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The Art of War
Sun Tzu

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Nine Grounds

CHAPTER SUMMARY (11.01-11.72): Examining More Grounds, Unifying The Troops
The "Nine Grounds" of the title can be taken to mean "nine additional grounds" among many more possible ones. At the start, the chapter actually names nine more grounds (dispersive, marginal, contentious, open, intersecting, critical, difficult, surrounded, and deadly); later, it names a tenth (isolated ground). Sun Tzu advises generals on how to adapt their strategy to a particular ground and speaks of unifying one's troops—for a related reason: The unity that a general establishes (or the disunity that general creates by disrupting troops on the enemy's side) bears greatly on an army's success on a particular type of ground. Beyond unifying the troops, a general needs to consolidate the nation's allies and strive to win over allies from the enemy's side. The discussion moves to plundering the enemy to conserve the resources of one's own army and to cloaking its movements (being "formless"). Returning to calculations, the advice is to forbid omens and soothsayers among the troops and to rely on strategic planning instead. At the end, the talk turns to the attributes of a superior general, a leader who unifies the troops and propels them forward. The general is morally upright, disciplined, strategic, flexible, and distant or secretive to a degree.


[11.01] The principles of warfare are: There are dispersive ground,* marginal ground, contentious ground, open ground, intersecting ground, critical ground, difficult ground, surrounded ground, and deadly ground.

[11.02] Where the rulers do battle in their own ground, this is called dispersive ground. Where one enters the other's ground but not deep, this is called marginal ground. Where it is advantageous if you occupy it and it is advantageous if the enemy occupies it, this is called contentious ground. Where one can come and go, this is called open ground. 

[11.03] Where ground is surrounded by others, and the first one to reach it will gain the support of the masses, this is called intersecting ground. Where one enters deep into enemy ground, with many walled cities and towns to his back, this is called critical ground. Where there are mountains and forests, defiles and ravines, swamps and wetlands, and places difficult to pass, this is called difficult ground. 

[11.04] Where the entrance is narrow, the exit circuitous, allowing the enemy to attack his few to our many,* this is called surrounded ground. Where if one who does battle with full force survives,* and one who does not do battle with full force perishes, this is called deadly ground. 

[11.05] Therefore, on dispersive ground, do not do battle.

[11.06] On marginal ground, do not stop [yourself; go all the way into enemy land]. 

[11.07] On contentious ground, do not attack. 

[11.08] On open ground, do not become separated. 

[11.09] On intersecting ground, form alliances. 

[11.10] On critical ground, plunder.

[11.11] On difficult ground, press on. 

[11.12] On surrounded ground, be prepared. 

[11.13] On deadly ground, do battle. 



11.01 dispersive ground.... The chapter begins with nine more types of ground:

Dispersive ground You/your officers fight among yourselves on your own ground.
Marginal ground You take half measures, enter only partly into enemy territory.
Contentious ground The two armies race to get the best area (e.g., sunny side of high ground).
Open ground Both you and the enemy are free to do as you want on this type of ground.
Intersecting ground Your troops are surrounded by possible allies, supporters.
Critical ground Your troops are deep into enemy territory.
Difficult ground The ground itself (swamps, forests, ravines) slows you down.
Surrounded ground It's difficult to enter and to exit the area.
Deadly ground Ground on which your troops must fight or perish/be annihilated.

11.04 attack his few to our many. The entrance is narrow, so few of his soldiers can attack at a time.
battle with full force survives. The ground is deadly—the full army must fight for it to survive.
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