing lines of reinforcement, communication, and supply. Appearing suddenly out of the desert, only to disappear again, through this war of a thousand pinpricks Lawrence’s men wore down the enemy, sapped his morale, and hampered his mobility and initiative.

Similarly, in the Peninsular War (1808–1814) Spanish guerrillas prevented the French from concentrating their forces against the Duke of Wellington’s much smaller army. They cut off convoys, seized dispatches, severed communications, and harried reinforcements. At one point, the French were losing an average of a hundred men a day to guerrilla attacks!92 A more recent example of the effectiveness of guerrilla tactics was in Vietnam, where the United States had difficulty fighting an enemy that was everywhere and nowhere, “hard to isolate from the civilian population and therefore difficult to target and track, whose shoestring logistics were hard to interdict, and whose political elite were far more disciplined than our own.”93

Guerrilla warfare “inverts one of the main principles of orthodox war, the principle of ‘concentration.’ Dispersion is an essential component of survival and success on the guerrilla side, which must never present a target and thus can only operate in minute particles, though these may momentarily coagulate like globules of quicksilver to overwhelm some weakly guarded objective. For guerrillas, the principle of ‘concentration’ has to be replaced by that of ‘fluidity of force.’”94 In Ba Gua, dispersion and fluidity are manifest in the ability to literally melt away from the incoming attack, redirecting it into “dead” space. This is known as escape and hide the shadow or dodge the body and dissolve the shadow without a trace. In order to employ this type of tactic, the footwork must be fluid. The famous Ba Gua practitioner Zhang Rong-jiao said that the mud-wading step (tang ni bu) should be “stable, but light and fast like flowing water.”95 This type of walking (zou) is related to the concept of “leaking.” When the opponent stops you or attempts to lock you out, you step or flow around him like water leaking through a crack or seeping into a hidden chink or gap.

Mao Zedong described guerrilla warfare as “constant activity and movement.”96 Guerrilla units are composed of small groups acting independently. These groups focus on movement rather than positional defense. Thus they have no “rear.” Instead, they operate at the enemy’s rear. Similarly, Ba Gua’s turning movements effectively allow the rear and the front, right and left, and up and down to interchange from moment to moment. At the same time, the goal is to get to the side or rear of the opponent. Ba Gua’s arcing step allows one to get to the enemy’s side or rear in a single step. With the same single step, all eight directions can be covered and the front can become the rear.

About guerrilla warfare, Che Guevara said: “The blows should be continuous. The enemy soldier in a zone of operations ought not to be allowed to sleep; his outposts ought to be attacked and liquidated systematically. At every moment the impression ought to be that he is surrounded by a complete circle.”97 Che describes the war of mobility as a minuet, a dance. The guerrilla bands encircle an enemy position, with five or six men at each of the four points of the compass. They must be far enough away to avoid being encircled themselves. When the engagement starts, it can begin at any one of these points. As the enemy moves toward that point, the guerrilla band retreats, always maintaining visual contact while an attack is initiated from another point. This can be repeated indefinitely, immobilizing the enemy and forcing him to expend large amounts of ammunition.98

Ba Gua has also been likened to a dance in which one moves next to and revolves around one’s opponent, leading him to the left and right, front and back, up and down. In the “eight contraries,” differences between fighting strategies in Ba Gua and those in other styles of Chinese boxing are delineated: “Everyone advances forward with a straight step, but we advance on an angle with a twisted step. Everyone likes to turn the whole body around to face the rear, but in a single step we can move to deal with the eight directions.”99 By using the footwork to move next to the opponent, one is able to moderate the enemy’s attack, thereby restricting his options and finding his weak points. Mao also advocated finding the enemy’s weak points at his flanks and rear and advises that one attack and annihilate him there.

For Mao, the guerrilla’s ability to seize the initiative is dependent upon dispersion, concentration, and the alert shifting of forces.100 Guerrillas can disperse to harass a stronger or entrenched enemy, or one deficient in supplies, limited by the terrain, encircled, or out-positioned. Similarly, they can concentrate their forces when the enemy is demoralized, when his forces are isolated or trapped, or when he can be destroyed without excessive losses. There is never total concentration. In taking the offensive or in counteroffensives, there must be concentration of force (“pit ten against one”101), but even when falling on the enemy and destroying him, all one’s forces are not committed. Elsewhere, other units are carrying out other operations. Reserving some of one’s forces is akin to the power-storing method of Ba Gua Zhang. “The power should not all be released at once. It is necessary to always reserve some power. If every bit of power is released like shooting an arrow that doesn’t return, it is very easy to be at risk.”102

Ba Gua masters say: “If the method is not proper, don’t use it. If the first attack misses attack again.”103 Mao’s advice is the essentially the same. When confronted by the enemy, the guerrilla shifts his forces in a way appropriate to the situation. If they cannot fight here, they shift, attacking somewhere else. “Their tactics must deceive, tempt, and confuse the enemy. They must lead the enemy to believe they will attack him from the east and the north and they must then strike him from the west and the south. They must strike, then rapidly disperse.”104 The CCP army and other Chinese guerrilla forces employed these tactics in 1940 against Japanese forces in northern China, carrying out a campaign of disruption, harassment, and sabotage.

In Ba Gua, it is through the footwork that the power of the body is stored and released. When storing power, there is an appearance of softness and gentleness, even weakness. When releasing power, the whole body is firm and powerful. When evading and redirecting, soft, winding dispersing power is applied at the pivotal point or moment. When striking, power accumulates and concentrates to hit with effect. In releasing power, some power is always retained, already beginning the next action. “The power must be firm and gentle too, difficult to achieve skill if firmness or gentleness is over-emphasized. It is true that too hard will surely break, too soft is equivalent to nothing.”105 Therefore, gentleness and firmness must be in harmony, each promoting the other, like a constantly turning wheel. Too much emphasis on either is incorrect. Just as with the guerrilla tactics of concentration and dispersion, the use of gentleness and firmness must be appropriate to the situation. Hence the statement: “It is the correct method when he is firm, I must be gentle. It is also a good method when I am firm, he is gentle.”106

The views of the English naval strategist Julian Stafford Corbett regarding the concentration and dispersal of forces are remarkably similar to those of Mao. Corbett felt that the massing of forces in order to deliver a decisive blow restricted mobility, rendering an army rigid and inflexible. On the other hand, careful contemplation of dispersal as a method of strategic deployment is characterized by flexibility and freedom of movement. Dispersal conceals one’s intention from the enemy, while at the same time allowing adaptation to any plan of operations he may adopt.107 “Without division, no strategical combinations are possible.”108 For Corbett, dispersal implies the maintenance of an elastic cohesion that allows the diverse segments of one’s disposition to condense and gather around a strategic center. In naval warfare, if the enemy concentrates his forces in one place, he leaves his ports and lines of communications open everywhere else.

The object of holding back from forming the mass is to deny the enemy knowledge of our actual distribution or its intention at any given moment, and at the same time to ensure that it will be adjusted to meet any dangerous movement that is open to him. Further than this our aim should be not merely to prevent any part being overpowered by a superior force, but to regard every detached squadron as a trap to lure the enemy to destruction. The ideal concentration, in short, is an appearance of weakness that covers a reality of strength.109

In Ba Gua Zhang, through footwork and turning the body, one attempts to lure the opponent into committing his full strength in the attack. Once he is committed, positioning, footwork, and body movement can be used to redirect his force, making his strength fall into emptiness, thereby leaving him open to counterattack. By letting the opponent initiate an attack, by letting him momentarily take control and gather his power, one can follow, conforming one’s footwork and body position to his movements. Ba Gua’s unique stepping (mud-wading step) induces the opponent to commit their step first so that one’s own foot placement and weight shift occur just after theirs, allowing one to lead and guide the other’s movements, while concealing one’s own. The nature of the stepping in Ba Gua is that the feet are moving while the hands are still. When this is combined with the rotation of the body, the opponent feels as though you are still in front of him (i.e., still at the point of engagement), while your feet have already carried your body past the point of engagement. The hands are like scouts screening the movements of the main force (the body), which has already changed its position, so that the power of the opponent’s attack enters the space you are already leaving and dissipates into emptiness, even as your own attack is coalescing.

