‘The Art of War is of vital importance to the state’.

Sun Tzu – 500 B.C.

The art of pub crawling, some say, is a lost and dying art practiced exclusively by remnant Neanderthals in modern society. With the assistance of Sun Tzu, as teacher and philosopher extraordinaire, I propose to show that not only should it not die, but it should form an integral piece to the puzzle that is male bonding.

Sun Tzu is one of the most revered military minds in history who deconstructed the process and strategy behind waging war. He’s like Jesus, in that folks are still quoting the guy 2 plus millennia later, no small achievement in staying relevant and ‘keeping it real, for the peeps’.

Famously quoted by Gordon Gekko and Bud Fox of ‘Wall Street’ fame, Sun Tzu’s applications to any form of competitive conquest are well known. But it is how his laws apply to the art of the pub crawl that I wish to discuss. And it is most definitely an art, there are scientific principles to be sure, but there are no algorithms that produce perfect outcomes. A lot like how the Dow fell 1000 points cause a dude bumped the b instead of the m on the keyboard and sold a billion instead of a million of P&G, causing the algorithmic models to punch the accelerator in a downward spiral. Of course, it’s also entirely possible, that certain traders acted deliberately to exploit the current general squeamishness relating to the European debt markets, while preying upon the volatile herd mentality that consumes markets from time to time. Just like a casino roulette dealer, spinning the ball with a little more paprika on it, completely messing with your infallible roulette system. Irrespective of the true reason, I digress.

So I guess you’re wondering, what do warfare and pub crawling have in common? Glad you asked. Both have numerous enemies waiting at every opportunity to expose weaknesses in the ranks. The enemies in warfare are clear-cut, in the pub crawl a little more opaque, but scratch the surface and they are pervasive.

Common enemies of the pub crawl:

• Lack of preparation
• Energy dissipation
• Lack of cohesion in the unit
• Ill-Discipline
• Lack of Focus
• Drunkenness
• Aggressive behaviour
• Getting split up
• Being cogent in thought
• Anything preventing bonding
• Chasing the night

I don’t wish to over dramatise its importance, but Sun Tzu could easily have been talking about pub crawl strategy when he wrote:

‘It is a matter of life and death, a road to either safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no count be neglected.’

Ok. We get it. It’s important. Continue:

‘Accordingly as circumstances are favourable, one should modify one’s plans.’

This is important. Have a strategy, have a route planned out. Make sure you bring printed copies of the route so that everybody knows the overall outline (also useful if someone gets waylaid at a particular venue). Have the core group of reliable soldiers attendance confirmed, but always be prepared to adjust to potential nuggets in a stream of Ballaraterean gold circa 1851. Be ready for fresh soldiers to bring a fresh perspective. Be prepared to spend longer than the allotted time at each venue if the army is dialled into the vibe, the visuals are pleasing or the convos are particularly enlightening. Or any mixture of the three. Perhaps a metaphor will better illustrate:

‘Military tactics are like unto water; for water in its natural course runs away from high places and hastens downwards. So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and strike at what is weak. Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows; the soldier works out his victory in relation to the foe he is facing. Therefore, just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare there are no constant conditions. He who can modify his tactics in relation to his opponent and thereby succeed in winning, may be called a heaven born captain.’

Walk the route. In life there is no substitution for being prepared, the crawl is no exception. Cabs, buses and trains destroy momentum so you want to avoid their use at all cost. Now I know it can be fashionable to hire a bus, which does increase the potential size of your playing field, it also creates some unnecessary problems. Late in the night, moving vehicles that may or may not employ the use of seat belts by rowdy participants are not conducive to premium levels of safety or digestinal retention. In other words, it creates greater opportunity than necessary of road accidents into vomiting accidents. Or a vomiting accident leading to a road accident at worst, a foul stench and chunks of offensive product at best. Clearly, you want no piece of either. As Sun Tzu describes:

‘Now, the General who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations lead to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.’

‘We are not fit to lead an army on the march unless we are familiar with the face of the country – its mountains and forests, its pitfalls and precipices, its marshes and swamps.’

