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Strategy The Art of Digital War


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I'm in the process of going through Sun Tzu's The Art of War and figuring out how much of it translates to fighting games. Since I learn best while writing, I started transcribing everything into a Word doc. I figured I might as well post that shit here.

For those of you unfamiliar with it, here is the intro to the Wikipedia entry on the Art of War:
The Art of War (Chinese: 孫子兵法; pinyin: Sūnzĭ bīngfǎ) is an ancient Chinese military treatise attributed to Sun Tzu, a high-ranking military general, strategist and tactician. The text is composed of 13 chapters, each of which is devoted to one aspect of warfare. It is commonly known to be the definitive work on military strategy and tactics of its time. It has been the most famous and influential of China's Seven Military Classics, and "for the last two thousand years it remained the most important military treatise in Asia, where even the common people knew it by name."[1] It has had an influence on Eastern and Western military thinking, business tactics, legal strategy and beyond.
These are just my own interpretations of how the work of Sun Tzu might be applied to fighting games, and this is also kind of a stream of consciousness writing (a.k.a. first draft!), so please feel free to share your own thoughts, as I'm sure many of my ideas and interpretations will be subject to change. Thanks for reading!
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Chapter I. Laying Plans

The Art of War contains five constant factors, but the Art of Digital War contains only four:

1) Heaven: The conditions of play, including casual or tournament, online or offline, best of three, first to ten, etc.​

2) Earth: This encompasses footsies, defense, spacing, combos, punishes, reflexes, and the technical mastery of the game.​

3) Commander: The knowledge of yourself, of your enemy, and of the game, including frame data, combos, punishes, player habits, stage sizes, matchups, etc. This also includes the ability and willingness to grow, and to devote time into practicing and experimenting.​

4) Method and Discipline: The proper management of resources, including stamina bars, special meter, etc. This also includes the ability to not overextend oneself.​

Therefore, when seeking to determine the conditions of your fight, you must consider:

1) Which of the two players has the most ability?​

2) Which player has an advantage from Heaven and Earth (more tournament experience, less input lag on their monitor, a better controller, "player 1 advantage", etc).​

3) Which player is more disciplined?​

4) Which character is stronger, or which character has the matchup advantage?​

5) Which player has more experience with this specific matchup?​

Sun Tzu says, "All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near."

In fighting game terms, this pertains to the neutral game and to footsies. By crossing in and out of your opponent's maximum range, you are trying to deceive them into thinking you are within striking range so that you might bait out and punish their attack.​

When Jax feints a Ground Pound to make his opponent jump, only to cancel it into an anti-air Gotcha Grab, this is deception.​

When you purposefully whiff an attack to provoke a response from your enemy, this is deception.​

Sun Tzu says, "If [your opponent] is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him."

This means that while you and your opponent are in the neutral game, don't focus solely on finding an opening for attack, because your opponent is doing the same thing; instead you must be aware of such openings while keeping in mind what openings your opponent is planning to exploit, as well as what openings they might want you to see. Don't forget that they will be trying to deceive you with feints, whiffs, and spacing as well.​

The second part of this means that you need to be aware when your opponent is at any kind of advantage, whether it be a range advantage, frame advantage, or mix-up advantage. When your opponent is at such advantage, you want to avoid playing their game. You want to stay out of their comfort zone until such a time as the fight it back to a more neutral state. Sometimes this means moving in close to nullify their zoning. Sometimes this means moving out of range of their 50/50 opener or their plus-frame attack. This is highly matchup specific, and thus falls under the constant factor of Commander (knowledge of frame data, spacing, and matchups).​

Sun Tzu says, "If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him."

This means that you need to be aware of your opponent's state of mind. You can use irritating tactics, such as careful zoning or quick safe attacks, to frustrate your opponent, increasing their odds of getting impatient and making a mistake.​

Sun Tzu says, "If [your opponent] is taking ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them."

If you can tell your opponent is getting overwhelmed and trying to reset the fight to a neutral situation, do everything you can to prevent this. Once you have the momentum and advantage, don't let up until such a time as it becomes dangerous to maintain your pressure (such as after a negative-advantage move).​

You want to keep your opponent as uncomfortable as possible. "United forces" could be interpreted as "low-pressure neutral situation". Your opponent has no worries and is looking for an opening to attack you. What you want is to put them into a position where they are not thinking about attacking you, rather they are thinking about getting back to their safety zone. When Cyrax throws a bomb under his opponent's feet, the opponent is forced to take action. When an opponent is waking up while Jax raises his hand for a Ground Pound, they have to make a split-second decision whether they want to jump, tech-roll, or counter-attack. Just having an opponent in range of your attack can be enough to "separate their forces" if they don't have an attack that can properly threaten you.​

Sun Tzu says, "Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected."