During the Winter War between Russia and Finland in 1939–1940, one million Russian troops invaded Finland, opposed by a Finnish Army consisting of 175,000 men. The Finnish infantry operating in the harsh climate of their northern forests used motti or “logging” tactics against their more numerous but predictable opponents. The large road-bound Russian columns were psychologically, tactically, and logistically unprepared for a style of warfare in which their columns were divided and cut into smaller units like firewood. “Individual and small-unit initiative, expert camouflage, rapid movement on skis, quick concentration and quick dispersal, the technique of large-scale as well as small-unit ambushes—all of these skills were honed to a fine edge in the Finnish army.”110 In the Suomussalmi campaign, Finnish troops on snowshoes and skis repeatedly outmaneuvered the slow-moving Russian columns, dividing them into small pockets that were then isolated and destroyed. One drawback of these motti tactics was that they could not destroy larger units that, although isolated, became concentrated pockets of resistance that could not be drawn out.111 The Finns simply lacked the necessary concentration of force, in terms of men and firepower, to finish the job. Because the Russians often refused to leave their island of safety even to rescue wounded comrades, the Finnish forces were willing, but sometimes unable, to follow the advice of Chinese strategists:

Since the enemy is entrenched in a stronghold, confrontation with him calls for trying to make him jittery, where he is situated. Attack the place where he feels he must rush to the rescue and thus compel him to leave his entrenched position. Find out the intention of his movements, lay a trap and prepare troops for ambush and reinforcement. Attack the enemy when he is in movement.112

Any discussion of counterinsurgency and anti-guerrilla tactics leads to a larger discussion of grand strategy, organizational and political will. Strategy in this context goes beyond military victory and connects with the greater scope of human endeavor. These issues are an important component of Chapter II of this book. Guerrilla warfare involves these larger issues, and because Ba Gua Zhang is a martial art linked to a unique philosophical system, any discussion of Ba Gua must address these larger issues as well. To put it simply, a street fight might just be just a street fight, limited in scope and consequences, or it may have larger, more global ramifications.

Sunzi said:

Victory is the main object in war. If this is long delayed, weapons are blunted and morale depressed. When troops attack cities, their strength will be exhausted. When the army engages in protracted campaigns, the resources of the state will not suffice. When your weapons are dulled and your ardor damped, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, neighboring rulers will take advantage of your distress to act. And even though you have wise counselors, none will be able to lay good plans for the future. For there has never been a protracted war from which a country has benefited.113

As Brian Steed points out in Armed Conflict, these ideas neatly summarize the current philosophy of the United States government. Steed writes that while there is no benefit to protracted war for a wealthy industrialized nation like the United States, for poorer, more disadvantaged nations with a large disenfranchised population, a prolonged war against a stronger, more modern power works to their advantage.114 Steed goes on to say that America’s past, present, and perhaps future adversaries have based their strategies on this idea. Vietnam was a prime example. “According to Truong Chin, the preeminent North Vietnamese theoretician, ‘the guiding principle of the strategy of our whole resistance must be to prolong the war.’ This would lower enemy morale, unite the Vietnamese people, increase outside support, and encourage the antiwar movement to tie the enemy’s hands. ‘To achieve all these results, the war must be prolonged, and we must have time. Time works for us.’”115

More than one military analyst has pointed out that America has forgotten its own war of revolution, in which George Washington, after losing several more conventional battles, realized that just by keeping his army intact and in a position to constantly harass and threaten British forces, he could wear the enemy down. Washington did not need to control cities or territory, he merely had to force the British to disperse their forces and their efforts in order to cover and control large areas of colonial America. The British Army never had more than about 35,000 men to cover the large area of the thirteen colonies.116 They could merely hold key ports and make occasional forays into the countryside, where they encountered a combination of regular continental troops and irregular militias led by men like Francis Marion (dubbed the “Swamp Fox” by the British), who had learned irregular tactics during the French and Indian War, fighting the Cherokee. The unconventional tactics of the militia troops caused a British general to remark in 1776 that “the Americans would be less dangerous if they had a regular army.”117

This “war of the flea” against a ubiquitous, relentless adversary that is too small and too diffuse to come to grips with eventually leads to exhaustion of one’s political will and resources.118 Antiguerrilla tactics therefore involve a broad scope of strategic and tactical countermeasures aimed at denying the enemy freedom of time and space, and isolating them physically, politically, and morally:119

• Infiltration of the guerrilla’s command and control structure to gain intelligence and foreknowledge of their plans and movements.

• Fluidity of action, the ability to adjust to the guerrilla’s changes and to adapt unconventional approaches.

• The use of infiltration tactics, surprise, and shock to upset their plans and break their cohesion.

• Upsetting their cohesion means destroying their legitimacy and bolstering your own.

• This means bringing justice, equality, and prosperity to the areas in which the guerrilla operates, thereby weakening their political and social argument.

• To do this, security and stability must be brought to areas in which the guerrilla operates.

• This helps to destroy their base, the sea of people through which the guerrilla moves unseen, thereby bringing their movements out in the open.

• This in turn hampers their mobility, upon which their war of movement relies.

• Having the will to outlast them, the patience to continue and build slow, cumulative gains against the guerrilla until they are destroyed or no longer supported.

• Military operations must be relentless and coordinated with political and economic factors.

Successful operations by modern industrial powers against guerrilla armies or insurgent populations are not numerous. The Spanish ruled much of the Philippines from 1570–1898, however they were never able to suppress the Moro rebels and pirates who raided their outposts. Particularly in the Southern Philippines, the Moros kept the Spanish largely confined to their forts. Although they sent out expeditions to destroy Moro strongholds, they could not consolidate their gains. The Spanish tried employing privateers to attack Moro settlements and ships, but the depredations of these groups, little more than pirates themselves, merely stiffened resistance and undermined the legitimacy of Spanish rule. The Spaniards were unable to make the Moros pay tribute as they had with native peoples in other parts of the Philippines and in the New World. Instead, through a kind of rebate system, the Moros got the Spanish to pay them for returning escaped slaves. Spain even paid certain sultans a kind of protection fee by subsidizing their harems. All of these factors contributed to a loss of prestige and respect for Spanish rule.120

When the Philippine archipelago was ceded to the United States in 1898, the Moros in Mindanao and Sulu resisted American rule in an open insurrection. Leaving aside the moral question of some of America’s actions in the Northern Philippines, the American forces gradually learned to conduct an effective campaign against the Moro forces. They created a civil government supplemented by military aid. Unlike the Spaniards, who had remained trapped in their forts and unable to penetrate into the Moro areas, thereby allowing the Moros to operate with impunity, the American troops made frequent reconnaissance missions to enforce the new laws and reduce slave trading and piracy. This gave them legitimacy with the rest of the local population. In campaigns in Mindanao, they mapped the trackless country so that they could locate and destroy Moro strongholds and bring order to remote areas. Some commanders, like Brigadier General Funston, set up effective spy networks that helped target insurgents while leaving the local population untouched.121 Amnesty was also offered to local villagers who had been forced to help the guerrillas. The Americans discovered that resistance would have to be reduced section by section, gradually denying the enemy a base of operations and simultaneously installing and supporting the rule of law in each area. This required going out among the Filipino people and taking the fight to the enemy. In part the ability to do this depended upon having capable field officers who earned the respect of their adversaries.122

An important, often overlooked aspect of success was that the Americans also did not interfere with the Islamic religion of Moros, as the Spanish had done with forced conversions and baptisms. Further, they did not allow themselves to buy up large tracts of land. “They avoided schemes like opium monopolies. They redistributed land to peasants from wealthy church estates, and built roads, railways, ports, dams, and irrigation facilities. American expenditures on health and education led to a doubling of the Filipino population between 1900 and 1920, and a rise in literacy from twenty to fifty percent within a generation.”123 However, despite these successes, American special forces units are involved to this day in aiding the ground forces of the Philippine government to suppress and contain Muslim insurgents in the southern Philippines.