The reason for walking the route is to ensure that walk between pubs is not longer than 5 minutes. You’re also looking for the route that follows the terrain in the least physically taxing way. This becomes crucial later on as three potent enemies of the pub crawl are energy dissipation, lack of cohesion in the unit and getting split up. As Sun Tzu suggests:

‘When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men’s weapons will grow dull and their ardour will be dampened. If you lay siege to a town you will exhaust your strength.’

‘Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain.’

‘Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardour damped, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue.’

Unless you’re Hamish and Andy and are preparing quality radio fodder or a Guinness World Record Book aspirant (which I would heavily advise against, as you are placing yourself further up the ‘I’m desperate to achieve some level of fame, I don’t care how I must degrade myself to do it’ scale than Big Brother contestants), there is no need to get over-ambitious on the number of venues.

Technically speaking, I believe it has to hit double figures to qualify as a crawl, in the same way that to qualify as a marathon you must cover 42.5 kilometres. So with 10 as a minimum, 16 is really the upper limit, as anything further will make victory unlikely as you are inviting too many enemies to the table. If drunkenness and aggressive behaviour don’t get you, then lack of focus or cogent thought processes surely will. In the words of Sun Tzu:

‘There is no instance of a country benefitting from prolonged warfare.’

‘In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.’

When you are aware of the potential traps that can befall a crawl campaign you can be vigilant in guarding against allowing them the room to manoeuvre. Your object is not to destroy your enemies Michael Corleone style, but simply to avoid obvious pitfalls:

‘Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.’

‘Therefore the skilful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows the kingdom without lengthy operations in the field.’

‘With his forces intact he will dispute the mastery of the empire, and thus, without losing a man, his triumph will be complete. This is the method of attacking by stratagem.’

Chasing the night* is a concept better described by ESPN’s Sports Guy Bill Simmons, its practice often goes hand in hand with the concept of Re-Revving. Re-Revving occurs when you know the night for all intents and purposes should be over but you refuse to let it die. You then lift yourself and implore others to do likewise, despite the fact that chemicals are the primary and most often secondary source in inducing you to do so. It’s a practise exceptionally difficult to pull off and requires masses of mental strength and stamina, thus it should only be attempted by experts. It’s like when a magician does a seemingly ridiculously dangerous trick, by prefacing ‘Don’t try this at home. It’s extremely dangerous. I’ve trained for years to be able to perform this.’ Danger is not something to be feared for danger’s sake, but the question becomes at what cost? To what benefit? Thankfully, Sun Tzu comes the rescue in the way of a formula (not all formulas are without merit, Pythagoras progressed human society with his work relating to triangles):

‘It is the rule of war, if our forces are ten to the enemy’s one, to surround him; if five to one, attack him; if twice as numerous to divide our army in two. If equally matched, we can offer battle; if slightly inferior in numbers, we can avoid the enemy; if quite unequal in every way, we can flee from him.’

‘Hence, though an obstinate fight may be made by a small force, in the end it must be captured by a larger force.’

When re-revving is introduced as a concept, that’s the signal that your forces are unequal in every way to the enemy. The correct move is then to say your goodbyes, sort yourself something in the Kebab, Curry, Maccas, Sausage Roll conversation and retire for the evening. There will be other battles.

It’s vital at this point to assess the strengths and weaknesses of your army. You know the characters that need to be home by a certain time, who can’t return home in a mal-adjusted state. The characters that get a little too fired up on the sauce, or a little too depressed. You know the characters who are convo hijackers – a person who gets a little too fired up discussing an idea passionate to them and takes the conversation down a path that doesn’t take all participants sensibilities into consideration. You know what your enemies have to throw at you, so you must adjust accordingly. Using all information at your disposal, Sun Tzu:

‘Hence the saying: if you know the enemy and you know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself, but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.’

Play to your armies strengths. Early in the afternoon, when alcoholic lubrication is in its early stages and enemies are at their least powerful here’s how it should feel when you enter a fresh venue. Sun Tzu:

‘The onrush of a conquering force is like the bursting of pent up waters into a chasm a thousand fathoms deep.’

