Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Spiking and Tilting

An article by Bejamin Wallacker titled "Two Concepts in Early Chinese Military Thought" gives us the title of this thread.[1] He first presents a translation of the military writer Sunzi:

What enable the masses of the Three Armies to invariably withstand the enemy without being defeated are the unorthodox [chi] and the orthodox [cheng]...In general, in battle one engages with the orthodox and gains victory through the unorthodox. Thus one who excels at sending forth the unorthodox is as inexhaustible as Heaven, as unlimited as the Yangtze and Yellow rivers...In warfare the strategic configurations of power [shih] do not exceed the unorthodox and the orthodox, but the changes of the unorthodox and orthodox mutually produce each other, just like an endless cycle. Who can exhaust them?[2]

As an explanation of this concept Wallacker cites Samuel Griffith who says:

The concept expressed by cheng, 'normal' [or orthodox] and chi, 'extraordinary' [ or unorthodox] is of basic importance. The normal (Cheng) fixes or distracts the enemy; the extraordinary (chi) forces act when and where their blows are not anticipated. Should the enemy perceive and respond to a chi [or unorthodox] maneuver in such a manner as to neutralize it, the maneuver would automatically become cheng [or orthodox].[3]

This is quite an interesting concept to explain. The best way to describe it would be the debate with the Sicilian from Princess Bride. In trying to determine which cup has the poison, the Sicilian reaches the point where he says something like: "I can expect you to expect me to expect that you are lying, therefore I..." This quote represents the endless nature and connection between the two concepts. And it explains why this concept is so difficult to translate: Since they are expecting the unexpected would the expected then become unexpected?

Finally, Wallacker studies the etymology of the words Cheng and Chi in order to better relate them to English. He says:

The Sun-Tzu tells us, then, that after 'spiking' the foe, keeping him fixed vulnerably to his position, we bring in our 'tilting' forces to know him off balance and even to topple him over. The English 'tilt' helps us keep in mind also the [unorthodox] nature of the typical Chi maneuver. It is [unorthodox] in direction and method, [unorthodox] also brings in something extra, something the foe cannot take account of.[4]

We have an example of this in the Book of Mormon. In Alma 62 we read that:

30... Moroni, after he had obtained possession of the city of Nephihah...went forth from the land of Nephihah to the land of Lehi.
31 And it came to pass that when the Lamanites saw that Moroni was coming against them, they were again frightened and fled before the army of Moroni.
32 And it came to pass that Moroni and his army did pursue them from city to city, until they were met by Lehi and Teancum; and the Lamanites fled from Lehi and Teancum, even down upon the borders by the seashore, until they came to the land of Moroni.
33 And the armies of the Lamanites were all gathered together, insomuch that they were all in one body in the land of Moroni. Now Ammoron, the king of the Lamanites, was also with them.
34 And it came to pass that Moroni and Lehi and Teancum did encamp with their armies round about in the borders of the land of Moroni, insomuch that the Lamanites were encircled about in the borders by the wilderness on the south, and in the borders by the wilderness on the east.

Thus you have Moroni who pursues the main army of the Lamanites. The narrative places him as the focus of the Lamanite army, and he pushes them to the last Nephite city held in enemy hands, Moroni. At this city the Lamanites are out of options. They have largest army led by the Nephite Chief Captain to their west, they have nothing but seashore to their east, they could admit defeat and retreat to their own territory in the south, they only have to the North (but not really). Moroni has "spiked" them in place, while Lehi and Teancum take advantage of pinned main Lamanite army by expelling the Lamanite garrisons to the north of the city of Moroni, and by merging their forces with Moroni. In short: Moroni spiked them and Lehi tilted them. This piece of military theory and practice sets up the conclusion for war.

Thank you for reading and I look forward to your comments.
1. Benjamin Wallacker "Two Concepts in Early Chinese Military Thought" Peter Lorge Ed. Warfare in China to 1600 Vermont: Ashgate Publishing, 2005, p. 235-240.
2. Ralph D. Sawyer Trans. The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China Colorado: Westview Press, 1993, 164-165.
3.Wallacker, "Two Concepts", 296.
4. Ibid., 299.


nephite blood spartan heart said...

I expect that I was able to follow all of that and I liked it.

But I still never want to get involved ina land war in Asia.

Morgan Deane said...

I'm glad you were able to follow it. I was very confused when I read all of this the first time, but I also had about 400 pages a week of this stuff to plow through.