When your opponent is in whiff recovery or block-disadvantage, that is your time to strike. As long as your combo-starter is quick enough to punish such mistakes, this is where the majority of your big damage is going to come from.​

This also means abusing moves that your opponent can't easily counter. If your opponent is a big slow character that can't easily escape rushdown pressure, overwhelm them with rushdown attacks. If your opponent has low mobility, assault them with full-screen projectiles. If your opponent has no good wake-up options, abuse them on wake-up. Essentially, learn your opponents' weaknesses and exploit them.​

This also applies to overhead/low/throw mixups. You want to train your opponent to expect one type of attack (such as using constant sweeps to get them blocking low) before eventually striking with an overhead attack.​

Finally, this applies to setups and player knowledge. If your opponent is unfamiliar with a specific setup, such as Wonder Woman's OTG pressure, then you are free to abuse such a setup until your opponent learns how to properly deal with it.​

Sun Tzu says, "Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculations at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose."

This means that before every fight you must have a strategy or game plan, and the more knowledge you have about your opponent, their character, your character, the stage, etc, the better your can formulate your strategy. You don't want to enter a match thinking "I've gotta beat this guy!". You want to enter the match thinking "Ok, this is Perfect Legend playing Kung Lao. I know from studying his tournament matches that he's going to try to do A, B, and C, so I need to keep him in this range and pressure him with A, B, and C. If he puts me in situation A, I need to react this way. If I put in him situation B, I can expect him to react this way."​

There are a finite number of conditions that may occur in any given matchup, and the more prepared you are to deal with those conditions, the more likely you are to achieve victory.​

@Pig Of The Hut's extensive journals are a perfect example of this principle, as they include not only combos, frame data, optimal punishes, and other game information, but also notes on players and their habits. Because of this, Pig of the Hut is able to make exponentially more pre-match calculations than the average fighting game player.​
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Chapter II. Attack by Stratagem

Sun Tzu says, "The rule is, not to besiege walled cities if it can possibly be avoided. The general, unable to control his irritation, will launch his men to assault like swarming ants, with the result that one/third his men are slain, while the town still remains untaken. Such are the disastrous effects of a siege."

In this section, the "men" can be thought of as your life bar, while the walled city is your opponent. As we have learned, you want to put your opponent out of his comfort zone before launching your siege. You do not want your opponent to be a "walled city", ready and awaiting your attack. You want your opponent to be focused on getting back to their comfort zone, not focused on attacking or baiting. By throwing yourself against your enemy's defenses without first throwing them off balance, you risk losing a full-combo's worth of life without gaining anything in return.​

Sun Tzu says, "It is the rule in war, if our forces are ten to the enemy's one, to surround them; if five to one, to attack him; if twice as numerous, to divide our army into two. If equally matched, we can offer battle; if slightly inferior in numbers, we can avoid the enemy; if quite unequal in every way, we can flee from him."

Each of these rules applies directly to specific situations in fighting games, where "forces" can translate into things such as frame advantage, matchup advantage, situational advantage, meter advantage, knowledge advantage, or health advantage.​

If you outnumber the enemy in any of those categories, it is easy to "surround" or attack them. With a 10/1, 5/1, or 2/1 health advantage, you can take riskier options while your opponent must be more careful. With a 10/1, 5/1, or 2/1 frame advantage, you can easily maintain pressure while your opponent must wait for their "turn".​

When suffering inferior numbers, you want to back off and play carefully until such a time as the battle is in your favor. This might mean relying on pokes and safe zoning to frustrate your opponent into overextending themselves, allowing you to reverse the situation.​

Sun Tzu says, "There are three ways in which a ruler can bring misfortune upon his army:

1) By commanding the army to advance or to retreat, being ignorant of the fact that it cannot obey. This is called hobbling the army.

2) By attempting to govern the army in the same way as he administers a kingdom, being ignorant of the conditions which obtain in an army.

3) By employing the officers of his army without discrimination, through ignorance of the military principle of adaptation to circumstances."

The first point could be applied to a knowledge of frame data, matchups, and setups. Attempting to escape or attack while at disadvantage can have disastrous results. Attempting to jump out of a corner setup designed to punish such attempts will be equally disastrous.​

Point two can be applied to learning the nuances of each matchup. Trying to play one character like another, or using a character the same way in multiple matchups can lead to disaster. Each character, and especially each matchup, must be approached as a unique experience.​

Point three focuses on adapting to circumstances as they arise. As Deathstroke, I might use heavy zoning when my opponent is full screen, but as soon as they enter a range where zoning is no longer safe, I would need to adjust my strategy to ensure victory.

Point three can also pertain to resource management, such as indiscriminately using your meter for enhanced attacks when it would better serve you being spent on breakers in a particular matchup.​

Sun Tzu says, "Thus, we may know that there are five essentials for victory:

1) He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.

2) He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces.

3) [not applicable to fighting games]

4) He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared.

5) [not applicable to fighting games]"

Hence the saying, if you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle."

