Applying the Wisdom of Sun Tzu to Prepping, by B.P.

Many regard Sun Tzu as the ultimate military strategist, at least in the way he described the more philosophical applications of combat strategy. Being more abstract in his direction than simply issuing commands like a common general, his focus was on developing a perspective rather than defining procedures. In this way, his wisdom and direction have remained contemporary and relevant, whereas battlefield applications come and go with advances in technology and expansion of the combat arena.

In studying the lessons of Sun Tzu, we find that much of his advice on strategy not only lends itself to the field of battle but often to most conflicts we face in life. It is not at all difficult to extrapolate his guidance into most of our interpersonal dealings and the rigors of getting through life and strife effectively. We can enforce this point simply by citing some of his quotes into some typical life scenarios thus.

Knowledge of Abilities

So many of his quotes stress the importance of knowledge of abilities to the success of effort.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”

How many times do we, as preppers, point out that the number one item to have with you for survival is always the skills you have developed, coupled with the ability to reason through a problem? In SHTF, perhaps our most difficult dealings will be with other people– family, friends, strangers, or bad guys. To the degree that we can understand what motivates people, how they will act in certain situations, how we can control their actions with a little advance planning, and how we can in turn plan out our own responses with consideration to as many possible outcomes, our abilities in these areas will determine much of our success in SHTF mode. Likewise, we have to have confident knowledge in how to use the tools and resources we will have at our disposal.

Win with Forward Thinking, Planning, Good Intel, and Planning

“The victorious win first, then go to war. The defeated go to war first, then try to figure out how to win.”

Again, forward thinking and planning, combined with good intel and experience, will most often determine success or failure long before a situation actually materializes. By being able to predict a situation, plan a response to a desired outcome, and consider alternatives in the event things change, we can greatly increase our chances of survival.

Basic Tenets of Sun Tzu’s Philosophy

We could go on citing quotes, but perhaps it is better to focus on the basic tenets of his philosophy at this point. The essence of Sun Tzu is:

  • Advanced training,
  • Dedication to a common cause and to each other,
  • Develop plans before facing conflict,
  • Conflict avoidance most of the time,
  • Engagement on your terms,
  • Deception,
  • Decisive action, and
  • Quality intel.

By starting with the general ideas, application to various aspects of human activity is much easier to discern. In this way, we can effectively apply Sun Tzu’s philosophy to prepping and survival in lieu of how to fight a war.

Focus on Knowledge

So much of Sun Tzu’s focus was on knowledge. As a warrior, he knew the army had to have a proficient skill set with the tools and techniques at hand. He knew the importance of properly equipping his forces, training them, and building their confidence, both in their ability to fight and his ability to lead. He also knew how important it was to acquire spies and deploy them. It was imperative for him to have as much knowledge about his enemy’s strengths, weaknesses, tendencies, location, and intent. Lacking sufficient intel, he would advise against engaging, even to the point of losing favor with his superiors. There is no point in going to battle if you cannot foresee the possibility of victory.

You can’t do that if you don’t know what to expect. Likewise, if we cannot first consider what sort of catastrophe may hit us in SHTF, then how can we hope to develop the proper response. What are the chances of being in an earthquake at any given time and location you might find yourself? How should you respond if you are in one in a house, or a skyscraper, or a car driving on a bridge? If earthquakes aren’t a serious consideration where I am most of the time, what sort of calamity would be? Before we can equip ourselves and develop a plan, we must first know what we are capable of and what we are most likely to face.


After knowledge comes control. Being sufficiently aware, we can anticipate, or view ahead. This allows us to avoid difficult/risky situations and direct our focus and effort on actions that will be of greater benefit. Through training and experience comes confidence, and with that the ability to rely on certain expectations of ourselves and our allies and minimize exposing our weaknesses. Sun Tzu warns that without reliability, success cannot be achieved. We must use our knowledge to control our actions and recognize which path of action promotes the greatest chance of success. In the case of an adversary, we can use our knowledge of him to predict his response and control his actions. The same can be said of an event.

Acting with Purpose

Once we have a sufficient amount of knowledge and confidence in our ability to execute actions, then acting with purpose will help ensure success.

