Mau Rākau grading

This past weekend I traveled to Christchurch to support a friend who graded in the Māori weaponry art-form called Mau Rākau (wielding weapons).

The grading itself is very physically and emotionally exhausting. It actually starts the evening before where the instructors check that every person grading has the ability required to complete their grading level. For this particular grading, levels 2 – 5 were being graded. Level 8 is the highest level of the art and the few that make it this far, will take upwards of 10 years to reach that level, the majority of practitioners never reach level 8. It is a level only achievable for only the most disciplined physically, emotionally and culturally.

My friend who graded, was level 3. His grading consisted of a verification session of his suitability the night before, around 4 hours. After a few hours sleep, the actual grading begins at 6am. The process for all grading is that everyone who grades (regardless of level) completes Level 1, then level 2, then level 3.. and so on. As each person completes their level of grading, they stop and the other levels continue until all graded levels are completed.

Along the way, there are many reasons for failure. The instructors prefer to reject people at the earliest stage, hence why the verification session is the most important. Its the point where the lack of correct technique may result in being “sat down” or failed. Once grading has started, generally the instructors will do all they can to guide everyone to a pass. However, in some instances, the will required to continue is with the individual.

In my personal experience of grading (I have graded to level 2), fatigue was the hardest thing to overcome. Exhaustion makes it extremely difficult to complete simple techniques let alone the complex ones required for grading. Instructors never give a free pass. They will encourage, but they never settle for anything less than the requirement of the level. For this reason, many failures will be due to the individual being unable to continue. It could be physical or emotional exhaustion or even injury.

I am happy to say that after 9 hours of grading and then a 10km run afterwards, my friend successfully passed his level 4 grading. After many years at level 3, it was so satisfying to see him presented with his white tīpare (headband) to signify successful completion of Level 4.

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