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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Sun Tzu On Competitive Open Water Swimming

Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War circa the 6th century BC.

Thinking out of the box...if Sun Tzu lived in contemporary times and applied his strategies to the athletic pursuit of competitive open water swimming, triathlon and other modern-day endurance sports, he may have been a legendary coach.

These are a few quotes and what he may have theoretically said preparing for a major open water swimming competition under his leadership:

Rapidity is the essence of war.

Open water swimmers who execute their moves or surges should do so quickly. The earlier and the quicker specific tactics are executed, the more improved the odds are that the tactics will work to your favor. It could be to a move into position 300 meters before the next turn buoy. It could be to take a feeding at the edge of a feeding station instead of at the middle of the pontoon. It could be to ask your kayaker to move ahead of you by 50 meters so your competitors are guessing your exact position. But competitive athletes want to maximize their options and be the aggressor in the battle as opposed to playing on the defensive and always reacting to moves by their competitors.

He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.

Open water swims have various phases: the start, the middle, the turns, the run-up to the finish, and the finish itself. Sudden reactions to every move by your competitors are always not necessary. Be patient and wise. Judicious decisions are better than rash ones. Swimmers occasionally make mistakes and it is just as important to know when not make a move as it is to know when to make a move. From the perspective of the elements, it is also vitally important to know how to utilize the waves, wind, sun glare, currents and tides to your benefit. It is best not to fight nature like swimming in deep parts within an ocean reef in a shifting tide, but look for natural ways to work with nature as you navigate the deep.

He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces.

Every athlete has strengths and weaknesses. Know the abilities of your competitors. Are they better sprinters than you? Do they have greater stamina? Do they have less racing experience? Is this there first swim in this body of water? To know their superiorities and inferiorities will enable you to counteract their advantages and disadvantages. Take the sprint out of the sprinter by pushing the pace early. Or swim in front of the pack and deliberately slow down the pace if you are a sprinter. Know what others possess along with your own gifts and faults in order to gain the upper hand.

All warfare is based on deception.

Open water swimmers often make a move and then back down. They make surges and changes of direction. They feign stopping for a feeding and then take off. They speed up for a few strokes, pulling along their competitors, and then shut down the engine and sneak before their foe in a drafting position. They occasionally start to veer in one direction, bumping against their competition on their left, only to shift direction and then veer off to the right.

That ability to start doing something, a momentary tactic or a sustained strategic surge, and then do something else is based on deception. That deception could be intentional or unintentional. It could be done in tranquil conditions or it could be done dependent on variable water conditions.

But those deceptions originate in the mind and are then executed by a well-trained body, based on experience that enables the veteran to analyze the situation among the pack and utilize the dynamic conditions to their benefit.


A competitive swimmer will keep their foes guessing and will make various moves within a race, especially at the end of a race where there are waves, currents and an onshore finish.

Copyright © 2013 by Open Water Source

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