IV. Tactical dispositions.
形 is a very comprehensive and somewhat vague term. Literally, “form,” “body,” it comes to mean “appearance,” “attitude” or “disposition;” and here it is best taken as something between, or perhaps combining, “tactics” and “disposition of troops.” Ts‘ao Kung explains it as 軍之形也、我動彼應兩敵相察情也 “marching and counter-marching on the part of the two armies with a view to discovering each other’s condition.” Tu Mu says: “It is through the 形 dispositions of an army that its condition may be discovered. Conceal your dispositions of an army (無形形), and your condition will remain secret, which leads to victory; show your dispositions, and your condition will become patent, which leads to defeat.” Wang Hsi remarks that the good general can 變化其形因敵以制勝 “secure success by modifying his tactics to meet those of the enemy.” In the modern text, the title of the chapters appears as 軍形, which Capt. Calthrop incorrectly translates “the order of battle.”
1. Sun Tzŭ said: The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy.
2. To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.
That is, of course, by a mistake on his part. Capt. Calthrop has: “The causes of defeat come from within; victory is born in the enemy’s camp,” which, though certainly an improvement on his previous attempt, is still incorrect.