Other examples of counterinsurgency campaigns that had a measure of success are the Boer War and the British operations in Malaysia against the Malayan Peoples Anti-British Army. In both cases the strategy was to fight the guerrilla forces on their own terms, while simultaneously separating them from the support of the local population. In the Boer War this was done through blocking communications and movement in the open veldt, and instituting constant patrols that could interdict the Boer’s plans and movements. The population was also removed from support by the questionable expedient of removing them from their farms by force and interning them.124 In Malaysia, similar results were effected through the British policy of signaling their own intention to pull out of their former colony while simultaneously guiding the Malaysians toward independence. Resettlement into “New Villages” that housed villagers and Chinese workers separated the population from the insurgents. These villages, surrounded by fences and barbed wire, offered their occupants property rights, giving the Chinese population an investment in land ownership. Food control measures prevented the guerrilla forces from living off the food of the local people, thereby cutting off their supplies, while small patrols trained in jungle warfare and supplemented by local troops took the fight to the enemy.

Gradually the army learned that “shoulder-to-shoulder” sweeps were not productive but actually counterproductive; instead of massing troops, the army developed small patrols that used the skills of native trackers and intelligence provided by surrendered enemy personal and Special Branch infiltrators. Use of heavy firepower was minimized. “We concluded that given accurate information as to a target then there would be merit in considering bombing as a means for attacking it. But to use bombing on a random basis would really be far too costly. And could well perhaps do more harm than good.”125

British counterinsurgency methods against the IRA over a period of thirty years were also effective, despite many false starts. Martin Van Creveld’s dispassionate analysis in The Changing Face of War gives great insight into dealing with crisis situations effectively. In Ireland, the British used time to wear down the opposition and prevented themselves from being provoked (for the most part) into indiscriminate firing on crowds or collective punishment of large portions of the population. In this way they did not completely alienate the public. Creveld attributes the ability of the British soldiers to maintain self-control and morale to their superb training, discipline, and leadership.126

In Ba Gua Zhang, which itself employs guerrilla tactics, an adversary who uses hit and run tactics is countered by Ba Gua’s circular stepping. By walking and rotating, transformation from attack to defense, from dispersion of force to concentration of force, can take place instantaneously. The cohesion of the body and its direct link with the intention is maintained by Ba Gua’s unique practice of circle walking. Walking simultaneously affords protection from attack and the ability to observe the opponent. Walking involves movement, progress, and the ability to change and transform in accordance with the opponent’s changes, so that one is appropriate at every moment. Walking allows one to take the fight to the enemy while at the same time protecting one’s own vital areas. Through walking it is possible to avoid direct confrontation, restrict the opponent’s options, limit his use of the terrain, and discover his weak points.

Ba Gua Zhang uses the walking the circle form to control a very large space. To reach, restrict, and strike the enemy is its objective. Ba Gua Zhang walking the circle form uses walking as the shortest road to cover the largest area, thus it gains time, also economizes body strength, creating a fighting victory over the enemy. Ba Gua Zhang uses the method of walking the circle, changing position and direction, and makes use of the principles of a lever and changing strong points to strike the enemy.127


Innovation is an important aspect of both the martial arts and military endeavors. Innovation can be technological, the development of new technologies and weapons systems that radically change the face of warfare; or tactical, in the sense of applying weapons in a creative and effective way. Innovation can also be a change in the overall strategic situation. In 1945 this happened with the dropping of the first atomic bombs.

Innovations are not just in the form of new weapons, but also new technologies. The Chinese wheelbarrow was, by all accounts, created by Zhuge Liang as a solution to the problem of supplying his army with grain. Zhuge Liang referred to these devices as wooden oxen and gliding horses because they allowed his men to easily move supplies without tiring and without the need to feed and water horses. The wooden ox was a small barrow with shafts projecting forward resembling ox horns.128 This innovation allowed him to outwit the Wei army, who had counted on Zhuge Liang’s troops being destroyed by a food shortage.129

Technological innovations in warfare have often changed the formation of armies and initially given one side or another the advantage for a time. The development of the crossbow in China, and the stirrup in the fourth century, both had profound effects on the nature of warfare and on strategy and tactics, but as with Zhuge Liang’s transportation devices, within a short time the other side acquired the same technology. German knights in Lithuania and Estonia also encountered this problem. Initially their armor, superior missile weapons and siege engine technology, gave them a huge advantage over the local population. This of course eventually had the effect of spreading the technology to those they sought to conquer.130

In Ba Gua Zhang, new weapons like the Mandarin Duck Knives or the Rooster Claw Yin Yang Knives, with their multipointed surfaces and the ability to hook and control the enemy’s weapon, may have initially confused opponents bearing swords and spears, but for the most part the technology was on par with what an opponent might have. In most cases, martial arts weaponry has lagged behind military weapons. For example, practicing with swords, spears, and various exotic multi-edged weapons is useful for developing shen fa or “body skills,” but these weapons are impractical for modern warfare, police tactics, or for today’s self-defense needs. Yet, some innovation and adaptation has occurred. In the past, spear tactics were adopted to the bayonet. Some Ba Gua styles substituted the gentleman’s cane for the traditional walking stick when practitioners moved from the countryside to the city. Others developed concealed weapons and knife fighting techniques for more urban settings, and improvised weapons for use in situations where carrying weapons was illegal. Another example of innovation and adaptation is John Painter, who learned the use of the Mauser C96 machine pistol from his Ba Gua teacher Li Long-dao and went on to apply Ba Gua principles to the use of other modern firearms, and defenses against firearms.131

Hand-to-hand combat has not changed in its basic skills, but the outlook, approach, and application of traditional martial arts constantly change and innovate as time goes on. The creation of Ba Gua Zhang was in and of itself a tactical innovation, with its stress on walking or mobility as the primary tactic. This has not changed, but different practitioners have added technical and tactical refinements and adjustments. Cheng Ting-hua is noted for combining Ba Gua with shuai jiao wrestling and throwing techniques. Yin Fu combined Ba Gua with Lohan or Arhat Boxing, and other practitioners have incorporated sophisticated seizing and locking (chin na) methods. Another notable modification is the creation of the Sixty-Four Hands, attributed to Liu De Kuan, a famous Xing Yi practitioner and an expert with the spear. It is thought that Gao Yi-sheng, a student of Cheng Ting-hua, created the sixty-four linear (post-heaven) forms of Gao-style Ba Gua by combining Ba Gua with Da Hong Quan (Big Red Boxing). Another refinement is the crane step of Song-style Ba Gua, which helps develop sophisticated kicking skills.

In ancient warfare there were many tactical innovations that changed the balance of warfare. The phalanx, as wielded by the Spartans, was the undisputed tactical formation of the Hellenistic world. Philip of Macedon had been a hostage in Thebes when the Thebans, under the leadership of Epaminodas, destroyed Sparta’s vaunted phalanx at the battle of Leuctra in 371 BC. Taking a clue from the Thebans, who greatly deepened the battle line, Philip created a Macedonian phalanx sixteen ranks deep, giving it greater shock force than the Spartan formation. The Macedonian phalanx employed longer spears called sarissas, which were seventeen to twenty feet in length and were held with two hands, so that shields had to be strapped to the body for protection. The spears of the first eight ranks extended forward, while the rear ranks held their spears at an upward, oblique angle in order to block missile weapons. The points of at least four or five spears then extended out in front of each man in the front rank, making the formation like a porcupine. Professor Garret Fagan graphically describes this formation of ten to twelve thousand men as follows: “coming on in unison, maintaining a steady pace, the sarissa points poking and jabbing in undulating waves, the onset of the Macedonian phalanx must have been a terrifying and awe-inspiring sight.”132 Philip also integrated the phalanx with heavy cavalry, who were used to deliver rapid, shocking assaults to the enemy, as well as support infantry and missile troops and siege engineers and sappers. This created an adaptable professional military machine that the levies of the Greek city-states could not stand against.

