Sun Tzu – Art of War Invented Quotes

· Sun Tzu Art of War

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These are invented, borrowed or just plain stupid quotes attributed to Sun Tzu’s Art of War. Some of this comes from bad translation, but most is either Hollywood or fortune cookies. If your Sun Tzu: Art of War has any of these “quotes” you have a clearly inferior rendition. That assessment is based on twenty years’ research. You can also have a look at “Wikiquotes.” It has identified a number of fraudulent Sun Tzuisms on its site:

All of the following appeared on Internet “quote” sites and elsewhere on social media. When I come across these erroneous statements, I contact the authors and suggest they look at a more authoritative Sun Tzu text – such as my own.  

(The grammar and spelling errors are not mine).

“A leader leads by example, not by force.”

“To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy.”

“Victory comes from finding opportunities in problems”

“Victory is reserved for those who are willing to pay its price.”

An evil enemy, will burn his own nation to the ground….to rule over the ashes.

“Sweat more during peace: bleed less during war.”

When two armies collide, the one with the simpler uniform wins.

“If quick, I survive. If not quick, I am lost. This is “death.”

“If the mind is willing, the flesh could go on and on without many things.” – Sun Tzu

“Rewards for good service should not be deferred a single day.”

“Great results, can be achieved with small forces.”

“Attack is the secret of defense while defense is the planning of an attack”

“Sun Tzu says: when a falcon breaks a back of its prey, it is because of timing..when flood waters toss boulders, it is because of momentum.”

“Who does not know the evils of war cannot appreciate its benefits.”

“The King is only fond of words, and cannot translate them into deeds.”

“Be where your enemy is not.”

“The Art of War is self-explanatory.”

“Convince your enemy that he will gain very little by attacking you; this will diminish his enthusiasm.”

“All is fair in love and war.”

“One mark of a great soldier is that he fight on his own terms or fights not at all.”

“If the mind is willing, the flesh could go on and on without many things.”

“Build your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across.”

“You have to believe in yourself.”

“Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”

“Can you imagine what I would do if I could do all I can?”

“In peace, prepare for war. In war, prepare for peace.”

“Opportunities multiply as they are seized.”

“Even the finest sword plunged into salt water will eventually rust.”

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”


And then, the near ubiquitous ……….“If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by.”

I have not challenged or commented on any of the wrong and sometimes absurd alleged Sun Tzu quotes because their irrelevance seems obvious. But in the three years or so that this particular post has been on WordPress, I have averaged 2 or 3 queries a day about this “wait by the river” thing.

Finally, my curiosity got the better of me. A 30 second on line search brought forward the following views.  I quote his remarks verbatim:


[“This phoney piece of ancient wisdom typically appears in the form:

‘If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by.’

It’s often attributed to Sun Tzu, but it certainly doesn’t appear in The Art of War. Sometimes it’s wrongly attributed to Confucius, and it could almost be a comical misreading of a line from the Analects. It also seems to be claimed as Japanese or Indian. It’s certainly been floating about for some time, and various commenters at The Straight Dope attempted to track it down.

It featured in James Clavell’s 1975 novel, Shōgun in the form:

“It’s only a matter of waiting beside a river long enough for the bodies of your enemies to float by, neh?”

And in Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose (1980), similarly:

“But there is an Indian proverb that goes, ‘Sit on the bank of a river and wait: your enemy’s corpse will soon float by.’”

Then in the 1993 film Rising Sun (but apparently not Michael Crichton’s book) Sean Connery says:

“If you sit by the river long enough,… will see the body of your enemy floating by.”

A more recent occurance seems to be in the game Overwatch, spoken by a Japanese character called Hanzo.

“If you sit by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by.”

Now it seems that vice governor of the People’s Bank of China, Pan Gongsheng, has quoted (in Chinese) a French economist, Eric Pichet, as saying (in French):

“So there’s only one thing we can do – watch it from the bank of a river. One day you’ll see bitcoin’s dead body float away in front of you.”

So now there really is a Chinese version, of sorts, floating about the internet.]


Hopefully this piece of created “wisdom” will now just float on by.


Mr. Eric Jackson, someone with no knowledge whatsoever of Sun Tzu,  is able to have his thoughts published in FORBES MAGAZINE 5/23/2014. My email to FORBES advising that his essay was seriously flawed has not received a reply.

