Sun Tzu and The Art of War – Demonstration with Concubines

It’s said that Sun Tzu’s lifetime was between 544–496 BC. He was a Minister for King Helu of Wu.

This is a period in Chinese history called the period of the Warring States.

In 500 BC, King Helu, the ruler of the Chinese state of Wu agonizes about a growing threat. A hostile neighbor was poised to invade. Desperate to defend his kingdom, Helu summons one of the greatest Military minds in history –
Sun Tzu.

Sun Tzu is important because he has a cohesive and holistic of how to approach strategy. If you listen to Sun Tzu, if you follow his principles, you will be victorious. If you ignore him, you do so at your own peril because you will definitely lose.

Sun Tzu assures King Helu that he can train a smaller Army to overcome and defeat the larger invading force.

Palace Concubines

King Helu then challenges Sun Tzu in something of a mocking way; He says “You claim you can train anyone to be a soldier. Can you train these palace women? These spoiled, soft Concubines into a fighting force?


These Concubines have been trained from birth for the sole role of giving pleasure to a man and so thus they lived in luxury in the palace to fulfill this role.


Sun Tzu then answers – “Of course I can.”

He then demonstrates to King Helu. He has the women line up in a small formation. Shows them what the maneuvers are. He then chose 2 of the most senior Concubines to serve as Platoon leaders and then charging them with making sure that discipline is observed within their unit.

He orders the Drums to sound, but when Sun Tzu orders the exercise to begin, the women simply giggle and laugh.

Sun Tzu then says to the women – “Okay, maybe my instructions were not clear to you. So, let me rephrase my instructions to you.”

And in simple language, he told the Concubines that when the drums are sounded, you as Concubines must assemble your soldiers with your spears and your swords and fall in line.

The Drums sounded.

The second time and what happens? The Concubines still begin giggling and laughing.


If instructions are not clear and commands not explicit, it is the fault of the General. But if the orders are clear then it is the fault of the subordinate officers that the orders are not obeyed. – Sun Tzu


There is only 1 way that Sun Tzu can convince the Concubines that he is deadly serious.

He then raises and swings his sword in a great arc and chops both of the platoon leaders head off.

Sun Tzu Chopping the Heads of the two Concubines

To Sun Tzu, War is a matter of Life and Death, which is the key principle of his teachings.

Once understood, everyone from the leader to the individual Soldier will be motivated to win.

Sun Tzu then appoints 2 new Platoon leaders.

The Concubines now follow his orders without hesitation.


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