feminine

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Clarissa Chun

 

Original air date: Tues., May 8, 2012

 

Long before winning an Olympic bronze medal in wrestling, Clarissa Chun started competing in judo at age 7. By the time she took up wrestling at Roosevelt High School, Clarissa was unfazed about grappling with both boys and girls. Clarissa talks to Leslie Wilcox about her experiences in what she calls a “fun but gruesome” sport — one that until recently faced an uncertain Olympic future.

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Gearing up for that match, you would have thought I was crazy, ‘cause I was hitting myself, pulling my hair. I was like, no one’s gonna beat me up but myself. So, I just gotta go out there and compete and have fun doing it. I’m not gonna let her beat me up.

 

Wrestling is traditionally a man’s sport, but a woman from Hawaii is breaking down barriers with international success in the sport of female wrestling. Olympic bronze medalist Clarissa Chun, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

From a young age, Clarissa dreamed about competing in the Olympics, but not as a wrestler. Growing up on Oahu, Chun was a five – time national judo champion, and competed on her high school swim team. As fate would have it, women’s wrestling became a sanctioned sport in Hawaii high school athletics in 1998. Drawing on her judo background, Clarissa tried out for the wrestling team at Roosevelt High School in Honolulu. It was a move that would alter the course of her life.

 

Really, it was my sophomore year, after swimming State tournament. I don’t know; I always thought that I could do more in swimming. But at four – eleven, I was just, ah, okay, not getting to where —

 

You didn’t have Michael Phelps sized feet or anything like that?

 

No, I didn’t have his —

 

Flippers.

 

Yeah. So, I was like, oh, I love my swimming team. It was really hard for me to be — I don’t know, ‘cause I’m competitive. I want to be better, I want to do more. And I had friends who did judo, and a lot of them were wrestlers, and come out for wrestling. And I was like, I’ll try it. And it was a nice transition, judo to —

 

Judo helped you a lot, I imagine.

 

Yeah; it helped me a lot. I remember not really learning — I learned takedowns and stuff, but never really used it. [CHUCKLE] ‘Cause I would just throw people. Then when I started, it was against guys. It was the first —

 

There wasn’t a girls wrestling team?

 

That was the first year they had girls wrestling, but it was just me and another girl, so we didn’t make a full lineup. And they allowed females to wrestle guys during dual meets.

 

What was it like joining the boys wrestling team?

 

It was all right. It was nothing to me, really, ‘cause I grew up doing judo.

 

It might have been new to the boys who wrestled.

 

Yeah; to the boys. To the boys, it was.

 

‘Cause either way, I can see a certain mindset where they’d say, one, I don’t want to beat a girl.

 

Yeah.

 

And two, I don’t want to be beaten by a girl.

 

Yeah. So, at first, I think there was hesitation for some of the guys on the team. But I mean, we trained every day together; they get over it real fast. [CHUCKLE]

 

Is that right?

 

Yeah. Then it’s like —

 

There wasn’t some lingering, Oh, why does it have to be around her?

 

Yeah. No, it was like, I had a great team, so I can’t complain. I can’t say that I had much struggle there.

 

No resistance?

 

Yeah. My team would get a kick out of it if I’d win. [CHUCKLE] ‘Cause it’s like, yeah! [CHUCKLE] Poor guy and whatnot. And even still, I’ll see some of my old teammates, and they’re like, Oh, I bet those guys feel different now, like oh, it’s not so bad losing to a Olympian now. [CHUCKLE]

 

Well, when you would face off with each other, did you do any psychological stuff?

 

No.

 

No? No trash talking?

 

No; I’m not good at stuff like that. I’m not.

 

It’s all straight – on competition?

 

Yeah. I don’t know if it comes from my judo background, or just my culture in general that it’s just, I’ve always respected my opponents. I never trash talk.

 

Throughout her long journey from Oahu to Beijing and to London, Clarissa Chun’s family has always been a huge influence in her life. She says that sibling rivalry with her older brother Shaun helped push her to compete in athletics at a young age.

 

Your mom and your dad have been so supportive of you. Do you get your competitive fire from them?

