BJJ and the History of Maori Grappling in New Zealand

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How the history of the Maori beautifully complements BJJ and its massive acceptance in New Zealand

BJJ and the History of Maori Grappling in New Zealand

How the history of the Maori beautifully complements BJJ and its massive acceptance in New Zealand

Rotorua, New Zealand 

How the history of the Maori beautifully complements BJJ and its massive acceptance in New Zealand

I was going to write an article quoting anthropological and historical facts and information…but Nah…so we’ll keep it short and sweet as us Kiwis like to do!

So who are we? We are Maori. The indigenous Polynesian people of Aotearoa, New Zealand. We have a reputation spread by us and agreed by many scholars to be some of the best voyagers in human history. Along with our voyaging skills and traditions, we also developed a highly skilled close quarter combat system consisting of short and long hand-held weapons and alongside that a system and tradition of Mamau, Whatoto, or Grappling. Prior to European colonization, young children, both female and male, were trained and taught the different facets of Whatoto. The Maori prioritized combat training for everyone from a young age. The first-ever recorded grappling match to take place on these shores occurred 1500 years ago between one of Aotearoa’s most infamous Maori ancestors named Tamatekapua and one of his counterparts of the day, Ruaeo. The reason for the ensuing battle was, of course, the love of a woman! It ended with Tamatekapua being taken down and pinned, thus giving Ruaeo the win or, as we say in modern times, the big “W.” 

Sidenote: 

Both of these men were said to have been 7ft tall of rippling muscle, of which the author of this article has descended from. This gives us an indication of how long grappling has been a part of the Polynesian culture and traditions. In traditional Aotearoa/NZ, the Maori people would travel near and far to compete against the champion grapplers of different regions. Tribal competitions were held in which women competed and sometimes won. In fact, a good female grappler could take on two males at one time and win. 

The art of Maori grappling is known by the following names Whatoto, Mamau/Rongomamau, and Nonoke. Each name can be used generically for Maori grappling while also being used to describe a different phase or action i.e., Whatoto – to grab or to reach for; Mamau – to grasp, grab or clinch; Nonoke – to squirm or to wiggle referring to the movements on the ground. 

BJJ in Modern day Aotearoa:

While BJJ in New Zealand is still in its infancy and is a minority sport, the uptake by Maori and Polynesians is huge and is evident in the high numbers of Maori and Polynesian competitors at the regional and national competitions. As well as their national achievements, many have competed and done well at an international level and continue to achieve and make an impact on the international BJJ scene. 

No doubt, within the near future, as in the UFC, you will become a lot more familiar with the up and coming Maori and Polynesian grapplers and competitors on the international circuit.

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