Maintaining the Mental Edge

In Sun Tzu’s Art of War parable, the over-arching philosophy he describes is a focus on the mental state of war more than physical tactics. While the carrying out of ferocious military plans will no doubt help win a battle or war, Tzu writes about almost entirely the psychological aspects of preparing for war. He begins by describing the importance of making plans, having a strategic offensive, and then handling the fray of battle. Each of these chapters focus almost exclusively on the preparation of one’s mind for war rather than the body. The art of war, Tzu would argue, is an art of preparing oneself mentally for the extreme conditions and decision-making principles needed to excel in combat. Tzu emphasizes this importance when he states “The way causes men to be of one mind with their rulers, to live or die with them, and never to waiver” (Tzu 3-4). Rather than the way to success being found in a specific tactic, Tzu argues it is found in the connection between a commander and his men. When talking about the strategic offensives in war Tzu continues this idea of a mental edge, stating “The skilled strategist defeats the enemy without doing battle, captures the city without laying siege, overthrows the enemy state without protracted war” (Tzu 16). Contradictory to many traditional ways of considering victory in war, Tzu argues the importance of winning battles without mass destruction and rather with a clear focus on mental supremacy. 

This focus on the mind rather than the physical body matches many of the tactics taught to us here at the Naval Academy. While we do undergo many physical evolutions to strengthen the body, much of what the Academy teaches us deals with the mind and how to think critically as a naval officer. Out of the Naval Academy mission statement to develop midshipmen morally, mentally, and physically, two of those three components deal with the mind rather than brute military strength. These principles are reinforced daily through a challenging academic curriculum and constant tests of character that enforce the need to do what is right. Classes such as Ethics and Moral Reasoning and Naval History teach us the importance of strategic thinking to defeat an enemy. Principles taught in class and the Hall emphasize the value of traits such as humility. These teachings mirror those of Tzu, as he states “Ignorant interference in military decisions confuses officers and men; ignorant meddling in military appointments perplexes officers and men” (Tzu 17). Tzu’s idea of ignorance being a potential downfall to a military directly mirrors values taught to midshipmen at the Naval Academy. 

A comparison between the military teachings of Sun Tzu and the Naval Academy will find many similarities, specifically how both focus on mental strength. One difference between the two would be the Naval Academy’s emphasis on moral righteousness. This allows one to have a sort of ethical guide to follow when making decisions in combat. While both teachings focus on the mind, the Naval Academy’s further teachings on morality makes it more effective. Both Tzu and the Academy would agree on the importance of out-thinking the enemy and having the mental edge, but the Naval Academy’s further lessons on moral reasoning give their students a further advantage of the mind in combat.

-550 Words

-Matt Benedettini


2 thoughts on “Maintaining the Mental Edge

  1. Matt explains that Sun Tzu’s Art of War emphasizes the importance of the mental state during war over the physical state. The focus of Matt’s post revolves around the psychological aspects including “making plans, having a strategic offensive, and then handling the gray of the battle. The preparation of the mind takes precedence over the body. As seen in Operation Sacred Chicken, the preparation and planning was more important than “preparing our bodies”. The Carthaginian Fleet had some people who had never been in a kayak before, yet they were still able to win. The planning beforehand from the admiral was the key to success in this reenactment. Matt relates Sun Tzu’s teachings to the lessons taught at the Naval Academy. As the mission reads “to develop Midshipmen morally, mentally, and physically”, the majority of time is spent on the mind. From classes such as Navigation, Ethics, and Weapons, Midshipmen are preparing their minds more than their body. The lesson taught in the Art of War can also be applied to sports. If one is not in the right mindset or has confidence, he or she will not perform, regardless of how physically prepared they are. It is important to remember to prepare the mind the same amount, if not more, than the body.

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  2. The introduction to your blog was well written. It allowed for an easy transition of explaining what Tzu’s over-arching philosophy, and explaining this in detail, to how this relates and is parallel to some of the ideals we are taught here at the Academy. I like how you were able to immediately connect Tzu’s parable, to the Academy’s mission of building strength of mind and body. I agree that the main focus of our mission, just as Tzu emphasized, is the building of mental strength. Our job as future officers, is to have the mental competency to not only lead others, but to keep this discipline when things get tough. With discipline in mind and body, comes more successes, and things are more likely to fall into place. The only thing I would improve on for this blog, is to go more into detail on the difference between the two. You begin to mention the difference of moral righteousness, but do not go into much detail, I think it would make your argument and blog stronger.

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