In general, whoever occupies the battleground first and awaits the enemy will be at ease; whoever occupies the battleground afterward and must race to the conflict will be fatigued. Thus one who excels at warfare compels men and is not compelled by other men.
In order to cause the enemy to come of their own volition, extend some apparent profit. In order to prevent the enemy from coming forth, show them the potential harm.
Thus if the enemy is rested you can tire him; if he is well fed you can make him hungry; if he is at rest you can move him. Go forth to positions to which he must race. Race forth where he does not expect it.
To travel a thousand kilometres without becoming fatigued, traverse unoccupied terrain. To ensure taking the objective in an attack, strike positions that are undefended. To be certain of an impregnable defence, secure positions that the enemy will not attack.
Thus when someone excels in attacking, the enemy does not know where to mount his defence; when someone excels at defence, the enemy does not know where to attack. So subtle it approaches the formless, so spiritual it attains the soundless. Thus he can act as the enemy's Master of Fate.
To effect an unhampered advance, strike their vacuities. To effect a retreat that cannot be overtaken, employ unmatchable speed. Thus if I want to engage in combat, even though the enemy has high ramparts and deep moats, they cannot avoid doing battle because I attack objectives they must rescue.
If I do not want to engage in combat, even though I merely draw a line on the ground and defend it, they will not be able to engage me in battle because we thwart their movements.
Thus if I determine the enemy's disposition of force while I have no perceptible form, I can concentrate my forces while the enemy is fragmented. If we are concentrated into a single force while they are fragmented into ten, then we attack them with ten times their strength. Thus we are many and the enemy is few. If we can attack their few with our many, those whom we engage in battle will be severly constrained.
The location where we will engage the enemy must not become known to them. If it is not known, then the positions they must prepare to defend will be numerous. If the positions the enemy prepares to defend are numerous, then the forces we will engage will be few. If no positions are left undefended, there will not be any places with more than a few.
The few are the ones who prepare against others; the many are the ones who make others prepare against them.
If you know the field and day of battle, you can traverse a thousand kilometres and assemble to engage in combat. If you do not know the field nor day for battle, then the left flank cannot aid the right, nor the right flank aid the left; the front cannot aid the rear, nor the rear aid the front. How much more so when the distant are some tens of kilometres away and the near several kilometres apart? Thus I say victory can be achieved. Even though the enemy is more numerous, they can be forced not to fight.
Critically analyse them to know the estimations for gain and loss. Stimulate them to know the patterns of their movement and stopping. Determine their disposition of force to know the tenable and fatal terrain. Probe them to know where they have an excess, where an insufficiency.
Thus the pinnacle of military deployment approaches the formless. If it is formless, then even the deepest spy cannot discern it or the wise make plans against it.
In accord with the enemy's disposition we impose measures on the masses that produce victory, but the masses are unable to fathom them. Men all know the disposition by which we attain victory, but no one knows the configuration through which we control the victory. Thus a victorious battle strategy is not repeated, the configurations of response to the enemy are inexhaustible.
Now the army's disposition of force is like water. Water's configuration avoids heights and races downward. The army's disposition of force avoids the substantial and strikes the vacuous. Water configures its flow in accord with the terrain, the army controls its victory in accord with the enemy.
Thus the army does not maintain any constant strategic configuration of power, water has no constant shape. One who is able to change and transform in accord with the enemy and wrest victory is termed spiritual.