Saturday, October 06, 2007


On the ferry from Victoria, by chance, we were treated to a dance troup from New Zealand- a demonstration of Maori dances and singing. It was a privelege and an education.

So much there and so few of the tourists (I feel) saw it.

Long ago, the Maori were one of the most sophisticated martial cultures in the world. Not technologically- their tools were of stone, wood and bone. Perhaps not even pragmatic- though they had missile weapons they eschewed them for combat with humans. But their children were taught to fight and to kill from an early age. They were a society without writing that had formal schools- not just for the military arts but for many things. One of the early European explorers stated categorically that no fencing master in all of Europe would stand a chance against a Maori graduate of their stick-fighting colleges. High praise from an enemy who considers you a savage.

So I watched the dance- beautiful fluidity of hula suddenly broken with staccato violent action and stamping and war faces. Defensive positions of arms and legs that would be familiar to any fighter. Breathing patterns that only a handful would recognize combined with strikes to their own bodies... for rhythm, of course. Far removed from the kote-kitae toughening exercises and the Sanchin testing they so strongly resembled (Sarcasm).

One dance, a challenge dance, was one of the few where dancers touched each other. Plain as day in this dance was a strangle and spine twist... with the short stabbing motions of a dagger from the off hand. It was from behind, swift and controlled. A pure killing technique preserved and taught in dance. So many little things- marching in step, with and without noise; war faces; exploding from peace to battle action; no separation- the fertility dances also had combat...

Unsure how the others in the audience saw it. Unsure if even the dancers really saw it (but I watched one move, later, separate from the dance and it's hard to believe that he didn't know he was a fighter). The elder who was escorting them was more concerned with their survival and future, I think, than their culture's past. He'd watched too many destroy lives in crime or drugs or stupidity (a too common thing in the aftermath of a colonial world) and was more preaching connection. In our culture it sounded like family value platitudes to many of the audience... but it was what a wise man saw as the best hope. Time spent with family. Connecting to something greater than one's self. Service. Discipline.

Did the audience feel, on some level, that they were watching a tradition of a truly fierce people? Of all the native cultures I have read of the Maori alone were not afraid of or even impressed by the muskets of the explorers. Had a Cortez or a Pizarro attempted a military victory over the Maori, their expeditions would have simply disappeared, footnotes in history. It was slower with the Maori. They were allowed to trade for tools and weapons. They liked the steel tools and the muskets. Like many colonized people they used them on each other to settle old feuds rather than standing together against the new threat.

And so their children's children's children dance for the amusement and donations of a crowd. It was a precious gift for those who looked.


Michael said...

Cool to see this here; didn't realise that the kapa-haka groups (as they're called) made it so far afield.

I'm from NZ and slowly making my way through your blog, having just re-read Meditations on Violence.

Thank you: you're currently keeping me sane and honest in the depths of an office day job as I plot changes to how and why I train.

Appreciate the insights you offer.


Rory said...

Thanks, Michael. Enjoy the read. Only you can keep you honest.