“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” – Patton

Sun Tzu’s point, of course, was to wait patiently while applying as much control as possible, then making your move when the opportunity presented itself. Action without timing is usually pointless. The quarterback throws the football on a timed route only at a certain moment. At any other time, the play is meaningless at best. Knowing when to stand your ground, when to run, or when to strike forward are as critical to achieving a desired outcome as are knowing how to do the intended actions the intended way. You can neither wait for the best chance, nor can you push where there is no opening. Seize the opportunity you have prepared for as soon as you can.

“Take calculated risks. That is quite different from being rash.” – Patton

A Way of Thinking

The reason Sun Tzu was so effective as a commander and why his words retain meaning today is he does not direct action so much as a way of thinking. His was more than just strategy. It was formulaic, in that the specifics of a given time or condition could be processed through his generalized structure for an appropriate execution. More than simply telling his commanders how to do something, he wanted them to think. His goal was to get both his subordinates and his sovereigns to understand the motivation for taking a given course of action, why strategies unfolded the way they did, and what the outcomes and consequences were likely to be before committing to those actions.

By focusing more on purpose and not just how to get there, he was able to break out of rigid dogma that might apply only in a few situations and have drastic consequences if used in others. We see the same sort of thinking in things like Jeet Kune Du, made popular by Bruce Lee, expressing the form without form and style of no technique. Or maybe as Gunny Highway put it, “you adapt, you overcome”, but you first must prepare.

See Also:

SurvivalBlog Writing Contest

This has been another entry for Round 74 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:

First Prize:

  1. A $3000 gift certificate towards a Sol-Ark Solar Generator from Veteran owned Portable Solar LLC. The only EMP Hardened Solar Generator System available to the public.
  2. A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate. This can be used for any one, two, or three day course (a $1,095 value),
  3. A course certificate from onPoint Tactical for the prize winner’s choice of three-day civilian courses, excluding those restricted for military or government teams. Three day onPoint courses normally cost $795,
  4. DRD Tactical is providing a 5.56 NATO QD Billet upper. These have hammer forged, chrome-lined barrels and a hard case, to go with your own AR lower. It will allow any standard AR-type rifle to have a quick change barrel. This can be assembled in less than one minute without the use of any tools. It also provides a compact carry capability in a hard case or in 3-day pack (an $1,100 value),
  5. Two cases of Mountain House freeze-dried assorted entrees in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
  6. A $250 gift certificate good for any product from Sunflower Ammo,
  7. Two cases of Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs), courtesy of (a $180 value), and
  8. American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) is providing a $300 certificate good towards any of their DVD training courses.

Second Prize:

  1. A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
  2. A Glock form factor SIRT laser training pistol and a SIRT AR-15/M4 Laser Training Bolt, courtesy of Next Level Training, which have a combined retail value of $589,
  3. A gift certificate for any two or three-day class from Max Velocity Tactical (a $600 value),
  4. A transferable certificate for a two-day Ultimate Bug Out Course from Florida Firearms Training (a $400 value),
  5. A Trekker IV™ Four-Person Emergency Kit from Emergency Essentials (a $250 value),
  6. A $200 gift certificate good towards any books published by,
  7. RepackBox is providing a $300 gift certificate to their site.

Third Prize:

  1. A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $275 value),
  2. A large handmade clothes drying rack, a washboard, and a Homesteading for Beginners DVD, all courtesy of The Homestead Store, with a combined value of $206,
  3. Expanded sets of both washable feminine pads and liners, donated by Naturally Cozy (a $185 retail value),
  4. Two Super Survival Pack seed collections, a $150 value, courtesy of Seed for Security, LLC,
  5. Mayflower Trading is donating a $200 gift certificate for homesteading appliances, and
  6. Two 1,000-foot spools of full mil-spec U.S.-made 750 paracord (in-stock colors only) from (a $240 value).

Round 74 ends on January 31st, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.


  1. I worked for an International chemical co. a few years ago and hosted one of my Chinese coworkers when to the US. I invited him over to my home.
    I mentioned the I had read some of Sun Tsu’s writings and was very impressed. He had no idea what I was talking about.
    I showed him the book, and he said,” Ahh, Sun Zee! Apparently “TSU” is pronounced Zee in Chinese. Also had never heard of the Tianamen Square Massacre! Apparently a total internal media blackout on that historic event!

  2. Scott S.:
    What shame that he was ignorant of what happened to his fellow countrymen and that there are tyrannical governments who due thins like that.
    Let Freedom Ring!

Comments are closed.