Leadership lessons from Confucius: on archery

on archery

子曰:「射不主皮,為力不同科,古之道也。」
Confucius said: “In archery, it doesn’t matter whether you pierce the covering of the target, because some archers are stronger than others. This is the way of the ancients.” (1) (2)

There’s no need to overdo things. Clear your mind and relax. Focus on the process rather than trying to impress everyone around you or worrying that others will be stronger or more powerful than you. That way you will not only have a better chance of hitting the target but will also be able to save your energy so that you are ready to take on the next challenge.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 16 of Book 3 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 3 here.

(1) Archery was popular among the ruling class of China long before Confucius was born. It was one of the “six arts” that an aspiring young leader was supposed to master. While Confucius may have regarded archery as a ritual practice, there were no doubt many others who saw it as a contest even when practiced as part of a ceremony. By repeating this ancient saying, he is calling – no doubt in vain – for participants to observe the true spirit of the ritual rather than treat it as a competition.

(2) Confucius also commented on archery in Chapter 7 of Book 3 of the Analects. You can read about that here.

I took this image at the Confucius Temple on Nishan (尼山) – the hill on which, according to popular belief, Confucius was born and possibly even conceived. You can read more about Nishan here.

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