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SYMBOLISM #2: Bravery and Know Thyself

Chinese Lore: A Mantis Trying to Stop a Chariot

One day, the King of Qi went out hunting with his men. The carriages were going along, when suddenly a mantis stood in the middle of the road with its sickle-like forelegs opened. It was obvious that he was trying to fight against the carriage to hold it back. Surprised at the case, the King of Qi ordered to stop and asked what creature it was. When he was told it was called mantis, and it would go well up to bridle decisively when it was challenged. The King sighed with exclamation at its braveness. He mused a moment and added: "It's a great pity that it is not more than an insect. If it were a man, he must be the bravest warrior in the world!" Then the King ordered his carriages turn around it to leave the mantis standing martially.3

This legend has been translated into many themes, including bravery since the mantis is a ferocious warrior, and like in symbolism #1, is a proficient fighter who doesn’t retreat. However, the Japanese have made the most common interpretation of this lore take on the opposite meaning of the original legend, instead giving it the interpretation of “know thyself” and/or “know your limitations”. In reality, the unyeilding mantis would be crushed by the wagon. When somebody overrates himself, he is often warned: "Don't be a mantis trying to stop a chariot."

Other Chinese Lore: Ancient Writings

There are many references in ancient Chinese poems including 'Monzen', as well as, ancient texts like 'Erya ha' that express the courage and fearlessness inspired by the mantis.4

Examples in fittings: The manifestation of this legend in tsuba is the depiction of a mantis with either a broken and/or intact wagon wheel. Perhaps the broken wheel representing the bravery of the mantis and its shear determination will crush/break the much larger object, while the intact wheel symbolizing “know your limitations”.

Fig. 3: Tsuba, Broken WheelsFig. 4: Tsuba sukashi, Intact Wheels

Symbolism #1: The Mantis as a Fighter

Symbolism #2: Bravery and Know Thyself

Symbolism #3: Being Too Short Sighted

Symbolism #4: Circle of Life

Symbolism #5: The Mantis as Samurai

Final Notes

Go to Symbolism #3: Being Too Short Sighted

Go Back to Symbolism #1: The Mantis as a Fighter



3 http://chineseculture.about.com/library/extra/story/blyrh02212000.htm
4en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mantodea

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