Paul Waters

Huna, Hawaiian Lore, and Today with Paul Waters

Hawaiian Lua

by Bob Reish from The Kiai Echo – Spring 1996

Upon first hearing that Professor Okazaki incorporated Hawaiian Lua into his system, I have been trying to find out where the lua was hidden, which techniques were of Hawaiian origin, and why these lua techniques were kept so secret. No one seemed to know where the lua was among the hundreds of techniques contained within the system Professor Okazaki called Danzan Ryu. For more than thirty years, I sought answers to these questions by searching libraries across the country and within various Hawaiian island communities. It seemed as though Hawaii, itself, had lost the mysterious art of lua, or possibly that someone or group had painstakingly combed through the public archives and removed all traces of this ancient art.

After personally interviewing several of Okazaki’s former students, talking to many older generation Hawaiians, and following several leads, I was able to make contact with a lua group in the summer of 1995. A time and place was set, and I prepared to meet with these warriors who practice the ancient way of bone breaking. Acutely aware of my own limitations, I was somewhat apprehensive about our first meeting. In retrospect, my friends had voiced a sense of fear based on stories they had heard about lua. Even with the use of Transcendental Meditation mantras I was still nervous. As I followed the ‘olohe-lua (instructor) to a private location at the base of a rugged mountain range, foremost in my mind were stories told to me by the old Hawaiians. One tale described of how the haole (foreigner) would be invited to participate in a lua training session with an established lua group, only to discover that he would actually be the object upon which the haumana (lua disciple) would practice. Following the life and death battle, the conquered victim’s bones would be “bundled” after which he would be eaten alive!

Kamehameha I, also known as Kamehameha the Great, was perhaps the most renowned practitioner of lua, the art of life and death. As an infant, Kamehameha, son of high chief Keoua, was named Paiea, meaning “hard-shelled crab.” Hawaiian tradition relates that just prior to Paiea’s birth, a bright star, named Kokoiki appeared. It so happens that the date of this legend coincides with the appearance of Halley’s Comet in 1758. When Kokoiki was viewed by the kahunas, Hawaii’s mystic seers, it was prophesied that this man would defeat all his rivals and reign supreme over the entire island chain. The infant prince was ordered to be put to death by Alapai, former king and father of Paiea’s mother, Kekuiapoiwa. However, young Paiea was hidden and reared secretly in seclusion. Paiea grew to manhood and his name was changed to Kamehameha, which means “The very lonely one,” or “the one set apart.”

Kamehameha fulfilled the prophecy, conquering and unifying all the Hawaiian islands by 1810, and was subsequently nicknamed the Warrior King. He was famed for his ambition, strength, courage, judgment, and skill in dodging or catching a dozen spears hurled simultaneously at him. Kamehameha was, indeed, a master warrior of lua.

In ancient times, an annual Makahiki ceremony was held, in which peace was guaranteed for at least three or four months a year. Similar to the Olympics, Makahikis always included mokomoko (boxing – similar to contemporary boxing matches), hakoko (wrestling), and kukini (foot racing). Competitors were from select groups of warriors whom high chiefs retained as guards. These elite warrior guards constantly trained in lua and took great pride in competing publicly in the mokomoko boxing competitions. Warriors traveled from neighboring islands to participate in these events and displayed their mighty prowess in front of the many leaders present. Often times contestants were injured or killed during the competition. disguised as recreation, the Makahiki “games” were actually a serious display of chieftains’ forces and never taken lightly by the players.

A battlefield was referred to as a playing field in ancient times. However, when war erupted, the “game” was over and the maka’ainana, commoners who usually fished or farmed, were drafted into service and taught the basics of lua. When a warrior went into battle, he would wear only a malo (loincloth) with the front piece tucked in. His body hair would be closely saved and his skin oiled to prevent an enemy from obtaining a sure grip. It is important to note that during the initial stages of conflict, opposing forces would rally in a psychological battle. This intellectual facet of engagement included spoken and facial exchanges designed to unnerve an opponent. Intimidation of this sort could defeat an adversary before the physical battle had even begun. When an enemy was defeated in battle, he might have suffered the thrust of a barbed weapon which, when withdrawn, would have ripped out his entrails. Then, his little fingers would be broken, followed by breaking every major bone in his arms, legs, pelvis and face. Finally, the victim’s back would be snapped and his body “bundled up.” A warrior proficient in lua could do all this damage to the human body, even without weapons.

