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Strategy 24: Take the Line of Least Expectation (The 33 Strategies of War)

People expect you to conform to old patterns of behavior, which is why you never should. Instead, keep doing things they don’t expect. An unorthodox strategy that may have worked before should not always be used. Sometimes, an orthodox strategy is the most unexpected, and consequently, the most effective.

Make a false move, not to pass it for a genuine one but to transform it into a genuine one after the enemy has been convinced of its falsity.

THE WILES OF WAR: 36 MILITARY STRATEGIES FROM ANCIENT CHINA, TRANSLATED BY SUN HAICHEN, 1991

Ali

Sonny Liston, the world heavyweight champion in 1962, walked into Cassius Clay’s locker room after the latter’s victory, and told him, “Take care, kid. I’m gonna need you. But I’m gonna have to beat you like I’m your daddy.” He wanted to scare Ali, since he knew they would fight at some point, but that strategy didn’t work. Ali taunted the fighter who was ten years his senior. Liston thought Ali was too effeminate and pretty to be a heavyweight champion, he told the press that the fight would look like a murder.

People wanted to see Clay get his mouth shut, but Clay wouldn’t relent. He told reporters, “I’m not afraid of Liston. He’s an old man. I’ll give him talking lessons and boxing lessons. What he needs most is falling-down lessons.” Clay’s language became more insulting and shriller as fight drew closer.

Right before the fight, Clay acted like a maniac in the ring, yelling at Liston, “Hey, sucker, you’re a chump. You’ve been tricked, chump…. You are too ugly…. I’m going to whup you so bad.” Clay looked he was possessed. He was either afraid or crazy. This only infuriated Liston more.

The first round ended, with Clay dodging Liston’s punches. Then the second round came, it was more of the same, but Liston looked frustrated. At the end of the third round, Clay hit Liston with a flurry of punches. By the sixth round, Liston had several wounds, and began looking weak and demoralized. The fight was over by the seventh round. Liston was stunned.

For the second fight, Liston trained like a demon. He started the fight aggressively, throwing jab after jab, but now Mohammed Ali (he changed his name by then), landed the perfect counter.

One of these jabs finally grazed Ali’s face as he stepped back, but, in a move so fast that few in the audience even saw it, Ali countered with a hard right that sent Liston to the canvas. He lay there for a while, then staggered to his feet, but too late–he had been down for more than ten seconds, and the referee called the fight.

Robert Greene, The 33 Strategies of War

The punch wasn’t so powerful but caught him completely by surprise. It floored him.

No one is so brave that he is not disturbed by something unexpected.

Julius Caesar (100-44 B.C.)

Ali always embraced the unconventional, even as a child. He refused to fight the way he was taught, insisting with coming up with his own style, that suited his strengths. His stance and his movement were not like anyone else’s. His innovations made him a very tough competitor, there was no rule book you could study to face him.

We are all taught to conform to standards but doing so makes us predictable and conventional. Like Ali, we must fight to maintain our authenticity, and to use it as a weapon.

Read The 33 Strategies of War

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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