Bethany Dillon April 2, 2019
They have been celebrated among the ancient Polynesian royals and people for their ferocity, discipline, and skill on the battlefield…their mastery in all aspects of the Hawaiian warrior arts…. They were the special forces
of their time…the grand masters over their terrain. They were elite in their physical, mental and spiritual discipline and headstrong in their lifelong quest for attaining spiritual energy, and retaining their rule
over their lands. Their fighting skills and art would only be shared with those the nobles deemed worthy to the ancient art, for passing down the flame to the next generation. In order to respect the warrior tradition,
it was taught under the cover of darkness in an effort to “Huna na mea huna” (keep secret what is sacred). This is how it was in the old days…
The Hawaiian warriors, despite modern day thinking and insulting biases, had their own means of conducting warfare and training, and as facts would prove, in a much more structured fashion than we originally thought. They had a means of self defense and a means of executing large scale battles with varied degrees of jaw dropping professionalism. Those images of the peaceful and lazed Polynesians virtually isolated in the mid-Pacific and thus safe and secure from outside enemies is a long and old stereotype that must come to an end.
The pure form of Ku’ialua (“Lua”), the ancient combat art of the People of Pae’aina (Hawai’i), was empty-handed (lima hāmama). The combat art evolved to accommodate the People’s way of life.
The truth of the matter is Hawaii has had its share of invaders, bloodshed and war as all people of the earth have, from Native North America, the icy mountain folds of the Scandinavian peninsula, to the ancient Meso-american Metropolis’s, and in these lush tropical islands, a people produced one of the deadliest forms of self defense systems ever invented. Lua: the martial art style based on bone breaking, joint locks, throws, pressure point manipulations, strikes, weapon techniques and battlefield strategies. Reviving this near lost warrior tradition is one talented warrior woman, Michelle Manu.
Michelle Manu is a renowned martial artist, athlete, dancer, model, women’s advocate, instructor, contributing, tv host, MMA fight commentator, fight actress, and film/TV narrator, who has appeared on the pages of several well known magazines. The news programs which have featured Michelle and that have inspired many martial artists for generations to take to the dojo, include those such as Inside Kung Fu, Sports Illustrated, Martial Arts Masters Magazine, Seni Beladiri (Malaysia), Tae Kwon Do Times (Korea), USAdojo.com, KenpoGirl, Herstory, Martial Arts Illustrated UK, and Europe’s Warrior Magazine, Black Belt Magazine, and now the ever rising in popularity Martial Journal. Having graced the screen in documentaries such as 52 Masters and several intriguing interviews with top instructors from all over the world, Michelle has taken her martial arts career far by honoring the warrior code, her culture, her ancestors, her teachers, and her heart.
Michelle is the first generation Senior Black Belt in Lua under Olohe Solomon Kaihewalu, and the only woman instructor under him. She is a Masters Hall of Fame inductee, Argentina Martial Arts Hall of Fame inductee, Munich Hall of Honours inductee, and Gathering of Eagles Kenpo International Hall of Fame inductee. She has worked worked as a live ringside fight color commentator, host of the Masters Hall of Fame World News, host/producer of Silk Warrior TV, InfluentialTV, Heroes’ Hearts, and is the first woman in history to be knighted for her work in promoting, perpetuating, and preserving the Hawaiian combat art, Lua with the title of Knight Commander by the Royal Order of Kamehameha I. She was a director for America in Defense (AID) where she led and taught pilots and flight attendants air cabin crew safety (close-quarter combat) as a result of September 11, 2001. Michelle Instructs self-awareness and defense for colleges, community programs, homeless shelters, and internationally through her Super Hero Experience (SHE) program where women transition into superheroes.
Hawaiian warriors were historically called Koa
My first question stems around you, your background, etc. I noticed there is a lot of impressive information about you online, in documentaries and in magazines all over the country regarding your accomplishments and amazing achievements! (Michelle – Thank you.).One thing I like to do as interviewer is give interviewee’s a chance to give a personal account of their achievements and life’s journey. These personal accounts are often the ones that I find to be deep and most meaningful as they give readers your thoughts, and feelings about your experiences and journey, that a third person narrative can never provide. That being said, how would you describe yourself and your journey to and through Lua?. How has it led you to other exciting ventures, honors and achievements?
Michelle – A simple yet complicated, highly focused and determined woman, professional, mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, teacher and warrior. In looking back at my upbringing and experiences, it is crystal
clear that is has prepared me for what I do and who I am today.