This applies to both a knowledge of yourself and your opponent, as well as a knowledge of your character and the opponent's character, and the matchup in general. This means knowing when you are at advantage and disadvantage, and knowing how to respond accordingly. This means knowing where interactables are located on the stage, and how they affect both you and your opponent offensively and defensively.​
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Chapter III. Tactical Dispositions

Sun Tzu says, "The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy. To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself. Thus the good fighter is able to secure himself against defeat, but cannot make certain of defeating the enemy. Hence the saying: One may know how to conquer without being able to do it."

It seems like, according to Sun Tzu, you want to focus on defense before offense. I suppose this harkens back to Sun Tzu's advice not to siege "walled cities"; It's better to wait for the enemy to let their guard down than to strike when they're strongest. Let the enemy make mistakes and capitalize on those mistakes; don't attack the enemy outright. You must become the walled city and let the enemy throw themselves against your walls to their own detriment.
Sun Tzu says, "Security against defeat implies defensive tactics; abilities to defeat the enemy means taking the offensive. Standing on the defensive indicates insufficient strength; attacking, a superabundance of strength. The general who is skilled in defense hides in the most secret recesses of the earth; he who is skilled in attack flashes forth from the topmost heights of heaven. Thus on the one hand we have ability to protect ourselves; on the other, a victory that is complete."

A walled city alone will not win any battles. You must be able to provoke the enemy into hurling themselves against your defenses. You must keep an eye out for mistakes, and know when and how to capitalize on those mistakes. You must be able to "hide in the most secret recesses of the earth" right up until the moment you "flash forth from the topmost heights of heaven". You cannot defend and go on the offensive simultaneously, yet both methods are required for success, so it as a matter of knowing when to defend and when to attack, and each must require your full attention and dedication.
Sun Tzu says, "What the ancients called a clever fighter is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease. Hence his victories bring him neither reputation for wisdom nor credit for courage. He wins his battles by making no mistakes. Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated. Hense the skillful fighter puts himself into a position which makes defeat impossible, and does not miss the moment for defeating the enemy. Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory."

Again, this stresses defense over offense, while emphasizing the importance of both. If you make no mistakes your opponent can capitalize on, then you cannot be defeated; you just have to focus on protecting yourself and allow your opponent to defeat themselves by making mistakes that you punish appropriately.

This can also apply on a micro level to every move you make in a fighting game. You don't want to go for an attack or a punish hoping that it will succeed; you want to know that you've "won" before you commit to the offense. You don't want to jump forward or dash in or use an unsafe move without knowing what your intended goal is, and being able to accurately predict the outcome. Throwing out attacks and hoping that they hit is a sure way to defeat.
Sun Tzu says, "The consummate leader cultivates the moral law, and strictly adheres to method and discipline; thus it is in his power to control success."

None of this information will help you if you don't develop the discipline to follow it in the midst of a fight. You need to enter each fight with a game plan, and adhere to it. You can have backup plans that allow you to adapt to changing situations, but what you don't want to do is abandon all strategy. This is when the most mistakes are made, and will surely lead to defeat. Have a main plan along with backups and contingencies and stick to them! Set general rules for yourself, such as not jumping at a "walled city" enemy, and stick with these general rules.
Sun Tzu says, "In respect of military method, we have, firstly, Measurement; secondly, Estimation of Quantity; thirdly, Calculation; fourthly, Balancing of Chances; fifthly, Victory. Measurement owes its existence to Earth, Estimation of Quantity to Measurement, Calculation to Estimation of Quantity; Balancing of Chances to Calculation; and Victory to Balancing of Chances."

Essentially, victory comes down to risk-vs-reward. I constantly complain about the risk-vs-reward of Kanoball. On hit I deal 9% and get a soft knockdown. That is the best case scenario. However, if blocked, I get punished for the maximum amount of damage my opponent is able to deal. Not only that, but any attack in the game can knock me out of Kanoball, dealing damage and putting me in a disadvantageous situation. Thus, the risk-vs-reward for one of Kano's primary tools is heavily in his opponent's favor. This is one of the primary reasons he has trouble dealing with so much of the MK9 cast.

I know the risk-vs-reward is against Kano because of the above calculations, which are based on Estimation of Quantity, including the damage dealt/received and the chance the opponent will be able to block or counter my Kanoball. Those estimates are based on the in-game measurements of damage and frame-data. In the case of 2d fighters, I would argue that Earth (or technical ability) owes its existence to Measurement (in other words, a player's ability to react and punish is based heavily on their knowledge of frame data).
Sun Tzu says, "A victorious army opposed to a routed one, is as a pound's weight placed in the scale against a single grain. The onrush of a conquering force is like the bursting of pent-up waters into a chasm a thousand fathoms deep."

