The 36 Stratagems: Gaining Ground

By Tyler DeWacht


So, you’ve made it this far. As the term advances, you’ve held steady in the face of adversity, and you’ll be writing your final exams in about a month’s time. Are you ready to take on whatever happens next? In the last issue, I covered the Stratagems for Confused Situations, in which you face unpredictability. In this issue, I’ll be covering the fifth set of the 36 Stratagems, the Stratagems for Gaining Ground. Now it’s time for us to advance, using an old set of Chinese warfare tactics in a modern university context.


Picking back up where we last left off is Stratagem 25: Replace the Beams and Pillars with Rotten Timber. Almost everything relies on certain resources or systems, and your enemy is no exception to this. If you replace those resources with systems under your control, you can then play to your advantage. Good plot twists are a good example of this. The audience is expecting a certain set events, but when you switch out those expectations with an unexpected turn of events, then you hold their attention more. If you get an appropriate opportunity, why not try implementing a plot twist into your work?


Let’s say you want to express your anger with someone, but you can’t directly do it because you’d get in trouble. What do you do? Veil the insult, making it look like you could be insulting something else. If you don’t name the offender, then they can’t call you out on it because they can’t be sure if it was directed at them. That’s the logic behind Stratagem 26, Point At The Mulberry And Curse The Locust. The example in this case should be pretty clear: vent your frustrations with a certain student/teacher through a more creative means such as poetry or art.


Stratagem 27, Play Dumb While Remaining Smart, is simple; stay smart while playing dumb so that your enemy underestimates you. It’s rewarding to get all A’s, but the problem with this is that expectations often get raised to unrealistic levels of upkeep. Even a B+ won’t amount to anything anymore, and the pressure of maintaining such a streak just keeps building. If you feel like you’ve been pulled into this vicious cycle, then just remember that nobody is perfect, myself included. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t get an A. If you get a B or a C, so what? You can recover from a misstep or two.


One way to keep moving forward is to cut off any means of retreat: if you can’t go back, then you have no choice but to keep going forward. That’s Stratagem 28, Pull Down The Ladder After The Ascent, in a nutshell. When I have something I need to memorize, I seek out a quiet place free from distractions. Once I’ve found it, then I stay in that place until I have the thing memorized. Unless the place’s peace is compromised, I don’t allow myself to leave until my memorization goal is completed.


Regarding the Great Wall of China, did you know that a third of it has been lost due to a combination of vandalism and natural erosion? The wall itself dates back 2700 years, but most of what remains is the brick and stone reinforcements added during the Ming Dynasty. How does this relate to my next point? It doesn’t, it’s just filler content–there’s an interesting historical fact for you. Stratagem 29, Deck The Tree With Bogus Blossoms, is to make something with little value appear more valuable than it actually is. You might’ve thought I was going to use that information to demonstrate a relevant point, but it’s just there as an interesting piece of trivia. It’s meant purely to extend the space taken by this entry, just as this sentence is doing right now. My examples here have no subtlety whatsoever, but with better word and/or phrasing choices, then you too can extend the amount of words you take up within a paragraph in case you need to reach some sort of word limit.


Do you want more power in school affairs? If so, then Stratagem 30, Make The Host And The Guest Exchange Places, may apply to you. This stratagem is a process with several steps: infiltrate the enemy ranks, cooperate with them and gain their trust, and then take control. I’m not well-versed in student politics, but a parallel can be drawn here with regards to the student election several weeks ago. A candidate must first infiltrate the inner workings of the school, then cooperate with others and gain their trust. If all goes well, then the student body will elect the candidate for their desired position, and they’ll get the power associated with that position. It’s too late to use this stratagem right now, but perhaps next year?


This concludes the fifth set of the 36 Stratagems, the Stratagems for Gaining Ground. The sixth and final set of the 36 Stratagems, the Stratagems for Desperate Straits, focus on situations in which victory is highly improbable. Given how close that issue is to the final exam dates, it’s an oddly appropriate conclusion to this series. For now though, don’t give up hope! Keep moving forward, you can do it!


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