I had no idea the significance or magnitude of the situation when I was first invited to meet ‘Olōhe Solomon Kaihewalu in the late 90’s. I’m not sure he did either when he took me on as a disciple. Given he hadn’t taught women since the early 80’s, he most definitely thought I wouldn’t be able to endure the old-school training, his non-negotiable requirements, or that simply life would get in the way and would keep me from my training. I was lucky to train with him alone or with one other haumana (student) for over two years. During that time he reprogrammed my earlier martial training by literally erasing and training my body to move only Kaihewalu Lua. One day he said that he expects me to now join the guys in the black belt workouts. With no women present for two decades, you can imagine the welcome I received. They, too, believed I would quit and questioned why was I even there. It was on and it was real. I have, like all of us, sustained some serious injuries. After my first eight years where they witnessed that no exceptions were made for me, and in fact it seemed as though ‘Olōhe was trying to get me to quit, things started to change. I was finally somewhat accepted and I know some even enjoyed working on me because of my flexibility and relentlessness. Through the years, I was bestowed the title of Kumu (teacher) but was only given permission to teach certain things. Today, I have the trusted blessing to teach whatever I feel I should to whoever I feel will not misuse what I show. It is truly my life’s honor to protect, promote, and perpetuate the only combat art that is native to the People of Hawai’i (Pae ‘Aina).
How has it led you to other exciting ventures, honors and achievements?
Michelle – I now use the physics of the Lua to show that gender has nothing to do with combat. It is merely working with different sizes, weights, distance, quickness, and power. I use the movement
to help men and women find their power. I also focus on empowering women through the SHE (Super Hero Experience) in metaphysically letting go of all that they carry that isn’t theirs to carry, to unload some
of their past pain, so that they can find their power in every realm of their being. It is my hope that they continue to value themselves and ripple that out to all others on their path. When we avoid and store
things that should be examined and let go, it weakens us in every way. I also use fitness conditioning, and Hawaiian and Tahitian dance to help with body movements and injuries – acute or chronic. We must be
in some sort of conditioning to even do the techniques precisely and without getting injured.
I teach weekly private lessons in Southern California. I will teach groups if requested, such as realtors, Girl Scouts, and women experiencing homelessness. I am honored to travel throughout the states and abroad to bring the message. About seven years ago, I began my adventure in media showing the Lua in Indie films and television. I enjoy it and I enjoy people asking, “Who is she?” “What martial art is that?” “Where does it come from?” It provides great exposure to an art that has been kept secret. To me it is evidence that our People were and are not just about L&L BBQ and plastic leis. There is so much more depth to the ways of our ancestors live and embodied, and the energy and connection with one another and the Land that tourists do not get to experience and therefore do not understand.Thus you see “Just got lei’d in Hawaii” without any knowledge as to what the lei signifies. There are more inflaming examples but I will refrain.
Can you talk a bit about what it was like training the art of Lua under Olohe Solomon Kaihewalu?
Michelle – I cannot lie… training with ‘Olōhe was very difficult, but it was also very healing for me. My physical training started very young with my biological Hawaiian-Filipino-Chinese-English father. ‘Olōhe was like my father, only much nicer. I didn’t know it but I had already been primed when I was accepted as a disciple. I was one of those young women that didn’t have an exterior that matched my unhealthy, razor-tongued, scene-causing, pupil-flamed, ready to scrap at any moment damaged interior. ‘Olōhe is no nonsense in every way. You breathe wrong and he will teleport to your face in a millionth of a second to challenge whatever it is he is sensing in you. He swore, he hit, he pushed all limits of one’s self on every level. If one cannot take it or if you don’t like it, then quit! Many did over the years. ‘Olōhe prepared us to carry on the legacy. Each kumu must decide to step into the responsibility (kuleana) he has given us and remain steadfast, even when he comes under fire or just gets tired of the politics. For me as the only woman, he has eternally blessed me. For what he fed and poured into me, for what he trusts me with, for how he loves and has loved me, I am forever indebted to him.
Olohe Solomon Kaihewalu
Michelle – I started studying Kenpo at the age of nine and studied Korean arts (mostly for the great conditioning) during my teens. I then began my life in the Kaihewalu Lua at 22 years old.
What's the most important thing Olohe Solomon Kaihewalu taught you over the years?