Philip’s son, Alexander the Great, further developed the Macedonian military machine through intensive training. The Macedonian phalanx was able to rapidly change from thirty-two to sixteen to eight ranks in depth, an ability that Alexander exploited at the battle of Issus against the Persian army of Darius III in 333 BC.133 At Gaugamela in 331 BC, Alexander employed the Macedonian order of battle to devastating effect against a much larger Persian army led by Darius. His elite heavy cavalry on the right wing shifted to the right, thereby extending his line to the right. This opened a gap between the Persian left wing and center. Alexander’s cavalry wedged open this gap, while the Macedonian phalanx in the center first pinned and then wreaked havoc on the Persian center. Caught between the “hammer and anvil” of the phalanx and cavalry,134 the Persian forces were split and routed, despite having created their own breakthrough on Alexander’s left.

There are many reasons the Roman’s military machine was superior to the varied enemies they encountered over the centuries. As mentioned earlier, the manipular legion was one tactical innovation that worked well for the Romans for a variety of reasons. The arrangement of units in maniples or handfuls allowed for flexibility, in effect creating a group of smaller units operating in concentrated actions under local command.135 The manipular formation relied on the strict discipline inimical to the Roman war machine, and allowed the Romans to take advantage of their prowess as swordsmen in single combat. At the battle of Pydna in 168 BC, when the ranks of Macedonian phalanxes became uneven the Romans were able to wedge their way into the ranks of the enemy and separate them, leaving their front and rear vulnerable. The phalanx then broke and ran and was quickly destroyed.136 Much later, the Roman armies came to rely less on infantry tactics and more and more on heavily armored horsemen known as cataphracts, their name derived from the word kataphraktoi or “covered over.” In the Eastern Roman Empire, these troops combined the shock power of heavy cavalry with the mobility and missile power of mounted archers. Cataphract cavalry came to form the nucleus of the army of Belisarius in his battles against the Goths.

The phalanx did not disappear with the ancient Greeks. Massed pike formations remained on the battlefield for centuries. One adaptation of the phalanx was employed to devastating effect by the Swiss pikemen of the confederacy of cantons during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. They arrayed themselves in deep columns of pikemen wielding eighteen-foot ashen spears. Like the Macedonian phalanx, the bristling wall of spears presented a formidable obstacle for infantry and heavy cavalry. The Swiss did not wear much armor, which allowed for rapidity of movement both on the march and in battle. “In the face of such a foe it was hard for the slowly moving feudal or mercenary armies of the fifteenth century to maneuver—whether strategically in the general campaign, or tactically on the actual battlefield. When once the Confederates were in motion, the enemy was usually forced to fight, not how or where he chose, but according to the desire of his more mobile opponents.”137

Perhaps the ultimate development of the Swiss order of battle were the Spanish tercios of the sixteenth century. Developed by the Great Captain Gonzalo de Cordoba, the tercio formation was composed of pikemen forty ranks deep, flanked by arquebusiers who protected the formation from cavalry attacks. Relentless and almost unstoppable, the tercio dominated the battlefields of Europe for almost a century.138

Gustavus Adolphus became King of Sweden in 1611. He later reorganized the Swedish military, instituting a reformed conscription. Like most armies during the Thirty Years War, the Swedish army was composed largely of mercenaries. Adolphus made the core of the army Swedish, and mercenary troops trained under Swedish officers. He also introduced new tactics that required rigorous training to perfect. Adolphus thinned the ranks in the battle formation, improving flexibility and firing capability. He attached musketeers to the cavalry and the pikemen.139 By coordinating their actions, the cavalry and pike men could move through the ranks of the musketeers after they fired. The musketeers were trained to fire simultaneously in order to blast open gaps in the enemy line, into which the cavalry or pike men could charge while the musketeers reloaded. Gustavus also equipped his infantry with mobile field cannons. Lenart Torstennson, the great commander of the Swedish artillery, had redesigned the gun carriages of the twelve-pound cannons to improve mobility. He also employed cartridged ammunition, wiring the cannon ball to the charge, which increased the rate of fire.140 At Breitenfeld in 1631, the Swedes used musketry and artillery to halt the attack of Tilly’s forces while their cavalry routed the imperial cavalry and then turned in to attack the imperialist center, which collapsed under the combination of concentrated firepower and cavalry assault.

Napoleon took the innovations of Gustavus Adolphus further. One of the many changes that influenced his strategy was the levée en masse, which created almost universal conscription and allowed an enormous increase in the number of soldiers in the French army. By 1800, Napoleon had fought campaigns with more than 200,000 men and the army of France had over a million men.

The army itself was reorganized into divisions, which were self-sufficient and able to operate independently, but also to combine and coordinate to achieve a common goal. This allowed for greater flexibility and the ability to achieve multiple objectives and create multiple threats. Troops could now be employed the moment contact occurred, rather than waiting for the entire army to arrive. Further, independent divisions traveling by separate routes could forage for supplies, living off the land. This allowed Napoleon’s armies to travel light and not be tied to fixed supply routes.

The mobility of the army was further enhanced by abandonment of the traditional marching step in favor of the quickstep. The quickstep increased the marching pace to 120 paces a minute, allowing the army to cover twenty to thirty kilometers a day. Different army corps marching on separate routes made for a faster, more efficient movement, which could not be attained by keeping the army together and marching along a single route. This appearance of being not united could be used to confuse the enemy and keep options open, while in fact each separate army corps converged on a line of operations toward an operational objective. The deployment of the army could then “shrink and expand in order to tackle natural obstacles or confuse the enemy.”141

At the battle of Jena in 1806, Napoleon’s strategy relied heavily on the speed and surprise these innovations afforded his army. He had to bring his forces to bear against the Prussians before their Russian allies could reach the front. Through quick maneuver, the French caught one Prussian division at Saalfield and destroyed it. Then they advanced quickly behind a screen of cavalry. The main body was split into three columns, each taking a different route, but remaining close enough to support one another. The fast-moving columns allowed for a flexible battle plan, as they could maneuver to attack in any direction or combine and concentrate strength at the enemy’s weak points. The fast advance and unpredictable line of attack kept the Prussian army off-balance and outmaneuvered throughout the battle, so that they were destroyed piecemeal before they could concentrate their forces.

Napoleon took full advantage of improvements in artillery, modifications of gun carriages, and shorter barrels allowing for greater mobility.142 Standardized parts and packed rounds also improved efficiency. Artillery could now be brought to bear close to the front and used to shock and shatter, creating gaps in the enemy dispositions.

Another change in tactics was the use of mobile skirmishers armed with rifles, who were detached from the main force in order to harass and confuse the enemy. They could screen or mask the movements of the main body of French troops by making the enemy think he had encountered a unit attached to a larger force. Cavalry were also employed to screen troop movement, gather information, and deliver shocking charges when the enemy’s line had been damaged by artillery fire.

Finally, Napoleon employed dense attacking columns, rather than then a thin defensive firing line. This emphasized shock power, which he could employ to good effect when properly coordinated with the skirmishers and cavalry, to screen and confuse, and concentrate artillery fire.

Napoleon’s influence extended even into the Civil War, when innovations in technology made Napoleonic tactics dangerous. The transition from the smoothbore musket to the rifle increased the range and effectiveness of infantry fire. The enormous casualties inflicted in Civil War battles were in part due to the fact that officers tried to duplicate Napoleon’s use of massed formations and the tactical offensive that they had studied at West Point. They were slow to see that something had changed.

