Know Yourself, Know Your Enemy – Meaning.

“Know Yourself, Know Your Enemy” – Master Sun


It’s a Proverb

When Master Sun said “Know yourself, know your enemy, and you shall win a hundred battles without loss,” he was quoting a common phrase at that time – a proverb.

Sun Tzu didn’t invent, that phrase – his role was to combine the phrases and ideas into his book The Art of War. This quote was in wide use in military circles of the day as it is today for a reason. Thanks to Master Sun it has became popular around the world and has a deeper meaning to it especially for those who desire to improve their hand at life or battle.

To really know yourself, you must know where you are and who is around you. Do you know the people around you? their names? backgrounds or understanding of where they think they are, are you able to see things from their points of view? This is about knowing the other. You certainly don’t want to go to say a hospital with heart problems with the view that everyone there is a heart specialist – you are not going to ask the first person once you walk through the doors to help you and collapse in his or her arms thinking thats it you are ok now.

Wars, politicians, companies fail because they do not know their enemies, opponents or customers, therefore, they do not know themselves – their egos for better or worse come in their way and they usually end up blaming others for their own lack of foresight and judgement.

The only way to know others is to simply to begin by understanding them and their points of view – and not in the heat of battle try to find out as their defences as they will be up and you will be in a position to lose and they at that moment will likely know much more about you.

Military strategy is about knowing yourself as a general/leader and your opponent(s). This is not rocket science. Master Sun (and military strategists) give importance to knowing ourselves and knowing our enemy because they wish to win not just play a little game.

It is natural to first look at our enemy superficially and devise a plan then which is a mistake – If we do not know ourselves – we our own worst enemy. If you wish to fight others you find their weaknesses and once you know their weaknesses you then compare your weaknesses with theirs – this gives you a balance within to compare and should the enemy draw you into battle then you are likely to have the upper hand. Where either side does not know their own weaknesses – those weaknesses can be used against them.

If you really want to beat others in whatever – you first have to know yourself, your abilities, temperament and then know your opponents abilities and temperament. This is is what chess teaches also – the reason certain religious and political leaders wanted this banned is that it gave an insight into strategy and tactics of people who wished to control and manipulate the population for their own agendas.

In its most literal meaning, the phrase ‘Know Yourself Know Your Enemy’ is the gospel truth of all military strategy and those who do not understand it will fail in life or their battles and won’t have anyone to blame but themselves.

Know Your Surroundings

Where are you? Who are the people around you? After knowing yourself and your enemy – you must know your surroundings.

Master Sun gave specific advice for a specific to a time and place. The Art of War should not be taken literally but rather what it represents. The path to victory is based not simply knowing ourselves and knowing our enemies but the environment we are in and the people we come across generally who are neutral – neither friend nor foe. The average human being is a mystery to himself or herself – how can they then find out about others when they don’t even know themselves.

As someone who has studied Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and read about 12 different translations, I have still more to study through his ideas but one of the most important things to realise for us all is that we all need a strategy to live our lives and find out our own potentials and how things really work – including other people – it’s easy to say you want power, but how many of us really have power for ourselves?

I can go into the deeper philosophy of what is Master Sun believed – but that is not for this article, all I ask is that I am trying to know myself and my potential all the time and more I know about myself the more it makes me – humble. Understand there is something much higher that guides us all – in fact all nature and our role is to tune in to that. Some may call it by religious or spiritual definitions but that falls back into ‘faith’ – the religious or spiritual teachers told us to believe something and we just became believers, not Knowers.

Master Sun told us not to just believe but Know.

Mohammed Abbasi

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