The Art of War is a work written more than 2,000 years ago. It is attributed to Sun Tzu (Chinese military strategist, general, philosopher, and writer), and is about various aspects of military warfare. The work presents the basic principles of warfare and provides advice on how and when to fight. A mixture of the pragmatic and the poetic, Sun Tzu’s teachings can be applied to many situations in life because they’re focused on finding the easiest way to achieve a goal. Lessons from The Art of War extend beyond the field of battle and can be applied to everything from habit formation to goal setting to business growth.
However, an Aikido master from the 20th century brought us The Art of Peace. Morihei Ueshiba was an invincible warrior, but as a man of peace – he detested any kind of violence. He believed that what the world needs are not techniques of competition but those of harmony.
How different are these two philosophies? Can people utilize both for the better? How do you choose the art you want to master?
The Art of War
“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”
The Art of War primarily focuses on military strategy, but despite that, it also offers insights on preventing unnecessary conflicts, leadership, strategic thinking, and even wisdom on life itself. The book was first translated in the 20th century, and it gained massive popularity in the 2000s when people started applying it to business and life in general. The book is divided into thirteen chapters dealing with planning, waging war, tactical dispositions, maneuvering, weak and strong points, energy, attack by stratagem, the use of spies, attack by fire, and other tactics. Proper planning and preparation with the aim of defeating an enemy is the gist of Sun Tzu’s thinking.
According to The Art of War, one should always assume an adversarial, hostile, and competitive world. Next, one assumes that happiness and survival are dependent upon winning. Ultimately, the paramount goal is to defeat the enemy. These are all themes and assumptions that underlie the philosophy of today’s business people.
Early in the book, Sun Tzu explains that the Tao is an essential tool in war because it means inducing the people to have the same goal as the leaders. They need to share life and death without fear of danger, so he endows a philosophical and religious concept with a dose of common sense, practicality, and psychology. A polytheist religion, Taoism doesn’t say people should worship the Gods, but rather see them as explanations of things that are inexplicable. Tao is typically translated as “The Way” and is a religion of complementarities and unity – the principle of the universe to which everything is connected.
“Troops that bring the enemy to heel without fighting at all – that is ideal.”
Taoism is about Yin and Yang, action and inaction, light and dark, high and low, hot and cold – it is about balance. It promotes meditation, self-development, virtue, and harmony with nature to bring humans closer to unity with the Tao. For Sun Tzu, the best military strategy is the one that brings victory without engaging in a fight. What is as true today as it was 2,500 years ago is the necessity to understand the enemy and his strengths, weaknesses, dispositions, and plans.
The Art of Peace
“The Art of Peace is medicine for a sick world. There is evil and disorder in the world because people have forgotten that all things emanate from one Source.”
Aikido is a Japanese martial art that Morihei Ueshiba developed as a synthesis of his spiritual beliefs, philosophy, and martial studies. Aikido is translated as the way of harmonious spirit or the way of unifying life energy. Ueshiba was against any violence, fighting, or war, which seems at odds with being a warrior. He promoted defensive engagement because he understood that continued fighting with the environment, ourselves, and others is what will ultimately destroy the world.
As a master of Aikido, he was able to pin an opponent with just a finger and bring down any number of armed attackers. Despite that, he abhorred fighting, violence, and war. Taught as a practical way to handle external attacks and aggression and as a philosophy to creatively deal with life, Ueshiba developed Aikido as a creative, mind-body discipline. His teachings are applied to the physical martial art and teach us how to live in harmony with the world. Commenting on Sun Tzu, Ueshiba stated that the way of the warrior has been misunderstood. People (especially those who seek competition) falsely believe that it serves as a means to destroy or kill others. They are making a huge mistake because to destroy or injure is the worst sin one can commit. Preventing slaughter is the real way of a warrior – that is the power of love, the Art of Peace.
Sun Tzu accepted the inevitability of war and emphasized manipulation and cunning strategies as a way to victory. Ueshiba, however, believed that continued fighting was disastrous. He taught Aikido as a means of handling that aggression – a way of life that fosters friendship, love, wisdom, and fearlessness. Every person can become a warrior for peace, and Ueshiba strongly believed that.
Entering (irimi) into the attack with spirit, mind, and body and unbalancing the attacker with spiral movements is the strategy of Aikido. It is accomplished through the interaction of passive and active forces (Yin and Yang) that are put into practice with different offensive and defensive moves to neutralize the attack. The Aikido practitioner has a choice to either save or destroy life. Though it gives options to its practitioners and has the ability to be lethal, its purpose is to stop or neutralize the danger. To be able to do it, an Aikido practitioner must develop the ability to trust and have courage, confidence, and control.
- 合 – ai – joining, unifying, combining, fitting
- 気 – ki – spirit, energy, mood, morale
- 道 – dō – way, path
Shobu (wisdom) is a concept central to Aikido’s philosophy. Wisdom comes from trusting, understanding, and seeing yourself clearly, and one will never be able to control others for one’s own protection without this awareness. The purpose of Aikido is to improve people’s lives by making them stronger and their spirit blossom.
It seems that modern people have two principles to choose from. The Art of War is the older model that perceives the world as a competitive place where one may rise to success by employing strategies designed to defeat their opponents. The ultimate concept of Sun Tzu’s work is winning without fighting and winning the easiest battles first. His lessons can help you build new habits and prepare you for achieving big goals. On the other hand, there’s Ueshiba’s Aikido philosophy of the art of peace, which doesn’t rely on brute force or weapons, but promotes putting oneself in tune with the universe, nurturing life, maintaining peace, and serving to the power of love to create a world of prosperity, abundance, and enlightenment.
Whether you embrace the first or the latter (or possibly a combination of both) for your life, family, community, or organization, it can be a life-changing experience.
World Happiness Agora is a worldwide online-offline forum of activists and experts on happiness and wellbeing. Each year, thousands of people gather to discuss ways of realizing a world with more love, empathy, compassion, and awareness, leading to self-realization.