Cats (Felis catus) are endowed with a disconcerting stare, flexible vertebrae, speeds of 50 kilometers per hour, and they hunt like few others. Due to striking attributes such as these, the enigmatic furries are a source of eternal inspiration for jiujitsu fighters. And even more so for teachers, who use them mainly to pass on important lessons on the mat.
In the Gracie family, for example, the quips and metaphors featuring cats and slightly larger felines are varied, instructive, and, of course, funny.
"If two fighters have the same technical level," the red-belt Helio Gracie used to say, "the bigger one has the advantage. The cat will never beat the tiger."
Another one from Rickson Gracie's father and teacher: "My son, you cannot teach a cat's moves to bears!"
His grandson Kron also became an expert in good feline phrases, and once taught: "In a jiujitsu fight, you must imagine that you are the lion and the opponent is the guy who runs from you. When he gets tired, you go and bite him."
In the 21st century, studies about domestic cats are advancing, especially about their personality and what goes on in their restless little minds. It has been discovered, for example, that cats are quite different from dogs and other pets when it comes to motivation and rewards. While a dog can be very well trained if given a treat or a cookie, in the case of a cat the task is a bit more complex.
For cats, the most pleasing reward is almost never one of taste, but of affection, as the documentary "Inside the Mind of a Cat" by the director Andy Mitchell (Netflix) seeks to demonstrate. In one of the experiments in the film, a cat walks into a room and has four options to choose from: his favorite food, a smell that pleases him, his favorite toy, and his owner. The rascal almost always goes for the human's caress and lap, in a sign that for smart cats, the heart can win over the stomach.
A black-belt watching the film may be reminded of their own smartest and most agile students. What does each of them seek? Do they only want an easy reward like a medal or a win? Or are they training for fun, comfort, interaction or some other kind of affectionate reward? It is always up to the teacher to find out.
As the poet Agrippino Grieco used to say, the cat "is a tiger concentrate at home." To learn from them to be agile and serene, nothing better than a good little jiujitsu session.
Check it out, in this class from Rickson Gracie with his blue-belt Cassia. Watch the full class here!