WAMA home page

Historical Limalama Notes and Photos


Wave Man Pacific Islands Martial Arts
Santa Cruz Kickboxing Academy
Confluence Aikido


Notes and photos from Limalama and Kempo arts in Hawaii.

Talofa! Talofa is a Samoan greeting meaning ‘hello’. As you will see, it is very relevant to Limalama, or as it is sometimes called Lima Lama. Limalama is one of the new martial art forms that evolved in Hawaii and Los Angeles. Many of today's systems, like American Kenpo, Kajukenbo and Limalama were developed in the mix of pacific-rim styles being synthesized in Hawaii from the late 1800’s up to the 1950s. This synthesis was due to the influx of successive waves of pacific-rim immigrants in Hawaii, each bringing their own style. The center for many of the schools moved to Los Angeles in the 1960s where the evolution continued. All these styles were aimed at developing a system with improved street fighting effectiveness.

Here are some historical photos and primary source quotes or interpretations thereof related to the history of martial arts in Hawaii and early Limalama and the other Kempo-related arts that emerged from those periods in Hawaii and Los Angeles. The research made it clearer why this martial art lineage with roots in Hawaii would be called by some No Ka ‘Oi - which translates from Hawaiian as a friendly ‘the best’.

Polynesian Boxing - drawing by John Webber, printed in 1785 in Cook's Voyages The original Polynesian martial art is known today as Lau. As with most early martial arts, the techniques were a secret (enforced by a strict "Kapu") passed down usually within families or communities. Polynesian culture spanned many of the Pacific Islands, and Lua has roots across Polynesia including both Samoa and Hawaii. It was banned by the missionaries in the mid 1800s and only recently has resurfaced.

Lua is a type of hand-to-hand fighting that emphasizes moves that break and dislocate bones (in Hawaiian "hakihaki") along with hand catches and traps (paa lima), throwns (hikua), and attacks on nerve centers (aalolo). It also includes wrestling (hakoko), boxing (ku'i ku'i), kicking (peku), leg sweeps (waho/loko hio), and dirty fighting (mokomoko) techniques, along with the use of weapons.

Polynesian Lua was supplemented in Hawaii by a series of Pacific-rim martial arts brought in by waves of imported workers starting in the late 1800s. These included (at a simplified view) Judo and Ju Jutsu from Japan, Karate from Okinawa, Escrima from the Philippines and Kung Fu from China.

ancient Kung Fu flowScriptures from the far east (or so the story goes) say that an Indian warrior monk named Bodhidharma (born approximately 460 AD) traveled to China to teach and study Zen Buddhism. He settled in a Temple known as Shaolin in 520 A.D. Finding the monks of Shaolin weak and subject to bandit attacks he proceeded to teach them breathing and conditioning exercises derived from his martial training. These exercises formed the foundation of Shaolin Martial Arts. Over the next few centuries, the Shaolin temples divided taking with them different ideas of martial training. As they studied nature and the movements of animals they evolved a number of different fighting systems, which we see as Kung Fu today.

In the late 1500's, the great Shaolin Temples were burned to the ground by the Imperial Army and destroyed, but over the centuries these systems survied and expanded out from China to Okinawa, and Japan, setting the stage for their introduction and melding in Hawaii. In particular, it was in Okinawa that the Shaolin art of Ch'uan Fa (the fist method) first became known as Kempo (the Japanese pronunciation of Ch'uan Fa) and a new term "karate", meaning "Chinese hand" or "empty hand", came into use in Okinawan martial arts replacing the older term "te" (hand). The Japanese word for Shaolin is Shorinji.

In Hawaii the first club to practice Kung Fu (with instructors from China) was a branch of the Chinese Physical Culture Association, founded in Honolulu in 1922. This association promoted physical culture among the Islands' Chinese communities, but Chinese Kung Fu remained unavailable to non-orientals until 1957, when Tlnn Chan Lee, a t'ai-chi ch'uan specialist, became the first Chinese sifu to open his teaching to the general public.

Chinese Kung Fu was first taught openly on the U.S. mainland in the mid 1960s at Grandmaster Ark Yuey Wong's (1898-1987) long-standing Wah Que studio in the Los Angeles Chinatown. However, even before this, Ed Parker and two of the founding members of Limalama, Haumea “Tiny” Lefiti and Sal Esquivel, were his students.