 

No; I don’t know where I get it from. [CHUCKLE] They’re so easygoing.   I mean, yeah, my dad’s super laid back, kinda softs – spoken kinda guy. And my mom’s complete opposite, very talkative. Maybe I get it from her. I don’t know. I probably get it from both in some way or another. But yeah, she’s the one that always goes and goes. She would be the one that would drop us off, pick us up and run all over the place.

 

Sort of a whatever it takes mindset, which is what an athlete has too.

 

Right; right.

 

You’ve mentioned your brother; three years older than you, Shaun.

 

M – hm.

 

What part has he played in your sports career? Because I believe athletically he did encourage you.

 

Oh, yeah.   It didn’t just start and stop at judo. Even growing up, when we were doing judo, he was bigger than me, he would always pick on me. We’d fight a lot.

 

Physically?

 

Physically and just play tricks on me. I don’t know, just be the big prankster brother that he was. [CHUCKLE] But yeah, and still to this day. Well, before I made the decision, when I went off to college, he was like, Why not take the scholarship and try wrestling? ‘Cause I was kind of at a crossroads. I’m like, Missouri? I don’t know. And he said, If you don’t like it, you can always come back and go judo or whatever route you want. And so he kinda helped guide me to that decision.

 

I heard somebody describe wrestling once. I think it was a collegiate level wrester saying, It’s the tactical manipulation of your opponent to take control, normally through pain.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Would you agree?

 

Yeah. When you’re on the mat competing, it may sound dirty to say that you want to cause pain to your opponent. But at that level, I feel like … I mean at that level, there’s so many different styles of wrestlers. You can be the tactical and strategic and fluid, you can be the brute and abrasive. I remember, I think, one time I was in Russia, and I felt like I got punched in the eye during my match. And I’m like, Whoa, where did that come from? Like, how? And I was just thrown off for a second. And it just got me off focus like that. And any time you can — not saying that I’ve ever punched anyone in the eye or anything during a match, but whatever her strategy was, it worked. In the wrestling world against females, it gets pretty intense sometimes.

 

You mean, when females oppose females?

 

Yeah. It almost seems worse, ‘cause it becomes kind like, claws come out, hair gets pulled. Which is why I chop my hair off. And I even got bit my first round at the Olympics.

 

What do people know you as, do you think? I mean, everyone has ways of pigeonholing or just have some kind of short description.

 

Yeah.

 

What’s yours?

 

Well, I’ve heard people say that I’m quick, I move fast. There’s a move that they like.

 

What’s it called?

 

I don’t even know what it’s called. Actually, I learned it off watching video from the Russians. The men Russian video. Yeah; so just playing around with that with a friend in practice.

 

What do you do?

 

I just attack with my legs, rather than my arms. ‘Cause it’s a little bit of judo in a sense, but it’s not really a judo technique. Most takedowns, people would expect that I would shoot with my arms, not with my legs.

 

So where are you kicking them?

 

Behind their leg, and I’m wrapping around them, and then bringing my arm behind to secure it in a sense. So, yeah, it’s a little funky, people would say.

 

So, you just mentioned the word funky. So, I’ve just got to ask you; it’s probably really trivial and unimportant. But I know I’ve met women who’ve said they would never consider going into the man’s sport of wrestling at the time.

 

Uh – huh.

 

Because of the stinky factor.

 

Yeah; it can get gross. [CHUCKLE]   The mats; yeah, it gets funky. And the smell, in each country or region, they have a certain funk to themselves too. But I don’t know, I guess it’s just one of those — it may bother us for a split second, like, Oh, gosh, that’s horrible.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

You know.

 

That’s another of those gruesome things.

 

Yeah. One of those gruesome things.

 

Clarissa Chun attended Missouri Valley College on a wrestling scholarship. In 2002, women’s wrestling became an official Olympic sport, and Chun set her sights on Olympic competition. In 2008, she qualified for Team USA and competed in the Olympic Games in Beijing.

 

I think a lot of folks in Hawaii know what it’s like when you have to go from JV to Varsity in high school, and then you decide if you’re gonna go collegiate, and a lot of people — No, I’m out of there, I’m not gonna perform at that level. And then, of course, you went beyond that.

 

Yeah.

 

What’s different about the Olympic level?

 

Oh …

 

The highest level of the sport.