His made up, or borrowed from other source quotes are: 1, 2, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 17, 19, 20, 21, 29 and 30. These are just the stuff of fortune cookies. (I have deleted the correct and close to correct aphorisms).
Sun Tzu’s 33 Best Pieces Of Leadership Advice

There was no greater war leader and strategist than Chinese military general Sun Tzu.  His philosophy on how to be a great leader and ensure you win in work, management, and life is summed up in these 33 pieces of advice.  They can all be applied by you in your job when you go back to work next week:

    1. A leader leads by example, not by force.
    2. You have to believe in yourself.
    3. If the mind is willing, the flesh could go on and on without many things.
    4. To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy.
    5. Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.
    6. Can you imagine what I would do if I could do all I can?
    7. Even the finest sword plunged into salt water will eventually rust.
    8. Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.
    9. Opportunities multiply as they are seized.
    10. When the enemy is relaxed, make them toil. When full, starve them. When settled, make them move.
    11. Know yourself and you will win all battles.
    12. Build your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across.

 Here are a few other contemporary appearances – all erroneous.

“The goodwill gesture of the government of Pakistan to release the captured Indian air force pilot after Indian MiG-21 was shot down by the Pakistan Air Force set aside Sun Tzu’s advice in ‘The Art of War’ – to ‘deceive and betray’ as a strategic approach in state-level relations – and opened a new avenue for peace in the South Asian region.” (Saira Bano Orkzai of Harvard University – quoted in The International News 15 March 2019)

The “quotes” of Wesley Snipes and others in the movie “Art of War” – bear no relation to the actual text. Not a bad movie though.

Peter J. Henning references what he thinks is Sun Tzu in the New York Times (22/12/2014): “The wheels of justice grind slow but grind fine.”

“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity: Sun Tzu.” Punchi Putha in the Sri Lanka Sunday Times. (May 26, 2019)

From “Sun Tzu Quotes” on Twitter: By applying the art of war, it is possible to defeat a greater force with lesser, and vice versa.

Neil deGrasse Tyson:  “The Art of War,” by Sun Tzu, “to learn that the act of killing fellow humans can be raised to an art.” (

Sebastian Kevany, “a research associate at the Institute for Global Health Delivery and Diplomacy, Univ. of California,”  in a NY Times letter to the editor 20/04/2015: “As Sun Tzu (The Art of War) teaches us, unoccupied armies become restless, and may provoke the very conflicts they seek to resolve.”

Sun Tzu, a Chinese philosopher and military strategist who is credited as the author of the widely influential work The Art of War, once advised that there was a mutually exclusive relation between war and peace.

The Jakarta Post – 9 January 2020 – Reviewing the new movie “1917” says, “Sun Tzu, a Chinese philosopher and military strategist who is credited as the author of the widely influential work The Art of War, once advised that there was a mutually exclusive relation between war and peace. “In peace, prepare for war,” he said. “In war, prepare for peace.” This is all nonsense.

But the contemporary commentary is not all off the mark

Here’s Nick J. Danby quoted in the International Policy Digest (19 June 2019): “Clausewitz may be good for the battlefield, but for everything that happens off the field, one should follow Sun Tzu. In fact, Sun Tzu’s whole philosophy was to attain political objectives without ever firing a bullet or spilling blood. ‘The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting,’ he wrote in his famed military treatise, The Art of War. President Trump should be well aware of this quote—he tweeted it out in July 2012.”

Nick J. Danby is a junior at Harvard University studying history and government. He is the College’s chairman of the Alexander Hamilton Society and international editor of the law review. He has worked for the U.S. Senate, The Cohen Group, and the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the American Enterprise Institute.



To read what the alleged “Sun Tzu” actually said in the so-called “Art of War” read The School of Sun Tzu: Winning Empires without War. Here you will discover that the 2300 year old “Bing-fa” – known for the last few centuries as “The Art of War” – delivers a methodology for managing organizations, and relations between organizations without conflict. But these messages are not limited to organizations. They can find application in people’s personal and professional life.

For the first time, individuals and organizations can tap into this “wisdom of the ages” and improve their condition, circumstances and future prospects. My book is available from,, a few dozen re-sellers and me.

Please support my research – buying my book will help cover my expenses. Go to and buy on-line. Thanks.