Time and again generals on both sides ordered close-order assaults in the traditional formation. With an effective range of three or four hundred yards, defenders firing rifles decimated these attacks. The old-fashioned cavalry charge against infantry, already obsolescent, became obsolete in the face of rifles that could knock down horses long before their riders got within saber or pistol range.143

World War I saw huge changes in the industrialization of war. European observers on American Civil War battlefields had seen how the industrialization of the North, combined with mass conscription and the ability of railroads to move troops quickly to the front lines, had overwhelmed the South by increasing the North’s ability to concentrate force quickly and massively. In addition, the Civil War illustrated to both American commanders and their European counterparts that industry is part of the organizational process of war, and that destruction of the opponent’s industry and his means to make war was a key element to victory on modern battlefields.144

These innovations, when applied in World War I, led to the vast slugging match on the Western Front. Both sides could mobilize huge masses of men to a front in which there was no room to maneuver and no flank to turn.145 To some degree this was dictated by being tied to railheads for supplies and reinforcements, and to some degree by the increased power of the developing weapons systems. As the British attackers found out at the battle of the Somme, the increased range and accuracy of rifles and machine guns—combined with artillery barrages and, at close quarters, flamethrowers—wreaked havoc on direct assaults that attempted to break the deadlock. The tank and airplane also began to play important roles as tactics adapted to fit these developing technologies.

Toward the end of the war, commanders like General Erich von Ludendorff began to use innovative tactics that took advantage of newly developed weapons systems and situations. The Germans in particular “selected and trained infantry troops as elite Sturmtruppen, storm troopers, soldiers who specialized in infiltration and conducting fast, hard-hitting attacks before moving on to their next target. They would mount a surprise assault after a short ‘hurricane’ bombardment and then move on as fast as possible into the opponent’s territory.”146 The brief, intense bombardment included gas and smoke shells that disrupted defense and obscured the assault. Stosstruppen, small teams equipped with light machine guns, flame throwers, and other weapons, moved in behind the barrage, which rolled toward the enemy. They were instructed to seep into any gaps or weaknesses they could find, to penetrate the enemy’s defenses, maintain momentum, and exploit openings that would widen the penetration and consolidate gains. Small battle groups known as Kampfgruppen, consisting of infantry, mortar teams, artillery observers, and machine gunners, would follow up to mop up centers of resistance or cave in exposed flanks.147

By necessity, these teams had to operate independently and take advantage of opportunities as they presented themselves. Boyd describes the effectiveness of such tactics: “Taken together, the captured attention, the obscured view, and the indistinct character of moving dispersed/irregular swarms deny the adversary the opportunity to picture what is taking place. Infiltration teams appear to suddenly loom up out of nowhere to blow through, around, and behind disoriented defenders.”148 These ideas were not new. In the Three Kingdoms period in China, many commanders, such as Cao Cao, employed specially trained “dare-to-die” shock troops to break through the enemy’s defenses.149 What was different were the specific tactical problems that needed to be overcome and their interaction with a weapons technology that was rapidly changing.

Although infiltration tactics were a mixed success—able to create gaps and drive the enemy back, but not in such a way as to lead to overall strategic success—these experiences helped lead to the development of the fabled blitzkrieg tactics employed on the Western Front in World War II. The German army surprised the world with the speed of their success, using the innovations of modern warfare in an unanticipated and innovative way.

The next step was to think about synchronizing tank action with the infantry, artillery, and the air force—a development made possible by the introduction of the radio. The Germans understood that it was the tank units that were the ones to be supported and for this to be possible the other arms had to move at the same speed. So were born the Panzer Grenadiers (armored infantry) and the other arms, artillery, and so forth, were also equipped to move in direct support of tanks.150

Blitzkrieg warfare effectively combined dive bomber aircraft, tanks, mobile infantry, and engineer divisions with parachute units to confuse and disrupt communications and to subject the unprepared enemy to unrelenting and furious fast assault, exploiting new weapons, tactics, and strategy to the fullest. Rommel used the combined arms tactics of the blitzkrieg against the British armies in North Africa with great success. “The Desert Fox and his clear-thinking companions were skilled and well trained in combined-arms tactics. Since their panzers were in no way superior to some of the British tanks, they worked their tanks, anti-tank guns, artillery, and infantry in harness, so that none was without protection from the others.”151 The British, on the other hand, relied on modified World War I tank doctrines that were outdated.

The German officers in the Second World War were better able to embrace the new technology and the mindset necessary to apply it than were their contemporaries in other countries, who still envisioned set piece battles or relied on fortress strategies. Between World Wars I and II, the German army was transformed into a professional conscript army. Great stress was placed on the rigorous training and selection of officers and NCOs. The training was long, arduous and merit-based; candidates had to display initiative, decisiveness, a talent for improvisation, and a willingness to work hard and shoulder responsibility.152 Training informed doctrine and vice-versa in an endless cycle. Attention was given to field exercises in all forms of modern warfare, which were carefully observed and analyzed. General staff candidates rotated between field commands and headquarters staff positions, keeping them from becoming too complacent and theoretical. This kind of training, conducted at all levels, from headquarters staff officers to non-commissioned officers, created a shared doctrine and experience that inspired creativity, problem solving, and flexibility. A British officer observed that the German officers were “far quicker to adapt themselves to the changed conditions of war and to the emergencies of the situation” than their British, French, or Russian counterparts.153

Napoleon’s revolution in warfare was unique for its time and perhaps for all time. The innovations that took place in the French army tactics and larger strategic approach were, to a large extent, born out of the French Revolution, the Napoleonic code, and Napoleon’s personal genius. His ability to command, inspire troops, and control the battlefield, combined with the abilities of the French army, could not readily be duplicated by other nations or commanders. Even his nemesis, the Duke of Wellington, acknowledged that “Napoleon’s presence on the battlefield was worth 40,000 men.”154

If the Grande Armee and Napoleonic warfare were a unique entity born out of the French revolution and the genius of Napoleon, one could say that Greek hoplite warfare was a product of the Greek city-state and an ethos that pervaded Greek life, culture, and politics.155 Greek hoplite battles were struggles between small landholders who by mutual consent sought to limit warfare (and hence killing) to a single, brief nightmarish occasion.156 The terrifying clash of phalanxes on an open plain—composed of men locked into tightly packed formations—with its shared risk and its dependence on group cohesion also provided an ultimate, almost Homeric, test of individual courage.

The legendary English longbow made famous at the battles of Crecy and Agincourt was a weapon unique to the English foot soldier. Previously the crossbow had been the auxiliary weapon of knights and foot soldiers. Richard Coeur de Lion wading through the surf, leading the attack to relieve the siege of Jaffa with a crossbow on his shoulder, is an enduring image of this earlier period. The longbow seems to have developed among the South Welsh. It had an advantage over the crossbow in its astonishing rate of fire, and it rivaled, if not surpassed it, in penetrating power: “A knight of William de Braose received an arrow, which first went through the skirts of his mail shirt, then through his mail breeches, then through his thigh, then through the wood of his saddle, and finally penetrated far into his horse’s flank.”157 Although in use earlier, the longbow came to the fore in the thirteenth century during the Welsh wars of Edward I. Edward had discovered the effectiveness of combined arms, using cavalry and infantry armed with missile weapons. At Agincourt, archers made up five-sixths of the English army.158 The English knights dismounted and the archers wreaked havoc among the French knights.

