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  • Writer's picturePaul

The Haka


Video Length: 4:13 min


I love rugby, and I love the All Blacks, New Zealand's national team. One of their more magnificent traditions in Rugby is prior to a rugby match the All Blacks face their opponents and perform a Māori (Native Zealanders) war dance. Called the "Haka", the performance is enjoyed by most of the fans, although some say it’s a single-minded attempt to intimidate the opposition. I disagree. It's about tribalism and most rugby teams accept the Haka as a part of rugby's grand heritage. The opposing team facing the All Blacks demonstrate their tribalism by linking arm in arm or arm over the shoulder in a horseshoe circle with emotional faces while the Haka is performed.


Statistically, the All Blacks are the most successful sporting team in human history. New Zealand's win-rate over the last 110 years is over 77%. It's a phenomenal record and an achievement matched by no other elite team, in any sport, or in any part of the world. I love their history, their professionalism, their mantra, and their traditions. But the Haka is the soul of the All Blacks. The words change slightly to reflect the time, but the modern words to the Haka go something like this:

Māori Interpretation

Taringa whakarongo! Let your ears listen!

Kia rite! Kia rite! Kia mau! Hī! Get ready Line up! Steady! Yeah!

Kio whakawhenua au i ahau! Let me be one with the land!

Ko Aotearoa e ngunguru nei! New Zealand is rumbling here!

Au, au, aue hā! It's our time! It's our moment!

Ko Kapa o Pango e ngunguru nei! The Black Team is rumbling here!

Au, au, aue hā! It's our time! It's our moment!

Ka tū te Ihii hi Stand up to the fear!

Ka tū te Wanawana Stand up to the terror!

Ki runga ki te rangi, To the sky above!

E tū iho nei, tū iho nei, hī! Fight high up. Here, now. Yeah!

Ponga rā! The shadows fall!

Kapa o Pango, aue hī! The Black Team, yeah!

Ponga rā! Their Darkness falls!

Ko Kapa o Pango, aue hī, hā! The Team in Black, Yeah, Ha!

Au, au, aue bā! It’s our time! It’s our moment!

When a player makes the All Blacks, he is not only given the jersey but also a small black book. The first page shows a jersey from the 1905 used by the "Originals" (the first New Zealand national rugby team to tour abroad under the All Blacks banner). On the next page is another jersey, of the 1924 "Invincibles" (the 1924–1925 national team that won all 32 of its games overseas). The book goes on and on, page after page of jerseys until the present day. Specifically placed throughout the book are pages of principles, heroes, values, ethos, and the character of the team. At the end of the book are pages that have been left blank. They are to be filled by the All Black who now wears that black jersey. Those pages will be written by that player and his teammates. The message to them is "Now is your time, write your legacy!"

Design, Discipline, and Decision

In 2004, the All Blacks had fallen on hard times losing to Australia 22–10 in the World Cup semi-final i. The 2003 season had gone badly, and by the start of the 2004 season, many of senior All Blacks were threatening to leave. Discipline was lacking, the players were not in synch, the organization was in complete disorder, and to make things worse, the All Blacks were losing.

In response, a new management team was hired and a complete rebuild began. Traditions remained, but a fresh culture was required, one that placed emphasis on individual character and personal leadership. Their mantra? "Better People Make Better All Blacks." The result? An incredible win-rate of just over 86% and Rugby World Cups in 2013 and 2015.

How did they do it? It is outlined in an excellent book entitled "Legacy" by James Kerr. The book goes into great detail about reinventing historical institutions and reveals 15 mandates for success. These are sound practical lessons on leadership that can be utilized by businesses trying to adapt to new markets or out flanking innovative competitors. Some of those lessons include:

1. Sweep The Sheds

No one is ever too big to do the small things. Before leaving the locker room at the end of the game, some of the most famous names in the rugby world stop and clean up the locker room themselves. The lesson, teach humility.

2. Go for the Gap

When you’re on top of your game, change your game. The All Blacks philosophy is to aim for continual improvement and continuous learning. The lesson, even at the pinnacle of success, there are ways to do it better.

3. Leave The Jersey in a Better Place

There is an All Blacks saying: "Leave the jersey in a better place!” They know they represent all those who have come before them. They also represent those who admire and look up to them. By definition, an All Black is a role model to their fans across New Zealand and those who follow rugby globally. The lesson, better people make better All Blacks. They also make better doctors, lawyers, bankers, business people, parents, family, and friends.

4. Play with Purpose

Ask yourself “Why?” I know why I am here is an All Blacks core belief. They understand why they play the game and what it means to be an All Black. The lesson, a person with a narrow vision sees a narrow horizon. The person with a wider vision sees a wider horizon.

5. Follow The Spearhead

Don't be obnoxious! In Maori, "whanau" means "extended family". It’s symbolized by a spearhead that can only be effective if all of the force behind it moves in one direction. The All Blacks select players based far more on character than talent! That means some of New Zealand’s best players never put on an All Black jersey. If they don’t have the right character but you add them to the team, it would be detrimental to the "whanau". Like all the great teams, the All Blacks seek to replace the “me” with the “we”. The lesson, no one is bigger than the team. The team always comes first.

6. Pass the Ball

Leaders create leaders. The All Blacks develop leaders and nurture character off the field. Each player is the quintessence of professionalism, respectful, accountable, earning integrity, and worthy of trust. The lesson, a shared responsibility means shared ownership. This unites individuals which creates a team, a team with one captain and fourteen leaders on the field.

7. Ritualize to Actualize

Create a culture. A key factor in the All Blacks success was the development of a new haka chant for each season. Rituals reflect, remind, and reinforce the belief system to reignite their collective identity and purpose. The lesson, "Au, au, aue bā!” or “It’s our time! It’s our moment!" is the final line of the 2015 Haka.

The Haka performance may have initially been intended to excite the home crowd and intimidate the opposing team, but the words have evolved since it was first seen in Surrey England in 1888. For the last 75 years, it has been about what the All Blacks are to rugby as a sport and to New Zealand as a nation.

Recently in Christchurch, New Zealand, 50 people were killed by a gunman, a first of any kind in that country. Many New Zealanders of every ethnic background in the country have been coming together as one to remember the victims and to say that New Zealand is one nation of multiple nationalities. They sing songs, read poems, and cite words of comfort. But many perform the "Haka". It is their way of coalescing, to be united, to be strong, to be one, to be a New Zealander.

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