This applies directly to the momentum of 2d fighters, particularly to oki. Each success leads to further success, as your opponent has to stop thinking about attacking and baiting, and instead has to focus on escaping your pressure and resetting the game to a neutral situation. When you land a successful attack and knock your opponent down, you are more likely to score further successes. Each success on your end leads to frustration on your opponent's end, which leads to more mistakes on their end, which leads to more successes on your end, and so on.​
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Chapter IV. Energy

Sun Tzu says, "To ensure that your whole host may withstand the brunt of the enemy's attack and remain unshaken-- this is effected by maneuvers direct and indirect."

In order to prevent your enemy from opening you up, you'll not only need to be able to directly block their attacks and tech their throws, but you also need to take actions that make them wary of attacking in the first place. Feints, pokes, and whiff punishes can be effective defensive maneuvers if they make your opponent second guess their offense.
Sun Tzu says, "That the impact of your army may be like a grindstone dashed against an egg-- this is effected by the science of weak points and strong. In all fighting, the direct method may be used for joining battle, but indirect methods will be needed in order to secure victory."

Again, you do not want to siege a "walled city". You must use indirect tactics to throw your enemy off guard or to lure them into a trap before launching your full assault. This is the science of weak points and strong. You do not want to assault a strong point. You want to lure your enemy into making a mistake and exposing a weak point, at which you must unleash your most aggressive and damaging attacks.​

Sun Tzu says, "Indirect tactics, efficiently applied, are inexhaustible as Heaven and Earth, unending as the flow of rivers and streams; like the sun and moon, they end but to begin anew; like the four seasons, they pass away to return once more. There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard. There are not more than five primary colors (blue, yellow, red, white, and black), yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever be seen. There are not more than five cardinal tastes (sour, acrid, salt, sweet, bitter), yet combinations of them yield more flavors than can ever be tasted.

In battle, there are not more than two methods of attack-- the direct and the indirect, yet these two in combination give rise to an endless series of maneuvers. The direct and the indirect lead on to each other in turn. It is like moving in a circle-- you never come to an end. Who can exhaust the possibilities of their combinations?"

Phew, this is a biggie. Essentially, your patterns of attack should never be predictable to the enemy, considering you have a near infinite combination of direct and indirect attacks to throw at them. They should never know if your attack is a commitment to a whole block string or a simple poke to keep them at bay. Are you walking in range just to walk back out and whiff punish or are you going to walk right up and throw them or hit them with a low launcher? Your assault must be unending and it must be unpredictable, in an effort to overwhelm and confuse your opponent, forcing them to make mistakes that you can capitalize on. Remember, you cannot defeat your enemy, they must defeat themselves, and the combination of direct and indirect attacks makes it more likely they will do so.
Sun Tzu says, "The quality of a decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim. Therefore the good fighter will be terrible in his onset, and prompt in his decision. Energy may be likened to the bending of a crossbow; decision, to the releasing of the trigger."

You need to be ready to strike when the opportunity presents itself, and not a minute before. You need to have your best punisher ready for the second your enemy presents a weak spot. Knowing your punishes and having the muscle memory to pull them off at the moment's notice is the "bending of a crossbow"; seeing the openings and knowing when is the proper time to unleash your fury is the "releasing of the trigger".
Sun Tzu says, "Amid the turmoil and tumult of battle, there may be seeming disorder and yet not real disorder at all; amid confusion and chaos, your array may be without head or tail, yet it will be proof against defeat. Simulated disorder postulates perfect discipline; simulated fear postulates courage; simulated weakness postulates strength. Hiding order beneath the cloak of disorder is simply a question of subdivision; concealing courage under a show of timidity presupposes a fund of latent energy; masking strength with weakness is to be effected by tactical dispositions.

Thus one who is skillful at keeping the enemy on the move maintains deceitful appearances, according to which the enemy will act. He sacrifices something, that the enemy may snatch at it. By holding out baits, he keeps him on the march; then with a body of picked men he lies in wait for him."

Again, this all comes down to deception. A clever opponent can control his enemy's actions through the use of baits, feints, and traps. Study your opponent and notice how they respond to your actions. Maintain unpredictability; controlled chaos. Your opponent should never know what your plans are, and you should know how they will respond to any given stimuli. Do they jump every time you launch a safe projectile? Do they teleport every time you jump? Use their predictability against them while concealing your own.
Sun Tzu says, "The clever combatant looks to the effect of combined energy, and does not require too much from individuals. Hence his ability to pick out the right men and utilize combined energy. When he utilizes combined energy, his fighting men become as it were like unto rolling logs or stones. For it is the nature of a log or stone to remain motionless on level ground, and to move when on a slope; if four-cornered, to come to a standstill, but if round-shaped, to go rolling down. Thus the energy developed by good fighting men is as the momentum of a round stone rolled down a mountain thousands of feet in height. So much on the subject of energy."

