Maori Weapon: The Taiaha

Warrior with Taiaha

Reader Max posted the following story:

Bayonet versus Taiaha

“The old Maori weapon, the taiaha can be deadly when wielded by an expert. This was proved in a taiaha and rifle and bayonet duel at a small arms weapon training school at Maadi, the Middle East, in 1943. The school was an important centre in which soldiers of the 8th Army were given an intensive training course in every infantry weapon, from revolvers to bayonets. In this particular course there were Americans, Free French, English, New Zealanders, Cypriots, and Canadians.

In one of the bayonet fighting sessions, Major Don Steward, a New Zealander, remarked to his hard-bitten instructors: “This is quite a weapon, I only know of one to beat it!”

“What’s that?”Asked the instructor.

“The Maori taiaha.”

“What the hell is that?”

“A fire-hardened wooden stave and fending spear, “replied Stewart.

Derision and scorn followed this remark, which stung the Maori to the quick. As a result, he offered to prove his point. Immediately bets were offered at great odds that the man with a Maori weapon would be dead within seconds against an expert with a rifle-mounted bayonet.

The Maori champion, Lieut. Aubrey Te Rama-Apakura Rota, luckily had one with him. Rota was warned that he would have to take full risk of being wounded or worse, and that the incident was to be officially regarded as an exercise in the combat school, where ‘accidents ‘were fairly frequent. There would be no holds barred on either side.


Stripping off his tunic, the young Maori stood facing the grinning ‘modern soldier ‘in much the same way his forebears had faced the British redcoats a century before.

The signal to start was given. The soldier lunged in and thrust in perfect precision, but each move was parried by the light-footed Maori who bided his time and stood on the defensive. Failing to penetrate the Maoris’ guard, the other soldier grew increasingly angry as thrust after thrust was tossed aside by the stout wooden weapon. Sometimes it was repelled with such violence that the European soldier was flung sideways.

Finally, he crouched and charged in directly at the Maoris’ midriff. This was Rota’s chance. Grasping his weapon firmly, he sidestepped, tipped aside the blind thrust, and caught the lunging figure a smart uppercut in the stomach with the bladed end of the taiaha. In a flash he whirled the weapon about, to crash the business-end on top of his opponent’s skull. Down he went, to be out of action for some days in the camp hospital—another regrettable accident from the small arms school.

The effect on those present was profound. Money changed hands at great odds, as the jubilant minority collected. The story was repeated with almost unbelievable astonishment throughout the Middle East.”

According to Wikipedia,

A Taiaha (pronounced [taiaha]) is a traditional weapon of the Māori of New Zealand. Usually between 5 to 6 feet (1.5 to 1.8 m) in length, it is a wooden close quarters weapon used for short sharp strikes or stabbing thrusts. It has three main parts: the arero (tongue), used for stabbing the opponent and parrying, the upoko (head), the base from which the tongue protrudes, and the ate (liver), the long flat blade which is also used for striking and parrying. The New Zealand Army includes an image of a taiaha into its official badge.

Maori Warriors with the Taiaha

The taiaha has appeared on TV.  In the TV series, Deadliest Warrior, the Taiaha is one of the Māori Warrior’s weapons. It was tested against the Shaolin Monk‘s Staff. It impressed the experts as it could break cow spines (which is three times thicker than a human spine) and it was given the edge. It accounted for 151 kills for the Māori Warrior’s 308 kills in 1000 battles.

This weapon brings up the question of what is the ideal weapon. The taiaha resembles the short staff of Tapado, only with an added point. The question is, will a short staff wielded with two hands like a baseball bat be more effective than a weapon wielded like a staff? Or will the ideal weapon art use both techniques, depending on the situation?




10 Responses to “Maori Weapon: The Taiaha”

  1. Great story! I love tribal weapons.

    I’d say it is more the man than the weapon. In the story, both weapons were deadly and strong. I am not sure about the rifle at the time but 6′ does seem bigger than most rifles today even with a bayonet.

    In the last picture the fellow on the right is holding the weapon a lot like one would a Jo, Bo, or spear. Apart from sports, I’ve need seen a martial art that only holds a stick weapon in just one way.

    For a similar weapon look to the Oar, or Eku ,in some Okinawan styles.

    This fellow mentions the oar and shows a hoe Kuwa:

  2. jimmyfatwing Says:

    Nice post, not heard of that but I like the look of it.

  3. That is so wicked jimmyfatwing!

    Now that I see that I have to say: you never see a rifle/bayonet with that range of motion, so more force can be imparted to the striking end. They bayonet is more of a short range weapon; it’s like the Jo 4′ vs. the Bo 6′.

  4. jimmyfatwing Says:

    Thought you guys would find this interesting:

    One to print off and read I think.

  5. Jimmyfatwing,

    Thanks for those incredible resources.

  6. martial art styles…

    Maori Weapon: The Taiaha « Big Stick Combat Blog…

  7. i have four boys the eldest is called manaia and then manaakitia and pounamu and my last son is taiaha whenua so yup they are my taongas

  8. Hi,
    I was given a Taiaha by my Grandmother a few years ago before she passed away who spent 13 years in New Zealand (I live in London) and I wish to sell it. I have made a few enquiries and I have only seen one like it on the Internet in the NZ Maori Museum. I can provide photos.
    It seems to be made of Rata wood and has haliotis shell eyes on both face sides, but it has a straw-like beard/collar/skirt with a straw ring binding it onto the neck of the face, partly dyed with a red pigment.
    Please contact me on 044 7956-485985 or email me on:

    Thank you.

    Sent from my iPad

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