“Know thyself, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories.” Words to live by … especially if one has pretentions to being a great general. However, historians aren’t quite sure whose words these may be.
The difficulty in ascertaining Sun Tzu’s historicity comes from the early Chinese works which mention him: 'The Spring and Autumn Annals' and the 'Records of the Grand Historian.' Both are internally inconsistent, laden with inaccuracies, self-serving, and marked by conflation of actual events. While these two sources disagree as to where Sun Tzu was born, his family, his education and early life, both state that he was active as a strategist serving Helu of Wu beginning around 512 BC. At the decisive battle of Boju. Sun Tzu is said to have led the Wu forces. Supposedly, his victories for the Wu over the Chu inspired him to set down his precepts in 'The Art of War' (the directly translated title is “Master Sun’s Rules for Army”).
It has been argued that 'The Art of War' is actually a compilation of several works on strategy that dates to the later Warring States period (475 to 221 BC), or that it was written by Sun Tzu’s descendant Sun Bin, also a famous scholar of the military arts. Almost certainly the accepted version incorporates commentary from later philosophers such as Li Quan and Du Mu. Whatever the case, the approach to military strategy therein is an implicitly Taoist one. Unlike Western thinkers, Sun Tzu argues that “force” (li) is not the center of military strategy; instead, victory and defeat are psychological states. War is not so much a matter of destroying the enemy materially and physically (although that certainly helps) but of unsettling the enemy psychologically.
"Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win."
– The Art of War