Learning concepts from foreign cultures is, admittedly, a difficult process to due to the amount of background information required to make assimilation possible. Let’s look at a most valuable concept from Chinese language: 勢/Shi.

勢/Shi is an incredibly flexible concept, with possible applications in many situations. This flexibility is what makes it so difficult to translate. In the pic below you’ll see the most commonly used translations & who uses them. There are 14, including leaving it untranslated.

The ridiculous number of partial translations of the concept “勢/Shi”

The problem is the contextual variation inherent to the term. An accurate, consistent translation of 勢/Shi into English would be a short phrase, not a single word. That’s undesirable for a variety of reasons, so most translators pick the term appropriate to the context at hand.

The most important aspect, & the most easily lost, is that 勢/Shi always refers to something dynamic & fluid, both the obvious configuration AND the latent potential. This dynamic layout encompasses the total picture: the terrain, individuals, & groups.

Your individual 勢/Shi factors into a larger dynamic pattern involving your allies, opponents, the terrain, the climate, & the timing of actions/occurrences. It requires sensitivity to the process of unfolding. As you can see, it’s a very complex interplay that varies constantly.

The best alternative to using the Chinese is currently “Strategic Advantage”, as this clearly relays the contextual, interactive, & dynamic aspects while implying the possible emergence of latent tendencies or passing opportunities. Therein lies its utility for Strategic thought.

All analysis is analysis of this dynamic potential, all planning is preparation for as many potential expressions as possible, all tactics are the best available application of the resources at hand in a relative context. Understanding 勢/Shi is required for successful strategy.

Sensitivity to 勢/Shi is the key difference between a successful fighter & an armchair general. The often cited classics of Strategy, Sunzi, On War, The Prince, The 48 Laws of Power, are worse than USELESS if you don’t understand & can’t apply this concept. You must grasp this!

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