Professional reviews of my work follow:

(1) US Review of Books by Michael Radon

“Because Ping-fa is intentionally, and delightfully, metaphorical, the messages need to be ferreted out, tasted, and tested.”

Many people have heard of the classic Chinese text The Art of War by Sun Tzu and may also be somewhat familiar with the way in which our society tends to twist its messages of troop deployment and terrain navigation into some sort of business strategy. The author of this examination of Sun Tzu lays forth a compelling argument that much of what we understand about this ancient text is colored by mistranslations, commentaries of existing erroneous commentaries, and even revisionist histories of China’s first empire. Re-examining this classic work of Chinese literature and understanding it as a series of educational metaphors rather than literal pieces of advice allow it to appear as a tool for cooperation rather than conquering and sheds a whole new light on what so many people claim to understand.

Demonstrating a profound understanding not only of the original text but of many of the most popular translations and commentaries of The Art of War, the author provides these with equal time while also offering his interpretations as well as an analysis of what others have gleaned from the text. This helpful approach allows readers to apply the author’s perspective to the translated text and then see how it sizes up to other interpretations in the voluminous footnotes. Through the author’s provision of ample history, modern perspectives from books and magazines, and even well-known Chinese parables, readers can get a more complete picture on the realities of not only The Art of War (referred to largely by its untranslated name, Ping-fa) but also of Sun Tzu “himself.” The resulting read is enlightening and challenging to preconceived notions but in a way that makes plenty of sense and allows the reader to create their own conclusions based on their understanding and the compelling evidence put forth by the author.

(2) Pacific Book Review

The School of Sun Tzu: Winning Empires without Wars is a semi-academic study of the topic of Sun Tzu. The author is fascinated by the ideas that surround Sun Tzu, whether it is a school or a person. Jones explores some of the deeper concepts touched on in the book The Art of War. Many of the Chinese authors and philosophers that are discussed in this “ship’s log” have developed ideas about the treatment of others and the behaviors of the society.

Jones’ insights and growing perspective throughout the book are interesting and meaningful for those who know very little about Eastern cultures. As a Westerner, Eastern culture is slightly alien to me, which is why this author’s quick unpacking of the elegance and nuance of these differences make this book educational and important.

The work of Ping-Fa is where many of the musings which make up this book stem from. Ping-fa examines the rise of the Chinese Empire and the structures of communication, oppression and transformation. The School of Sun Tzu, which is what this book is born of, which an institution that looks at idea generation and behavior modification.

This book is a thought provoking read that encourages the reader to learn more about the world, to stay informed and to engage with new and different philosophies. It has religious elements, linguistic ponderings and life histories of important Asian people. While David G. Jones mainly focuses on China he also includes smatterings of other Asian countries, such as Japan, which help to lend credibility to many for his notes.

The School of Sun Tzu: Winning Empires without Wars is incredibly well written especially for a self-proclaimed diary. It also centers on a very well known and important book The Art of War, which according to Jones is not truly about war. He looks at methods of starting and winning a war in the time that Ping-Fa would have written, which reveals a lot about certain ways of thinking. I would recommend this work to readers interested in learning more about Eastern Culture, and a behind the scenes look at war and its many moving parts.


My book has received several awards, the latest is a 2019 Hoffer Award in Legacy Nonfiction. Here are the judge’s remarks:

The School of Sun Tzu, David G. Jones, iUniverse – In this ambitious work, the author endeavors to ascertain the existence of a particular school of thought, noted as the School of Sun Tzu. Taking careful and calculated precaution, the author proves to be a worthy and thoughtful historian—uncovering details rarely discussed within academia, if at all. There are many important and helpful ways in which the author builds upon historical literature and current thought as it regards the School of Sun Tzu, the most important of which is the characterization of the historical work itself, transferring it from one focused on warfare to one focused on diplomacy and peaceful engagement. Overall, the book is an effective and interesting exploration of a school of thought, often misunderstood, and illuminates a significant part of the story that has remained largely untold.



Comments RSS
  1. Nekulturny

    Sorry but exactly what is the nature of your quibbles? Bad translations? Because I surely seem to remember one at least – ‘the king is fond of words and cannot translate them into deeds.’ The expert took the king’s women and drilled them as a military body, and when two of the king’s favorites botched the exercise, the expert ordered them beheaded. When the king demurred, there came that quote. No? Wrong book?

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