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Games of physical strength
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Games of physical strength

Hawaiians played a number of games that showcased physical dexterity or sheer muscle power. Some, like pohaku ikaika – lifting of stones – measured individual feats to award a winner. Other games were contact sports.

Wrestling was popular and took various forms. Competing in a circle of spectators, the wrestlers attempted to bring each other to the ground using holds, pushing, or tripping with the feet. Hand wrestling was done from a kneeling position on the ground (uma) or standing upright (pa uma). Finger wrestling (lou lou) consisted of pulling hooked fingers, the loser being unable to maintain his grip in a certain number of rounds. Chest pushing (kula kula`i) and foot pushing (kula`i wawae) were other variants. Lua – referred to sometimes as "bone breaking" wrestling – was another form of wrestling not usually performed in public. It involved rigorous training that gave lua practitioners detailed knowledge of the body's critical nerve centers and bone structure, knowledge they used for both physical combat and healing. Men from the select group trained in lua often became bodyguards to ali`i.

Boxing, or mokomoko, was another favorite sport of the Makahiki. Backers of the contestants began each match with loud verbal boasting and taunts. Opponents – both men and women – fought each other with bare fists, striking at each other's faces. Points were awarded for successfully evading an opponent's attacks as well as for knockouts. Contests were sometimes fought to the death.

Hawaiians also enjoyed racing. Some more playful forms were kuwala po`o, or racing by turning somersaults, and ho`okaka`a, racing by turning cartwheels. Both amateurs and professional runners ran footraces. A class of quick runners – kukini – trained extensively to achieve great speed. Many were retained by ali`i as messengers. Races between kukini were watched keenly and often carried large wagers.

Tug of war, or hukihuki, was a team sport of strength. Teams were chosen to be as evenly matched as possible with each side grasping one end of a long rope. At the referee's call "Huki!" (Pull!) both sides pulled until the loser was dragged across a finish line.

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