Some martial arts emphasize using kicks and punches to thwart an attacker. Others focus on activating pressure points, executing takedowns, grappling on the ground or employing a mixture of moves. The ancient Hawaiian art of lua is different in that it revolves around breaking bones and dislocating joints. While not usually lethal, such techniques will stop an assailant in his tracks and make him think twice about continuing his attack — if he can still move, that is.
Southern California’s Solomon Kaihewalu has practiced lua since he was 3. Born in the Palama Settlement (now called Honolulu) on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, he traces most of his schooling in the art to his parents. His mother, a descendant of a Hawaiian king, learned lua techniques in sequences that were similar to kata, and his father had a heritage that linked him to ancient warriors and weapons.
Solomon Kaihewalu’s initial exposure to lua came when he and his 13 siblings were treated to tales about their family’s fighting history. “[There were] stories about going to the forest to learn the type of wood to use for tools, and also for weapons,” he says.
Kaihewalu also gained plenty of hands-on lua experience in the form of daily chores. “As we grew, we learned the art by doing work in the house, and part of the work involved rhythm and timing,” he recalls. “Our way of living was the way of the martial arts: timing, balance, listening, hearing, deciding, focusing. All of those movements were based on lua training, but they was also part of our family training.”
Solomon Kaihewalu started teaching lua while stationed at a U.S. Air Force base in West Germany, but he didn’t introduce it to the American public until 1963, when he was stationed at an Air Force base in Colorado. The first people to get access to the art’s basic techniques were commissioned and non-commissioned officers. However, he had to be careful with respect to what he revealed because ancient customs technically forbade him from spreading the fighting methods off the island.
“I brought them out real slow to make sure the elders understood what I was trying to do,” he says. For years, he substituted the name “lua” with the generic term “Hawaiian martial arts” in an effort to avoid ruffling feathers.
The goal of the style, Kaihewalu says, is to incapacitate your opponent, thereby halting his attack before he can use any weapon he may be carrying. Because lua isn’t an art crafted for competition, the opponent gets no opportunity to tap out before the pain becomes excruciating. The speed with which lua acts precludes that possibility. Fortunately, he says, it’s fairly easy to employ the art in a non-lethal manner.
Lua’s repertoire spans the spectrum of combat techniques, from boxing and wrestling to kicking and throwing. “The art of lua is to ‘bite’ with the fingers, to tear the skin,” Solomon Kaihewalu says. “Once the body tightens up from the pain, you look for the bone that’s locked in position and try to dislocate it.”
Lua also teaches weapons. Lots of ’em. “According to my mom and dad, most of them were made from ordinary tools,” he says. “Normally, when you were working in the field and there was an attack coming from other Hawaiians [who] wanted to take over, they would have the tools on hand, so they used them.”
The hoe (oar), ihe (short spear), newa (club) and ka’ane (strangling cord) were all frequently seen tools-cum-weapons, and all were constructed from natural materials such as wood and stones. While Kaihewalu served in the Air Force, he drew on this philosophy of making do with what you have to teach pilots how to use their boots as though they were boxing gloves and as shields against bayonet attacks. He also showed them how to use their shoelaces as a ka’ane, sort of a last-resort garrote for when no other weapon is available.
Now 70, the 12th-degree lua master travels the world spreading the traditional Hawaiian art. An instructor since 1948, he says his seminar schedule has picked up during the past 15 years because of growing interest in the system.
“I think we fit in good with [other styles] because we don’t claim to be better than anybody else out there,” Solomon Kaihewalu says.
Text by Sara Fogan • Photos by Rick Hustead
This article first appeared in the February 2006 issue of Black Belt.
“Ninety-nine percent of the danzan-ryu organization, which …
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BLACK BELT: Going into the judo competition at the 2012 Olympic Games, were you confident? Had you visualized yourself winning the gold?
