«When Prince Wenhui’s butcher was carving up an ox, he seized the animal with his hands, forced it to its knees and his knife, upon being sunk into the animal, produced a pure musical sound.
Seeing his butcher working one day, Prince Wenhui said: –Ah!, Excellent! How have you reached such perfection with your art?
Leaving aside his knife, the butcher answered, «At first, when I, your servant, began butchering oxen, I only saw the ox before me; after three years I still did not see the ox itself. Now I use my spirit to truly know the ox, not my eyes to merely see it. Once the senses are restrained, it is the spirit that acts.
Following the natural lines of the ox, I cut between the joints until I reach the bones between the bones and the tendons. In this way, the knife accommodates the natural lines of the ox and, in this way, encounters not even the merest hindrance from the veins or tendons, much less from the animal’s big bones!
A good butcher changes knife once a year, since that it is used to cut the meat; a common butcher changes it once a month, as he uses to cut bones. Nineteen years has passed that I, your servant, have used the same knife. With it I have butchered thousands of oxen, yet it remains as sharp as if it had recently been forged at the millstone. The joints of the ox have hollows and the blade of the knife is not thick. Sinking the blade of the knife into the softness of the ox is done comfortably and easily. Because of this, even after so many years my knife appears as new as when it was just came off the millstone.
When I sometimes run across a knot, I probe the difficulty and proceed with the greatest care. I regard the ox intently, move slowly, handle the knife very carefully and, there!, the ox is quartered and reduced to flesh. At that time I stand up, knife in hand, and look around feeling pleased. I clean the knife and put it away.
Excellent!–exclaimed Prince Wenhui. Hearing your reasoning I have come to understand the work necessary to nurture life.
However it is true, Sir, remarked the butcher, this virtue is acquired neither from erudition nor from books. It is the fruit of observation and reflection and, because of that, it cannot be passed on if not learned first-hand. (1)
The effect of a torrent of water in his way (2):
«If we observe a torrent descending on successive banks of land or dams that lie in its way, we see that it first thrusts against the obstacle, probing and testing all its surfaces.
Opportunely, once finding a small break or weakness, the water gathers and its first trickles begin to rush over the obstacle.
Contained on all sides, the water rushes through the gap and, by eroding the earth it comes into contact with, widens the gap. Whirling through and around the edges of the gap, the water washes away soil and expands the gap.
As this happens, a current of water flows directly through the gap; on each side of the current, whirlpools of water continue to circulate. Having crossed the gap, the water gathers and expands, to become once again a torrential onslaught. As it flows, the water increases constantly its volume until the torrent has reached again its original proportions, leaving in ruins all obstacles that it encountered.”
The butcher, his knife and his art, non-reflective in action, represent the specific aim of the operative strategy in war: disorganize the enemy with the least possible cost to one’s own means (combat capacity, operational mobility and supplies).
The work of the butcher is to cut up beast; to convert it from a beinginto a set of pieces and wreckage that is ready to be prepared for consumption. To prepare the pieces of the ox for later consumption, further work of cutting, portioning and reducing is required by other butchers and cooks at the palace. This work is equivalent to battles of encirclement and annihilation, where the overwhelming superiority of a local operative strips its enemies of resources and strength.
The metaphor of flowing water is akin to the flexibility and adjustments necessary to tactical actions carried out by units and small combined arms units against an enemy.
But the breach in an obstacle encountered by water is neither enlarged, nor does it expand without erosion. Not even water, the embodiment of docility and smoothness, vanquishes, per se, soil.
Each drop of water that flows through the breach, erodes soil through its “minimal gravitational force”, especially during the turbulent movement of the liquid, whose force is tangential to the obstacle.
The water in a torrent or river flows continuously, seemingly inexhaustibly, due to the gravitational energy of the Earth, which pulls it to the lowest level in a riverbed.
The waters of the sea and of the rivers win over gravity and the forces of Van der Waals, which join by covalent bonds its molecules, thanks to thermal solar energy that provides to them the «specific heat of evaporation«. Water is condensed into drops by superficial tension, giving them their size and shape. They are then gathered into clouds, from which water falls as droplets again to the Earth, feeding the «constant torrent «.
(1) Master Chuang. Barcelona, 1996. Pages 54, 55, 146 and 147.
(2) B. H. Liddell Hart. “The man in the dark” Theory of Infantry Tactics and the “Expanding Torrent System of Attack”. Journal of the R.U.S.I. February, 1921. Page 13.