Te Mau Taiaha is the generic name for the martial art of using the taiaha weapon in hand to hand combat. Both the weapon and the art are indiginous to the Maori people of New Zealand.
For some eight hundred years prior to contact with European explorers during the late 1700s, the Maori had occupied many tribal territories throughout the islands they called Aotearoa, or “the Land of the Long White Cloud”.
Many Maori tribes maintained an almost continual state of warfare with neighbouring tribes. Disputes over territory, resources and similar feuds were seldom entirely resolved, due in part to the cultural concept of utu (justice, retribution), which equated personal and tribal honour with revenge.
As such, a high value was placed upon the arts of Te Whare Tu Taua (the House of the Warrior). Maori battlefield training originally incorporated a variety of projectile, long and close-range weapons in addition to unarmed combat, military strategy, and spiritual ritual. Even when contact with Europeans in the early 18th century introduced the use of firearms, martial arts such as the use of the taiaha and mere (short club fighting) were maintained for use in hand-to-hand combat.
According to an ancient Maori proverb, Te Mau Taiaha should be taught “from the feet up”. Formal taiaha footwork patterns are based on a complex, dance-like step called karo (evasion), with many variations named for the characteristic movements of different animals. For example, the tuatara (lizard) pattern features slow, crouching, sinuous steps, in contrast with the light, active footwork of the tui (bird). Other patterns simulate the soft, penetrative foot action required when fighting on sand or when knee deep in water, or the careful steps employed when fighting barefoot on rocky terrain.
As in many Asian martial arts, however, these stylised formal patterns are intended primarily to improve strength, co-ordination, balance and mobility during the early stages of training. The footwork employed in orthodox combat and in sparring exercises is much more economical, and resembles that of fencing or even boxing.
Fighting techniques with the weapon include an extremely wide range of strikes, thrusts, parries and evasion techniques.