News / 10 March, 2017
Whakapapa Fridays: What is a traditional Māori warm-up? PART TWO J. White, The Ancient History of the Maori

Whakapapa Fridays: What is a traditional Māori warm-up? PART TWO

Last week we looked at the key components of any good conventional warm-up. This week we look at what a traditional warm-up might have looked like for our ancestors.

Last week we looked at the key components of any good conventional warm-up, both from an exercise science and Māori perspective. These components include activities that; prepare the heart and circulatory system (a connection to Tangaroa); warm the muscles of the body (a connection to Tūmatauenga); and prime the nervous system for an activity (a connection to Tāne and other atua). Together, these components are known to help us move more efficiently in order to perform and reduce our risk of injury. But did our tupuna (ancestors) truly think about physical pursuits in this way? Did they “warm-up” before an activity and if so, what did this look like?

Before going in to an authentic Māori version of the warm-up, we have to first understand that the traditional Māori view of the tinana (human body) was held in high regard. As a result, there were many practices that promoted the best use of the tinana. For example; there are tapu (sacred) aspects to the human body, i.e. the head, which remind us that we must protect our own body but also respect others; there are a number of Māori games and haka that were used to develop a strong body from a young age; and then of course we had the targeted development of a young toa (warrior) under the atua of war, Tūmatauenga. These practices were all a part of a way of life that valued efficient and proper use of the tinana. This is important for what an authentic Māori warm-up would look like, because it highlights how we traditionally used our tinana day to day.

Beyond the traditional Māori view of the tinana we also have to think about how we understood its development. To do that, not enough can be said about the depth of knowledge pertaining to the training of a toa. The skill and strength of our warriors was necessary to ensure the protection of women and children, the most valuable taonga within a community. The practices that were used to develop the tinana of the toa ensured that qualities such as one’s speed, agility, strength, power, reactivity, or technique were excellent. Failure to do so would leave the toa susceptible to the attack of an opponent, hence the saying;

Waewae taumaha, kiri māku.

Heavy feet, wet skin.

However, in the development of the tinana, our tupuna understood that the body was not isolated from its hinengaro (mind), wairua (spirit), or mauri (life-force). All of these aspects were believed to be strongly interconnected, and therefore all elements required attention and development. Being strong and fast alone was not enough to be a great toa. You needed a good mind for strategic thinking, and a motivated manawa (heart) to power the body. The key to training was to find balance across all elements, where everything worked together seamlessly, an experience you might call “finding your rhythm”.

To achieve this balanced state our tupuna used karakia and takutaku (prayers and incantations) to excite the wairua of the toa. They were performed across all aspects imaginable, from strengthening the weapons, to allowing the toa to move swiftly, removing doubt and hesitation, right through to weakening the adversary. Karakia and takutaku helped align the spiritual aspect to the physical and mental elements.

There are also the various toroparawae (foot and hand movements) and parawhakawai (the practice of weapons) that strengthened the mind and the body. Through the practicing of such drills and activities, and the playing of games that utilised the hands, feet, and mock weapons, the body would respond in a similar way to the warm-up drills applied today. This includes the preparation of the muscles, and the circulatory and neural systems for action. They were specifically designed to reflect the movement patterns that were likely to be used during battle. Additionally, games such as Mūtorere would specifically target the mind as it required strategic thinking rather than brute force.

The mental and emotional development of the toa were socially constructed and reinforced through tikanga (customs) and kawa (sacred protocols). From a young age, the toa was groomed to behave in a particular way. Positive behaviour was rewarded with mana (prestige), while poor behaviour was punished through shame, neglect and harm from various atua. A strong mind was considered to directly impact the strength of the body and its wairua. A weak wairua was seen to limit the powers of the mind and the body. As such, the way our tupuna understood the development of the toa was a holistic one, that took on more than just the physical, it prepared the mind, body and spirit.

Knowing how we thought about our tinana and how we once trained it, I find it very difficult to believe that our tupuna used a conventional warm-up in the form we see today. However, as you can see we did have an engagement process for preparing ourselves for an activity. I guess you could call that a “warm up” by some degree. We warmed the hinengaro, the tinana, and the wairua through a range of activities that complimented the interrelated nature of these elements. It included karakia and takutaku performed before, during and afterwards. It included games, haka and movement practices in preparation for battle. Both of these aspects were supported by an active way of life within the traditional community. These methods combined enabled Māori to perform to their greatest potential, and be heralded as fierce and excellent warriors.

After discovering a little more about what an authentic Māori warm-up would look like, I wonder if methods like these are still relevant today? Can we still apply those traditional concepts in a modern context? I believe we can. Check back here next week where I’ll share a modern take on an authentic Māori warm-up that you could implement at home, on the court, or on the footy field.


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