 

Oh, man. I think … and in every aspect, there’s discipline. In high school, you had to be disciplined about schoolwork along with practice. Being at practice and giving it your all in practice. And it carried over into college. And then at the Olympic level, it was even more focused. This is what I do every day; I wake up, I train. Gotta make sure I eat right to fuel my body for practices, to recover from practices. And making sure I do all the right things, meaning sleeping at a decent time. When I was in high school, I was a terrible eater. I would eat all kinds of junk food; li hing mui, everything and anything. And I wasn’t really the greatest at sleeping. I’d get home late and sleep late, and wake up early ‘cause I live so far. I don’t know; at the Olympic level, especially the year before, it just seems the energy becomes more intense ‘cause everyone wants it. Everyone wants that spot. And for women’s wrestling, there’s only four.

 

Okay; you walked away from the 2008 Olympics empty – handed. You came in fifth.

 

I know; it was terrible.

 

But next time, you won the Bronze. Did you notice anything that allowed you intensify or do something different?

 

Differently; yeah. Well, in 2008, it was my first Olympics. But at the same time, when I lost in the semis, I couldn’t get over it. That match was done but I still kept thinking about that match. I was emotionally … I was on an emotional rollercoaster.

 

But you had lost before and gotten over losses.

 

Yeah.

 

But this was different?

 

‘Cause it was the Olympics. In 2008, I was like, I should be going for Gold. I could have done — I regretted not giving even a little bit more in my semifinals match. Then my coach told me, That’s in the past, fight for third. You’re still fighting for a medal. And so, I’d be upset that I wasn’t in the Gold Medal match, I’d be sad for myself that I wasn’t in the Gold match. I’d be angry and like, I’m gonna beat up the next person I gotta wrestle. So I was on a rollercoaster ride.

 

After her fifth – place finish in the 2008 Olympic Games, Clarissa Chun refocused her training beyond the physical aspects of wrestling. In 2012, she qualified again for Team USA and returned to the Olympic Games, this time in London.

 

And I remember before the 2012 Olympics, I sought out a sports psychologist consistently. I’ve worked with sports psychologists before in the past, but it was sporadic. It was more that I had to find my weaknesses, and then work on them. On and off the mat.

 

How do you do mental training? I want to learn some of that.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

How do you do that?

 

Breathing techniques or concentration drills, or … let’s see, meditation.

 

And that’s all about controlling your thoughts.

 

Yeah.

 

So that they’re positive in terms of what you need to do.

 

M – hm; yup. Yup. So, it’s just like visualization. A lot of that.

 

What do you visualize?

 

Getting my hand raised.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Hearing the National Anthem.

 

So, it’s not this —

 

No. [CHUCKLE]

 

— boom, takedown.

 

Well, sometimes.

 

It’s more like, Hello, everyone.

 

Yeah. No, no, no.

 

Gold star winner.

 

No, no. [CHUCKLE] They just raise their hand.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Like brute style, right? Gladiator. [CHUCKLE] But sometimes it is technique. Feeling the mat, your surroundings, hearing he cheers and the crowd. It’s very detailed.

 

But you have to be able to do that when you need to.

 

Yeah. It’s kinda like zoning in, being in the moment. In 2012, when I lost, I felt that well, I gotta keep winning to … basically fight for my medal. My emotions were more focused. I contained emotions, as far as I didn’t go on a rollercoaster ride.

 

How could you do it the next Olympics, when you hadn’t done it the first one? What did you learn in between?

 

Just … letting it go, I guess. Letting that match go. I couldn’t let go of it in 2008; and ’12, I could. I just focused on the match in front of me. And preparing for my Bronze medal match, that one was tough, because it was the female that beat me in 2008 for the Bronze. So I was like, Oh … I had to be mentally tough, and physically tough.

 

I thought I read something about how at some point during that match or the series of matches, you looked at the podium and you remembered you didn’t get to go up there the last time.

 

Oh, yeah. It was my match against Poland, the girl who bit me. They were setting up the podium behind her.   And I had to beat her in order to go into the medal round.

 

I see.

 

So, her back was towards the podium, and I was facing it. So, I kinda passed her. I already had lost the first period to her, and before the second period I kinda glimpsed past her and I was like don’t let this slip through kinda thing. I want to get on there, and I’m so close. And that’s when I did my painful front headlock throw on her, [CHUCKLE] and then pinned her. And I was like, Yay! Okay; next. [CHUCKLE]

 

I understand you had quite a crowd from Hawaii cheering for you.

