A Fighting Chance
by Betty Fullard-Leo
These lua prints were
based on a drawing by John Webber, engraved by Bernard
and printed in 1785, in the French Edition of Cook's
Secretly, in the dark of night, the ancient warriors
practiced the deadly moves involved in the art of self
defense called lua. It was a discipline that required
balancing the practitioner's spiritual and physical
aspects in order to achieve victory in battle as well
as harmony in everyday living.
Two of several definitions for "lua" appropriately
portray the discipline. The word "lua" can
mean "pit," as "to pit in battle,"
or it can mean "two," expressing the duality
involved in this Hawaiian martial art. A similar duality
in Hawaiian belief is embodied in Ku, considered the
positive male god, and Hina, the negative female. Hawaiians
believed by learning to balance life's negative and
positive forces-the physical and spiritual, emotional
and intellectual-a lua master, or 'olohe lua, could
turn an opponent's energy into a force against the enemy
more concrete terms, balancing these aspects involved
toning the body by performing gymnastics, wrestling
and swimming, simultaneously achieving harmony with
nature by going with the surf, for example. To gain
spiritual balance, lua warriors learned to chant and
to hula. They ate a special diet and learned to breathe
with measured inhalations and exhalations, much as yoga
students do today.
To learn to think quickly and to strategically plan
their moves, warrior students practiced konane, a Hawaiian
game similar to checkers. They learned balance by kneeling
with each foot on opposite sides of a halved gourd-the
trick being to avoid breaking the fragile edges of the
gourd. To achieve agility, the young warriors practiced
weaving their bodies swiftly through tautly strung cords
hung a foot apart.
In hand-to-hand combat, King Kamehameha was reportedly
the greatest lua warrior of all. Besides being renowned
for courage and strength, history carries tales of the
king dodging and catching a dozen spears at once and
lifting rocks that no others could. He and his warriors
knew perhaps 300 moves that enabled them to break bones
and dislocate bones at the joints without the use of
weapons. They could inflict severe pain on their enemies
by pressing on nerve centers. Similar to some martial
arts practiced today, high leaps and kicks were also
common in lua. Warriors went into battle with their
bodies oiled and their hair cropped short, so they could
slip easily out of the grasp of other combatants. Battles
usually ended with the death of one of the opponents.
By the end of the 18th century, King Kamehameha had
acquired firearms, which brought him victory in his
battles to unite the islands without resorting to hand-to-hand
combat. In 1820, the kapu system was broken, disrupting
a societal system that had insured the passing of Hawaiian
traditions for generations past. Then, when missionaries
appeared on the scene, the teaching of lua was looked
upon with disfavor, and by the 1840s it was banned.
Only a few Hawaiian families continued to practice themoves
and pass the secrets of the discipline down to younger
members. The art virtually disappeared.
In 1991, the Native Hawaiian Culture and Arts Program,
with financial backing from the National Parks Service
and from Bishop Museum recognized that lua was a lost
tradition. A group of four men who had learned lua from
a part-Hawaiian scholar named Charles Kenn back in 1974,
began conducting classes on O'ahu, the Big Island, Maui,
Kaua'i and Moloka'i. Named Pa Ku'ialua for the ring
in which practice takes place, the group of men-Jerry
Walker, Richard Paglinawan, Mitchell Eli and Moses Kalauokalani-have
taught perhaps 300 Hawaiian men and women the moves
involved in lua.
Lack of funding has curtailed some of the Neighbor
Island classes, but Pagalinawan, age 61, continues to
teach lua to about 65 part-Hawaiian students, 21 years
or older on O'ahu at Kamehameha Schools and at the Queen
Lili'uokalani Children's Center.
Weapons of war.
Although the martial discipline seems no longer to
be in danger of disappearing, few people have the opportunity
to observe warriors in practice. Sham battles are sometimes
staged at makahiki celebrations, as in days of old,
or during special ceremonies held every August that
commemorate of the unification of the Hawaiian Islands
at Pu'ukohola, the heiau near Kawaihae.
As in ancient times, battle begins with chants that
give way to insults, threats and gestures to show strength.
The warriors begin their challenging haka, or dance,
lunging and dodging from side to side. As the battle
commences, unlike those of earlier times, it is not
a fight ending in death, but an event that promises
life-life for an ancient art that is just one more piece
of the puzzle being assembled to save the Hawaiian culture.
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