The Pub Crawl Captain (PCC), who walked the terrain, debated various options and has devised the strategy, is now in command. The signifier of this is a whistle -preferably red for it is the colour that the Gods favour – draped around his neck. This is to be used to signal that time has expired on the current venue; the next venue is in the cross-hairs. Sun Tzu:

‘Fighting with a large army under your command is nowise different from fighting with a small one: it is merely a question of instituting signs and signals.’

‘On the field of battle, the spoken word does not carry far enough: hence the institution of gongs and drums. Nor can ordinary objects be seen clearly enough: hence the institution of banners and flags.’

Maintaining vim and vigour in the army is of utmost importance. As the night progresses energy levels fluctuate but in a relatively predictable manner. Like life (or Rachmaninoff’s, Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini, seriously click the link, it’s a stunning achievement and the numbers following make no sense without listening), you start from a low base early (0.00 to 0.20), just when you think you’ve got the night figured out, exciting opportunities emerge that cause a positive re-assessment – Pub 2/3 (0.21-0.44). Senses heighten, conversations elevate, physically on top of your game – Pub 4/5 (sexual peak, but not in a sexual way (0.45 – 1.22)), you hit your apex around Pub 7/8 (the prime of your life, 1.23), then hold onto to the good times as long as is feasibly possible (1.24-1.54). The key are the quality of the decisions you make as a commander in the phase from Pub 7/8 on. Gotta stay on the move, but don’t rush. Sun Tzu:

‘Energy may be likened to the bending of a crossbow; decision, to the releasing of a trigger.’

‘Thus the energy developed by good fighting men is as the momentum of a round stone rolled down a mountain thousands of feet in height.’

Preparation also includes loading up on some water and some alcohol-soaking carbs before venturing out. When you’re on the crawl don’t be afraid to hit up H₂0 in bathroom breaks or if you begin feeling a little out of sorts. People may suggest that it implies a degree of ‘softness’, but true heroes know that to provide that late night burst of adrenaline the army will inevitably require, you have to be in a state capable of providing it. Allies will support regardless of state, as they should (what good is an ally that is a little too late or a little too reticent in their show of support? ‘Hey Greece, let me introduce you to your European allies – the Germans’), but late-night physical disintegration doesn’t add value. When people say they feel better after a chunder, they’re comparing it to how they felt just before it, not to the experience of feeling fresh as a daisy. Big difference. Sun Tzu:

‘Knowing the place and time of the coming battle, we may concentrate from the greatest distances in order to fight.’

‘All men can see the tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.’

Be flexible. As the saying goes, ‘there are many ways to skin a cat’ {which is weird cause who would want to or even has skinned a cat, historically, apart from a small number of serial killers (no disrespect to serial killers who don’t include cat skinning amongst their recreational activities) and also don’t they all to some degree involve the culmination of a cat’s death with the utility of a knife? How many other options are there?}, so too are there many options available to you as PCC. Surveil the terrain and like a quarterback adjust to whatever the defence is giving you. Be nimble in mind and courageous enough to change tactics momentarily. Sun Tzu:

‘Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances.’

‘Having collected an army and concentrated his forces, he (the general) must blend and harmonize the different elements thereof before pitching his camp.’

Discipline is key. If you have the army splitting up because of ill discipline it messes with group chemistry and prevents group bonding. Multiple captains lead to multiple dilemmas and weak outcomes. Chains of command are as important in a pub crawl as they are in the military. Sun Tzu:

‘Manoeuvring with an army is advantageous; with an undisciplined multitude, most dangerous.’

‘The host thus forming a single united body, it is impossible either for the brave to advance alone, or for the cowardly to retreat alone. This is the art of handling large masses of men.’

