13. He wins his battles by making no mistakes.
Ch‘ên Hao says: “He plans no superfluous marches, he devises no futile attacks.” The connection of ideas is thus explained by Chang Yü: “One who seeks to conquer by sheer strength, clever though he may be at winning pitched battles, is also liable on occasion to be vanquished; whereas he who can look into the future and discern conditions that are not yet manifest, will never make a blunder and therefore invariably win.” Li Ch‘üan thinks that the character 忒 should be 貳 “to have doubts.” But it is better not to tamper with the text, especially when no improvement in sense is the result.
Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated.
The T‘u Shu omits 必. 措 is here =置. Chia Lin says it is put for 錯 in the sense of 雜; but this is far-fetched. Capt. Calthrop altogether ignores the important word 忒.
14. Hence the skilful fighter puts himself into a position which makes defeat impossible, and does not miss the moment for defeating the enemy.
A 不可爲之計 “counsel of perfection,” as Tu Mu truly observes. 地 need not be confined strictly to the actual ground occupied by the troops. It includes all the arrangements and preparations which a wise general will make to increase the safety of his army.
15. Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.
Ho Shih thus expounds the paradox: “In warfare, first lay plans which will ensure victory, and then lead your army to battle; if you will not begin with stratagem but rely on brute strength alone, victory will no longer be assured.”