The use of the longbow was not an easily acquired skill. It seems to have been peculiar to certain groups from the English countryside, and the high level of skill necessary to use such a weapon required that the archer literally grow up hunting with his bow. This is not dissimilar to the abilities of the horse peoples from the Eastern steppes, such as the Huns and the Mongols. Their abilities as horse archers and their unique method of warfare could no more be duplicated by the English bowman than they could duplicate his. Innovation is one thing; being able to employ it and capitalize on it is another. These abilities are to some degree a product of one’s orientation, which Boyd defines as “an interactive process of many-sided implicit cross-referencing, projections, empathies, correlations, and rejections that is shaped by and shapes the interplay of genetic heritage, cultural tradition, previous experiences, and unfolding circumstances.”159

Similarly in the internal martial arts, each person’s ability to use and employ any learned set of principles is shaped by their orientation as described by Boyd. In Ba Gua Zhang, different teachers emphasize, innovate, and teach things differently, based on their background in other martial arts, their size and body type, temperament, strengths and weaknesses, their cultural heritage, the environment they grew up in, and their unique life experiences. No two people will do things the same way, or look exactly the same in their performance and application. Larger people will do things differently than smaller people, and tactics and overall strategy will, to some degree, be dictated by what has worked in the past and what has not—and to take it a step further, what has worked against whom, and in what particular circumstance. One person’s strengths cannot necessarily be duplicated by another, but they can be overcome by judicious application of other tactics and other skills, by the limitations and advantages of terrain and weather, by the ability to adapt and change with the changing circumstances. Therefore, it is necessary to go beyond the external form and beyond the assimilation of specific skills. Attempting to assimilate too many skills can be debilitating, as it creates a difficulty in integration of skills at the unconscious level.

Martin van Creveld points out a version of this problem vis-à-vis the Germans in the Second World War:

It has been argued that almost every weapons system deployed from 1945 to 1991, including in particular, certain kinds of submarines and many kinds of missiles, was already on the German drawing boards in 1944–45. However in some ways, this very inventiveness worked against them. It resulted in a very large number of different types, models, and versions of weapons, which in turn led to frequent changes, disrupted production schedules, and endless maintenance problems; at the end of 1941, Army Group Center, fighting in front of Moscow, needed a million different spare parts.160

In Vietnam, the American forces had the stronger force, more firepower, greater strength. Yet despite this advantage and the use of the most modern weaponry available, they could not overpower the Vietnamese. Numbers, firepower, technology, and industrial power do not necessarily equate to the capacity of a military force to use them effectively.

There is no absolute measure of the strength or power of a force. First, because even with advanced technology, it is ultimately human: real people operate all the platforms, systems, and weapons and real people direct them. A force is therefore an organic unit with a body, a mind, and a will. You can count soldiers, weapons, and equipment, but that will give you only an idea of the potential power of a force, not of its true capability.161

Part of America’s lack of capability in applying force in Vietnam was its inability to interactively shape its tactics and its political, military, and national strategies in relation to those of the North Vietnamese. Throughout the conflict, the United States essentially fought a high-tech, conventional war against an opponent who refused to play the game. To make an analogy with martial arts, different styles of martial arts promise different results and skill sets, yet they are only as good as the person using them. Additionally, even if one is skilled, if one’s abilities cannot be employed effectively in relation to the opponent, who has his own unique skills and perspective, then greater power and speed or superior technique will not necessarily guarantee victory. It is not uncommon for an untrained fighter with good instincts to upset the trained fighter’s game, particularly if he refuses to “play by the rules.” Chinese strategists state this succinctly: “If you use the same battle formation every time, you will not win victory. Only when you use different battle formations in different circumstances will you be able to defeat the enemy.”162

Similar problems have occurred in Iraq. The Iraq War of 2003 was an easy initial victory for the American forces. The Iraqi weapons were outdated and their forces no match for the better trained and better equipped American forces in open battle. The Iraqis made the mistake of directly engaging the United States in a high-tech, conventional war. Although the U.S. forces were initially “victorious,” soon insurgents armed with light weapons were attacking, with everything from assault rifles to mortars, rocket launchers, and homemade bombs. In this type of warfare the heavy weapons of the Americans (i.e., tanks, armored personnel carriers, helicopter gunships, aircraft, and radio-controlled drones) were not so effective. American reliance on technology often leaves troops vulnerable to an opponent whose dispositions are not subject to being identified and targeted. In an interesting turnabout, technology has also been used against its creators. Taking a page from Che Guevara, who advocated that the guerrilla use the same ammunition as the enemy in order to let them provide him with ammunition, the Iraqis and other insurgents have learned to use American ordinance against American troops. “Associated with every bombardment is unexploded ordinance. Those bombs and shells can easily be booby trapped or otherwise returned to sender. Over the years, America’s adversaries have never suffered from a shortage of explosives.”163

During the Iraq War, American military officials noticed that the increase in equipment and the heavy body armor, which limit movement, took a toll on combat troops. Increasingly they were being sidelined by injuries such as stress fractures or overuse injuries of the back, legs, and feet. Additionally, the more lightly equipped enemy was more maneuverable and able to evade the overloaded American troops.164 This kind of problem has led some experts to call for a change in tactics and equipment—returning to the use of light infantry as a component in American ground forces. The role of light infantry has not substantially changed since Napoleonic times. Even today, they are needed to effect surprise attacks, screen maneuvers of tanks and artillery, and engage in the attack and ambush techniques which are a part of infiltration tactics.165

New technologies can often be creatively adapted to more traditional tactics with great success. Soviet tactics in Afghanistan had begun to be successful when the focus changed to the use of air power combined with mobile helicopter–supported operations aimed at interdicting the supply routes and support structure of the Mujahedeen. The Afghan rebels liked to bait traps in narrow valleys for Soviet aircraft. As the Russian planes swooped in, they received plunging anti-aircraft or heavy machine-gun fire from both sides of the gorge.166 The effectiveness of these kinds of ambushes greatly increased in 1986, when the Afghanis were supplied with Stinger surface-to-air missiles produced by the United States. By 1987 the Soviet forces were losing one and a half aircraft a day, greatly reducing the effectiveness of their operations, which had become centered around the use of helicopters.167 Stinger missiles also forced Soviet combat aircraft to fly much higher, interfering with their ground support role to the extent that ground troops derisively referred to the pilots as “cosmonauts.”168 The end result was that the Soviet army could no longer use the tactics that had been effective, nor could they resupply outposts that had been cut off from ground reinforcement. This meant they began to lose control of sections of the country that had previously been denied to the rebels.

Similarly, tactical innovation can be created out of the need to adapt to unique circumstances or unexpected obstacles. American troops in Normandy during World War II encountered hedgerows planted by Celtic farmers that could be as much as ten feet thick. This bocage country created a dangerous series of deathtraps for American troops. Tanks could not penetrate them, and if they tried to ride over them, they exposed their vulnerable underbellies to anti-tank weapons. The Germans fortified the hedgerows, the farmhouses, and the narrow lanes that connected them. Under machine-gun fire, American troops were forced to take cover behind hedgerows, hiding places that had been previously targeted for German artillery and mortar attacks. Eventually the Americans devised a kind of infiltration strategy reminiscent of World War I trench warfare. By using “hedgedozers,” tanks that had been outfitted with bulldozer blades, the American troops found they could create holes in the hedgerows. Combat engineers would also widen the gap or create new gaps with explosives that tanks could enter, supported by infantry. This combination of infantry and armor would drive back the German machine-gun and anti-tank units into positions that could be hit with mortar fire.

Innovation in warfare inevitably leads to countermeasures. The more successful the innovation, the more the enemy will develop countermeasures against it. In the late fifteenth century, when the French battered down medieval Italian fortresses using siege cannon, they ushered in a new era of fortress building. Italian engineers responded by developing new kinds of fortresses, which were modified in subsequent centuries.169 During the reign of Louis XIV in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, these new fortifications reached what was perhaps their peak of development with Sebastian Le Prestre de Vauban, whose impressive fortresses can still be seen in France today. The main enclosure of the fortress became a polygon with star-shaped projecting bastions that subjected attackers to a crossfire. Ditches and a glacis (an outer, downward-sloping rampart) were added. Each part of the main enclosure was protected by flanking strong points, which were within musket range of each other, so that each part was protected by another part, with the whole structure adapted to the surrounding terrain. This created a “defense in depth.”170 With these improvements in defense also came innovations in siege-craft. Vauban used temporary fortifications, parallel interlocking trench systems, and earthworks to protect advancing troops as they patiently dug and tunneled under the walls, while bringing up siege guns and other equipment within close range of the fortifications.

