Blood on the Sand: Shaolin Monk vs. Maori Warrior

May 19, 2009

Tonight at 10pm, a Shaolin Monk squares off against a Maori Warrior in a battle to the death. This time around, I have a small confession to make: I'm not familiar enough with Chinese or Maori history to the point that I could give you a rundown of facts, figures, dates, and strategies that would make for a truly expert analysis. Most of what I know regarding these two warriors, I learned in the process of filming tonight's episode.

That alone made this episode a blast, and in the condensed time I had to work with our Shaolin and Maori experts, I was able to pick up the bare beginnings of their underlying philosophies. What sets this fight apart from any of the others we've seen this season is the emphasis on spirituality, and the role it plays within each warrior's martial skills.

Chances are, you're already familiar with one portrayal of Shaolin Kung Fu thanks to films, television shows, games, and other media for better or (more likely) worse. Much, much, worse. Tonight we're trying to get beyond the myth, the wire fu, and the damage done to Shaolin Kung Fu's reputation by a half century of being dragged through the gutters of popular culture. Chances are also pretty good that your familiarity with Maori martial culture begins and ends with the Haka, which has suffered it's own share of indignities recently. This is another course we aim to correct tonight.

So let's start down the down the right path by examining the attitudes towards combat that both warriors are bringing to tonight's fight.

Shaolin monks are pacifists -- their martial skills were honed for use as a last resort, to fend off those who would seek to prey on the fruits of peace. While the Shaolin monastery was founded in the 5th century CE, and there are records of Monks fighting to defend it shortly afterwards, the use of what we would think of today as "Martial Arts" was not documented until sometime in the 16th century.

A practiced Shaolin monk is highly skilled fighter, but as a warrior, his goal is to defy any killer instinct he may possess. His arts are about control, discipline, and extinguishing the ego: They are the external counterpart to the mental exercises he conducts as a monk. Combat is yet another struggle along the path to enlightenment, an obstacle to furthering his spiritual goals.

Our Maori warrior, on the other hand, fights for to enrich his spiritual well being. Maori culture began somewhere in several waves of migration between 800-1300 CE, when the Maori arrived from Eastern Polynesia. Their cultural origins include the concept of mana, a notion they share with other Polynesian cultures. Loosely put, mana is the living power, the vital essence of all things: people, objects, places, and even nations. A warrior who possesses great mana possesses power and authority, and the best way for him to gain additional mana is to triumph in battle.

A Maori warrior's weapons themselves were invested with the mana his ancestors had earned through their victories in combat. His weapons, imbued with the sacred power of his predecessors, took on an authority of their own. While I'm unaware of a monastic tradition amongst the Maori, I'm willing to claim that combat is a much more spiritual, and consequently meaningful, experience for our Maori warrior than it is for our Shaolin Monk.

While the Maori warrior's weapons may give their wielder a psychological or spiritual boost, there's little doubt that the Shaolin Monk is working with a higher grade of material. His weapons aren't necessarily forged form top-notch steel, but they are metal, and that in and of itself is a significant leap in quality over the wood, stone, tooth, and bone that the Maori warrior is wielding.

Perhaps that is the essence of tonight's fight. Can the tools of disciplined master overcome the spirit and intensity of a warrior who fights for not only himself, but also his entire line?

As always, we're looking forward to your comments, questions, and feedback. As this was a learning experience for me, I'm looking forward to talking more about it in The Aftermath.

Morituri te Salutant,

Max Geiger is a game designer and graduate of USC's Interactive Media Division.
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follow him on Twitter, as well as Geoff Desmoulin, Dr. Armand Dorian, and now, The Aftermath's Kieron Elliot.

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