The 36 Stratagems: Desperate Straits

By Tyler DeWacht


Welcome to the home stretch! You only have a few more days to go before the break! Unfortunately, there’s a few more hurdles you need to clear before you’re done, and these are potentially the most challenging obstacles you must face: the final exams. All hope isn’t yet lost, as there are still a few tricks left that the 36 Stratagems can teach you. In the previous issue, I covered the fifth set of stratagems, the Stratagems for Gaining Ground. This final issue is dedicated to the sixth and final set, the Stratagems for Desperate Straits. When the odds are stacked against you, this is the set to consult. Now, let’s wrap this up, shall we?


The Beauty Trap. That’s what Stratagem 31 is called. Back in the day, army camps were populated mostly by men who often had to live out in the middle of nowhere for months or even years at a time. How could you distract a bunch of men who don’t normally get visitors? How about some beautiful women? Send them some women, and they’ll be distracted long enough for you to do whatever it is you need to do. How could this stratagem possibly apply to university? As long as it still serves the main purpose, the beauty can be substituted with charisma. The gender isn’t an integral part, so don’t worry about that. It still counts, even if you just use a smile and a mirror.


Next up is Stratagem 32, The Empty Fort. When you have no way to fight the enemy, just pretend that nothing is wrong; show no signs of weakness and stay nonchalant regardless of what happens. If all goes well, they’ll be suspicious of potential traps, so they’ll avoid directly charging into your empty fort. If nothing else, this buys you some extra time before your bluff is called. Sometimes during a performance, things go wrong; someone forgets their lines, a crucial prop goes missing, technology breaks down. In case of such an event, hold your composure and do some improvisation. Don’t make a big deal out of it (unless that’s part of your character, then by all means, make it a big deal), as everything should hopefully fall back into place. The show can be salvaged as long as the audience doesn’t get too caught up by the mistakes.


Now, let’s say that there’s someone who repeatedly tries to cheat off of you. You’ve asked that person nicely to stop, but they won’t, and the professor won’t believe you when you tell them. In this scenario, what would you do? You could try Stratagem 33, Let the Enemy’s Own Spies Sow Discord in the Enemy Camp. Feed them false information so they’ll fail, and they should stop cheating off of you since they’ll see you as a bad information source. Keep in mind that this is just one solution, there are other options available to you (such as talking to another professor or getting proof of the student’s guilt) if you don’t want to be mean.


Tied with Stratagem 33 for the longest stratagem name award is Stratagem 34, Inflict Injury on Oneself in Order to Win the Enemy’s Trust. It’s pretty self-explanatory, put yourself in harm’s way in order to gain the trust of your enemy. Playing safe is good for staying out of trouble, but it can also serve to limit your true potential since it keeps you from leaving your comfort zone. Likewise, taking a risk opens you up to the potential for failure, but it can also give you a bigger reward than you otherwise would’ve gotten, depending on how well the professor takes it. Use this stratagem with caution, it’s not always worth the risk.


It’s good to have a well thought-out plan, but even the most meticulous plans can fall apart with the introduction of an unexpected element. To avoid such an occurrence ruining everything, it’s best to have a couple of backup plans in case things go awry. For instance, this series was meant to be released in 7 parts, one per issue of The Bolt. If I were for some reason unable to get a part out on time, then my contingency plan was to do a blitz round of the last 12 stratagems. Alternatively, I could’ve done two sets of 9 stratagems or adapted the Stratagems for Confrontation into poetry for the supplemental issue. I was able to get all 7 parts written without issue though, so I didn’t have to fall back onto those plans, but something could’ve happened to me. Stratagem 35, Chain Together the Enemy’s Warships, is all about having multiple plans in place so your enemy can’t easily corner you.


Last but not least is Stratagem 36: If All Else Fails, Retreat. When defeat is imminent, it may be best to just cut your losses and escape while you can. By retreating, you’ll live to fight another day. If there’s no way for you to pass a certain course, you have the option of withdrawing from it. As long as you do it before the deadline, your GPA won’t be affected and it won’t appear on your permanent record. Likewise, you can withdraw your enrolment from Concordia itself. University isn’t for everyone, and it’s better to withdraw and cut your losses than it is to pay thousands of dollars for an unpleasant experience. It’s nothing to be ashamed of; some battles are just impossible to win.


This has been the 36 Stratagems, a collection of ancient Chinese warfare tactics I’ve chosen to apply to a modern university context. Thank you for taking this journey with me– hopefully we can all learn something from the knowledge of those who’ve come before us. Now, go out there and do your best on the finals! I believe in you!

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