Martial arts have undergone similar adaptation, innovation, and counter-innovation. Military arts become modified and are employed for self-development and self-protection in times of peace. Grappling methods are used to counter striking methods and vice versa. Weapons and defenses against weapons change according to the time, place, and culture. Traditional schools of martial arts in Japan taught methods specific to fighting armored opponents with swords, while in the Philippines many of the knife defenses taught by Eskrima practitioners in Cebu in the 1980s were designed specifically to counter the types of street attacks that were common at that time.

Information operations are part of the growing technology of warfare. These operations can range from computer hacking to computer viruses that jam or destroy enemy information systems. Using information technology, one can gain an advantage by exploiting information more quickly and simultaneously denying the enemy access to information. As with any technology, overreliance creates its own problems. Its very strength can also be its weakness, as information can also be disrupted or corrupted by enemy computers. “It has been suggested that the increase in information combined with the paralyzing effect of ‘information overload’ may actually increase the ‘fog of war’ rather than clarify combat decision making.”171

In martial arts there exists a similar problem. Too many technologies—techniques, methods, styles—are difficult to integrate into the body’s automatic responses. On the other hand, overreliance on one set of skills impairs one’s ability to adapt and allows the opponent to develop specific and effective countermeasures. In the following passage, the famous Xing Yi boxer Guo Yun-shen sums up the problems of overreliance on one technology or one sphere of ability and knowledge:

It is necessary not to be stubborn in training the boxing skills. If strength is sought on purpose, it can be restricted by strength. If qi is sought on purpose, it can be restricted by qi. If heavy ability is sought on purpose, it can be restricted by heavy ability. If light and floating ability is sought on purpose, it can be dispersed by light and floating ability. Therefore, in those with smooth training forms, strength can take place naturally. In those with harmony in the interior, qi can generate itself and the spiritual intention can return to the Dantian area and the body can be as heavy as Mt. Taishan. In those who could transform the spirit into voidness, their body can be as light as a piece of feather naturally. Conclusively, it is necessary not to seek it on purpose. If something can be obtained in seeking them, it seems to exist but not exist and seem to be true, but is false. It is necessary to obtain them by unhurried and steady steps, without forgetting and assisting them, without thinking and over-management of them.172

Belisarius: A Study in Strategy

The campaigns of Belisarius, a commander in the Byzantine army under the Emperor Justinian, who reconquered Africa, Southern Spain, and Italy, provide some of the greatest examples of the tactics described above. The success of these campaigns was achieved through the tactical and strategic genius of Belisarius. In the words of Liddell Hart:

That achievement, associated mainly with the name of Belisarius, is the more remarkable because of two features—first, the extraordinarily slender resources with which Belisarius undertook these far-reaching campaigns; second, his consistent use of the tactical defensive. There is no parallel in history for such a series of conquests by abstention from attack.173

In one of his early campaigns, Belisarius defended Daras, an important frontier fortress, against a Persian army double the size of his own. To prevent the siege from taking place, Belisarius placed his army outside the walls of the fortress. The center, composed of his weaker infantry, was drawn back or “refused” with a small ditch in front of them, while the cavalry wings were placed forward. Hunnish cavalry guarded the flanks of the infantry, and Belisarius and his personal bodyguards of cavalry were behind them. Finally, a small body of cavalry hid behind a hill that anchored the left flank. The Persians encountered the wings first and drove back the Roman left wing, only to have the hidden cavalry fall on their rear while the Hunnish cavalry charged their flank. On the Roman right, the Persians, led by the crack shock troops known as the “Immortals,” drove the Roman cavalry back to the walls of the city. This initial victory separated the Persians from their center, allowing Belisarius to insert his reserve of Hunnish cavalry into the gap. These were followed by the Huns from the left flank, and finally by Belisarius and his bodyguard unit. This broke the Persian left and allowed Belisarius’s troops to converge on the Persian center, which collapsed and was decimated.174

In AD 535, after the fall of the Roman Empire in the West, Justinian attempted the re-conquest of Italy, which was then held by the Goths. Belisarius entered Italy after having subdued the Vandals in Northern Africa. As the Goths were busy fighting the Franks, they left Rome lightly defended, allowing Belisarius to easily recapture it. By the time the Goths returned with an army exceeding one hundred thousand men, Belisarius’s much smaller army of ten thousand had greatly improved the city’s defenses and laid in large stores of food. Early on in the siege, the Goths conducted a general attack on the fortifications. Their siege towers were rendered useless when Belisarius ordered his men to shoot at the oxen pulling them. After that, the battle raged throughout the day as the Goths attacked the city at several points. At the end of the day, the Goths, repulsed on all sides, had lost thirty thousand men. “Amidst tumult and dismay, the whole plan of attack and defense was distinctly present to his [Belisarius’s] mind; he observed the changes of each instant, observed every possible advantage, transported his person to the scenes of danger, and communicated his spirit in calm and decisive orders.”175

Following these initial assaults, the siege settled into a blockade, and Belisarius conducted an active defense, using his highly mobile cavalry units to harass the Gothic troops, leading them into blind attacks that cost them many casualties. This, combined with disease, gradually reduced the numbers of the besiegers. Belisarius then initiated far-ranging cavalry raids that cut the Goths’ supply lines and disrupted their communications, a tactic so effective that eventually they were forced to abandon the siege.

Even as his opponents abandoned the siege, Belisarius took advantage of the situation to strike a final blow. He waited until half of the Gothic army had crossed over the Tiber via the Milvian Bridge. Then his troops sallied out and attacked their rear.

As Belisarius expected, the passage of the Milvian bridge soon became encumbered by the runaways from one bank, and the reinforcements from the other, and great numbers were precipitated into the Tiber, whence the weight of their armor prevented them from rising. Thus the troops on the opposite shore could yield but little assistance to their comrades. The victory of Belisarius was complete; a large share of the Gothic rear was cut to pieces.176

Belisarius was a master of deception, using a variety of tactics to confuse and dishearten enemy commanders. In campaigning against the Persians, who were attempting to capture Jerusalem with an army of two hundred thousand, Belisarius, rather than directly blocking their advance, chose a more indirect strategy. He led a small force of hand-picked troops into a town left behind by the Persians during their march, effectively blocking their return to Persia and interrupting the Persian line of communications. This caused Nushirvan, the Persian commander, to have misgivings about Belisarius’s true strength and intentions. He stopped the Persian advance and sent an envoy to Belisarius’s camp, ostensibly on a diplomatic mission, but actually to spy on Belisarius’s numbers and dispositions. In a strategy reminiscent of Zhuge Liang’s Empty City Ploy (see Appendix III: The Thirty-Six Stratagems: number 32), Belisarius advanced a large part of his army a distance from his camp. They pretended to be a small detachment that was ranging ahead of the main force. The Persian envoy closely observed this body of the largest and fiercest-looking warriors relaxing, engaged in hunting, their weapons laid aside and their attention focused only on the chase. Meanwhile, Belisarius kept his other troops in constant movement in the distance, spreading them out to create an appearance of large numbers. The lighthearted attitude of Belisarius and his “detachment,” combined with the sight of squadrons of cavalry of unknown numbers conducting maneuvers in the distance, convinced the envoy that he had encountered only the outermost forces of a vast army.177 Upon receiving the envoy’s report, the Persian commander ordered his forces to retreat back into Mesopotamia.

