“Hey! You need to come down here and see this!”
My husband’s voice from below stairs. He is also laughing. So I put down my pen and come to see.
In the middle of the living room, beneath the light of a ceiling fan, two cats are facing each other across a rumpled plastic grocery bag that has fallen onto the floor. But the cats aren’t looking at each other. Their attention is focused on the praying mantis that has taken up a defensive position on the high ground of the bag and is attempting to stand both of them off at once.
It is a quiet night in late summer, the time of year when a porch light will attract not only a blizzard of moths and late-hatched June bugs, but formidable visitors like mantises. This one probably flew in when the front door was opened, probably to admit a cat. It is dark brown and a bit over two inches long—about as big as mantises get in this part of Texas, and then only by the end of summer.
It will die with the first frost if something else doesn’t get it first. But whatever that something will be, this bug won’t go quietly. As a result, I am treated to a martial arts exhibition that would impress and humble Bruce Lee.
As I watch, the cats take turns dabbing at the mantis, which holds position while moving like a boxer to duck, weave and bob away from each strike. Even when both cats attack at once, the mantis fights a proper rondori, effortlessly slipping around and beneath both paws. Frustration occasionally makes one of the cats surge forward to use its teeth. Each time, the cat falls back in surprise, shaking its head after getting its nose raked by the insect’s claws.
Having seen little of the Chinese martial arts, I had often wondered how much of a role imagination rather than observation had played in the creation of the various schools named for animals. But now, regards at least one style, I know what the story is. This mantis’ fighting technique is as impeccable as its spirit. And its courage something to be honored. So after watching for a fascinated five minutes, I intervene. The cats watch without argument when I reach to catch the mantis between thumb and forefinger.
It responds in the only way that it can, dodging my hand adroitly, striking when I try to get a hold, escaping me as easily as it did the cats. When I finally catch it, it locks onto my fingers with not only its claws but its jaws and its other four legs. Surrender is not an option.
I walk to the door and open my hand. My teacher flutters into the night like a fallen leaf.