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  • Writer's pictureJulian Molteno

ATTACK THE SET — Tiki vs Tokoloshe.

Recently I was training with my long-term client and very good friend, Michael. Mike and I have trained together for nearly 20 years and over the course of all those many many hours spent in the gym, we have had many conversations — some serious and some silly. During one of our workouts, while Mike was doing a particularly arduous set, he had a rather fierce expression on his face. This was quite amusing as Mike is the most gentle and calm man I have ever known. (His gym-name, very ironically, is — RAGE!) Anyhow, I told him that his fierce expression reminded me of a Tiki. Mike is very well-educated and well-informed person, but he did not know what a Tiki was. So I explained . . . 

Michael — loving the fitness lifestyle.  One of the things I love about my life in bodybuilding is that it has brought me into contact with so many different types of people. People that I would not have had the occasion otherwise to meet. When I became a doorman, or bouncer, I was a very naive and inexperienced young man. In fact the first time I even walked into a club was as a bouncer! Being brought up in South Africa’s wealthy white Apartheid clique, I naturally looked down on these sort of unsavoury and unprofessional “nightlife “ people. I am pleased to report however, that I was to be proven totally wrong, as I have met so many talented and fascinating and lovely people in the nightclub world.  

Luc Besson’s, The Fifth Element.  When I was on the set of the Luc Besson movie, The Fifth Element, (I was a Mangalore, a sort of dog-alien, and one of Zorg’s bodyguards) I met a whole bunch of antipodean guys. All doorman who had been recruited as movie extras because the script called for some big guys. I became friendly with them, and they persuaded me to come work as a bouncer with them. Which I did. And thus started a 20+ year period of my life, working for The Backpacker Pub and The Church. (I have often reflected on my decision to go work at the Church. It was such a small decision really, just a change of club, something doormen do all the time, and yet, it was a decision that was to profoundly affect a large part of my adult life). The Backpacker and Church catered mostly for Aussies and Kiwis, plus guys and girls of other nationalities, who were living in London during their 2 year work-visa stay. Most of the staff there were antipodean too, loads (heaps, as they would say) of whom were from New Zealand. I have to admit I liked the Kiwi guys and girls immensely, right from the off, as they were such a friendly and welcoming bunch. As I got to know them I got to know a little about their culture too, of which I was totally ignorant. To be honest, I had never even heard of the Maori’s before.  

The Church — a unique and amazing place.  So I learned some stuff. I noticed that the Kiwis often wore limestone pendants round their necks. These limestone carvings all had a strange-looking man-creature on them. I learned that this was an ancient Maori symbol called a Hei-Tiki, (commonly shortened to just Tiki) which legend says was the first man, one who came from the stars. Tiki was respected as the teacher of all things and the wearer of this symbol is therefore seen to possess loyalty, great inner knowledge, and strength of character. Tiki was also a symbol of fertility and would bring good luck to the wearer of the Tiki pendant.  

Hei-Tiki — Fertility - Fortune - Creation. I was also introduced to the traditional Maori dance, the Haka, which is a ceremonial dance or challenge in Māori culture. Various actions are employed in the course of a performance, including facial contortions such as showing the whites of the eyes, and poking out the tongue, and a wide variety of vigorous body actions such as slapping the hands against the body and stomping of the feet. As well as chanted words, a variety of cries and grunts are used.  

The Haka — a ceremonial Maori dance.  As I got to know my new Kiwi friends, and gathered all this new information in a rather haphazard and piecemeal sort of fashion, I erroneously linked the expressions on the faces of the men performing the more aggressive and robust Haka with the expression on the more benevolent and peaceful Tiki, mistakenly assuming they were one and the same. But let’s go back to Mike doing his tough set and making his Tiki-face. I quickly explained to him what a Tiki-face meant to me. He listened thoughtfully and then asked, “Who would win in a fight — a Tiki or a Tokoloshe?” This amused me no end as I remember explaining to him years before what a Tokoloshe was. In Zulu mythology, a Tokoloshe is a dwarf-like water sprite. It is considered a mischievous and evil spirit that can become invisible by drinking water. Tokoloshes are called upon by malevolent people to cause trouble for others. At its least harmful a tokoloshe can be used to scare children, but its power extends to causing illness or even the death of the victim. 

The legend of the Tokoloshe looms large in African culture.  The advent of the phantom Tokoloshe came about through African folklore to explain why people inexplicably died while sleeping in the their rondavels (traditional circular huts, typically with a conical thatched roof) at night. Africans slept on the floor on grass mats encircling a wood fire that kept them warm during the sub-freezing cold winter nights in the rarified highveld air. They never realized the fire was depleting the oxygen levels this leaving noxious carbon dioxide, which is heavier than pure air, to sink to the bottom. Eventually it was realized that anyone who happened to be sleeping in an elevated position escaped the deadly curse of the Tokoloshe, who was described as a short man about hip high who randomly stole one's life in the night unless they were lifted to the height of their bed. 

A Rondavel, a typically African construction. 

Some Zulu people are still superstitious when it comes to things like the supposedly fictional tokoloshe. According to legend, the only way to keep the Tokoloshe away at night is to put a brick beneath each leg of one's bed. I witnessed this first-hand as our “maid”, a lovely lady called Sunni Smith, had her bed up on bricks. I was fascinated by this strange development! So! Back to Mike. Back to his Tiki Face. Back to his question of “Who would win in a fight — a Tiki or a Tokoloshe?” And why is that question, which seems silly, actually quite important? Mike had a fierce expression on his face because he was training hard. I remarked on it because I was pleased, because without hard training, without intensity, without pain and suffering, without ATTACKING THE SET!! — you will never grow!! And this is absolutely critical! I have observed gym-goers now for nearly four decades and over that time it has become increasingly clear to me that the only way to build muscle is through sheer effort! Fat loss, in a successful dietary regime, does not depend on the type of diet you choose — low carb; high protein, intermittent fasting; vegan; vegetarian, etc. — it is adherence to that diet that matters. In much the same way, when it comes to building muscle, a similar principle applies, the type of program you choose — slow and heavy; supersets; training body parts twice a week or once a week; push-pull, etc. — is not important, it is how you do the program that is crucial. Effort is the be-all-and-end-all. ATTACK THE SET! Be a Tokoloshe!! Get your Tiki Face on! Make some noise! Smash the gym up! Build. Some. Muscle! 

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