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MANTIS SYMBOLISM

This article was originally published in the Japanese Sword Society of the United States Newsletter. I have since revised it with new thoughts and information, as well as, formated it for this website. I hope the reader will come away with some insight into the japanese symbolism of the preying mantis and will explain why fittings display these designs.

'Pray for the Preying Mantis'

By Ken Wilson

As in most cultures, symbolism and art go hand in hand. No more is this true than in Asian societies. The Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, etc have developed art forms that try to capture the spirit of religion or folklore sometimes with only the minimalist of representation. In fact, art forms like bonsai were practiced to do exactly that, capture the spirit of nature within a miniaturized plant. While Asian societies are often based on the group, as opposed to the western concept of the individual, using their decorative and functional art was a way to express their individuality while still connecting to the whole. The Japanese Samurai used netsuke, sagemono (objects hanging off the obi- samurai belt), and most importantly their sword and sword fittings to express themselves. The following is hoped to give some insight and provide some explanations into a particular area of sword fittings that I have chosen to collect: The Praying Mantis.

The Japanese culture has been greatly influenced by Chinese culture and Chinese legends. Many of these Chinese legends have meshed into Japanese society’s consciousness and been adopted as Japanese folklore. Thus, these originating Chinese legends are often expressed in Japanese art. I have found several stories/symbolisms relating to the Preying Mantis that can be demonstrated in sword fittings (tsuba, fuchi, kashira, kozuka, and menuki) and which are portrayed in my personal collection. These depictions have found their way into all styles of sword fittings spaning centuries and schools.1

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

Symbolism: Final thoughts




1 Please note: I found multiple versions of most of these legends and when not specifically cited, I have tried to select the best-illustrated example and not be hindered by the differences in detail.

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