Michelle – There is the technical and then there is the awareness aspect. He strongly programmed into my spirit that no matter what, I am to rightfully stand, and stand powerfully, in my space in the Lua community because HE, himself, has placed me there. This is where he said I must stand. This sometimes makes others highly uncomfortable. I remain steadfast and immovable, just like when ‘Olōhewould get in my face during training. According to the world and its stereotypes (including those in the collective martial arts community), as a womenI am not supposed to move the way I do. Technically I am sound and it has been tested. It will always be tested by those that still hold “It’s only a girl” or “Women can’t…” mentality. As ‘Olōhe has said over and over again, my first weapon is the element of surprise.
How can you define Lua as an art in comparison to other arts? Is it similar to other arts in concept and practice?
Michelle – It is similar in the sense of the commitment, honor, integrity, respect, and perseverance.The Maoli (ancient) ways demanded no less or it was punishable by death. Given ‘Olōhe’s bloodline evolved
into the “maximum kills” era, ‘Olōhe was non-negotiable on effectiveness of techniques. He doesn’t want to hear any talking, only the body talks to him. The Kaihewalu Lua, like its origin, the Ku’ialua, it is based
on land, sea, nature, and animal movements. The physical body is then divided as the man/kane (waist down), woman/wahine(waist up including head), children/keiki (arms), and grandchildren/mo’opuna (hands and fingers).
Each family member has a job and they must work together as a family. Father carries mother and children (do not be off balance, train your core to be strong), the children and grandchildren go out and through blocks
and weapons then come home to report back to mother and protect.
Has Lua ever been considered an art crafted for competition?
Michelle – No. Although in the 60’s through mid-80’s ‘Olōhe, some of his five children, and students did compete in competition. They were highly regarded and decorated. Frankly I wouldn’t be able to do it.
It would be stripping my weapons from me and I would learn bad habits. I refuse to dilute my Lua. Lua is combat. Our ancestors used it on the battlefield. It was kill or be killed, by weaponry and/or empty-hand, and
move on to your next opponent. Over the years I have had a favorite weapon, but they’ve now all been a favorite at one time or another. All are highly effective for their respective purposes.
Michelle – King Kamehameha’s army would attack strategically in waves and circles. Encasing the opponents, first the Pike would rain down on the opponents. Then the close-quarters combat would take place using the weapons mentioned above. If a weapon breaks, or a warrior losing his or her weapon, the battle would continue with open–hand warfare. There were also ‘cleaners’ that would stay behind the movement of the battle to check the field, cutting the throats of opponents that were injured but not yet dead.
Was there a weapon particularly favored by the women for self defense and warfare?
Michelle – The Pīko’i was most favored by thewoman warrior. Kanewahineikia’oha used the Kaleookamo’o (the tongue of the dragon Pīko’i) that hurled to entangle an opponent’s weapon, arms or legs.They were highly proficient with this 20’ cord that was attached to a hurling club of wood or rock. For me, I favor the Ka’ane. They also favored a net or any garment that was placed causally over the shoulder, known as the Kaupo’ohiwi.
Are there any historical references to elite Polynesian women warriors, soldiers, or generals who's ranks were as great or greater than male warriors, before colonization? Was it common, culturally and historically, to see female koa?
Michelle – What a profound question, Bethany! Yes, indeed. Historically there have been women that were trained in, were leaders, and held ranks as great and greater than the male counterparts, which includes the rank of warrior-chief. Some of the powerful wahine ancestorsare Hinaika’unuloa, Leaiuka (known as the one without limitations), Hinaika’ōhi’a, Ali’i ‘Ai MokuAlapa’I (Hawai’i) and Kūali’i (O’ahu), Kanewahineika’oha (O’ahu), Walawala (Hawai’i), Kauwahine(Māui), Keakealani, and Kamākakauali’i.
What is the link between Hawaiian Dance and the martial art of Lua?
Michelle – After the visitors arrived, Hula was banned as it was believed to be too sexual and done with idle time. It was believed and taught that spent working was for God and that any idle time was from the Devil. If one had idle time to Hula then they were not honoring God. About the same time, the brutal Lua was banned from public display. The warriors then practiced their Lua in the dead of night within the Hula, so as to mask it from anyone who wondered what they were doing. Today I can and do show what Hula movements are really concealed Lua movements. Whether is it Lomilomi (massage and healing), Hula, or Lua – I truly believe it is all the same energy but just expressed differently by the practitioner.
What happened to the Kapuku'ialua to have been nearly cnsidered a lost art?
Michelle – This is a very very long and involved answer. To be continued…
As a woman in martial arts, first generation senior black belt, the only woman instructor under Olohe Solomon Kaihewalu, and the first woman in history to earn the designation of Knight Commander by the Royal Order of Kamehameha I; To be knighted for your work in promoting, perpetuating, and preserving the Hawaiian combat art, Lua; What is some advice you would like to give to other female martial artists who find themselves confronted by a male dominated community?