You must utilize your tools in combination, using them to cover the others' weaknesses. This includes the knowledge gained from this text. By combining the principles of The Art of War and applying them to the correct situations, you find yourself with much more battle momentum than if you were to simply focus on one aspect of this text, or no aspect at all. Using indirect tactics to bait the opponent doesn't mean much if you aren't focusing all of your energy into a maximum punish. Knowing not to siege a walled city won't help you if you don't know how to defend yourself. You must combine as much knowledge and technical mastery as possible and use it to crush your opponents.​
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Chapter V. Weak Points and Strong

Sun Tzu says, "Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to battle will arrive exhausted. Therefore, the clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy's will to be imposed on him.

By holding out advantages to him, he can cause the enemy to approach of his own accord; or, by inflicting damage, he can make it impossible for the enemy to draw near.

If the enemy is taking his ease, he can harass him; if well supplied with food, he can starve him out; if quietly encamped, he can force him to move."

This passage is one that almost translates word-for-word into the world of fighting games. "First to the field" could apply to either occupying a strategic position, such as close to a useful interactable, or to a life lead. It could also simply apply to a given matchup; i.e. a zoning character establishing space between himself and his rushdown-oriented enemy, or vice versa. Establish an advantageous position or life lead, and you can force your opponent to approach you and to play your game; you quite literally are able to "impose your will on your enemy".

The last sentence primarily applies to establishing a life lead. You can hang back and harass your enemy with minor attacks, without any need to take risks for big damage. If they have an advantageous position, you are under no obligation to approach due to the ticking clock; they must eventually leave their position to pursue you. Thus is the power of the life lead.
Sun Tzu says, "An army may march great distances without distress, if it marches through country where the enemy is not. You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack places which are undefended. You can ensure the safety of your defense if you only hold positions that cannot be attacked. Hence that general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skillful in defense whose opponent does not know what to attack."

This passage primary translates to threat ranges and block advantage. You can move freely through areas that your opponent does not threaten (though most characters impose at least a small amount of threat anywhere on screen). It also means you can attack relentlessly if your opponent has no means of punishing such attacks.

In the case of attacking only "undefended" areas, I would say this applies directly to punishing whiffed or blocked attacks, as that is the only time your attacks can be guaranteed.

In the case of "holding positions that cannot be attacked", I would say this most applies to not using unsafe attacks except against "undefended areas"; in other words, never throw out an unsafe attack unless it is guaranteed to connect.
Sun Tzu says, "O divine art of subtlety and secrecy! Through you we learn to be invincible, through you inaudible; and hence we can hold the enemy's fate in our hands. ... If we do not wish to fight, we can prevent the enemy from engaging us even though the lines of our encampment be merely traced out on the ground. All we need do is to throw something odd and unaccountable his way."

This primarily applies to being unpredictable and unreadable. If your enemy knows where you are going to attack, they can defend; if they know how you will defend, they can break your defense and attack unimpeded. However, if you can keep them guessing, then you can keep them at bay and force them to play your game.
Sun Tzu says, "By discovering the enemy's dispositions and remaining invisible ourselves, we can keep our forces concentrated while the enemy's must be divided. We can form a single united body, while the enemy must split up into fractions. Hence there will be a whole pitted against separate parts of a whole, which means that we shall be many to the enemy's few. And if we are able to thus attack an inferior force with a superior one, our opponents will be in dire straits."

This harkens back to the lesson that you cannot attack and defend at once; there must be a time to commit to attack and a time to commit to defense. I would consider that commitment the "whole". By knowing your enemy when they do not know you, you are able to fully commit to either attack or defense as necessary, while your opponent will never be sure which they should be focused on, and thus they will be divided.

This comes down to downloading your opponent. Your first match with an opponent should not be focused on winning, but on learning your opponent. This may result in a loss, but the knowledge gained can lead to decisive victories in subsequent matches. However, is careful, you should be able to download your opponent while maximizing defense, and thus should be able to download them without sacrificing that first match.
Sun Tzu says, "The spot where we intend to fight must not be made known; for then the enemy will have to prepare against a possible attack at several different points; and his forces being thus distributed in many directions, the numbers we shall have to face at any given point will be proportionately few.

For should the enemy strengthen his van, he will weaken his rear; should he strengthen his rear, he will weaken his can; should he strengthen his left, he will weaken his right; should he strengthen his right he will weaken his left. If he sends reinforcements everywhere, he will everywhere be weak.

Numerical weakness comes from having to prepare against possible attacks; numerical strength, from compelling our adversary to make these preparations against us."

This applies directly to how well a character can threaten his or her opponent through their normals and special moves, but it also falls on the player's shoulders to make his opponent aware that he threatens such areas. If a character only has a low-starter, then its opponent will block low. But if the player uses a multitude of single-hitting overhead attacks, the opponent will be torn whether or not to block high or low. This is how characters such as Smoke and Deathstroke are able to successfully pressure their opponents, while not having strong low or overhead offenses, respectfully.

You must always keep the enemy guessing. Just having a specific move can be enough to allow you to control your opponent. If I have an unsafe teleport, I don't necessarily have to risk using it for my opponent to respect it. My opponent just knowing I have the teleport can be enough to limit their actions. I personally use this tactic with Kano in MK9. Having access to his 41% unblockable X-Ray was enough to make some players reluctant to approach or attack.

