"If they are angry, disturb them" (Chapter One)
"If the general cannot control his temper and sends troops to swarm the walls, one third of them will be killed, and the city will still not be taken. This is the kind of calamity when laying siege to a walled city." (Chapter Three)
"He who is quick tempered can be insulted." (Chapter Eight)
"If he gives out punishments frequently, he is dire straits. If he is brutal at first, and then fears the masses, he is the extreme of ineptitude." (Chapter Nine)
"If the officers are angry and insubordinate, doing battle with the enemy under anger and insubordination, and the general does not know their abilities, this is called collapse." (Chapter Ten)
"The ruler may not move his army out of anger; the general may not do battle out of wrath." Sun Tzu (Chapter Twelve)
"Those angry will be happy again, and those wrathful will be cheerful again, but a destroyed nation cannot exist again, the dead cannot be brought back to life." (Chapter Twelve)
First, it would seem Sun Tzu believes that anger is a powerful emotion. If anger wasn't a common problem for leaders, he wouldn't mention it at all. But since he mentioned anger numerous times, we can surmise Sun Tzu had personally seen the devastation that it has caused. I can't help but think it is personal to Sun Tzu because he had made tragic mistakes due to his own unsuccessful battles with anger in the past.
Second, Sun Tzu believes that anger is temporary. To make decisions that are permanent for a temporary condition isn't very wise. Thus, he reminds us over and over to be cautious and prudent. There is no need to rush. Whatever gains we might have missed will come back again, but what we would lose due to anger will never come back.
Third, by paying attention to our current emotional state and the emotional states of others, Sun Tzu shows us that we can minimize anger's effects and even control and benefit from it:
"Killing the enemy is a matter of arousing anger in men; taking the enemy's wealth is a matter of reward. Therefore, in chariot battles, reward the first to capture at least ten chariots." (Chapter Two)
"If his troops confront you with anger, but do not do battle or leave their position, he must be investigated." (Chapter Nine)
"Adaptations to the nine grounds, the advantages in defensive and offensive maneuvers, and the patterns of human emotions must be examined." (Chapter Eleven)
"It is important for a general to be calm and remote, upright and disciplined." (Chapter Eleven)
Sages are like Sun Tzu when it comes to dealing with extreme emotions. They take on these enemies with great seriousness. And it is all-out war with menacing emotions like anger. As Sun Tzu said, we cannot depend on the enemy never attacking us but for us to always be prepared for its attack at any time. One such sage is Plato. Below Seneca the Younger recounted how Plato handled one bout of anger:
"Plato, when angry with his slave, could not prevail upon himself to wait, but straightway ordered him to take off his shirt and present his shoulders to the blows which he meant to give him with his own hand: then, when he perceived that he was angry, he stopped the hand which he had raised in the air, and stood like one in act to strike. Being asked by a friend who happened to come in, what he was doing, he answered: 'I am making an angry man expiate his crime.' He retained the posture of one about to give way to passion, as if struck with astonishment at its being so degrading to a philosopher, forgetting the slave, because he had found another still more deserving of punishment. He therefore denied himself the exercise of authority over his own household, and once, being rather angry at some fault, said, 'Speusippus, will you please to correct that slave with stripes; for I am in a rage.' He would not strike him, for the very reason for which another man would have struck him. 'I am in a rage,' said he; 'I should beat him more than I ought: I should take more pleasure than I ought in doing so: let not that slave fall into the power of one who is not in his own power.'"
Sun Tzu was also aware of his incapability when facing a walled city. Anger is like conquering a walled city. It is formidable. Underestimate and take it for granted at your own peril.
But anger can be conquered. In order to take on anger, like in a walled the city, we must muster up enough strength. Sun Tzu advised us to take the time and diligence to build strength:
"Laying siege to a city is only done when other options are not available. To build protective shields, armored wagons, and make ready other arms and equipment will require at least three months. To build earthen mounds against the walls will require another three months." (Chapter Three)
Let's not forget about diligence. A wise person can consistently defeat anger because he or she had plenty of practice, having underwent a "winter's training" as Epictetus would say.
As I mentioned earlier, I believe that Sun Tzu has the wisdom to warn us about anger not because he never felt anger in his life. He likely made horrible mistakes due to anger and had profoundly learned from them. What is more important was his diligence in making sure not to make the same mistakes again.
The Art of War translator Dr. Thomas Cleary tells a story about a samurai candidate up for a promotion and the elders of the clan were discussing among themselves whether it would be a wise decision to promote him. One elder reminds the group that this particular samurai made a bad mistake in the past, and it would be dangerous to promote him. But another elder responded by saying what is truly dangerous is a warrior who never made a bad mistake and is due to make one in the future.
Therefore, don't let the past hinder your future progress. Be cautious and prudent but be not afraid to survey a difficult problem -- push forward to build strength by putting in the hard work to create a sound strategy to match.
Building strength is a virtuous cycle if you decide to not let strong emotions like anger overpower you. You know anger's weakness of being temporary, and so you can employ time to vanquish it. I hope in its place you then have more time and space for tranquility, even joy. And what a joy it is for you to be here with me today at Sonshi.com. I appreciate your stopping by and learning along with me Sun Tzu's wisdom.
P.S.: If you're in a joyful mood (or want to be), I want to share with you a catchy, cheerful Chinese song I picked up on my recent trip to China. The song is called "The King Asked Me to Survey the Mountain" (dawang jiao wo lai xun shan, 大王叫我来巡山), written and performed here by Zhao Yingjun: