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Clausewitz on combat


Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz (1780 – 1831) was a Prussian general and military theorist who stressed the psychological and political aspects of war. He was the spiritual father of the German army and one of the greatest writers about warfare; his most notable work being, Vom Kriege (On War). Clausewitz was a realist but, in some respects, a romantic, and he also drew heavily on the rationalist ideas of the European Enlightenment. The following paragraphs apply some of his principles of warfare to personal combat situations.

General principles

  • To prepare yourself for combat, think of the most dangerous situations you might ever get into and then think about how you would get out of them.
  • Have the probability of victory on your side and be calm and firm in your decisions.
  • Sometimes there is a choice between a reckless and a careful solution to a problem. Both have their place, but remember, to be great, sometimes you must be reckless. To survive, sometimes you must take a great risk.

Principles of combat

  • Always keep your guard up.
  • Do not bring all your best techniques into play at once. Hold back some techniques for reinforcement.
  • Do not become outflanked. Spread any additional help obliquely behind you to block an attack on your flanks.
  • Never remain passive. Do not entrench. Attack while the enemy attacks and put him or her on the defensive.
  • Withdraw to familiar territory to prepare for a counterattack.
  • Pursue attack with the greatest of energy. Pursue one great decisive aim with force and determination. Attack to finish an opponent, not to be nice to him or her.
  • Use of terrain
  • Use terrain to hamper your opponent's approach.
  • Use terrain to provide cover or to protect your flanks but leave an escape route.
  • Use of weapons
  • If you bring a weapon, then know how to use it and intend to use it.
  • Many well-directed shots are better than just one or two.
  • Use your most powerful weapons first, then use the weaker ones (not always the best strategy in a self-defense situation).
  • Never bring all your weapons into play at once.
  • Principles of offense
  • Keep all points of the aggressor under attack but, even if you are in control of the fight, only attack only one point with great force. Attack a point whose defeat will give you the greatest advantage.
  • Work around an opponent to cut off his or her line of retreat.
  • Keep up the attack until you achieve your purpose. Your chief aim is to drive the enemy from the field of battle.
  • Your best weapon is a surprise attack.
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