Bike Polo And The Art Of War

Sun Tzu

The Art of War by Sun Tzu is read by military leaders, kids who recently acquired cheap, knock off “ninja swords” from ebay, and guys in B&N cafes who want to seem mysterious to the teenage girl who just poured them green tea (“no sugar, please. It is against The Way”).

Frankly, the book doesn’t really apply to warfare unless it’s being waged in a post apocalyptic scenario where the only weapons you have are the ones you can make–but really, I’d be trying to learn more lessons from Red Dawn, in that case. Because I think you need to practice to eat a deer heart, right?

But I’m up to the challenge of taking the basic lessons provided by this noble work and trying to apply them to the much more important art of bike polo. Here goes nothing:

planning始計,始计: Detail Assessment and Planning

In this chapter, Old Sunny is talking about the importance of planning before doing. In particular, deciding the likelihood of success in war (depending on the season, commanders available, strength of force, and terrain, among other things).

In Polo: 

Before you start a match at a tourney, try to watch a game or two from the people you’re going to be playing against. See who they leave near the goal, who is the most active and who is the most accurate. Be familiar with the court surface and how your tires respond to it. Take a few shots to see how the weather is affecting the ball. These are little maneuvers before a match that can provide a slight advantage over the less curious polo player.

Hell, that one was easy! Let’s move on.

war cats作戰,作战: Waging War

Sun Tzu’s second chapter focuses on the idea of a quick battle: how war is more easily won if the battles within it are quick and decisive. Essentially, limiting the cost of the war.

In Polo: 

I think this is an easy one, too. If you are able to shut down a game quickly, it’s a good idea to do so. You’re saving your energy, limiting the amount of time that other competitors can study your strategy, and opening up more time off court for shit talking and beverage consumption.



謀攻,谋攻: Strategic Attack

The next chapter defines the source of strength as unity, and lists the five most important factors (in order of importance) to winning a war: attack, strategy, alliances, army and city.

In Polo: 

This one is a bit more tricky…okie dokes…

Strength in unity makes perfect sense–you won’t see a team win a match if players act as if they are the only people on their team–at least not in an evenly matched game. Acting as a unit rather than as individuals is key to success.

As far as the five important factors to winning wars, I can only say that it’s applicable in that a polo team needs to be active first (attack), but make sure that they aren’t just moving around the court without a plan (strategy). As far as alliances, army, and city goes, I guess I could say it’s good if your team comes from a club that supports each other? Club pride is good? Nevermind! Moving on!

fat soldier軍形,军形: Disposition of the Army

Mr. Tzu’s next chapter discusses “the importance of defending existing positions until a commander is capable of advancing from those positions in safety. It teaches commanders the importance of recognizing strategic opportunities, and teaches not to create opportunities for the enemy” (wikipedia).

In Polo: 

Another easy one: being able to recognize when an opportunity presents itself (and how to capitalize on that opportunity) is an essential quality for any team, but especially for a team that is at a little bit of a disadvantage in regards to who they are playing. I believe that a team who is playing a stronger team can make up for it by playing intelligently.

running dog兵勢,兵势: Forces 

This chapter discusses using creativity and timing to build momentum

In Polo: 

uhh…I think this goes along with what I said above. Know how to capitalize on opportunities. I guess also don’t fall asleep between matches, as you’ll destroy your momentum?

weakness虛實,虚实: Weaknesses and Strengths 

Sun Tzu discusses how to see opportunities caused by the environment and how the enemy is situated on the terrain.

In Polo: 

Again, this goes back to recognizing your opponent’s weaknesses, and your own. If the other team is exhausted (or partied too much the night before), you can use that to your advantage. If the goalie has the sun in his eyes, use that. If there is a player on the other team who seems to only rush at the ball, use that knowledge against them.

Likewise, be aware of your own strengths and weaknesses, and try to utilize both intelligently.

crash軍爭,军争: Military Maneuvers 

Tzu explains how direct contact with an enemy is never really desirable, but how to meet that challenge if it comes.

In Polo: 

Okay, this is a stretch, but I’m going to say this: direct conflict in the case of a bike polo match is checking, and people should be aware of how to handle physical contact. I feel like there are a lot of people who don’t know how to handle and aggressive player at a tourney (or only know how to handle it by getting angry and then breaking rules). So, to this chapter, I say the lesson for bike polo is learning how to take a hit when it comes, even if you’re not necessarily a checking sort.

flexible九變,九变: Variations and Adaptability

Sun Sun T-zizzle discusses the importance of flexibility from an army.

In Polo: 

Again, a no brainer. If you’ve only got one trick up your sleeve, you’ll quickly find yourself at a disadvantage. Knowing how to change your game based how the other folks on your team and the other team are playing is one of the best skills you can have–so work on getting out of your comfort zone as much as possible.

luggage行軍,行军 : Movement and Development of Troops 

Despite the name of this chapter (as translated in 2003 by Chow-Hou Wee), the purpose of this section is to explain what challenges your troops will face while moving through enemy territory, and determining the intentions of the enemy.

In Polo: 

Figure out how to pack your bicycle so it looks like a painting while going through Customs.

goal d地形: Terrain and 九地: The Nine Battlegrounds

As Wikipedia explains, these two chapters “look at  the three general areas of resistance (distance, dangers and barriers) and the six types of ground positions that arise from them. Each of these six field positions offer certain advantages and disadvantages, and describes the nine common situations (or stages) in a campaign, from scattering to deadly, and the specific focus that a commander will need in order to successfully navigate them.”

In Polo: 

Determine the advantages of playing a heavily defensive game (sticking to the terrain in front of the goal–see, see how I tied that in?), or a very offensive game (keeping all three of your players in the territory of offense. 

I’m so clever my goodness gracious.

gascan火攻: Attacking With Fire

This explains the general use of weapons and the specific use of the environment as a weapon. This section examines the five targets for attack, the five types of environmental attack and the appropriate responses to such attacks (wikipedia).

In Polo: 

Light your mallet on fire. Sun Tzu is telling you to light your mallet on fire and swing it around your head until the mallet head itself melts off and flies afire toward the other team. I’m sure the NAH will write some stupid rule about this being illegal soon, so do it at the next tourney you go to.

spy vs spy用間,用间: Intelligence and Espionage 

Just like it sounds, in this final chapter Sun Tzu discusses how to best utilize spies and gathered intelligence.

In Polo: 

You should probably have a mole on the other team, and a sophisticated set of hand motions to explain what they are saying to each other. I’m pretty sure The Assassins already do this.


And there you go. Easy as pie.


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