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I read the following lines somewhere on the Web:

If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained, you will suffer defeat.

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.

After reading those lines five times, I still don't understand what the writer is exactly trying to say here. Could someone please explain the meaning of these lines in simple words?

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If you know yourself, but do not know the enemy, you will lose (at least) as often as you will win. You will win (at most) 50 battles out of 100. However, if you know both yourself and the enemy, you will win many more battles, perhaps all 100 out of 100, so you shouldn't be afraid to fight them.

In short: if you know your enemy, don't be afraid to fight; if you don't know your enemy, be warned that you might lose. Even shorter: know your enemy.

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From WikiQuote, here are some alternative translations:

  • If you know others and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know others but know yourself, you win one and lose one; if you do not know others and do not know yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.
  • Know your enemy and know yourself, find naught in fear for 100 battles. Know yourself but not your enemy, find level of loss and victory. Know thy enemy but not yourself, wallow in defeat every time.
  • Literal translation: Know [the] other, know [the] self, hundred battles without danger; not knowing [the] other but know [the] self, one win one loss; not knowing [the] other, not knowing [the] self, every battle must [be] lost

The author is making three points:

  1. If you understand yourself and your enemy, you will be far more likely to win any battle.

  2. If you understand yourself, but not your enemy, you have roughly a 50/50 chance of winning.

  3. If you understand neither yourself nor your enemy, you will probably lose every battle.

"Understand" in this case probably means being aware of a person's strengths, weaknesses and motivations.

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I would subtly change the emphasis here by saying that for me, this means that it is just as important to know your opponent's strengths and weaknesses as it is your own.

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+1 for an excellent one-line summary – e.James Mar 23 '11 at 22:32

Another meaning behind this quote aside from probabilities of winning a theoretical battle is the importance of knowing/understanding others. In this sense, battle is taken to mean any type of personal conflict.

If you've fought and won a battle with someone without coming to a greater understanding of that person, you've gained nothing, even if you win the argument.

If you've fought a battle where you gained a greater understanding of yourself and the other person, you've gained something greater than a mere win, and the outcome of the battle itself is irrelevant.

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I would suggest another meaning. Know thine enemy is about knowing who your real enemy is. Who is behind the conflict and really pulling the strings. Once you know who the real enemy is you can look to yourself for the answer.

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