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Mental Discipline

Su, Xun 1 (1009-1066 CE)

    The first step for a man to become a general is to discipline his mind: Even if Tai Mountain collapses in front of him, his facial expression will not change; even if a deer jumps beside him, his eyes will not move. Then he can judge the consequences of actions and can confront enemies. Soldiers should respect a virtuous cause. They should not abandon their duty despite monetary temptation. Of course, failing one's duty one time due to poor training may not have a serious consequence in peace time. However, in the time of crisis, the general leading poorly trained troops will not know what to do. Only a virtuous cause may motivate a soldier's determination. The soldier, being motivated by a virtuous cause, may fight again and again.

    Consider the strategy for winning a war. During peace time, we should build the country's wealth. Immediately before a war, we should cultivate our strength. When the war begins, we should raise our spirits. After winning a war, we should preserve our troops' aspirations. To build wealth, we must keep our farmers free from worry by assuring them that beacon-fire 2 will be raised when an enemy invades and that we will carefully observe the enemy's deployment. To maintain the country's strength we must take good care of soldiers and reward their accomplishments generously. Aiming at a bigger target after a small victory and fighting more vigorously after a small defeat are the ways to raise our spirits. By not giving them the assignment that one most desires, we instill a hunger for more accomplishments. It is important to keep troops' fighting spirit high and prevent their desires from being fully satisfied. If one's fighting spirit is high, one will be brave. If one's desire is not satisfied, one will strive for more. This is the reason why Emperor Hwang-di's troops were neither weary of wars nor exhausted in strength, even after fighting seventy battles to unify China. If we do not keep our troops desirous of more accomplishment, they will lose their vigor after winning just a single war.

    A general must be wise and strict and his troops must obey his orders. Wisdom makes him unpredictable. Strictness deters his troops from violating his orders. Thus his troops will devote themselves to their duties. Only after soldiers are trained to obey orders can they die for a virtuous cause. Only after collecting intelligence about the enemy's commander and generals, may we risk ourselves by carrying out our attack plan. General Ai Deng 3 attacked King Chan Liu 4 by rappelling from a mountain top. Had King Chan Liu not been so foolish, he could have captured all General Deng's troops even if their numbers had exceeded a million. General Deng thought little of King Chan Liu, so he had the courage to make such a risky move. Thus, a wise general in the past used his troops to test his enemy, and used his enemy to test his own ability. When a crisis arose, he could make a wise decision based on his experiences.

    Consider the path to becoming a competent general. Only after teaching his troops to understand the virtuous cause may he ask them to obey his orders. Only after studying the enemy's situation may he initiate an attack. Only after understanding the benefit of temperance, may he use his army to its maximum strength. Soldiers with the knowledge that justice is on their side are fearless. If the general understands the enemy's situation, he will not get frustrated with uncertainty. If he can set limits to expenditures, his resources are endless. When the general sees a small prize, he will not rashly grab it. When he must suffer a small loss, he will not try to avoid it. He understands that small prizes and small losses are not sufficient to test his skills. By ignoring trivialities, the general will gain the opportunity to win grand prizes and deal with more significant problems. Only those who cultivate their skills and respect themselves are invincible. That is, wise endurance may surpass a hundred acts of bravery. Staying quiet at the right moment may prevent a hundred attacks. Any army force has its strong and weak points. In this respect, the enemy force and our force can be considered equal. Someone asked me, "We love to show and use our strength, but the enemy does not want to fight in that way. We try to hide and avoid using our weakness, but the enemy exploits it. Then what shall we do?" I replied, "We should expose our weakness and make the enemy feel suspicious and withdraw. Then we should secretly cultivate our strength so that the enemy may underestimate our abilities and fall into our traps. This is the clever way of using strength and weakness."

    The best way to lead soldiers is to free them from worry and provide them something they can rely on. If one is free from worry, one will be glad to die for a glorious mission. When one has something to rely on, one will be convinced that there is a chance to win. Suppose one has a whip in hand. Even if he meets a tiger, he will attack it with vigor. Suppose one has no weapon available. Even if he encounters a lizard, he may change his countenance and step back. If one understands this truth of human nature, one can lead others. If one holds a sword even with his arm unprotected, he will stop a brave man's attack. If one wears armor, carries a weapon, but falls asleep, then even a boy can kill him. Thus a general must be fortified with a strong image. Fortified with a strong image, he will have strength to spare when dealing with problems.

1 Ming-yun and Lao-chuan were Xun Su's other first names. He was a native of Mei-zhou City. It is now called Mei-shan-xian City which is located in Sichuan Province. He was not determined to study until he was twenty-five. After he failed the Advanced Exam many times, he went home to study the Six Bibles and read all schools of Chinese philosophy. He paid attention to contemporary affairs, mastered argumentative writings, and became a great essayist. During the Jia-you Period, he came to the capital along with his two sons, Dong-po Su and Che Su, to pay homage to the literary giant, Xiu Ou-yang. Xun Su presented 22 of his essays to Ou-yang. Ou-yang enjoyed reading Su's essays and recommended them for people to read. Later, Xun Su was appointed to revise books at the Imperial Library through the recommendation of Qi Han, the prime minister.

2 A beacon fire was used as a signal by which one watchtower informed the next watchtower of the enemy's invasion. Thus, the fire signal allowed the border guards to quickly inform the capital of the enemy's advancement.

3 Ai Deng was a native of Ji-yang City in the Kingdom of Wei during the Three Kingdoms Period. He helped Yu Si-ma, the Founding Emperor of the Jin dynasty, resist the troops of the Kingdom of Shu-han, so he was made Guan-nei (the area south of the Great Wall) Duke. Later, he became the Commander in Charge of a Western Expedition. In 263 A.D., Ai Deng led troops to invade the Kingdom of Shu-han. From Ying-ping City, his troops passed through no man's land for 450 miles. His generals and soldiers had to tunnel through mountains, scale cliffs by climbing from tree to tree, and advance in single file. When they reached Jiang-you City, the defending general, Miao Ma, surrendered. When they reached Cheng-du City, the Capital of Shu-han, King Chan Liu exited the City gate and surrendered.

4 Chan Liu was the Last King of the Kingdom of Shu-han. He was the son of Bei Liu, the Founding King of the Kingdom of Shu-han. A-dou was Chan Liu's other first name. He surrendered to the Kingdom of Wei in 263 A.D.