SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii - The much-anticipated Native Hawaiian lecture series got off to a rousing start, Friday, as military leaders were introduced to one of Hawaii's best-kept secrets: the ancient fighting art known as lua.
Practiced by the chiefs' elite fighting forces in olden times, lua went underground for decades before resurfacing in recent years, thanks in part to event guest speaker Dr. Mitchell Eli.
An olohe (master) lua, Eli is a former student of Charles Kenn, the man credited with preserving the martial art for today's generation of students.
"One thing about Hawaiians is that we are very good at keeping secrets," explained emcee Annelle Amaral, Native Hawaiian liaison for U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii (USAG-HI), to about 120 guests as they dined at the Nehelani, Schofield Barracks. "We have had to keep secrets, under self-preservation and the need to protect that, which is sacred ... for too many generations.
"But what we have learned in contemporary days," she continued, "is that within the telling of secrets, in the sharing of the knowledge of our kupuna, we have made our young people proud of their kupuna, made them proud of who they are."
When it was his turn to speak, Eli first thanked the U.S. Army for a forum in which to share the history of lua. Then, after briefly discussing his background and familiarity with the Wahiawa community, Eli informed the Army's senior leadership that they would be treated to a 35-minute film that would best explain the Hawaiian martial art.
Hosted by Green Beret Terry Schappert, the action-packed film, which first aired back in May on the History Channel, featured Schappert's introduction to lua - a complex fighting system specializing in bone-breaking and joint-dislocating strikes with the hands and feet, as well as mastery over a slew of ancient weapons.
For Eli, a chiropractor who rarely speaks about lua in public, the film was an opportunity to demonstrate that members of differing cultures could come together for a common cause. Or as he put it, the video production was made possible through "the combination of good works between our culture, the military and those who assisted us."
Following the presentation, Col. Teresa Parsons admitted the film was an "eye-opening experience" for her.
"I've always seen replicas of the war instruments, but I never knew of the skill sets of the Hawaiian warrior," explained Parsons, who's in her third tour of duty in Hawaii and currently working out of Tripler Army Medical Center. "I'm in awe, and have a new respect for another aspect of the Hawaiian tradition."
Parsons was particularly fascinated by the leiomano, a handheld weapon fashioned with serrated tiger shark teeth on one end and a spear on the other. In the film, lua warriors demonstrated how the weapon could be used for lethal blows that tear away at not only flesh and sinew, but even bone.
"They made some serious holes with that weapon," she commented. "I don't even know if today we could repair the injuries that they have the ability to cause."
Sponsored by USAG-HI through a $5,000 donation from the Kamehameha Schools, the event brought together the military community, including host Col. Matthew Margotta, commander, USAG-HI, and Hawaiian leaders from various Royal Hawaiian Societies charged with preserving Hawaiian culture.
Societies in attendance included the Royal Order of Kamehameha, Hale O Na Alii, Ahahui Kaahumanu and the Daughters and Sons of Hawaiian Warriors, also known as Mamakakaua.
"We intentionally set up our tables so that there would be military and Hawaiians at them," Amaral noted. "This will hopefully help when it comes to exchanging ideas with one another."
The evening program began with Rev. William Kaina of Kawaihao Church offering the pule (prayer), in which he thanked the Soldiers in attendance for their dedicated service. Noted kumu hula Wayne Kahoonei Panoke followed. He offered a chant to introduce members of the Royal Order of Kamehameha, Chapter VIII, who were dressed in full regalia.
The members then offered a lei as hookupu (gift given in exchange for spiritual power, or mana) to a picture of Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole - as did Col. Margotta, who honored the Hawaiian monarch with a maile lei.
According to Amaral, Prince Kuhio is not only credited with restoring the Royal Societies following the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, but with also being olohe lua to Kenn.
Amaral added that she's hoping to have Nainoa Thompson speak in September, when the second of a four-part lecture series resumes. Thompson is a Native Hawaiian navigator famous for commanding two double-hulled canoes, the Hokulea and Hawaiiloa, on voyages from Hawaii through Polynesia. He is also a member of the Board of Trustees for the Kamehameha Schools.