This story is from the incomparable ancient Chinese history Shiji
or Records of the Historian
by Sima Qian
(b. 145 B.C.E., d. after 86 B.C.E.). It appears in the midst of a suasion
in the “Basic Annals
”, 34th year of King Wu of the Western Zhou
. For romanization
I have used modified Pinyin
as “yu”), rather than Gwoyeu Romatzyh
, which indicates tones
but which seems to upset some readers. Really, as a matter of discipline
one should always indicate tones, but Unicode
is far from widespread
and I fear to render the text illegible to even one interested reader. Wuhu, aizai! (“Alas
In the state of Chu there was a certain Yangyouji.
He was skilled at shooting.
Standing a hundred paces from a willow leaf, he would shoot at it,
and in a hundred shots he hit it a hundred times.
Several thousand persons observed him on either side,
and they all said, “Great shot!”
There was a man standing to their side,
and he said, “You’re good. I can teach you archery now.”
Yangyouji was enraged.
He put aside his bow and grasped his sword, and said, “How could you teach me to shoot?!”
The visitor said, “It isn’t that I could teach you to keep the left arm stiff and the right arm bent.
But, as a matter of general principle, to shoot at a willow leaf, standing a hundred paces from it,
and to have a hundred hits out of a hundred shots taken
is not to rest after a good shot.
In a little while, your breath will be weak and your strength exhausted.
Your bow will be tipped to the side and your arrows will hook.
For one shot not to hit the mark,
is for all your hundred shots to be put to an end.”
(On the matter of "keeping the left arm stiff and the right arm bent", the Tang-time commentary of Sima Zhen notes: The Lienyu zhuan says, “The left arm is as if resisting, the right arm as if leaning on a branch; when the right hand fires the shot, the left hand is not aware of it. This is the Way of Archery.” The Yuejue shu says, “The left arm is as if pressing against Mount Tai, and the right arm as if holding an infant.”)
The name Yangyouji appears to mean “Cultivation Starts From the Foundation”.