The ancient Chinese tactician Sun Bin, reportedly a direct descendant of Sun-tzu, proved that missing feet were no impediment to kicking ass. He defeated his mortal enemy, Pang Juan with a little guile and his ancestor’s famous maxim, “Know enemy, know self; one hundred battles, one hundred victories.”
Sun Bin, whose name means Sun the Mutilated, lost his feet courtesy of Pang Juan. Both men had studied warfare under a mysterious sage known as the Master of Demon Valley, but experience hardly bonded them. Pang Juan was bitterly jealous of his more talented classmate and set out to destroy him. He found the perfect opportunity after he became a general in the army of the Chinese state of Wei. Pang Juan lured Sun Bin to Wei, as if to consultant with him on a military matter. But when he arrived, Pang had him arrested on bogus charges, the penalty for which was mutilation. Both of Sun Bin’s feet were cut off and his face was branded.
It was in this pitiful state that Sun Bin encountered the ambassador from the neighboring state of Qi. The diplomat was impressed by Sun’s extensive knowledge of strategy in warfare and sought to utilize it. He smuggled Sun out of Wei and brought him to Qi. There Sun was offered the rank of general in the Qi army, which he turned down because, as a strategist, he knew missing feet could be a rather significant handicap in battle. Instead, Sun Bin became a consultant to the great Qi general Tian Ji. It was the perfect position for this military genius, also known as Sun-tzu II, to exact his revenge on Pang Juan.
Sun Bin rose to prominence during a period in Chinese history known as the Era of the Warring States, which ran from above 475 BC to 221 BC. “Usurpers set themselves up as lords and kings,” it was recorded in a traditional anthology known as Strategies of the Warring States; “states that were run by pretenders and plotters established armies to make themselves into major powers . . . . Fathers and sons were alienated, brothers were at odds, husbands and wives were estranged. No one could safeguard his or her life. Integrity disappeared . . . . This all happened because the warring states were shamelessly greedy, struggling insatiably to get ahead.”
It was during these chaotic times that the army of Wei, headed by Sun Bin’s old enemy Pang Juan, joined forces with the state of Zhao to attack the state of Han, which appealed to Sun’s adopted state of Qi for help. As Qi’s resident strategist, Sun Bin observed a characteristic of Pang’s army which would ultimately defeat them. “The aggressor armies are fierce and think little of your army, which they regard as cowardly,” Sun told Qi’s general. “A good warrior would take advantage of this tendency and lead them on with prospects of gain.”
Sun came up with a brilliantly deceptive battle plan that took full advantage of the enemy’s prejudice. He instructed the army of Qi to light one hundred thousand campfires on the first night of the occupation. The next night only fifty thousand fires were to be lit, then half of that on the third night. The illusion thus produced was that of an ever dwindling force. “I knew the soldiers of Qi were cowards,” Pang Juan crowed triumphantly in the belief that the warriors of Qi were defecting – “they’ve only been in our territory for three days now, and more than half their army has run away!”
Pang Juan was so convinced of Qi’s cowardly retreat that he left his own infantry behind and gave chase with nothing but a small force. It was a fatal error that played right into Sun Bin’s plan. He ordered an ambush set up at a narrow gorge. When Pang and his little group arrived at the spot, they came across a felled tree with a message carved into it. “The general of Wei will die at this tree,” it read. Sure enough, when Pang’s soldiers lit a torch to read the message, a hail of Qi arrows fell on them. Those that weren’t killed scattered, while Pang was left with nothing but the agonizing awareness that he had been tricked. He killed himself on the spot. Sun the Mutilated had been avenged.
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