Kayla Harrison: I always wanted to win the Olympics, especially since 2010 when I won the World Judo Championships. I thought about it constantly. Visualization was a big part of that. Every night before I went to sleep — from the time I won the Worlds until the day I stepped on the mat in London — I visualized myself winning the whole tournament. I visualized [eating] breakfast, going through the weigh-in, warming up, being in the chute, winning every match, winning the final, being on top of the podium and hugging my family afterward. By the time I got there, I’d won it in my mind 1,000 times.
BLACK BELT: So that went on for two years — basically, from the time you won the Worlds in 2010 until you competed in the Olympics in 2012?
Kayla Harrison: In 2009 I fought at my first senior Worlds. I went 1-1 and wasn’t that happy. Right after that, I started visualizing myself winning the Worlds. In 2010 I won. That’s when I realized how powerful visualization really was, and it’s when I started visualizing myself winning the Olympics.
BLACK BELT: You always hear about athletes in other sports using visualization but not so much in the martial arts. Do you think more martial artists should be doing it?
Kayla Harrison: It can be even bigger — whether you’re looking to ace a test in school or reach a personal goal like losing 10 pounds, anyone can practice visualization. In martial arts, it’s especially beneficial. You practice in your mind over and over how to do the move properly. When I tore my MCL earlier this year, I visualized every part of my knee healing perfectly and being able to do every throw. My knee ended up healing in four weeks instead of the typical eight weeks.
BLACK BELT: How rigorous was your training in the years leading up to the 2012 Games?
Kayla Harrison: I trained full time. I did judo twice a day, I lifted weights five days a week and I ran three days a week, so I was doing two to four workouts six days a week.
BLACK BELT: In your judo workouts, did you separate the skills — for example, did you do sessions that focused on judo throws and sessions that focused on judo ground work?
Kayla Harrison: Yes. In the morning, we generally did hard drilling, which included throws, transition drills from standing to newaza, stuff like that. At night, we did a lot of randori. As we got closer to the Games, we did lineups: I’d stay on one side of the mat, and every minute a fresh body would be thrown at me. We’d do that for six minutes because a judo match is five minutes. We did it with gripping drills, randori and newaza. You try to throw first, try to get the best grip, try to get position, or try to get the pin or armbar. That gets you into unbelievable shape.
BLACK BELT: Did you ever get really specific in your training sessions — for example, one that focused on just judo gripping and another just judo footwork?
Kayla Harrison: Yes, depending on which day of the week it was. Some days were devoted to newaza, while others were for randori with an emphasis on throws or transition drills — going from standing to newaza and back.
BLACK BELT: What was the weight training like?
Kayla Harrison: For me, it was all about conditioning. Even in my offseason, even though I was trying to get stronger, I was trying to be explosive and do Olympic lifts. But they would also be turned into a complex, so I wasn’t maxing out on every lift. For example, I’d do five cleans, five front squats and five overhead presses to build strength while staying in good shape.
Go here to order Winning on the Ground, written by AnnMaria De Mars and James Pedro Sr. — and published by Black Belt!
Right before the Olympics, I’d do the “death circuit.” It would be 10 to 12 exercises done as hard and fast as possible. My strength trainer would put them in a particular order — it could be anything from climbing the rope and doing 10 pull-ups at the top to throwing a medicine ball to dumping a heavy bag overhead to hitting the bag for 30 seconds.
BLACK BELT: How about running?
Kayla Harrison: We usually ran one to two miles with 15 to 20 wind sprints. We’d do that …
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In The Karate Kid movie, Mr. Miyagi gives Daniel LaRusso the chance to trim a bonsai tree. Daniel wants to try but is reluctant for fear of ruining the tree. Miyagi tells him to close his eyes and trust himself. Concentrate on the tree and form a mental picture of it, Miyagi explains. Then just trust in the picture, and everything will be all right.