Choki Motobu Choki Motobu (1871-1944) was an Okinawan Karate master. He is responsible for translating the Ch'uan Fa elements of Okinawan Shorin-Ryu ("Shaolin Way") into the current basic structure now known as Shorei-Ryu Karate. Choki Motobu is associated with the rise of Kempo in Hawaii because of a publicized visit in 1933 as well as his influence on James Mitose and the development of Kosho-Ryu Kempo [Corcoran, 1984].

Henry OkazakiA key figure in the development of Kempo is Henry Okazaki. From the Hawaii Karate Seinenkai at http://seinenkai.com/ : “Born on January 28, 1890, in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, Henry Seishiro Okazaki immigrated to Hawaii in 1906. He lived in Hilo on the Big Island. At the age of 19, in response to poor health, he began the study of Judo at the Shinyu Kai Dojo under Yoshimatsu Tanaka. Although Hilo is a small town today, at that time it had a remarkably strong Ju Jutsu and Judo community. While on the Big Island, Okazaki studied various forms of Ju Jutsu, Ryukyu Karate, Filipino knife fighting, boxing, and Hawaiian Lua.” In 1929 he founded the Kodenkan Danzan Ryu system. Okazaki was important not only for his martial arts expertise, but also because his Kodenkan "School of the Ancient Tradition" on Hotel street in Honolulu was one of the first to teach openly to all comers, regardless of race or heritage. He died in 1951.

James Mitose James Mitose was born in Hawaii in 1916, then sent to Japan at a young age to learn his family’s tradition and their martial art, Kosho-ryu Kempo (Old Pine Tree School) from his grandfather, Sukuhei Yoshida, and Choki Motobu. There is some question about this relationship, it may be that Mitose never met Choki Motobu but might just have been influenced by his writings and learned from his students. In any case, the story goes that Kosho-ryu Kempo had roots from the seventeenth century, when two Japanese families (Kumamoto and Nagasaki) brought a version of Shaolin Ch'uan Fa (Chinese Kempo) to the city of Kyushu in Japan. Kosho-ryu was developed by the Koshopi monks of Japan who combined Jujitsu and other Japanese cultural tradition with this and other Shaolin systems brought to Japan from China. Kosho-ryu is a spiritual/philosophical system that includes many of the martial arts known today. In the 1930's Mitose returned to Hawaii and taught the art to the American soldiers stationed on the Island. In 1942 he started the "Official Self-Defense Club" at the Beretania Mission gym in Honolulu, where he taught his families Kosho-Ryou Kempo art to the public. Among his students were William K.S. Chow, who would become one of Kenpo's most noted instructors. Much of what is now Kenpo came from James Mitose's Kosho-ryu Kempo. Mitose left Honolulu around 1949.

William ChowKwai Sun (William) Chow, also known as Professor Chow was born in 1914. He learned and started his martial arts training studying Five Animal Shaolin Kung Fu from his father, Hoon Chow. Then William Chow was a student of James Mitose for many years. Eventually he united, like many Kempo masters before him the arts of Kosho-ryu Kempo and his family Kung Fu to form a new art which he would eventually name Kara-ho Kempo. In 1949, Chow had attracted a number of students to his own teachings and opened a dojo of his own at a local YMCA. To make a distinct variation from Mitose's Kempo, Chow initially referred to his art as Kenpo Karate. Also adding to the mixing of the arts, some of Mitose's students including Mr. Chow’s brother, John Chow Hoon, and possibly Chow himself were also students at the Danzan-Ryu JuJutsu dojo of Heny Seishiro Okazaki. All were influenced by Okazaki, who had blended a number of styles to form a complete system. Throughout the next few decades Chow made many innovations to the system including the use of circular techniques of his Kung Fu, as well as various kata or forms based on the primary linear and circular techniques of his art. William Chow's Kenpo was a quick, vicious style, which allows a defender to defeat more than one attacker simultaneously. He was reportedly both a great martial artist and innovator and a deadly combatant. Among his students were prominent martial artists like Ed Parker (the founder of American Kenpo Karate) and Adriano Emperado (the driving force behind the founding of Kajukenbo). William Chow died in 1987.

