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One illustration of the genius and ability of Sun Tzu concerns his legendary experience in
training the imperial concubines. It was told that after reading Sun Tzu’s Art of War, the
Emperor Ho-Lv of Wu requested Sun Tzu to demonstrate whether his works were
applicable to the training of women.

Thereupon, Sun Tzu requested that he be given full authority and asked to be provided
with 180n beautiful women from the imperial palace, including Emperor Ho-Lv’s two
most favorite concubines. He divided the 180 women into two groups, appointed the two
imperial concubines to be in charge of each group and proceed to give detailed
instructions on how they should move upon hearing the drum signals that he was about to
give. To show his seriousness, he even ordered that the executioner’s weapons be

When Sun Tzu beat his drum the first time, all the women giggled and laughed
hilariously and did not carry out the orders. Sun Tzu went on to explain to them that if the
first time around they could not carry out the instructions, it must be because the orders
from the superior commander (himself) were unclear and not thoroughly explained. Thus,
he went on to repeat and explain the orders on how they should move upon hearing the
beat of the drum. Then, he called them to attention and proceeded to hit the drum. The
women giggled and burst into laugher again.

This time around, Sun Tzu retorted that if orders were clearly explained and repeated by
the superior commander and yet not carried out, the fault no longer was with the former,
but with the ground or field commander. In that particular incident, it was the
responsibility of the two imperial concubines who were put in charge of the two groups.

Sun Tzu gave orders to have the executed! When Emperor Ho-Lv heard about it, he tried
to intervene and asked that his two favorite concubines be spared. Sun Tzu refused and
even replied that when the commander had been appointed as head of the army, he was
not required to accept all the sovereign’s orders!

Consequently, he still ordered the two imperial concubines be executed as an example to
the others. He appointed two new substitutes and repeated the signals on the drum. On
hearing the beats from the drum, the women turned left, right,, to the front, to the rear,
knelt and rose and so on, all the accordance with the prescribed instructions and drills.
Not a single one dared to giggle or make the slightest noise!