The oriole stalking the mantis stalking the grasshopper. I have found reference to the actual legend, which is slightly different than the one presented by the modern reproduction samurai swords of Paul Chen. “Once during the warring states period the king of the kingdom of Wu made up his mind to launch attack on the kingdom of Jing. The king of Wu strictly forbade any of his courtiers to dissuade him from attacking Jing saying that he would kill anyone trying to do so! But one of the king’s bodyguards was opposed to the king’s plan though he dare not say anything. In order to get the kings attention the guard went to the back palace garden early every morning with a slingshot and some pebbles to shoot birds, because it was so early his clothes always got wet with dew. Finally the king noticed him on the third morning. When asked why he had got himself wet the guard replied that there were cicadas on a tree which were drinking dew and singing happily but did not know that there was a mantas right behind it about to eat it up. In the same way the guard said the mantes were not aware there was a siskin right behind it, which was stretching out his neck to peck up both of them. And the bird was also unaware that the guard was aiming his slingshot at it. The cicada, the mantis, and the siskin knew only the game lying right in front of them and were not aware of the danger behind. The king realized that there would be danger for him as well if he launched attack on the kingdom of Jing and so he gave up his plan.5
“…Zhuang Zhou from about 400 BC is one of China's most famous philosophers. He wrote the well-known motto; "The mantis stalks the cicada unaware of the oriole behind." This motto, having deeper meaning than ecological food chains, warns us of the often-unseen latent danger that follows profit-motivated actions. Zhuang Zhou was suggesting we take a closer look at our true importance in relation to nature. History has shown an endless assault on the environment and natural resources due to our habits of immediate gratification. These actions go hand in hand with our unwillingness to take responsibility for how our current actions will affect other people in the present and more importantly in the future. Zhuang Zhou saw this and used insects to illustrate this philosophical concept.”6
I find this most ironic since the Paul Chen product line which recreates this legend adds little to the “art” of nihonto and is living evidence of the profit motive described in this tale.
Examples in fittings: Other than the Paul Chen tsuba, I have not seen this portrayed, however, cicadas are depicted with a mantis and perhaps they are inspired by this tale.
|Fig. 6: Golden Oriole Reproduction by Paul Chen (not in author's collection)|