History of Hawaiian Lua

The Kapu Art

If you were to ask any local Hawaiian from the islands today about the Ancient Hawaiian Martial art known as “Lua”, you would probably get no answer, a long stare, or a response like, “That is Kapu” or “forbidden”.  In Hawaii, to this day, there still exists a Kingdom Law that prohibits the teaching of this ”Kapu” traditional ancient martial art known as Hawaiian Lua.

According to the oral traditions of the Polynesians and Hawaiians, Lua was developed as a health art of the “Kahuna nui” (high priests) during the 8th century.  These priests were said to have molded their martial arts skills from various birds and sea like creatures.  Later they incorporated the part of message or “lomilomi” which used the various parts of the body such as the tips of the fingers, knuckles, palms of the hand, forearm, elbows, knees and parts of the foot.  Even some of the warrior’s weapons were used as instruments for healing..  To this was added the blending of the arts of “hākōkō” (wrestling) and “ku’i ku’i” (boxing) which would later create the foundation of the Hawaiian martial art of Lua.

During the mid-1600's  many people of different tribes came from countries that had so many divisions and turmoil among themselves. Some small groups from several villages decided to get out and find some new land and find a new world for their families and to find peace among themselves!  They built large Polynesian double-hulled canoes and packed enough plants, animals, equipment and people for the long voyage. These Koa (warriors) constructed large sails from animal skins, leaves from palm trees and coconut fibers. They mounted these massive sails to their double-hulled canoes so the wind from the four corners of the world would take them away from the turmoil!

They first felt freedom and peace as they headed out to sea!  They brought with them educated people that understood the animals, the skies, and the seas. Some were Professors that knew about plants from the earth and the sea, some were wise men who mastered the universe, and others were the fishermen who understood time, weather, and wind. All of these educated people are known today as the Kahunas.

These Kahunas of Polynesian blood traveled by watching the stars, feeling the wind that moves the clouds and the birds that fly with the blowing winds. The Kahunas knew the types of birds that liked warm weather. They watched these special birds fly and followed them to see where they nested.

As the Polynesians searched for new land on the high seas, separation of these people began, resulting in what is known today as the Samoans, Fijians, Tongans, Maoris, Tahitians, Marquises, and the Hawaiians.

Finding eight islands in close proximity to each other, these first group of seafaring Hawaiians occupied these islands which are known today as Hawai’i.

However, prior to this discovery, the Hawaiian people never felt at peace. But now, for the very first time, they now had an abundance of food that the land and seas of their new home would provide for them. They began organizing different groups, selecting leaders, forming small council groups to create and amend rules for the people to follow. They formed security groups to ensure that their people obeyed the rules. Each Hawaiian Island had their own leaders, and security personnel that made sure the residents, as well as visitors, followed theses laws.

It was around the mid 1700’s when the Military-style training began and the martial art known as Lua was noticed. Much of the training was conducted in secrecy during the darkness of nighttime using only oil lamps for light. Lua was first introduced to the King, the Ali'i's (royalty) and their elite Honor Guards and commoners. This Lua Martial Art was taught only to these special people and their family's bloodline and to no one else. The Lua was Kapu (forbidden) and kept secret.

Originally, there were 12 Lua schools of Lua and each of these schools specialized in attacking different parts of the human anatomy. Since Lua was used for warfare, the Koa (warriors) were experts in hand-to-hand combat and weaponry.  Once the Koa learned the more soft aspects of this combat martial art, they were schooled in the esoteric aspects of Lua, which included but was not limited to the study of the human anatomy, physiology, hypnotism, and the development of the internal energy, known as “mana”.  Training also consisted of learning empty-handed skills of “mokomoko” (dirty fighting), “ku’i ku’i” (boxing),  “kaala” (grappling), “peku” (kicking),“hākōkō” (wrestling) and “ka’ane” (strangulation by cord techniques).

Among these Hawaiian combat units, there were experts in several types of weapons that they brought with them into combat.  These weapons included the Ma'a (Sling) and the Pohaku (stone). Lua weapons such as the Ma'a and Pohaku were used to throw rocks high into the air to rain down on top of the enemy and were quickly followed with the launching of Pololū (long spears, from 6 feet to 18 feet long) towards the enemy.

As the Lua weapons (Mea  Kaua) descended like rainwater upon their enemies, the front of the Koa combat units started their advance forward to encircle their enemy. When the circle was completed the full division of 40 Koa closed the gap on the enemy. Now the Koa were ready to use the Ko'oko'o (bo - cane) and their smaller weapons, the Ka'ane (strangling cord), Lei o manō (shark tooth weapon), Pāhoa (single edge dagger), Maka Pāhoa (the eye, belly button, groin, double edge dagger), Newa (club), and Pālua O Newa (double clubs) to finish off and conquer the enemy.

If a Koa lost his weapon, he began hand-to-hand combat, or a free for all against the enemy. This was called Ku'i Ku'i (boxing) and followed up with Mokomoko (dirty fighting, free for all, or go for broke).

It was around the late 1800’s that Hawaiian authority suppressed a school of Lua in Waialua, Honolulu due to renegade students attacking helpless travelers by using disjointing techniques on their victims and then gouge out their eyes.

It was during the late 19th Century that the revival of the repressed Hawaiian culture was sought by King David Kalakaua.  Through his efforts, the hula was reinstated along with a less violent form of Lua. Only selected members of his royal family were offered instruction in the more lethal aspects of Lua.

The secret of this ancient Hawaiian martial art of Lua was finally broken in the early 1920's in the city of Hilo, Hawai'i by Professor Henry Okazaki who had learned Lua from a Hawaiian man from the Puna area of the Hilo district on the big Island.  With the permission of his Hawaiian Kumu (Lua instructor), Professor Okazaki converted and transformed these ancient Hawaiian Lua techniques that he had learned into his own system of martial art, which he would call Danzan Ryu.  It is said that Professor Okazaki promised and told to his Lua instructor, “I will hide, I will camouflage, I will translate your Lua into my Japanese language, and only you and those that know the art of Lua, will see and understand your ‘Ai’s (techniques) when my students perform them”.