 

Yeah.

 

How many people came?

 

I think thirty – eight. Yeah.

 

Who were they?

 

My family. My mom, dad, brother, my judo family. So, my old judo sensei and my judo teammates, my high school friends. Even some of my swimming friends that I swam with at Rooselvelt came. My high school wrestling coach and his brother and his family came out. So, I was just very blessed to have such a good solid cheering crowd.

 

Absolutely.

 

M – hm; yeah.

 

 

Clarissa Chun has competed in a host of other national and international wrestling competitions beyond the Olympics. In 2012, she also won a gold medal at the Pan Am Games. Over the years, the sport has taken a physical toll on her, but don’t expect this champion to tap out any time soon.

 

We sent a little questionnaire to you, just asking you for basic information before you came. And I was so amused by what you said about wrestling. You said it’s a fun, if gruesome sport.

 

Yeah.

 

Gruesome?

 

Yeah. [CHUCKLE]

 

Are you talking about injuries?

 

Everything. Just training and injuries. I feel you’re lucky if you can walk away injury – free. Meaning, just come out with no injuries at all. Luckier if you can walk away without any surgery to be done. And I know some friends who’ve walked away from the sport without having to get surgeries, but injuries are —

 

So, you’ve had at least three surgeries.   Four?

 

Three on my shoulder, two on my knee.

 

Two on your knees.

 

One on my elbow. [CHUCKLE]

 

Were those breaks? What kind of injuries?

 

Two of them were cleanups, and the rest were tears.

 

Cleanup from what?

 

So, my elbow had bone spurs floating around. So, just go in, take those out. Knee was ACL, and then the cleanup was, just shaving of — it would get frayed and get locked up, and they would just clean the bone up.

 

Same shoulder?

 

Yeah. Well, three shoulder surgeries. So, there’s two on one side, and one on the other. And those were all tearing. Yeah.

 

You must be very good at handling pain.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Have you always had a high threshold for pain?

 

I think so. Yeah, I think so. That’s the only time my family gets concerned. Each time I get a surgery, they’re like, How much longer are you gonna do this? Are you sure you want to continue?

 

Athletes generally have short competitive careers. Now in her thirties, Clarissa Chun knows that the 2016 Olympic Games could be her last run at Olympic Gold.

 

And the third time around in the Olympics for you —

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I wonder if that means you’ll have further increase in control and awareness.

 

I hope so.

 

And ability to focus on just that.

 

Oh, yeah. I can’t wait for that moment to click. It’s like an everyday thing when I’m in training. Sports psychology is … mental training is just as crucial as physical training. It’s something that I practiced and trained every week.

 

Have you thought about what, after that?

 

Oh … I have. I’m just not sure. I even thought about that prior to making this journey to 2016. ‘Cause it was like, Oh, should I go into coaching? There’s this program in New York called Beat the Streets for inner city New York kids. Teach them wrestling. And there’s a wrestling club in New Jersey was well. I thought about that. I’ve had people come up to me and ask me if I want to be a coach or an assistant coach at a college program. I wish we had no expiration date on an athletic career.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I wish I could go ‘til the end of time. But it’s just one of those — I’m at my career in my life where I am like, the older age of competing.

 

In your early thirties.

 

Yeah. And I’ve even known some who competed in their late thirties.

 

You mentioned mixed martial arts a bit ago.

 

M – hm.

 

Which is pretty much anything goes.

 

Yeah.

 

Would you ever feel comfortable doing something like that?

 

I don’t know. I get offers, and I get asked a lot. ‘Cause a lot of my friends who were wrestlers are doing it now. A lot of the top guys who compete in MMA were top level wrestlers, and they try to get me to go to that side. [CHUCKLE] I call it the dark side. No, I’m just joking. [CHUCKLE]

 

But it has some appeal to you?

 

Yeah.

 

Because you like to compete.

 

Yeah.

 

And that’s anything goes.

 

Yeah.

 

You can bring out your whole arsenal.

 

Yeah. It’s funny, ‘cause when I talked to my mom and dad about it, and even my brother, but more my mom and dad, and the look on their face; they’re like, Ooh. ‘Cause that’s a whole kind of different beast to them. ‘Cause wrestling, there’s still rules.