It’s often helpful to contrast what we want to show by viewing its opposite. The philosophy of the Cobra Kai teacher clearly is the antithesis of budo principles. This is vividly shown by the training creed recited by Cobra Kai students and their instructor, which states, in part, that fear, pain and defeat do not exist in the school.
The Cobra Kai students study the “way of the fist,” which stresses striking first, striking hard and showing no mercy.
One of the major problems in life is keeping things in the proper perspective. Daniel shows a beautiful sense of perspective in the touching scene at the airport in The Karate Kid Part II when he shows up unexpectedly and explains why he wants to accompany Miyagi to Okinawa. When Miyagi asks where he got the money for the ticket, Daniel says he took it out of his savings.
Weren’t his savings supposed to be for college, Miyagi asks. Daniel doesn’t care. He explains that Miyagi is more important than college and is always there when Daniel needs him. The master continues to try to dissuade him, but Daniel persists, and the old man finally gives in. When Daniel thanks him, Miyagi says, “No, Daniel-san, thank you.”
A delicious blend of serious thought and humor is evident in Karate Kid Part II when Miyagi translates the two rules of his family dojo. The first rule is that karate is for defense only. Rule No. 2 is to first learn rule No. 1.
The old idea that prevention is better than a cure applies well to self-defense. Conscientious instructors frequently remind students to avoid trouble by simply staying away from trouble spots or walking away from needless confrontations.
Direct avoidance of fighting is dramatized in Karate Kid Part II when Sato tries to set up a midnight battle with his rival. Miyagi tells Sato that the latter will lose sleep because “I no be there.”
On at least two other occasions, Miyagi avoids fighting by simply not responding physically. Once is when Chozen calls him a coward in public. In response to this insult, Miyagi just walks away. It reminds us of the old saying that the mailman would never get the mail delivered if he stopped to kick at every barking dog.
Another time in Karate Kid Part II, Chozen and his cohorts destroy a garden in an effort to provoke Miyagi. Daniel is ready to fight but is restrained by his wise teacher once he puts an end to the mayhem.
This theme is well-developed in both Karate Kid movies. The first example is when Miyagi accompanies Daniel in the first film to the Cobra Kai dojo in an effort to stop the attacks on Daniel. Although a permanent truce isn’t possible, Miyagi succeeds in getting a postponement of any more confrontations until the upcoming tournament.
A novel way to avoid trouble is seen in Karate Kid Part II when a couple of troublemakers won’t take their beer bottles off the fender of Miyagi’s pickup truck. They lose all desire to fight when Miyagi breaks the necks of the bottles with a single knifehand strike.
Real life is not without parallel examples. The story is told of shotokan karate’s Hirokazu Kanazawa, who was challenged to a street fight. He consented but asked his antagonist if he might first warm up a bit. The troublemaker agreed, so Kanazawa began punching and kicking in the air. The challenger lost heart once he saw the speed and power of this extraordinary karateka. The fight never took place.
Some law-enforcement programs use a text titled Not How to Shoot, But When. The parallel with the martial arts is clear. Although we should try to avoid physical confrontations, there are times when our skills should be brought into action. A careful review of the Karate Kid movies shows a distinct pattern in this regard.
Although Daniel needlessly gets involved in several fights, the character of Miyagi serves as a shining example of when to fight and when not to. In every case, …
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It’s long been a complaint of serious martial artists that the film industry presents a distorted view of the arts. By capitalizing on flamboyant aspects and then pushing them to the bizarre, moviemakers give the public little chance to learn what the arts are really about. In most cases, the true purpose of budo is either glossed over or simply absent. A welcome change came in 1984 with the release of The Karate Kid.
Not only was the movie a box-office smash, but it also was a big hit among the proponents of budo. In addition to doing much to educate the public, it was directly responsible for many people signing up for martial arts lessons.