James Mitose and William Chow

Above: Grandmaster James Mitose in black uniform & Grandmaster William Chow on his right.

Below: "The Official Self-Defense Club" black belts {1950} - Top row from left to right: William K.S. Chow, Paul Yamaguchi, Harry Pang, Woodrow McCandle - Front row seated: Thomas Young, Great Grand Master James M. Mitose, Paul Pung

Official Self Defense Club Official Self Defense Club In Action

Mitose's Kempo Ju-Jitsu ad


It was coming from this environment that Limalama was formed. Tuiolosega (Tino) Tagaloa was born on the island of Tutuila in American Samoa. His family later migrated to Hawaii. Growing up in Hawaii and after having traditional Polynesian Martial Arts passed down to him by his father and uncle, members of the Samoan royal family, Tino Tuiolosega achieved Master Ranks in the five animal styles of Sil-Lum Kung fu. After getting a degree in political science from the University of Hawaii he joined the Marines. He served in Korea and was also the MiddleWeight Boxing Champion and chief instructor of self-defense. After leaving the service he moved to California and was a famous full contact Martial Arts competitor during the 1950s and 1960s.

In California Tino dedicated himself to exchanging knowledge and techniques with a number of different martial arts teachers. At that time there were not a lot of people teaching martial arts and they formed a small and friendly community, some of whom included Ark Wong, Ed Parker, Tadashi Yamashita, Bruce Lee, Dan Inosantos, and Ralph Castro. With the background of this community he resolved to develop a new system blending his knowledge of Polynesian martail arts with the other techniques he's learned and in the mid 1960’s he started Limalama. The word Limalama is derived from two Polynesian words, “Lima” and “Malamalama”, and means “The Hand of Wisdom”. The members of the original Limalama Association were: Richard Nuñez, Sal Esquival, Haumea 'Tiny' Lafite, John Louise, and Solomon Kaihewalu.

Limalama Badge

Founding Limalama Members

In practice, Limalama is heavily influenced by American Kenpo and Kung Fu but also utilizes boxing, ju-jitsu and open handed Polynesian techniques. Limalama’s most distinguishing characteristic is its grounding in historical Samoan Polynesian martial arts – including wrist lays, hand-traps, and eye attacks, along with bone dislocation and breaking and knife and stick techniques. It includes a study of vital areas and practice on how they can best be targeted. The style includes both techniques and forms - Limalama is soft flowing hands in forms but explosive with whipping hands when executed properly for offensive techniques.

According to Grandmaster Tino, Limalama is grounded in a combination of 13 Samoan systems. Quoted from the official website at limlama.net:

"1. Afikau – the study of warrior’s traditions, specifically dance.
2. Amofoe – the understanding of the manipulation of weights, shifting and swaying tactics to off balance weight.
3. Fa’aelise – the study of coordination, reflexes, balance, holds, breaks and throws.
4. Fa’ako’elau – movements similar to wrestling, including holds and tripping.
5. Faufusu or Ku’iku’iga – movements similar to hand to hand fighting, boxing or street fighting.
6. Lua’aga or Le’iga – the study of pressure points, nerves and joints.
7. Milosia – the study of the execution, delivery and application of circular movements; such as locking wrists.
8. Pepelu ma Pega – the study of knife fighting, this is a cutting coordination. This is a conceptual method in the use of weaponry.
9. Uma Ma Kaupi’I – the study of holds, breaks and take downs.
10. Vaeka ma Kavae – the study of foot movements such as kicks and foot counter movements.
11. Ti’apega ma Lo’u – the study of Kaoi’a, stick fighting.
12. Tal’amoa – the study of combining several of the other concepts together.
13. Upaga ma Lo’ulo’uga – the study of trapping."

Using these techniques and adding others from the Hawaiian martial arts melting pot, Grand Master Tino created an easy to understand system, oriented to self defense. As his website states "It is influenced by a definite American motivation for realistic concepts in self-defense with an emphasis on mental acuity and physical ability. However, Limalama remains oriented toward its Polynesian origins."

As an interesting side-note, Tino served as martial arts adviser on a number of films and acted in one - "Seven" - in which Limalama techniques can be seen being used.