In other campaigns Belisarius had his men light a far-reaching chain of campfires at night, to give the enemy the impression that they had encountered a large force. During the day, he achieved the same effect by producing artificial clouds of dust, convincing them that a large force was on the move. In Chinese military strategy this is known as the cicada sloughs its skin (also the name of a movement in the Ba Gua). From a distance the newly sloughed skin of the cicada looks exactly like the cicada itself, deceiving the enemy as to the actual position and disposition of the cicada.178

During his second foray against the Goths in Italy, Belisarius used pretend deserters, who joined the Goths so they could report on their dispositions. When the Gothic commander Totila blocked the Tiber by constructing a massive bridge and fortress manned by crack troops, these false deserters reported the exact position and measurements of the bulwarks. Belisarius then lashed two large boats together and constructed a tower higher than the ramparts of Totila’s fortress, which was adequately protected from missile fire and could fire combustibles onto the wooden ramparts.179 In his recapture of Rome, he sent in another false deserter to convince the genuine deserters who had joined Totila’s garrison to rebel and deliver the city to Belisarius. This led to a very costly siege attempt by the Goths after Belisarius had once again repaired the ruined walls and gates. In the final engagement, the Gothic troops were routed and forced to retreat to Tivoli.

Without fighting a single major engagement, with an army of less than ten thousand men, Belisarius, through maneuver, negotiation, ruses, and strategic vision, took city after city and broke the power of the Goths in Italy. Keeping his forces on the move, he retook many cities from the Goths. Far-ranging units of his army threatened multiple objectives while cutting communications and supplies. In this way he could press the Goths closely, while simultaneously baffling their stratagems. He took Naples by having a small body of men enter the city through an aqueduct, while the main force attacked the walls. He besieged Ravenna, eventually taking it by allowing the Goths to believe he would ally with them against Justinian. When his army finally entered the city, the much more numerous Goths could not believe that they had been defeated by such a small force.

When asked by contemporaries about his successes against much more numerous opponents, Belisarius said “in the first small skirmishes with the Goths I was always on the lookout to discover what were the strong and weak points in their tactics, in order to accommodate my own to them, so as best to make up for my numerical inferiority.”180 He found that the Gothic heavy cavalry was only effective in close combat and was thus vulnerable to missile fire. The Byzantine heavy cavalry, the cataphractoi, could match the shock power of the Gothic horseman, but in addition were skilled archers who could keep out of reach and rain arrows upon the Goths. The Gothic foot archers, in turn, could not risk being caught in the open by the Byzantine cavalry, and so tended to be cautious. “The effect is that the Gothic cavalry were always trying to get to close quarters, and could be easily galled into an ill-timed charge, whereas the infantry tended to hang back when the shielding cavalry got far ahead—so that the combination broke down, while a gap was created into which flank counterstrokes could be driven.”181

This weakness in the Gothic forces was repeatedly exploited by Belisarius. When the city and harbor of Portus on the Tiber was captured by the Goths, it was much harder for Belisarius to get supplies from the sea to Rome. He had his cavalry attack the Gothic camp at Portus, instructing them to maintain distance and fire arrows until all their arrows had been discharged, and then retreat. As expected, after suffering many losses the Goths charged after the retreating Romans, who drew the Goths within missile range of their fortifications. Many Goths were killed in this manner. Belisarius was able to use similar maneuvers several times, which weakened both the enemy’s forces and their morale.182

In campaign after campaign, Belisarius triumphed against much larger forces by understanding the enemy’s tactics, his strengths and weaknesses, as well as his psychology. Belisarius’s only defeat occurred early in his career, against the Persians in Syria, when his troops talked him into directly attacking a retreating enemy he had already successfully outmaneuvered. The Persians retreated toward home, shadowed by Belisarius, who camped each night in the area occupied by the Persians the night before. The Roman troops and officers under Belisarius, eager for glory, urged him to attack the Persians directly. His response:

The most complete and most happy victory is to baffle the force of an enemy without impairing our own, and in this favorable situation we are already placed. . . . Deprived of refuge in case of defeat, the Persians will fight with all the courage of despair, whilst we, enfeebled by a rigorous fast, wearied with rapid marches, and having by our speed outstripped several of our slower battalions, must enter the field with diminished strength and unequal chances of success.183

In the end, he agreed to the demands of his troops. The Roman attack caused the Persians to fight tenaciously, defeating Belisarius’s forces. Chinese strategists also realized that closing in on a weakened enemy who has nothing to lose stiffens his resistance. They echo Belisarius when they advise generals to leave at large, the better to capture: “Close in upon the almost defeated enemy and it will strike back. Let it go and its position will weaken. Follow it closely, but do not press it too hard. Fritter away its strength and sap its will. After it has scattered, subdue it without staining the swords with blood.”184

In subsequent campaigns, Belisarius consistently employed Ba Gua–like methods. Rather than engaging the enemy directly, he used flexible tactics with multiple objectives that were adaptable to the changing circumstances, in order to dislocate the enemy’s ability to concentrate his larger forces against him. Once the enemy’s forces were disrupted and overextended, Belisarius could then strike him at his weakest point. “Belisarius demonstrated that numbers don’t count as much as resolve, toughness, and vision. His battlefield heroics demonstrate to the student of war that tactical durability is the sine qua non of small force theory. Small, well-trained, highly mobile units, confident in their equipment, are the components of fighting outnumbered and winning.”185

Even as an old man Belisarius was a formidable commander. In 559 AD, against the invading Bulgarians, he was brought out of retirement to meet a force of seven thousand with a few hundred men and a mass of untried peasants armed with stakes. He concealed his veteran cavalry in the woods nearby, on either side of a narrow defile through which the Bulgarians would have to pass in order to attack what appeared to be his main force, the mass of peasants who brandished the stakes as though they were weapons. When the Bulgarians attacked, the concealed troops fell on their flank and rear, routing them without the loss of a single life.186

Belisarius is the most famous of a number of very skilled military commanders of the Eastern Roman Empire. His successor, Narses, also defeated the Goths in Italy, where Belisarius had in the end failed—although Narses was better supplied and had the Emperor Justinian’s favor. George Dennis, in his translation of Maurice’s Strategikon, a Byzantine book on strategy attributed to the Emperor Maurice in the late sixth century, points out that the Byzantine generals were professionals who made a serious study of the art of war, who knew their enemy’s tactics and methods, and who were expected to succeed through intelligence, foresight, and planning rather than force of arms alone. The Strategikon echoes the Sunzi in the advice it offers Byzantine commanders: “A good general is one who utilizes his own skills to fit the opportunities he gets and the quality of the enemy.”187 And, “The best leader is one who does not willingly engage in a hazardous and highly uncertain battle, and refrains from emulating those who carry out operations recklessly and are admired for their brilliant success, but one who, while keeping the enemy on the move, remains secure and always in circumstances of his own choosing.”188

The Analogy of Water

It is useful to understand that the ideal of military strategy in China, and by extension the tactics of Ba Gua Zhang, is to be like water. Water cannot be grasped, yet it is powerful; it has no form, yet can take the shape of a container. Water is flexible, adaptable, always changing and flowing. When one attempts to block it, it flows around the obstacle, never confronting it head-on. Water does not move in straight lines but rushes, spirals, and eddies unpredictably. It is substantial, yet when one attempts to grasp it, it slips away. Water is soft and yielding, yet it is powerful, like a pounding wave containing a heavy mass of water that can exert tremendous force.

Water shapes its current

from the lie of the land.

The warrior shapes his victory

from the dynamic of the enemy.

Water has no

Constant dynamic;

Water has no

Constant Form

Supreme military skill lies

In deriving victory

From the changing circumstances

Of the enemy.189

François Jullien writes:

True strength is definitely characterized by the fact that it is not forced. Chinese thought never tires of this theme: it is the nature of water to flow downward; and the reason why it can even carry stones along with it is that it is content to follow the slope offered it. “The conformation of troops must resemble water. Just as it is in the conformation of water to avoid what is high and incline toward that which is low, similarly, the conformation of troops must be to avoid the points at which the enemy is strong and attack it where it is weak.” The strong points are where the enemy is full and may act as a barrage [dam]; the weak points are where the enemy is empty—deficient or unprepared. The general, like water, steers clear of obstacles and insinuates himself wherever the way before him is free; like water, he always sticks closely to the line of least resistance and at every moment seeks out where it is easiest to proceed.190 

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