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What is Kapu Kuialua, the Hawaiian Martial Art?

More commonly known as ‘Lua,’ Kapu Kuialua is an ancient Hawaiian martial art. Focused on joint and pressure point manipulation, it is known as one of the deadlier martial art styles out there since one of the central aims of Kapu Kuialua is to break bones using the joint manipulation techniques or weapons. 

The Forbidden Art of Fighting

The word Kapu Kuialua can be translated as the forbidden art of fighting and winning in two hits (since the word ‘Lua’ means two hits). Due to its highly dangerous nature, it was believed that the Koa warriors only handed down their teachings to those of nobility, particularly the king’s guards. Even though the commoners learned basic techniques on how to defend themselves, Kapu Kuialua was mainly limited to those that were deemed worthy, which may have been one of the primary reasons why it failed to grow as large (although there are currently no class restrictions). It has been said that teaching Kapu Kuialua was so selective, that teaching it to anyone outside of the king’s guards would result in the teacher to be punished by death.

Wrapped up in a warfare mentality, the Koa warriors took combat very seriously, meaning their intention at the start of every battle was to ensure that their opponent would, in no way, can rise back up. For that reason, many techniques in Kapu Kuialua involve grapples, strikes, and holds that work to break body bones or joints.

Outside of bare-handed combat style, Kapu Kuialua trains students on how to use weapons such as the Ma’a (a sling), Pahoa (single-edged dagger), Hoe (canoe paddle), Leiomano (shark tooth lined hoe), Ihe (spear with barbed edges), and Garrote (strangling cord). Also, due to the nature of where this martial art originated, students are also taught the ways of spear catching and ocean warfare.

Kapu Kuialua From the Koa

Kapu Kuialua Hawaiian Martial Art

Tracing back to 1300s, Tahitian colonists arrived in Hawaii and brought two things to islands when they arrived: a caste system and an introduction to martial arts. As the people began to become segregated into classes, the ancient warriors known as the Koa were believed to have constructed the beginnings to the lethal fighting style of Kapu Kuialua.

Amongst all the habitants that lived across the Hawaiian Islands, the Koa Warriors were the toughest and strongest of fighters. With an innate taste for combat and warfare, the Koa warriors shaved their body completely clean and lathered themselves with natural oils as a strategy to be able to ‘slip away’ from their opponent if ever to be grappled.

It was believed that the Koa warriors and their usage of Kapu Kuialua had helped Kamehameha the Great, the founder and first ruler of the Kingdom of Hawaii to unify the islands back in 1810. Hence, this fighting style of the Koa warriors remains an important part of ancient Hawaiian culture.

Beyond Breaking Bones

Even amidst the brutality of breaking bones, like many martial art styles out there, Kapu Kuialua encourages students to focus on developing their spiritual self. Since the martial art heavily relies on the use of the body to grapple, choke, and maneuver around their opponents, there is great attention to understanding your body to its fullest.

For this reason, one thing that all students must adhere to during their training is to understand and focus on ‘mana.’ Like the concept of chi in Chinese martial arts, the Hawaiian warriors believed that mana existed in all forms of life, and only by knowing how to channel such life force, would a warrior truly be able to eliminate their enemies effectively.

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