Confucius on the art of archery

子曰:「君子無所爭,必也射乎!揖讓而升,下而飲。其爭也君子。」
Confucius said: “A leader has no use for competitiveness. But if they can’t avoid it, they should compete at archery. As they bow and exchange courtesies before the contest and enjoy drinks after it, they still remain a leader even when competing.”

Archery was a long-established ritual among the ruling class of China long before Confucius was born and was one of the “six arts” that an aspiring young leader was supposed to master. The others were the rites, music, charioteering, calligraphy, and mathematics.

Although Confucius is generally portrayed as a wise old teacher and sage, he was – certainly in his younger days – a keen sportsman who enjoyed outdoors pastimes such as fishing and riding. He was a great archery enthusiast, too, even teaching the art to others.

It is worth stressing the word “art”, because Confucius enjoyed archery for the beauty and discipline of the ritual surrounding it and had no interest at all in competing with others.

No prizes for guessing what he would make of the “win at all costs” attitude that is so prevalent in modern day sport.

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