Don’t overreach. The bonding is a natural occurrence of like minded people devouring amber fluid. It’s as organic as manure is in a fertilisation process. Women bond a different way. Alcohol is definitely not a pre-requisite like it is for guys. Women can build a relationship off of pronouncements like ‘I love your shoes’ or ‘the way you wear your hair really brings out your lashes’. It’s cool, but permeating just below the surface are thoughts like ‘she flirted a little too aggressively with my man. She cannot be trusted. She must be destroyed, hopefully emotionally cause its more damning but I will accept physically’. It’s the reason that there are a ludicrous number of reality TV show that revolve around a bunch of chicks and their regulation dating lives, and not a bunch of males dating chicks (see The Hills, the City, the Real Housewives of New York, New Jersey, Atlanta and Orange County, Fly Girls, Bad Girls Club, The Bachelor and the Flava Flav dating show).

The Fly Girls fit the reality show bill perfectly. Patently attractive, spliced with periodic derangement, leading to drama. The ultimate \’Cosmopolitan\’.

There would be less natural drama and rivalries with a bunch of guys. Men compete with each other and move on. Women pretend like it isn’t a competition and on occasion, create panther-style situations with their brethren (cat is such a cliché at this point). Again, nobody’s right or wrong, just different and more or less entertaining in differing respects. Regardless, as Sun Tzu suggests:

‘Hence in the wise leader’s plans, considerations of advantage and of disadvantage will be blended together. If our expectation of advantage will be tempered in this way; we may succeed in accomplishing the essential parts of our schemes. If on the other hand, in the midst of difficulties we are ready to seize an advantage, we may extricate ourselves from misfortune.’

Remember it’s not about you, it’s about the bonding. The birthday or whatever the celebration is, is just an excuse for people who lead busy lives to put time aside for cultivating special relationships. People are busy. That have shit on, to do and to get done. Recognising that fact and organising a time and place that work for the crew, allow you to bring the collective together to share experiences, eviscerating the pass mark of the rocking chair test (i.e. do you still remember the experiences then?). Isn’t that at the core of what ‘mateship’ is about? Sun Tzu:

‘The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for the sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.’

Like the leader of an organisation or the coach of a sporting team the relationship you have with your soldiers is a special one. The respect, love and care must be there, but always marginally removed. If only Jason Taylor or Brad Fitler had read a little Sun Tzu, their NRL coaching careers would have looked a little different. Sun Tzu:

‘Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look upon them as your beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.’

‘If however you are indulgent, but unable to make your authority felt; kind-hearted, but unable to enforce your commands; and incapable, moreover, of quelling disorder: then your soldiers must be likened to spoilt children; they are useless for any practical purpose.’

Keep it simple. Core group. Plan it out. Walk it. Bounce ideas off each other. One captain. Trust in them. And with that, ‘I wish you my kind of success’.**

* Chasing the Night according to the Sports Guy, Bill Simmons.

‘So it’s 2:45 in the morning on Friday night. All the Dallas bars and parties have either closed down or stopped letting people in. I’m standing on Main Street with a bunch of people, including Worldwide Wes, the renowned NBA power broker who’s really a cross between Confucius, a benevolent uncle and The Wolf in “Pulp Fiction” to assorted NBA superstars and up-and-coming stars. Known as “Uncle Wes” to the players, he carries more weight within the league than basically anybody. Because he keeps such a low profile, I could never figure out why. Which is why I went out of my way to spend some time with him on Friday night.

Back to Main Street: We’re standing with a young player who wants the night to keep going. The young player pushes to find another bar even though the odds are against it. Uncle Wes makes a face. He’s squashing this right now.

“Nothing good can happen at this point,” Wes explains simply. “You can’t chase the night. When the night is over, the night is over. That’s just the way it is. You just gotta wake up tomorrow and hope for a better day.”

Uncle Wes had spoken. I am not exaggerating by saying it’s a strangely profound moment. Within 15 seconds, our group splinters in three directions to look for cabs. I find one with my friend Connor. We climb in. We look at each other.
“I will never be able to properly explain that story to anyone,” Connor said.
Agreed. You can’t chase the night. It was like hearing a human fortune cookie. I went back to my hotel, took my contacts out, crawled into bed and hoped for a better day. These are the things that happen at NBA All-Star Weekend.’

** Dicky Fox – Jerry Maguire

[Note: This post originally appeared on 14-May-2010]