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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 example."

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 Earth.”

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 another.

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

This article was first published in Mantis Quarterly.

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