Lightness & Grace–The Way Of The Cat

“Walk like a cat, stepping carefully and softly, so that if there were danger you would be able to take that foot back instantly. Land on the heel when stepping forward and on the ball of the foot when stepping to the rear.”

Power Taiji by Erle Mantaigue & Michael Babin

Martial artists are well aware of the mastery of movement displayed by both wild and domestic cats. Moshe Feldenkrais was a leading figure in the history of the popularisation of Judo – the more westernised version of Jujitsu – created by Kano Jigaro Shihan in 1882. Moshe wrote two seminal works on the subject, and if you have any martial arts training at all you will easily recognise the martial roots of some of his thinking. I came to Feldenkrais after two years of Tai Chi training and for me they go together particularly well; I found the transition from one process of mindful movement – focussed on slowness, clarity, and efficient use of energy – to another similar training a very natural step to take.

Feral Cat hunting pigeons – watch the way the head stays steady as the rest of the self adjusts to maintain that focus – perfect tai chi…

This keeps being taken down – apologies if this film has disappeared again! Do let me know…

In this film you can see a domestic cat stalking a feather just for fun – ninja skills in action!

The origin of my workshop…

The inspiration for my organic movement workshop, originally subtitled “Cat-like Grace,” was a photograph of a fine old lady named Violet…

…blurry photograph, beautiful organisation

…pausing in a playful mood, in an elegant spiral – a gentle harmonious rotation through her spine, so that her front and back paws are aimed in different directions, yet her ease and comfort in this position is clear. So often cats choose resting places with no sign of concern for their own comfort – I used to have a ridiculous number of great pictures to choose from, but that was back in 2013 when I posted the first version of this article. Instead I shall make do with this perfect example of what I am talking about:

Rudy, sleeping on lego…

Cats naturally embody Awareness Through Movement, and to watch them in action is a wonderful demonstration of the possibilities of body-mindfulness in motion. This graceful efficiency is built into the feline nervous system; you can see this in its nascent form in even very young kittens – although awkward in some ways you can glimpse the graceful adult they will become in the way they use their paws, and necks. A tai chi master can release great power from their “dantien” – a point behind the navel at our the centre of gravity – with as little indication as possible of their intention. In the same way a kitten can launch itself into the air seemingly without needing to crouch down in order to muster their energy first. I am having to find new examples for this updated article as the originals tend to disappear from YouTube over time. This new clip will give you a sense of the sort of easy vertical take off I am referring to… of course if you have lived with a small kitten you will have seen the sort of four-footed jump I am referring to pretty often:

Cats are a great model for the idea of reversibility in movement – a concept used by Moshe Feldenkrais to represent a way of moving so well-organised and harmonious that at any moment in time the person in motion can continue in the direction of their original intention, OR pause and hold their position without losing their equilibrium, OR reverse the movement as precisely as if a film were running backwards.

 “Reversibility is a feature of all correct action, even sleep. Thus, the well-coordinated, mature person, such as found among people who have succeeded in making their occupation their pleasure, can go off to sleep when he feels like it and wake up when necessary. Moreover, all healthy animals and humans do not object to being awakened, as they can stop sleeping and resume sleeping without trouble. The ability to stop an action, a process, restart it, reverse it, or drop it all together is one of the finer criteria of proper acture.”

The Potent Self , Moshe Feldenkrais, published posthumously in 1985

I have watched both my cats perform this testing action many times; it is fascinating to observe this animal attempting to make sense of the dynamic stability of water-covered-by-a-plastic-sheet – have you ever sat on a water bed? It is a most peculiar sensation! As this is a YouTube film I half expected it to finish with a plunge into the water ­– cats do not always get it right ­– but in this case her experiment leads her to the right conclusion…

Perfect example of reversible action! Testing the pool cover for stability…

A perfect example of ‘reverse-ability’ in action…

Through Awareness Through Movement we can achieve this kind of ease with minimal effort – here is Irene Lyon, a colleague, exploring a classic Feldenkrais strategy out in the wild:

…and here is a short example of the exploration of reversibility that got her there:

Even people who are not fond of cats recognise their innate elegance – they move with extraordinary grace and ease, even when doing something very un-cat-like (like playing the piano ). Cats are naturals at moving-with-awareness, negotiating new terrain with the focused concentration we also see in humans who are masters of ’embodiment’. The difference is that all healthy cats mature into masters of movement, humans must acquire mastery by developing our sensory-motor and skeletal awareness beyond the level required for mere survival into the refinement necessary for the kind of ‘lightness and grace’ I am talking about, by consciously choosing to organise ourselves to move with that same efficiency, clarity, and singleness of purpose.

In this workshop we explore some of the playful possibilities suggested by close observation of the movements of cats. It will be very useful for improving the mobility of your tail-end, and for extending movement outward from your core to all four paws, and will be a perfect experience for anyone who would like to move with spontaneity and grace. Contact me if you are interested in when I will next be running a course on this theme.

..and finally…

The skills of the ninja seem to combine the wiliness of a supervillain with the supernatural abilities of Macavity the Mystery Cat! YouTube is crammed with ‘ninja cats’, and the general theme of these clips seems to be a combination of the surprise attack and the attempt, not always successful, to leap across particularly ambitious gaps, so I leave you with this delightful compilation – see cats climbing walls, leaping across chasms, and turning “on a hair” – enjoy!

– and if you would like to read more about cats and tai chi, here is a great blog post I found while researching this piece.

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