Martial artists were in for another treat in 1986 with the release of The Karate Kid Part II. In some ways, this movie surpassed the first one because sport karate — which the public had long mistaken for real karate — was entirely absent. Full play was given to the traditional values of self-discipline, kindness and understanding. Not only was the second film a financial success, but many instructors also noted another surge in enrollment.
The usefulness of the first two Karate Kid movies goes far beyond what’s been pointed out thus far. Appropriate references to the films during karate class can have a big impact on student attention, learning and even retention. The movies actually contain nothing new to the martial arts, but what they present is in such dynamic form that students can relate to it, and believe it, much more than if an instructor just talks philosophically.
Let’s begin with a synopsis of the films since there are people who missed one or both of them. In The Karate Kid, we see the trials and tribulations of a high-school boy named Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) as he moves to a different state and tries to adjust. His major trouble is with Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), student leader of the Cobra Kai, a group of sport-karate students whose teacher has a win-at-any-cost attitude.
Daniel is befriended by an older master named Miyagi (Pat Morita), who not only trains Daniel in the physical side of karate but also shows him the real purpose of the martial art.
In The Karate Kid Part II, Daniel goes to Okinawa with Miyagi, who returns to his homeland to visit his dying father. After a 40-year absence, Miyagi also must face the consequences of his youthful action of speaking out against marriage by arrangement. He had wanted to marry Yukie, but she had been promised to Sato, his best friend and fellow karate student.
Because of Miyagi’s public outburst, Sato had felt dishonored. A fight to the death was averted only by Miyagi’s departure for the United States. On his return, Miyagi is challenged by Sato.
A conflict also develops between Daniel and Sato’s best student Chozen. The plot centers on how Miyagi and Daniel deal with these problems as followers of budo philosophy.
Let’s now examine the concepts that give the two movies their lasting significance.
People take up the study of martial arts for self-defense, self-improvement, exercise or any of a hundred reasons, all of which may be positive. But Daniel has a reason that is at least questionable — to get even for the beatings he’s taken from Cobra Kai students. When he asks Miyagi to teach him karate so he can avenge himself, the latter explains that fighting should be used only as a last resort. This confuses Daniel, who believes karate and fighting are one and the same.
When he asks Miyagi why he trains if not to learn how to fight, Miyagi says, “So I won’t have to fight.” A smile comes over the old man’s face as he realizes that Daniel is starting to see what karate is all about.
Beginners in the martial arts often ask about the rank held by their instructor. They tend to be disappointed if he or she is only a first-degree black belt but impressed if the teacher holds a higher rank. Novices seldom realize that there’s no uniformity in ranking from one organization to another. They’re usually confused and sometimes dismayed when told that there are no legal restrictions on ranking and that anyone can declare himself a 10th-degree grandmaster and distribute belts as he chooses.
True to form, Daniel asks Miyagi about his rank. Miyagi explains that karate comes from the head and the heart, not belt rank. Daniel’s understanding is still superficial at this point, but at least he’s …
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I often tell people that martial arts are a lifelong activity. By that I mean it is an activity that one can engage in at anytime in their life and for their whole life. Its not something you have to start when you are young, wait till you’re an adult, or give up on when you reach a certain age.
My journey started at the age of seven at a time when children learning the arts was not even a thought of being a boon for the industry. In fact, the presence of women in the arts was a rarity then. My journey has continued for over 40 years now and yes, I took some time off from actively practicing now and then, but my mind was always training.
On Saturday, October 7th, students and instructors attended the 27th American International Karate Championships at the RIT Inn & Conference Center. Congratulations to Nicholas, Brendan, Sempai Hannah, Sempai Paul, Sempai MaryLou, and Sempai Rich on their performances in kata, weapons, and semi contact fighting. They all did well and brought home several trophies and medals. Shihan Chris, Sensei Matt, Sensei Mike, and Sensei Chuck served as officials for kata, weapons, and breaking.
Technique is important; in most respects this is the foundation of hte training that martial arts entails. Without technique, everything can quickly fall apart.