The Wisdom of the I Ching

33. Strategic Withdrawal

There is an ebb and flow in the affairs of men. At some times progressive forces are favored, but now the regressive forces are in ascendency. In these times, it is useless for the superior man to waste his resources in a struggle with the regressive, inferior forces, therefore he withdraws from the conflict and awaits a more favorable time. In no way is this a cowardly retreat; he gives no quarter; he surrenders nothing. Rather, he consolidates his position in preparation for a more advantageous advance later on. By withdrawing, he removes himself from the possibility of attack at a time when he has little chance of accomplishing anything constructive.

By withdrawing now, the superior man is able to complete the work needed for further advance. Until that work is complete, he is potentially vulnerable. Incomplete preparation means the entire endeavor may be dismissed or disregarded, and such an initial rejection may make it difficult to be given a fair consideration later on. Let the inferior forces have their day; they cannot progress very far. In fact, their apparent advance only allows them to overextend themselves and to reveal how truly inadequate they are. Once their inadequacy becomes obvious, it will be that much easier to combat them successfully.

When he withdraws, the superior man does not give any acknowledgment of success by the inferior; he just removes himself from the fray. Therefore it is important that his withdrawal be his own intentional act while still in command of himself, and not a response to action from the opposing forces. He does not, in other words, withdraw because of being beaten back. This decision is a result of a careful assessment of the situation and of his own resources. The opposition, as a result, will hardly notice. Even in withdrawal, he gives resistance to random encounters from the opposition; but he does not aggressively seek those encounters. Not until preparation is complete does he launch a genuine assault. Till then, he remains quietly out of the range of fire. In this way, the inferior forces cannot use a conflict to deflect the scrutiny of themselves and their own inadequacies.

The Lines
1. [6] At first, the man is still near the enemy. This closeness makes him somewhat vulnerable. But if he remains quiet, he will in all likelihood be ignored.

2. [6] Some of the inferior forces will not be put off; they persist and demand attention. But such inferior individuals really seek a more constructive engagement, and the superior man accommodates them. Such minor actions do not disrupt the superior man's withdrawal.

3. [9] Being prevented from withdrawal by the insistence of certain opposing individuals is a hindrance and an annoyance. But by making use of these otherwise opposing individuals, the man can continue with his withdrawal, even if they are of little real assistance to him.

4. [9] In taking his leave from the fray, the superior man acts on his own volition, without antagonism or animosity. This is no problem for him, because his position is not diminished one bit. But the inferior opponent is not so well situated: without the structure and significance provided to the conflict by the superior man, the inferior man is left with nothing but his own inferiority to contemplate.

5. [9] When the time for withdrawal arrives, the superior man acts forthwith. Nevertheless, because his actions arise from his own initiative, and not as a direct response to the actions of his opponents, he can be kind and generous about it. Still, having determined the proper time for withdrawal, he is compelled to stick to it and not be deterred by trivialities.

6. [9] The time for withdrawal is chosen with absolute certainty. It is obvious that the time has come, and the naturalness of it and the lack of doubt connected with the decision create a sense of joy. With all elements in accord, the future cannot be other than auspicious.


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