Lua, then, was the general name for a type of hand-to-hand fighting which not only included hakihaki (bone-breaking), but combined ha’a (dance), hakoko (wrestling), mokomoko/ku’i (boxing or punching), peku (kicking), aalolo (nerve pressure) to cause paralysis, and also the use of weapons. However, Hawaiian lua training encompasses far more than the master of blows, strikes, takedowns, holds, dodges and falls. It also included the game konane (similar to checkers), designed to teach strategic thinking. Additionally, lua involved lomilomi (massage) which was designed to enhance a lua warrior’s performance in training or combat by keeping muscles from binding.

Warriors, throughout history, primarily train to use weapons during battle. Hawaiian warriors utilized the following weapons, offensively and defensively, in training or during actual battle:

  1. Ihe (short spear)
  2. Pololu (long spear/javelin)
  3. Pahoa (wooden spike dagger)
  4. Pahoa ‘Oilua (double bladed weapon)
  5. Lei-o-mano (shark-tooth weapon)
  6. La-au-palau (long war clubs)
  7. Newa (short war club)
  8. Pohaku (stone hand club)
  9. Pikoi ‘Ikoi (tripping weapon)
  10. Ma’a (sling)
  11. Ka’ane (strangulation cord)
  12. Ko’oko’o (cane)

Different cultures throughout history have hidden self-defense movements within dance. This allowed the warriors to practice their technique without giving away secret battle tactics. Dance, accompanied by vigorous chanting, also tended to quell panic and fear within the warrior. This assisted him in battle and elevated him to a higher level of consciousness.

A martial dance found in various styles throughout Polynesia is the haka or ha’a, an old word for hula. Lua incorporated the haka to develop grace, agility, and strong leg muscles, necessary for battle. When dancing, the lua artists would lunge forward and back, dodge from side to side, and then whirl and pivot in unison to simulate combat. Their hakaarm motions were actually lua strikes in disguise. The ‘olohe hula (hula master) tapped a “galloping rhythm” on a hue (gourd), called cues in chant, and interspersed surprise lines to test the dancers’ concentration during training.

Haka, in reference to lua and dance, not only means to dance in ranks, but also to perch on a shelf. In other words, to shelve or save in reserve, but not to use. For generations, Hawaiian objects were haka, held and cherished, but not used. Lua is intangibly haka. This parallels the Japanese saying, “Jujitsu, like a sword within a scabbard, must be kept polished though unseen.” Lua not only protects the warrior in life, but it also teaches and prepares him how to die well.

It is believed that Professor Henry Okazaki, father of American jujitsu, learned lua in 1917 from an old Hawaiian kumu (instructor) named David Kainhee in the Puna district of Hawaii, and mastered 46 lua ‘ai (bone breaking techniques). When Professor Okazaki learned lua, he undoubtedly took an oath of secrecy for it was kapu (forbidden) to reveal those techniques to anyone who did not have Hawaiian blood. This may explain why Professor Okazaki’s former students could not identify specific lua found within his system. By masking the lua and not revealing it to his students, Professor Okazaki upheld his oath to his Hawaiian instructor.

It is said that Professor Okazaki became Hawaii’s foremost exponent of both jiujitsu and lua during his time. He recognized the tremendous significance of Hawaiian lua and so incorporated it into his system of self defense. The lua techniques hidden within Danzan Ryu include:

  • ryote hazushi
  • yubi toi
  • katate tori
  • ryote tori
  • ryoeri tori
  • akushu kote tori
  • kubi nuki shime
  • hadaka shime ichi
  • osaegami jime
  • shidare fuji jime
  • mizukuguri
  • komiri
  • shigarami
  • tora katsugi
  • hiki otoshi
  • kin katsugi
  • hon gyaku san
  • genkotsu ude tori ichi
  • kesa nage
  • ashi shigarami
  • gyaku hayanada
  • hizaori nage
  • ebi shime
  • ushiro ebi shime
  • ushiro nage
  • kesa koroshi
  • tataki komi
  • tsukikomi dome
  • obi otoshi
  • tsurigane otoshi
  • tawara gaeshi
  • selected techniques from Shingin No Make

Accomplished Hawaiian lua artists of today readily recognize the lua contained within Professor Okazaki’s techniques as listed above. It should be noted, however, that ever though the above techniques were acknowledged as lua, many of them exist within the Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Indonesian, and Mayasian systems as well. After all, katate tori is not unique to only Japanese jujitsu. It is evident that Professor Okazaki highly esteemed Hawaiian lua and I believe his system pays silent tribute to those Hawaiian warriors who developed and perfected this extraordinary art. I also believe that every student of Okazaki’s system should be aware of his martial arts heritage and gratefully acknowledge both Japanese jujitsu and Hawaiian lua. To those individuals who shared the spirit of kokua (pleasure in sharing) with Professor Okazaki in years past, and to those who shared and helped me find the truth, I owe a debt of gratitude and a sincere mahalo.


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