Tino Tuiolesga in 1954

One of the influences on the development of Limalama was Ed Parker. Grandmaster Edmund Kealoha Parker was a native of Honolulu, Hawaii. He was a Judo Shodan by the time he was 18 (1949), and took his first Kenpo lesson at Adriano Emperado's club while he was in the Coast Guard. Ed Parker trained with Emperado briefly before going to train with Professor Chow. Ed Parker moved to the USA in the early 50s to attend Brigham Young University. After graduating, he moved to Pasadena where he opened the Pasadena Kenpo Karate School in the mid-1960s. He modified the kenpo training that he received from Chow extensively with additional Chinese Kung Fu techniques and many of his own theories and ideas to create the system known as Ed Parker's American Kenpo. The photo above is from that period of time.

Consistently in other sources Tino’s name appears in lists of early black belts that Parker awarded, but more likely they were peers. Interesting quotes from a biography of a student of Ed Parker’s named Mike Pick….

“At thirteen Mike Pick met another man who would influence him greatly. The man was Grandmaster Tuumamao "Tino" Tuiolosega. Grandmaster Tuiolosega "big brother" to Mike, was of Royal Samoan ancestry. Grandmaster Tuiolosega was a United States Marine Corps Boxing Champion and All-Service Welterweight Champion, a Korean War Veteran, and a tenacious street fighter. Occasionally, Grandmaster Tuiolosega would drop by the Pasadena school and workout with Senior Grandmaster Ed Parker and anyone else who would get on the mats with him... Grandmaster Tuiolosega would often pummel anyone in the school, including a young Mike, in exhibition of his awesome fighting prowess. From these lessons with Grandmaster Tuiolosega, Mike Pick learned how to fight. Later Grandmaster Tuiolosega would form the Limalama Arts of Self Defense that enjoys popularity all over the world.”

Tino in the 70s, Ed Parker is ref.

“After years of respectful tribute to the passing of his late teacher, Senior Grandmaster Edmund Kealoha Parker, Michael Robert Pick followed in the ancient traditions of Kenpo to honor those who have come before him. Under the sanction and endorsement of Grandmaster Tuumamao "Tino" Tuiolosega, Mr. Pick continued the path of his 40-year evolution in Kenpo and acknowledged the obligations of his passage and lineage, as the 39th Grandmaster of Shoalin Kenpo.”….

“In October of 2000, the Universal Kenpo Federation made a pilgrimage to Hawaii. The sixty plus group camped on the beach of Malakahana on the North Shore of Oahu. The time was one of great significance and bonding. All that were there grew as a family and a clan. … As the Lua is the progenitor for American Kenpo, and as Senior Grandmaster Parker is of Hawaii, the pilgrimage was one of great importance to follow the roots of American Kenpo back to Hawaii. On the sands of Queen Emma's hideaway, the group worked out everyday, tracing the roots of Kenpo's ancestors via modern day American Kenpo.”

Note that one of the current fathers of the Hawaiian martial art of Lua, Solomon Kaihewahu, was one of the six founding members of Limalama. Also note that in addition to his boxing skills, Grandmaster Tino had some status in the kempo/kenpo hierarchy and expertise in Kung Fu, one of the major elements of William Chow’s Kempo. The point being that many styles were synthesized into Limalama.


From ‘John Bishop’ on http://www.kenpotalk.com/forum/showthread.php?t=71

Group photo at dojo in East LA 1964

Taken in 1964 or 65 at Dan Guzman's "Cleland House Dojo" in east Los Angeles, Calif. Pictured in the front row, extreme left is Richard Nunez, one of the founders of the "Limalama" organization. 3rd from left is Kajukenbo instructor Dan Guzman, right of him is Senior Grand Master Ed Parker, and right of Parker is Kajukenbo instructor Bill Ryusaki.

Further Reading and Reference:

  • The official Limalama organization web site - limalama.net
  • An excellent article on Polynesian Martial Arts.
  • Article on the Polynesian martial art of Lau
  • Another that describes Professor Okazaki incorporating Hawaiian Lua into his system.
  • Online copy of Mitose's book What is Self-Defense
  • Also check out the limalama page on wikipedia.org


WAMA Home | Schedule | Classes | News | Contact Us | Map
Copyright (c) 2006, 2011 Westside Aerobics and Martial Arts, Santa Cruz, CA 95060