What you want is for your opponent to expect one kind of attack, only to attack them with something unexpected. The best example in MKX is overheads, lows, and throws, though this can still be used with other attacks for whiff punishes. For instance, I might jump at an opponent with Takeda to bait an anti-air, only to air-teleport behind them and punish their whiffed attack.

The more ways your opponent knows you can safely attack them, the more of an advantage you have. This is why characters with many safe options, such as Kenshi, Kabal, and Sonya are typically higher tier than characters with few options, such as Kano and Sheeva.
Sun Tzu says, "Knowing the time and the place of the coming battle, we may concentrate from the greatest distances in order to fight. But if neither time nor place be known, then the left wing will be impotent to succor the right, and the right equally impotent to succor the left, the van unable to relieve the rear, or the rear to support the van. How much more so if the furthest portions of the army are anything under a hundred LI apart, and even the nearest are separated by sevral LI!

Rouse him, and learn the principle of his activity or inactivity. Force him to reveal himself, so as to find out his vulnerable spots.

In making tactical dispositions, the highest pitch you can attain is to conceal them; conceal your dispositions, and you will be safe from the prying of the subtlest spies, from the machincations of the wisest brains."

Essentially, you want to know your opponent's gameplan, and this is achieved by downloading them. Poke and prod at them to see how they react. Use feints; drift in and out of their threat range. Extract as much information as you can early on while being careful to give away as little information about yourself as possible.
Sun Tzu says, "Carefully compare the opposing army with your own, so that you may know where strength is superabundant and where it is deficient.

How victory may be produced for them out of the enemy's own tactics--that is what the multitude cannot comprehend. All men can see the tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.

Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances.

By knowing where the opposing character has advantages over your character, you can know your opponent's plan. This is why deceit and indirect tactics are of the utmost importance! If you use the direct route, relying solely on your advantages, then the enemy will know you, and they will defeat you. However, they will not expect you to ignore your own strengths in an effort to throw them off balance. Remember, deceit is the key to victory.
Sun Tzu says, "Military tactics are like unto water; for water in its natural course runs away from high places and hastens downwards. So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak. Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows; the soldier works out his victory in relation to the foe whom he is facing. Therefore, just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare there are no constant conditions.

He who can modify his tactics in relation to his opponent and thereby succeed in winning, may be called a heaven-born captain. The five elements (water, fire, wood, metal, earth) are not always equally predominant; the four seasons make way for each other in turn. There are short days and long; the moon has its periods of waning and waxing."

Rather than deciding what you want to do to your opponent and then attempting to do it, you need to be reactive and adaptive, just like water. The ability to adapt and be ever unpredictable is probably the most important skill you can have. When it comes to being like water, I believe Bruce Lee put it best:

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The future of law enforcement.
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Chapter 6. Maneuvering

Sun Tzu says "Having collected an army and concentrated his forces, he must blend and harmonize the different elements thereof before pitching his camp."

I would say "collected your army" equates to choosing your character. Blending and harmonizing the elements equates to considering the factors of battle outlined in Chapter I. Pitching your camp equates to deciding on your battle strategy.
Sun Tzu says "After that, comes tactical maneuvering, than which there is nothing more difficult. The difficulty of tactical maneuvering consists in turning the devious into the direct, and misfortune into gain."

It should be noted that in this case, "maneuvering" does not necessarily refer to "movement", but more to the formulation and execution of your strategy. Again, it's all about deception and the infinite combinations of direct and indirect tactics.
Sun Tzu says "Thus, to take a long and circuitous route, after enticing the enemy out of the way, and though starting after him, to contrive to reach the goal before him, shows knowledge of the artifice of deviation."

And as we should know by now, deviation is probably the single most important factor you can control. The importance of the combination of direct and indirect cannot be overstated, and is a running theme throughout the entirety of The Art of War.
Sun Tzu says "Maneuvering with an army is advantageous; with an undisciplined multitude, most dangerous."

Just as we learned last chapter, you need to be aware of your strengths so that you will know how your enemy perceives you. You must then find alternate routes, rather than rely on those strengths directly. In this case, your character's strengths are your army, and those strengths should serve you well, if disciplined. But having no discipline and relying too heavily on your strengths is simply playing into your enemy's hands, and will result in defeat. This is why knowledge and planning and discipline are so important, because it is our nature to want to exploit our strengths, and it requires discipline not to do so.
Sun Tzu says "If you set a fully equipped army in march in order to snatch an advantage, the chances are that you will be too late. On the other hand, to detach a flying column for the purpose involves the sacrifice of its baggage and stores.

Thus, if you order your men to roll up their buff-coats, and make forced marches without halting day or night, covering double the usual distance at a stretch, doing a hundred LI in order to wrest an advantage, the leaders of all your three divisions will fall into the hands of the enemy.

