Military general, strategist, philosopher and author of The Art of War. Sun Tzu is a man who has made an incredible impact on military strategy and martial arts in China. Alternate names include Sun Tze or Sun Wu, depending on the translation.
Sun Tzu grew up in a family of mercenaries, raised to battle from the very beginning. There was a large emphasis on the illusion of power in his teachings. The strong do not always dominate the weak; Sun Tzu’s training is entirely based upon leveraging opponents’ supposed strengths against them. He proved his philosophy as a commander after being hired by the Wu kingdom. In the Wu kingdom Sun Tzu was able to train the world’s first civilian army, which was able to conquer larger, richer, and more technologically advanced kingdoms.
Different regions of China attempted to emulate his success, even after his death. Because of the emphasis on a citizen army, access to weapons and martial arts training became extremely common. Around 298 BC King Wen of Zhoa supposedly invited more than 3,000 sword martial artists to practice in his court. Sun Tzu’s techniques were so popular that they had been incorporated into the martial arts techniques of both offense and defense and of both armed and unarmed combat. His ideas were actually the fundamental principles in the Book of Sword Fighting and Internal Boxing (both published in the Warring States period).
Gradually Sun Tzu’s teachings lost its popularity until Sun Bing, Sun Tzu’s descendent, revitalized his work. Eventually a young nobleman named Ying Zheng learned his teachings, marking the beginning of a powerful legacy. Ying Zheng used Bing-fa, which was usually a heavily guarded secrets for nobles, and he eventually became so powerful that he was the ruler of his kingdom, Qin. Soon he began conquering the neighboring kingdoms as well, and by 211 BC Ying became the first emperor of China (changing his name to Qin Shi Huangdi).
During this time period and centuries later, the development of martial arts was beginning to change. The most prominent change could have been with the Buddhist monks, who may have been given a secret copy of the text of the Bing-fa from a buddhist member of the royal family of China. This began what is now known as Kung-Fu (“hard work”). A quotation from scienceofstrategy.org explains what happened next:
The philosophy was spread both through armed combat and unarmed combat (since peasants were denied arms) through all of Asia.
Over the centuries, the martial arts took a myriad of forms as they spread out from China. These skills are known collectively in China today as Wu Shu (martial skills). In Korea, they were originally called Mu Sool (martial arts), but the most popular Korean forms today are from Japanese influence, known as Hap Ki Do (total arts school) and Tae Kwon Do (art of kicking and punching). In Japan, the main martial arts are Daito Ryu Yawara (Eastern-style soft skills, sometime called Jujitsu), Aikido (way of spiritual harmony), Karate (empty hand), Judo (gentle way), and Kendo (way of the sword). More recently, the Philippines developed Escrima (skirmish) and Arnis (arnis de mano, meaning “harness of the hand”).
There is still much debate over the authenticity of Sun Tzu’s supposed history. Historical inaccuracies and contradictions have been found by historians but there is no solid proof in or against Sun Tzu’s favor. Skeptics and traditionalists have debated for years but one thing has remained certain: The Art of War was one of the most influential texts on military strategy during its time and therefore has played a part in the shaping of history.