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Limalama & Lua

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A hybrid martial art, limalama was developed from the traditions of the Polynesian islands of American Samoa by Tu’umamao Tuiolosega. It is a self-defense system that is sometimes considered to be a branch of American Kempo.

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An all-inclusive system

The life experiences and personal battles of the founder are distilled into limalama’s 13 principles. For example, a principle called “amofoe,” states that a fighter must understand how to manipulate his body weight and use swaying tactics in order to improve balance. Limalama also makes use of street-fighting techniques and can be described as an all-inclusive system that addresses every kind of attack. These include grabs, tackles, pushes, punches, kicks, and hugs, as well as a range of holds, locks, chokes, and the use of assorted weapons—and various combinations of all of the above.

Tu’umamao “Tino” Tuiolosega, who founded Limalama, was born of royal lineage in 1931 in American Samoa and later moved to Hawaii. He took with him his Polynesian martial-arts experience as well as influences from boxing, judo, and the five-animal systems of Shaolin Kung Fu. During the 1950s, he served with the US Marine Corps and fought at the bloody but decisive battle of Inchon in Korea. He became a chief instructor in hand-to-hand combat martial arts training to the US Marines.


Also known as “kapu kuialua”, lua is a fighting style that features joint locks, breaks, and strikes delivered with lethal force like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. According to legend, it is the ancient Hawaiian art of kings, taught only to the royal family. Before entering battle, ancient warriors shaved their hair and oiled their bodies so that their opponents could not grab any part of them. They performed dances of death to embolden themselves and to intimidate opponents, and they worshiped Ku, the Hawaiian god of war.

The modern form of lua has been influenced by the martial art styles of Karate and Jiu Jitsu. As a result it is as much a martial art as a cultural legacy. In addition to fighting techniques, students are encouraged to learn massage, holistic traditional practices, and ritual forms of dance, to instill into them the psychological components of battle. Practitioners are taught to be positive in all things.

A range of weapons

Common lua martial art weapons include the “palua puili” (a double club), the “pahoa” (a single-edged dagger), and the double-edged dagger. Other weapons are the “ma’a” (a sling), the “polo-u” (a long spear), and the “pohaku” (a stone). Training emphasizes the use of various body parts—elbow, palm, fingers, knees, hand, feet, forehead, shoulder, forearm, and chest—as offensive weapons. In one early training method, devotees walked along narrow branches in order to develop balance and coordination. Certainly stalking and pouncing were vitally important in early Hawaiian culture. Although modern lua does not use such training, it still incorporates a number of brutal and dirty fighting techniques (“mokomoko”), such as biting, poking, pushing, and pulling.

Lua practitioners follow a philosophy of dualism that is similar to Daoism. The goal of this philosophy is to balance the powers of good and evil, light and dark, male and female, destruction and healing. The top half of the body (soft, feminine) has to be unified with the bottom half (hard, masculine). The lua fighting sytem sought to combine the ethereal characteristics of Ku, the god of war, and his wife Hina, the goddess of the moon. In Hawaiian mythology, Ku was one of the four great gods, and the only one who demanded human sacrifice.

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2 Comments For This Post

  1. Martin Alcala Says:

    I have studied Kenpo, Limalama and Nokaoi with GM Richard Nunez since 1966 and I have met and studied with the six men who helped create the art of Limalama in the US. The history of the first black belt association of Limalama started in 1964 and GM Nunez was one of the founders of that association. GM Nunez has created a new system of the arts in 1995 that has taken Limalama to a higher level in the art of Nokaoi. GM Nunez in his seventies is still teaching in Whittier, CA. You can find all the information of Nokaoi-Limalama at the web site

    I earned my 2nd degree black in Limalama in the early seventies and from those early days I can honestly state GM Nunez has improved and made a very well rounded martial art in Nokaoi today. There is no wasted effort of strikes and counters in Nokaoi and anyone can use this art to defend themselves because there so many options that are avialable. No matter what physical condition or age Nokaoi offers the answer for self defense. You should come and see the advantages GM Nunez teaches in the higher belts, no matter what system you have earned your belt in. Never stop yourself from experiencing a true martial art.

  2. thacker Says:

    Hello Martin,
    Thank you for your comment we would love to hear more about your experience. Is there anyway we could have you write a guest post?

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