|The First Rule of Pugilism
The Ten Rules of Pugilism are outlined in old Shaolin
and Mantis manuscripts. The version preserved in the
Book of Praying Mantis (Tang Lang Quan Pu) is an
ethical code for both students and masters.
"Don't teach the tyrannical and unrighteous" Begins the
first of the ten rules as recorded by famous Mantis
master Cui Shoushan. "The tyrannical will cause turmoil
while the unrighteous will be ungrateful for favors
received. The story of Pang Mang can serve as an
Who is Pang Mang and what example does he serve?
After asking teachers of history and language, I was
disappointed to discover that the story of Pang Mang is
not widely known. Only the victim of Pang Mang's
treachery, Yi the Archer, is well known. Yi is a
mythological figure from early Chinese civilization. To
understand the treachery of Pang Mang, we must first
understand Yi and his powerful skill in archery. The
following story describes Yi and his abilities.
Yi Shoots Down the Suns
“Long ago there were 10 suns. These were
the 10 suns of the sun god, Di Jun, and his wife, Xi He,
the goddess of the sun. The 10 Suns lived in a valley in
the southeast in a giant mulberry tree more than 10,000
feet tall. Each day one sun climbed to the top of the
mulberry tree and was driven across the sky by its
mother, Xi He, in a chariot pulled by dragons. One day
the suns all went into the sky together in a disorderly
fashion and the Earth became terribly hot and dry. Crops
were scorched, metals were hot enough to melt, and the
human beings and animals suffered intensely from heat
and thirst. Famine caused by these burning suns
threatened to kill all life on Earth. Finally, the sage
king Yao asked the great archer Yi to do battle with the
ten suns. Yi drew his huge bow and shot nine suns one by
one from the sky, leaving only one to light and warm the
Another story details how Yi accepted Pang Mang as his
disciple, the consequences of this relationship
illustrate the moral concept given in the first of the
ten rules of pugilism.
The story of Pang Mang first appears in the Meng Zi
(Mencius). The Meng Zi, a book of
conversations with kings of the time, is one of the four
books that form the core of orthodox Confucian thinking.
The book is named after its author, Meng Zi (commonly
accepted life dates: 372-289 BCE), an itinerant Chinese
philosopher and sage and one of the principal
interpreters of Confucianism.
According to legend, Meng Zi he traveled China for forty
years to offer advice on reform to rulers. He served as
an official during the Warring States Period (403-221
BCE), but he finally retired from public life due to his
disappointment at his failure to effect changes in his
contemporary world. Meng Zi argued that human beings are
born with an innate moral sense, which society has
corrupted, and that the goal of moral cultivation is to
return to one’s innate morality. That the 10 Rules of
Pugilism includes a reference to the works of Meng Zi
shows the original author’s intention of directing
future generations to study the philosophy and set a
goal of moral cultivation.
Meng Zi tells the story of Yi, the great master archer,
and Pang Mang, his student. The story of Pang Mang and
Yi shows the consequences of a master passing on his
skill but neglecting the student’s moral cultivation.
Pang Mang learned the archery of Yi.
When he had completely acquired all of Yi’s skills,
he thought that in all the kingdom, only Yi was
superior to him, and so Pang Mang slew him.
Meng Zi said, “In this case Yi was also to blame.
Meng Zi not only blames Pang Mang for
his evil deed, but also to some extent Yi for teaching
his student without imparting the proper moral
cultivation. It was Yi’s responsibility to notice that
Pang Mang’s innate moral sense had been corrupted. To
want to be the best is one thing, but to want to be the
best at the expense of your master’s well being is
The following story from the Meng Zi gives an excellent
contrasting example of the moral relationship between
master and student.
The people of Zhang sent Yu Cizhuo
to make a stealthy attack on the kingdom of Wei, and
the kingdom of Wei sent Si Yugong to pursue Yu
Cizhuo. Yu Cizhuo said, 'Today I feel unwell, so
that I cannot hold my bow. I am a dead man!' Then he
asked his driver, 'Who is that pursuing me?' The
driver said, 'It is Si Yugong,' Yu Cizhuo exclaimed,
'I shall live!' The driver said, 'Si Yugong is the
best archer of Wei, what do you mean by saying 'I
shall live?'’ Yu Cizhuo replied, 'Si Yugong learned
archery from To Yingong, who learned it from me.
Now, To Yingong is an upright man, and the friends
of his selection must be upright also.' When Si
Yugong came up, he said to Yu Cizhuo, 'Master, why
are you not holding your bow?' Yu Cizhuo answered,
'Today I am feeling unwell and cannot hold my bow.'
On this, Si Yugong said, 'I learned archery from To
Yingong, who learned it from you. I cannot bear to
injure you with your own science. The business of
today, however, is the Prince’s business, which I
dare not neglect.' He then took his arrows, knocked
off their steel points against the carriage wheel,
discharged four of them and returned home.
Today the potential physical risk to
others created by teaching someone who is not of good
moral character is not as great as it was in times past,
yet it remains the teacher’s obligation to select
students with care. The risk of the morally corrupt
taking advantage of or harming people is still present.
Likewise, the potential for good that a well-trained,
disciplined martial artist can have has not abated over
the centuries. The first rule of pugilism is still
relevant and bears consideration
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