ANCIENT HAWAIIAN MARTIAL ART OF LUA NEARLY LOST, REEMERGING

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By Al Hulsen

HONOLULU, Hawai‘i (July 26, 2002 – PIDP/CPIS)---Mention Hawai‘i and the indigenous art of dance, hula, immediately comes to mind.

Nothing about Hawaiian culture has so captivated the world as hula’s sometimes gentle, sometimes rigorous depicting of the islands and the legends of old.

Today halau hula (schools) keep traditional hula kahiko alive and offer innovative contemporary interpretations (hula ‘auana). Halau hula are found worldwide.

But now another ancient Hawaiian art -- nearly lost and practiced by only a few -- is slowing beginning to emerge publicly.

It’s the Hawaiian martial art of lua -- sometimes called the art of ‘bone crunching.’

This past Sunday, nine specially invited Hawaiian men and women, after weeks of study and practice, were honored with membership in the Pa Ku‘i a Lua. It is one of only a few organized pa (schools) solely dedicated to the study and preservation of lua.

In the early 1800s, after King Kamehameha I defeated opposing chiefs and armies and united the Hawaiian Islands, lua virtually disappeared.

It went generally unpracticed and was taught and maintained by only a few, where once thousands of warriors -- both men and women -- trained continuously to protect their chiefs, their land, their families and themselves in battle.

Today, lua is considered something of a lost and almost dying art, sustained by a small but dedicated cadre. But slowly practitioners are growing in number, and lua is reemerging.

Like hula, the martial art of lua is a celebration of Hawaiian culture and values.

In hand-to-hand combat, elite warrior guards, sometimes numbering in the thousands, knew exactly how to use lua to incapacitate an enemy, relying on a knowledge of the human anatomy and instilled with a warrior’s spirit to protect and preserve.

With their bare hands, in a flash, using ha‘a (fighting stances) and ‘ai (fighting techniques) they could snap enemies’ bones, disjoint their fingers, break rib cages and collar bones, dislocate shoulders -- and strangle them.

In their battles they used handmade weapons including hardwood clubs (newa), spears (‘ihe), and paddles laced with shark’s teeth (lei-o-mano) for ripping and tearing. One small two-pronged weapon was designed to stab at both eyes simultaneously.

But war and hand-to-hand combat are not the goals of contemporary lua practitioners.

It is taught to instill pride in an indigenous culture and to keep it alive.

Richard Kekumuikawaiokeola Paglinawan is Pa Ku‘i a Lua’s ‘Olohe Lua Kukui (Master of the Art of Lua) and its highest-ranking member. He is joined by two other masters: Moses E. Kalauokalani and Noelani Kanoho Mahoe, and newer ‘olohe (lua teachers) in instructing selected novices.

After a year of research, studying chants, stories and pictures of lua and learning from a scholar who had continued to practice the martial art, Charles Ken, Paglinawan began offering classes beginning in 1991, with support from the Native Hawaiian Culture and the Arts Program at the Bishop Museum. They have continued since then, for persons 21 years of age and older, at the Kamehameha Schools near downtown Honolulu and the Queen Lili‘uokalani Children’s Center in Punalu‘u, on the windward side of the island of O‘ahu. Some 240 students have been trained

The pa doesn’t teach waging war as such, but provides students with a full understanding of their physical capabilities. The study involves meditation and prayer. Attaining balance in one’s life is emphasized, including the spiritual and the physical and the dual aspects of ku (male) and hina (female).

"Lua," said Paglinawan, "helps us to appreciate our ancestors. It helps us regain a spirit lost in the arrival of western culture."

Mahoe, a chanter, emphasized the point. "Studying lua instills pride in culture," she said. It puts Hawaiians in touch with their ancestors."

On Sunday, for family and friends, the new graduates of Pa Ku‘i a Lua were required to show five of the ‘ai they had learned. Three hundred and twenty-five fighting techniques are recognized. They then held a mock battle, with the opposing army being members of the pa.

The battle began with chants and insults that included obscene gestures, to show strength. They used spears (‘ihe) -- properly padded -- ha‘a and ‘ai.

The new warriors won the battle, the referees ruled.

One of the new haumana (students), Irenio A. Kawainohoikala‘i Valencia, said the lua training taught him about both his spiritual and physical self, particularly what it is like to push oneself to the absolute physical limit.

Studying lua, he said, is helping him learn not only about himself but also his culture -- how, in another era, Hawaiians lived and survived.

"This experience reaffirms my existence as a Hawaiian," he said. "It tells me our culture is strong. The training helps build respect for Hawaiian culture and makes us appreciate the ancient values, which are very relevant to modern living. It teaches us to seek balance and harmony through strength, perseverance and hard work, along with a compelling sense of spirituality."

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