We are not fit to lead an army on the march unless we are familiar with the face of the country--its mountains and forests, its pitfalls and precipices, its marshes and swamps."

As we learned in a previous chapter, the army to arrive first is at a significant advantage over the army attempting to catch up. This is why it is always preferable to goad your enemy into approaching you, rather than approaching your enemy. Attempting to forcefully gain any position during the heat of battle can have dire consequences. However, with enough knowledge of the stage, your opponent, and your opponent's character, you may travel safely if aware of their threat ranges.
Sun Tzu says "Let your rapidity be that of the wind, your compactness that of the forest. In raiding and plundering be like fire, in immovability like a mountain. Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt."

This again comes down to the fact that you must either defend or go on the offensive, you cannot do both; you must keep your army whole. When defending or attacking, you must commit entirely; you must be decisive.
Sun Tzu says "Ponder and deliberate before you make a move."

As we already learned, you never want to take action without knowing the outcome. You want to choose your target before you attack; you don't want to attack and see what target you hit.
Sun Tzu says "He will conquer who has learnt the artifice of deviation. Such is the art of maneuvering.

Here, Sun Tzu is finally just spelling it out for you: deception and deviation is hands down the most important skill you can learn. Without the ability to deceive your opponent, to keep them guessing, the rest of this book will not help you. If your opponent does not know you, then he cannot defeat you; only you can defeat yourself.
Sun Tzu says "Now a soldier's spirit is keenest in the morning; by noon-day it has begun to flag; and in the evening, his mind is bent only on returning to camp. A clever general, therefore, avoids an army when its spirit is keen, but attacks it when it is sluggish and inclined to return. This is the art of studying moods."

This could translate to the timing of a single match or a set. If played patiently, using the teachings of The Art of War, your opponent should become gradually more frustrated and perform more mistakes that you can capitalize on. Be wary of his temperament; a zealous offense can give way to an impotent defense, as you continue to bait and punish attack after attack. When the aggressive starts to give way to the desperate, that is your time to change tactics and take advantage of your opponent's lack of confidence. Always be aware of your opponent's temperament.
Sun Tzu says "Disciplined and calm, to await the appearance of disorder and hubbub amongst the enemy:--this is the art of retaining self possession. To be near the goal while the enemy is still far from it, to wait at ease while the enemy is toiling and struggling, to be well-fed while the enemy is famished:--this is the art of husbanding once's strength."

Basically, don't do any of the stuff you expect the enemy in our previous example to do. Stay calm, don't get desperate, keep your mood in check. Remember your game plan and stick by it. If you need to adapt, then adapt, but don't become reckless or allow your opponent to control you. Also, don't get cocky. If you're close to winning, that means you're doing something right and should keep doing it. Don't get reckless or impatient just because you have the advantage, this is how advantages are lost!
Sun Tzu says "To refrain from intercepting an enemy whose banners are in perfect order, to refrain from attacking an army drawn up in calm and confident array:--this is the art of studying circumstances."

This is basically just reiterating the principles outlined in previous chapters. In order to not siege a walled city, you must first be able to perceive it. You need to be able to observe your enemy and know for certain whether their banners are in perfect order, are in disarray, or are in mock disarray in an attempt to bait your attack. Without being able to recognize these situations in the first place, you will be unable to properly react to them.
Sun Tzu says "It is a military axiom not to advance uphill against the enemy, nor to oppose him when he comes downhill.

Do not pursue and enemy who simulates flight; do not attack soldiers whose temper is keen.

Do not swallow bait offered by the enemy. Do not interfere with an army that is returning home.

When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard.

Such is the art of warfare."

I believe this entire section translates word-for-word into the art of digital fighting games. You don't want to press an enemy who has an advantage against you, nor do you want to oppose them if they are voluntarily giving up that advantage to approach you. Let them come down to your level before engaging.

We already covered not swallowing your enemy's bait. However, if you are in the advantageous position, including the life lead, and your enemy is backing off on the defense, why chase them down? Let them "go home". That is them forfeiting the battle. The further they go before realizing they must return to achieve victory, the more ground they must cover to re-initiate their assault.

A desperate foe is unpredictable and dangerous. By purposefully leaving an outlet free, you are indirectly controlling your enemy's actions, and can react accordingly.​
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Chapter VII. Variation in Tactics

Sun Tzu says, "When in difficult country, do not encamp. Do not linger in dangerously isolated positions. In hemmed-in situations, you must resort to stratagem. In desperate position, you must fight."

This comes down to threat ranges and positioning. You don't want to hang out within the threat range of your enemy if you don't pose an equal threat to him. If you find yourself in such a position, your goal should be to escape to a more neutral position, since you don't want to fight while your enemy is in the stronger position.
Sun Tzu says, "There are roads that must not be followed, armies which must not be attacked, towns which must not be besieged, positions which must not be contested, commands of the sovereign which must not be obeyed."

