Traditionally the haka was performed by Maori warriors going into battle and intended as a means of intimidating combatants. It has famously been adopted by the ‘All Blacks’ rugby team and is a feature of the match each time New Zealand takes the field. The haka is all about laying down a challenge and the objects of the fierce show-boating have only two choices: accept the challenge or run away and cower in a corner.
I opened the door of a pub last week, which was closed for five years and after putting in sixteen months of work and stress to ensure this landmark venue was retained for the village. It was a challenge. I love a challenge and the sense of achievement in overcoming the challenge is in proportion to the intensity of the battle. Some people go looking for challenges, whilst others avoid them like the plague.
Now, I immediately need to emphasise that I am not bragging with regard to the number of challenges I have overcome – but as Dizzy Dean said; “it aint braggin’ if you can do it!”
Some haka challenges are foolhardy to accept and I often draw the comparison of a hopeless haka with Andy Cosgrove’s fighting cock. Andy and I were good friends and I always enjoyed our chats. He once kept me up to date on a fighting cock he was rearing. Andy had no doubt but that this one would be the best ever champion. The feather coated warrior was mad for action.
Ensconced in his fortified fox-proof fortress, the bird passed the time of day blowing his own trumpet and doing the rooster haka. The lurking fox did some reconnaissance work, but Andy had the coup so well made that the cock could wander in and out, but the fox couldn’t get in.
One morning Andy arrived to feed the bird, only to find that all that remained was a small pile of feathers outside the fox-proof fortress. The fox had arrived that morning and proceeded to do the fox haka outside the hutch.
The fighting cock was so confident of his own fighting prowess that he couldn’t resist the challenge. He felt so confident that he could move up a couple of divisions and so he accepted the challenge: First round K.O … pile of feathers in neutral corner ….
Some challenges we can choose, whilst others are trust upon us. The ones we choose to accept should give us at least a sporting chance of winning. One of the great feelings is to grab hold of an idea and make it work – such as that pub I was telling you about. I have a few of those on my score sheet and the ones I get right pay for the defeats.
I have been thinking about challenges and the haka and I have come to the conclusion that life is one big haka – or at least a succession of hakas!
From the day we are born isn’t the gauntlet of the haka thrown down to us? One challenge after another … big ones, small ones and a threat around every corner. Learning to walk and tie a shoe. Having numerous falls off a bicycle before mastering the challenge of riding one.
Figuring out how to navigate the intricacies of the school classroom and even more so, the school playground. Then the haka laid down by the opposite sex and adolescence. And all this before you have to grow up and face the haka of adult life!
The challenges we manufacture for ourselves and which other people can see, are the easy ones. We referee the game ourselves. Examples for me are a literary haka of writing three very different books that I set for myself: an autobiography, a novel, and a book of original short stories.
I walked from Mullingar to Croke Park and from Killucan to the top of Croke Park. I allowed my name go on a local election ballot paper – where I was beaten by a better man. These were all challenges, but they were all ‘soft hakas’.
It isn’t the pubs, the businesses, the job, or the outward signs of success that pose the most meaningful challenges or give the greatest rewards. The real haka of life is getting to know and understand oneself. We all have different strengths and weaknesses and it is how we deal with these that is the real challenge. The biggest and most important haka is being honest and endeavouring to see ourselves as others might see us. Overcoming such challenges is the greatest victory of all.
Life is made up of overcoming one haka after another; until one day the Grim Reaper arrives, does his dance and each one of us will finish up in a little pile -just like Andy Cosgrove’s cock!
Truth is something which must be known with the mind, accepted with the heart, and enacted in life.