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Lua, the Hawaiian Art of Bone Breaking

Hawaii is a tropical paradise. Tradewinds blowing across sun-warmed beaches, rainbows over blue ocean surf, green mountains lush with verdant foliage. It has been this way for thousands of years. But in pre-contact times, war between island kings often resulted in bloody battles for sovereignty. The martial art of the ancient Hawaiian warriors is the fabled art of lua*.

Lua encompasses both the armed and unarmed combat techniques of the ancient Hawaiian warriors. Isolated from outside influences, lua developed methods for fighting with wooden weapons and bare hands. The bone breaking techniques lua is known for resulted from battlefield expediency--break your opponent's bones, and he can fight no more.

Army Men

Many ancient cultures developed martial ways as part of a military regimen. Best known are the Japanese arts of sumo, jujitsu, kendo, kyudo, and naginata-do, derived from samurai ryu, or schools of martial knowledge. African tribes such as the Zulu and Masai trained in the use of the spear and shield, and developed devastating close-combat prowess using the assegai, or short spear.

Back in the Pacific, the Filipino martial arts of arnis, escrima, and kali grew out of the combat training given to village fighters. Since fighters would need to be trained quickly during times of inter-village strife, or to protect against bandit attacks, the Filipino martial arts taught techniques using the weapons that were at hand--a short length of rattan cane, or the ubiquitous machete.

Sticks and stones may break my bones...

This brings us to lua's famed bone breaking techniques, used with or without weapons. Lua is said to have encompassed over 300 techniques to break bones and dislocate joints without the use of weapons. Unarmed combat used joint manipulation, much as in jujitsu, and striking, much as in karate, kung fu, or tae kwon do.

Stories abound of how the adept lua practitioner would strike nerve centers in his opponent's body to render his opponent's limbs limp and useless. The warrior would then start from the opponent's hand and work his way up the arm, dislocating joints and breaking bones. Some practitioners could reverse the damage they caused by massaging pressure points and joint adjustment, seemingly a precursor to the lomi lomi massage and chiropractic care of today. Most of the time, though, the opponent was left to perish.

It's interesting to note that lua contained techniques seen in other martial arts, even though the Hawaiian Islands were isolated for centuries. Pressure point striking is found in kung fu and karate, and is related to the ancient Chinese medical art of acupuncture. Joint manipulation in fighting can be seen in kung fu, jujitsu, judo, aikido, and hapkido, among others.

King Kamehameha, the monarch who united the Hawaiian Islands under his rule, was renowned for his fighting ability. It was said that the king could lift stones no other man could lift, and was undefeated in single combat. Naturally, as king he undoubtedly was taught lua techniques that no other warrior could learn. I guess there are some perks to being king, huh?

While this bone-breaking focus might sound brutal, remember, this was war! Defeat meant the loss of one's kingdom--and certain death. And that included the loss of entire islands, not just a beachfront condo in Waikiki.

A Lost Art

Today, the ancient arts of lua are almost gone. In ancient times, it was kapu (forbidden) to teach lua to non-royal warriors. In later years, kumu (teachers) would instruct only native Hawaiians. Very few instructors of lua exist today--but without their teachings, lua will become yet another island fable.

*Yes, the word lua also means WC, or toilet. No, I don't know why it's the same word. If you know, please email me!

Check out the following links for more information on lua:

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