This all comes down to knowing when to attack and when not to attack. Sometimes chasing down a fleeing enemy is not always the best decision, even if you are at a massive advantage.
Sun Tzu says, "The general who thoroughly understands the advantages that accompany his variation of tactics knows how to handle his troops. The general who does not understand these, may be well acquainted with the configuration of the country, yet he will not be able to turn his knowledge to practical account.

So the student of war who is unversed in the art of war of varying his plans, even though he be acquainted with the Five Advantages, will fail to make the best use of his men."

You must understand all of your options, and how to utilize the infinite combination of direct and indirect tactics at your characters disposal. It doesn't matter how well you know a particular matchup; if you become predictable, if you let your enemy know you, then victory is not assured.

Sun Tzu says, "Hence in the wise leader's plans, considerations of advantage and of disadvantage will be blended together.
If our expectation of advantage be tempered in this way, we may succeed in accomplishing the essential part of our schemes. If, on the other hand, in the midst of difficulties we are always ready to seize an advantage, we may extricate ourselves from misfortune."

This also comes down to risk vs reward; you must have a solid understand of what you hope to accomplish every time to take a risk, and decide if the consequences of failure are worth the potential gain. You must also be ready to capitalize on the consequences of your opponent taking risks and failing to succeed.
Sun Tzu says, "Reduce the hostile chiefs by inflicting damage on them; and make trouble for them, and keep them constantly engaged; hold out specious allurements, and make them rush to any given point."

Always keep your enemy guessing, and always be harassing them, goading them into making mistakes that you can capitalize on.
Sun Tzu says, "The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy's not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable."

Remember that your goal is to make yourself undefeatable, not to defeat your opponent, since it is up to your opponent to defeat themselves. Make yourself unassailable and capitalize on your opponents failed attempts to assail you; this is the key to victory.
Sun Tzu says, "There are five dangerous faults which may affect a general:

1) Recklessness, which leads to destruction;
2) Cowardice, which leads to capture;
3) A hasty temper, which can be provoked by insults;
4) A delicacy of honor which is sensitive to shame;
5) Over-solicitude for his men, which exposes him to worry and trouble.

These are the five besettings of a general, ruinous to the conduct of war.

When an army is overthrown and its leader slain, the cause will surely be found among these five dangerous faults. Let them be a subject of meditation.

This might be most important and applicable sections we've come across so far. Each of these points applies directly to fighting games, and by knowing these. you can not only spot them in your opponent, but can prevent them from entering your strategy, which is necessary for making yourself undefeatable. Let's see how they translate to fighting games:

1) Recklessness translates to using unsafe moves and direct, rather than indirect, attacks. Recklessness is overextending yourself, trying to force your way in rather than controlling your opponent to come to you. This might be the most common cause for lost matches.

2) Cowardice is usually the offspring of ignorance. Not knowing your opponent's frame data or how to defend against their setups can lead to fear, which leads to inaction, which leads to defeat. Cowardice can also be the result of facing a well-known opponent. A first-time tournament player pooled against Perfect Legend will surely play differently than when facing an unknown opponent. Thus, the cure for Cowardice is knowledge and experience.

3) A hasty temper leads to recklessness. This can be used against your enemy through the use of pokes and zoning. Frustrate your opponent into acting recklessly, and then capitalize on their inevitable mistakes.

4) A delicacy of honor most applies to the concept of "spamming". Some players feel that doing that same thing too many times is somehow dishonorable or shows a lack of skill. However, if a particular move or strategy proves to be more than your opponent can handle, it should be abused. On the other hand, players who are "sensitive to shame" might be provoked to give up their advantage to come "fight like a man".

5) Over-solicitude for his men can be best applied to your character's health bar. Health is a resource, and sometimes it is worth giving up a bit of it in order to reap some greater reward. Players who are overprotective of their health, who can't stand the thought of taking some chip while they slowly work their way in or while they block a desperate unsafe block-string, will inevitable end up losing more health in the long run.​
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The future of law enforcement.
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Wow this thread is good! I can't believe this got hidden under all those other drama threads.
Thanks! I've been reading ahead and am really excited about some of the upcoming info. Hopefully I'll have time tomorrow to get it typed up and formatted. After this I'm going to go through Miyamoto Musashi's A Book of Five Rings, which is a lot more focused on direct fighting over broad warfare.
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MK Led

Man this is some good shit, very readable stream of conscious writing. I usually write in this way so that may have something to do with it but still, props.


The future of law enforcement.
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Great post, you should check out The Book of Five Rings next I think you will really like it.
Yeah, I actually wish I had started with that, since it's more focused on direct combat and not as much on general warefare. Luckily The Art of War is actually pretty short, so I should have time to get to A Book of Five Rings before MKX drops.


The best mediocre Batman
One of the chapters is focused entirely on geography, and how to use the lay of the land to one's advantage. Your notes on that section should be "Become a master of pig footsies".