Art of War--Art of Peace

 Douglas E. Noll, Esq.

Home Page

January 2004

If one were to consider the classic writings of war, one would probably include Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War,” considered by some to be the oldest military treatise on warfare, and Miyamoto Musashi’s “A Book of Five Rings,” espousing the doctrine of the samurai through kendo and Zen (The Way of the Sword). These books have gained some recent popularity as having application to the business world.  For example, Gerald Michaelson recently published “Sun Tzu:  The Art of War for Managers” that applies his interpretation of “The Art of War” to business strategy. I question the wisdom of applying these books to life in general and business in particular.

“The Art of War” contains nine chapters dealing with laying plans, waging war,
attack by stratagem, tactical dispositions, energy, weak points and strong, maneuvering, variation in tactics,  the army on the march, terrain, the nine situations, the attack by fire, and the use of spies.  The gist of Sun Tzu’s thinking is planning and preparation with the goal of defeating an enemy.

In “The Book of Five Rings,” Musashi speaks of strategy and training through the use of the sword.  Kendo, the Way of the sword, had always been synonymous with nobility in Japan. Since the founding of the samurai class in the eighth century, the military arts have became the highest form of study, inspired by the teachings of Zen and the feeling of Shinto.  Mushashi explains how to train with the sword, enter the fight, and discover the Way of strategy.

These books have some common assumptions and themes.  First, they assume a competitive, hostile, and adversarial world.  Second, they assume that survival and happiness is dependent upon winning.  Third, defeat of the enemy is the paramount goal. These assumptions and themes underlie the philosophy of many modern business people, which is why the ancient wisdom seem to resonate with them today.

There is another Way, however.  If we stay with the martial arts, this other Way is described by Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of the modern martial art of Aikido.  Ueshiba, commenting on Sun Tzu and Musashi, stated:

“The Way of the Warrior has been misunderstood as a means to kill and destroy others.  Those who seek competition are making a grave mistake.  To smash, injure, or destroy is the worst sin a human being can commit. The real Way of a Warrior is to prevent slaughter—it is the Art of Peace, the power of love.”

Unlike Sun Tzu or Musashi, who accepted the inevitability of war, emphasized cunning strategy and manipulation of the enemy as a means to victory, Ueshiba understood that continued fighting with others and ourselves was disastrous.  “What we need now,” he wrote during the depths of World War Two, “are techniques of harmony, not those of contention.  The Art of Peace is required, not the Art of War.”  Through the martial art of Aikido, Ueshiba taught the Art of Peace as a means of handling aggression.  The Art of Peace is a way of life that fosters fearlessness, wisdom, love, and friendship.  Ueshiba believed that every person could become a Warrior for Peace.

Ueshiba was not a warrior to trifle with.  As the Master of Aikido, he was perhaps the greatest martial artist in modern times.  He could disarm any foe, down any number of armed attackers, and pin an opponent with a single finger.  Video clips of Ueshiba in his late 70s and early 80s show how he could effortlessly move through a throng of attackers and disable each without injury.  Although invincible as a warrior, he abhorred violence, fighting, and war.

The modern business person therefore seems to have two models to choose from.  The older model sees the world as a competitive place where the cunning and the powerful may rise to success through strategies designed to defeat opponents.  This is an “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” view of things.  The newer model sees the world as a place where peace can allow all to prosper.  As Ueshiba said:

“The Art of Peace does not rely on weapons or brute force to succeed; instead we put ourselves in tune with the universe, maintain peace in our realms, nurture life, and prevent death and destruction.  The true meaning of the term samurai is one who serves and adheres to the power of love.”

I believe that a business community based on Ueshiba’s model would be a place of enlightenment, abundance, and prosperity.  What about you?  Which model do you choose for your life, your organization, and your community:  The Way of War or the Way of Peace?

Douglas E. Noll, Esq. is a lawyer specializing in peacemaking and mediation of difficult and intractable conflicts throughout California. His firm,  Noll Associates is based in Central California. He may be reached through his website and email at

© 2004, Douglas E. Noll