Analects Book 3: on leadership and archery


“A leader avoids competing with others.” This is the advice that Confucius gives in Chapter VII of Book 3 of the Analects. He forges his own path rather than just trying to outdo other people.

“But if he does have to compete, it should be at archery,” Confucius continues. This is because he saw archery as more of a ritual discipline than a mere contest. Hitting the center of the target required a calm and concentrated inner state rather than physical power and strength. Trying to compete with other participants would only detract from this focus, and more likely than not cause you to try too hard and lose your accuracy.

The formal bows that took place before a tournament and the drinking ceremony that concluded it provided an opportunity for the participants to exchange courtesies and show their mutual respect for each other. Winning or losing wasn’t important; it was the participation that really mattered.

Two thousand years before the publication of Zen in the Art of Archery, the discipline was already regarded as powerful metaphor for the cultivation of the inner focus and values that a leader required to reach his ultimate goal.

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