Finding your own personal Cato

A note from my friend, Michael Lewis, got me thinking… Do you remember the Pink Panther movies, with Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau? His assistant, Cato Fong (played by the late Burt Kwouk) was someone he trusted, and yet the two are often trying to ambush each other and to test their fighting skills. Here’s one version on YouTube that’s a classic burlesque version of their interactions, and if you want another clip, click here. I love that there’s a boyish exuberance to their fights.

Photo credit:  Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock (1654459a), The Pink Panther Strikes Again.
Photo by Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock (1654459a) The Pink Panther Strikes Again, Burt Kwouk, Peter Sellers Film and Television

And while I don’t recommend you invite someone to tear up your house and attack you while sleeping, we all need our own “Cato” to practice our martial arts skills. Our Zoom classes have been working to build various skills in terms of movement. What I can’t provide easily over a Zoom link is to practice these skills under pressure. To tell whether your strike is really able to deliver force or whether it’s missing a piece. To act to the timing of an opponent, and not react after getting hit.

In this Pandemic, how do we practice to test our skills? In some of the upcoming classes, I’ll try putting together some ideas for how you might be able to encourage a housemate to be your “personal Cato”. Part of this will be to look at ways to practice your striking range. Eg, can you pick a spot on the wall and by “eye” figure out how close you have to be to deliver a punch or a kick?

The other key part is to teach your senses, especially the eyes, to register when something needs your attention to act. In a self-defense situation, it means first, being aware of the natural “pace” of a location and identifying anytime something feels “off”. Once you’re in a situation where there is a physical attack, it means being able to recognize movement without over-analyzing it, and to move your body appropriately.

Training starts by having a “safe” place to practice these skills, and then as you develop, slowly increasing the pressure you are under. Our first level is what we are doing over Zoom, training the eyes to recognize movement and attacks. The second level involves slow partner drills that are not in range, but still provide the direct physical sense of someone entering your safety zone. From there, we can add speed, a closer range, and some level of unpredictability. Sparring creates a free-flowing set of pressures, but doesn’t help you to deal with the surprise ambush or the pressure of a full-contact attack. That’s another level of training that requires a special equipment and/or setup.

If you don’t have access to your own personal “Cato”, we will, one day, get to a place where we can serve in that role for each other. I’m counting on it, and one day hope to resume to teach in-person classes where we truly learn from each other.

Namaste, Debby

PS – After writing this post I went and watched the original Pink Panther movie – we were laughing the entire time.