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Ancient strategies


Definitions. Stratagem and strategy are sometimes interchangeable, but they are usually not synonyms. The more common strategy is broader. Its main definitions are (1) a plan of action intended to accomplish a specific goal, and (2) the art or skill of using plans or stratagems, especially in war. Stratagem is sometimes synonymous with strategy in military contexts, but its primary definition is a clever scheme for achieving an objective, often by deceiving an enemy. So while strategy can denote any plan of action, stratagem usually implies subterfuge or unconventional tactics.

When training for sparring, most students strive to be the strongest and fastest fighter around. However, this level of training is difficult to maintain for long periods. Also, there is always someone stronger and faster, so this strategy is not always effective. Your fighting strategies should cover all contingencies.

Military history shows that battles are often won, not by the biggest or fastest army, but by the commander who has the best strategy. The best strategy is to have multiple strategies to deal with different circumstances. This is what Sun Tzu meant when he wrote: "Through the combination of direct and indirect attacks, countless strategies are conceived."

The following seven strategies are part of The Thirty-Six Stratagems, a Chinese essay used to illustrate a series of stratagems used in politics, war, and civil interaction. Its focus on the use of cunning and deception both on the battlefield and in court have drawn comparisons to Sun Tzu's The Art of War. These ancient stratagems, first published in the Ming dynasty, have long been a part of China's common folklore and are studied by both the military and the political elite. The following seven of the ancient military stratagems may easily apply to free-sparring strategies.

Seven of The Thirty-Six Stratagems

Stratagem 1

Use the same feint twice. Having reacted to the first and often the second as well, the enemy will be hesitant to react to a third feint. Therefore, the third feint is the actual attack catching your enemy with his guard down.
Do the unexpected. As the 16th-century Japanese sword master, Musashi, once wrote, "If the enemy expects fire, give him rain." Most combinations attack high-low-high-low or vice versa so opponents tend to expect this rhythm. Take advantage of this expectation and change the rhythm.

Stratagem 2

Never directly attack a well-entrenched opponent. Instead, lure him away from his stronghold and separate him from his source of strength.
When an opponent who is a counter attacker stays well-guarded and waits for your attack, you are foolish to attack directly; you will be walking into a trap. An opponent always exposes a target when attacking and an observant counter fighter can hit that target before the attacker is in position to do damage. This defensive strategy is difficult to penetrate, so you must entice the opponent into action by showing an obvious weakness in your false attack to see the opponent’s reaction. Then, when you launch your true attack, you know where the counter attacker is going to strike.

Stratagem 3

Encourage your enemy to expend his energy in futile quests, while you conserve your strength. When he is exhausted and confused, you attack with energy and purpose.
When facing an opponent who is confident and aggressive and seems to have lots of energy, the best method is to allow him or her to exhaust his or her energy, while you conserve your own. Once the opponent has exhausted his or her strength, you may move in quickly for the finish.

Stratagem 4

When you cannot detect the opponent's plans, you launch a direct, but brief, attack and observe your opponent's reaction. His behavior will reveal his strategy. A seasoned warrior knows this strategy well and will not reveal his true intentions. But the inexperienced, nervous of making a mistake, will over-react to feints and will thus reveal their intentions.
This strategy uses a feint to test the opponent's defenses. Quickly close the distance as though attacking, and then stop just out of range, and watch the opponent's reaction.

There are only three defensive strategies from which an opponent has to choose: intercept, jam and block, or evade and counter. In the intercept method, your strike gets to the opponent before the opponent’s strike gets to you. For example, you may jab on the inside of an opponent’s cross, deflecting the cross while still striking the opponent. This method is favored by the tall fighter with a long reach who may strike before the attacker is close enough to hit the fighter. The jam and block method is favored by the stocky, strong fighter who may stop all incoming attacks by jamming the attack or by blocking it. The evade and counter method is favored by the fragile, but agile, fighter who moves away from an attack and then jumps back in to score.

Each method has its strengths and weaknesses. Once you know which strategy your opponent favors, you simply employ its counter. When facing an intercept fighter, take away the reach advantage by staying in close. When facing a jam and block fighter, use feints. While blocking the feints, he or she will be left open to attack. When facing an evade and counter fighter, use confusion to slow his or her reaction.

Stratagem 5

When faced with an enemy too powerful to engage directly you must first weaken him by undermining his foundation and attacking his source of power.
Japan's famous swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi, calls this strategy "injuring the corners," and advises that "When you cannot risk coming in close to your opponent because of his strength or reach, then attack what is within your reach." The idea is to attack the attacker's hands, arms, or legs and wear the opponent down through multiple injuries. Use hard blocks that cause enough pain to cause your opponent to reconsider attacks.

Stratagem 6

Create an expectation in the enemy's mind through the use of a feint. If you plan to attack the right flank, maneuver your left. Where the enemy expects you to attack, he will reinforce. When he does so, half his army or more is thus neutralized defending nothing. Then, with your full strength, you attack his remaining forces.
Your first move, the feint, is not intended to score. Opening moves are usually easily detected and thus have little chance of scoring. However, while the opponent is reacting to the first attack, the second attack may score. 

Stratagem 7

Before engaging your enemy's forces, you create confusion to weaken his perception and judgment. Do something unusual, strange, and unexpected, this will arouse the enemy's suspicion and disrupt his thinking. A distracted enemy is thus more vulnerable.
Use distraction to upset the opponent's concentration. Use eye feint or misdirection to draw the opponent’s attention and then attack.

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