Michelle – Believe. Believe that you are enough. Believe that you have just as much right to stand among the men, regardless of years of training or your age. Commit to yourself and make no exceptions. Train your spirit, mind, and body to own your space. You choose what and who you wish to be involved. Set your intent and be relentless. Learn from your decisions and experiences without assigning any blame to anyone, but especially not to yourself. Each of us brings something to the world that the other is not trusted with and is not being given the opportunity to bring. Trust in who you are, how you have been prepared, and trust that you are being prepared to handle more. Willingness. Be willing to receive the messages that prompt you to continue on your path or even detour.Do not waste your time. Trust in your purpose, even if you can only see and feel a portion of it at a time. Laugh at shit talkers and adversity as this should just strongly remind you of your intent and to stay the course. Do not seek understanding from anyone and do not expect anyone to comfortable with (not to mention supportive of) your decisions. The only one that has to be okay with your decisions is you.
Do you have a favorite method for keeping you or your students in warrior shape?
Michelle – It is all important. Energetic food for the spirit, nutrition, supplements, smart and consistent training, balance in all areas of self (emotional, mental, spiritual, physical, relational, vocational). Sorting through old pain and traumatic memories of experiences, and releasing them. This is essential.
Is there anything unique about the way you lead the self defense portions for women's classes, sucha as the SHE workshops?
Michelle – It is unique in the sense that we do visualizations and we meet dark corners in the past. We also then confront, relive, and take control over situations that trigger us. Once this is done, the amount of physical power that comes forth is tremendous. Each and every SHE, I am silenced by the profound willingness, courage, and power of the women. It is truly a safe place to resolve some very deep wounds that are always running in the background and influence all we do, say, and are.
Why do you think people still struggle with the idea of Native Americans, South Americans, Mongolians, Africans, Polynesians, Norse, etc. having had their own forms of structures combat training? Martial arts are a fact of the human species just as much as war, dance, and language, yet we still struggle to accept that martial arts exist outside of China and Japan etc., with all dues respect to those countries.
Michelle – Is it that these ethnicites are viewed as primitive, heathenistic, and barbaric? Are we programmed to favor those that appear civilized? It is a very good question. Each ethnicity that you have mentioned were formidable with their own organized systems of warfare. I have much respect for all of them.
What are some of your hopes for Lua in the future? Do you see indigenous Martial Arts such as Lua re-emerging or making a comeback?
Michelle – I would love to see all Lua systems come together for the first time in history. We may not get to spend time with some of the Lua practitioners of certain family arts of the outer islands, but it would be wonderful to get some of us from the Kenn, Nuuhiwa, and Kaihewalu lineages together to share. I hope to raise an army of my own to help perpetuate the Kaihewalu Lua. Life happens and we are spread throughout the world, so it makes it difficult to truly learn and advance. As for Lua seen by the world, it is my prayer that it receives the understanding and recognition it deserves. Just because it isn’t being taught in store fronts or have an amazing global marketing team,it doesn’t mean it is a “third-grade version of Kenpo” as some keyboard warriors called it.
Thank you so much for answering my questions. It's been an honor learning about the Hawaiian Martial Art of Kapuku'ialua, the women warrior behind it's revitalization, and the story key components and history of such a proud warrior tradition.
Michelle – Love for you, Bethany. Mahalo so very much. E malamapono (take good care).
“By the eighteenth-century, each major island chiefdom had a Hālau Ku’ialua where was taught the martial arts science blending harmony of the LoinaWahine a me LoinaKāne (duality in nature) with Mauliola (harmony of Life’s Principle) and with evenly balanced intellect, Spirit and emotion. As a physical art, the purest form of Ku’ialua was basically comprised of lima hāmama(open-handed techniques), including defensive and offensive strategy, stealth, invisibility, ritual participation and ceremonial dance. Knowledge surrounding the ‘OihanaLapa’au (medicinal profession), ‘OihanaLimalima (physiotherapy), Hahā(diagnostics), Ha’iha’i (accupressure and chiropractic), and Mea ‘Ai (diet) completed the picture. At the onset of the seventeenth-century, maximized armed tactics were introduced, augmenting the function of all major weapons, altering the warrior’s fighting style from that time onward.”
-Tarallo and Jensen
NāKaikamahine ‘o Haumea
Women of Ancient Hawai’i, Daughters of Haumea