 

Exactly.

 

In MMA, there’s rules, but a lot less rules. You’re getting kicked in the face, hit in the face, punched, whatever. You’re getting choked out, someone’s trying to rip your arms off, or break your knees, your ankles, whatever. And I mean, when I think about it that way, I’m like, Whoo! [CHUCKLE]

 

Especially when you see them making big body, tan – ta – ra before.

 

Yeah.

 

And they say, I’m gonna kill that guy.

 

Yeah.

 

You think, Wow, you know, actually, they could.

 

Yeah. [CHUCKLE] They’re beasts, right?

 

Is there anything you regret giving up or sacrificing for this Olympic dream?

 

No. I enjoy every moment of the Olympics, from making the team to even after making the team. Or even after the Olympics is done. After my first Olympic experience, I was like, What winter sport can I do? [CHUCKLE] Because I want to go to every single Olympics, and I absolutely love the spirit of it. I love how each country can come together. I love how each sport can come together within each country. I don’t know, I just love everything about it.

 

Women’s freestyle wrestling Olympic Bronze Medalist Clarissa Chun recently signed with a new coach in the hopes of expanding her wrestling repertoire. When we talked with her, she was preparing to return to the U.S. mainland to begin another round of training. Expect to see Clarissa Chun go for the Gold in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Mahalo to Clarissa Chun for sharing her story with us, and mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

I’m looking forward to the six o’clock morning practices sometimes. It’s just I’m ready for that routine, I’m ready to get back in shape and start doing what I love. I mean, I’m enjoying my time at home, but it’s just each day goes by, I think, How can I better myself for 2016?

 

NATURE
Love in the Animal Kingdom

 

Animals dance, sing, flirt and compete with everything they’ve got to find and secure a mate. For many, the all-important bonds they share as a couple are what enable the next generation to survive. Can we call these bonds love‌? In this delightful, provocative look at the love life of animals, watch the feminine wiles of a young gorilla, the search for Mr. Right among a thousand flamingos, the open “marriages” of blue-footed boobies, the soap opera arrangements of gibbons and all the subtle, outrageous, romantic antics that go into finding a partner.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Hōkūlani Holt

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Hōkūlani Holt

 

Original air date: Tues., June 8, 2010

 

Drawing Strength from Hawaiian Heritage

 

Maui-based kumu hula and Hawaiian cultural/language specialist Hōkūlani Holt talks story with Leslie Wilcox about growing up on Oahu and Maui, being hānai’d (adopted) by her grandparents, and growing up in a well-known hula family. Hōkūlani also talks about juggling her demanding yet fulfilling life as a kumu hula, Director of Cultural Programs at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, and her active roles in a long list of community organizations. Through it all she draws strength from her Hawaiian heritage and a family history of strong, independent women.

 

Hōkūlani Holt Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I come from a family of very strong women who believe that you need to make a contribution to your community. And in order to make a contribution to your community, you must work there in your community.

 

Strong, yes, but also kind, generous, and self effacing. Her community is the island of Maui, but her influence as a kumu hula and Hawaiian culture and language specialist is felt throughout Hawai‘i and beyond. Meet Hōkūlani Holt—next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawai‘i’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in High Definition.

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Hōkūlani Holt was born in Honolulu to a  family steeped in the traditions of hula. Growing up she divided her time between O‘ahu and Maui, and for over thirty years now she has led a respected hula hālau—Pāū O Hi‘iaka. She juggles her life as a kumu hula with her position as Director of Cultural Programs at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center and plays active roles in a long list of community organizations. And she does it all with a great sense of humor and calm determination.

 

Your name; don’t have four names all beginning with H? What’s your—

 

What’s the story?

 

—entire name?

 

What’s the story on all those Hs? Well, the story is, my father wanted our initials to be HHH. So my oldest sister, myself, and my half brother, my father, my grandfather, all have the initials HHH. So [CLEARS THROAT], it really was so that you don’t have to change the monogram. [CHUCKLE] No, I’m sure it wasn’t that. But, he wanted the Hs, and so it was. In the course the fourth H being added, when my Grandmother Holt, just before she passed away, she told my mother that she had always hoped that my oldest sister and I would also have my father’s Hawaiian name. So that’s what my mother told us, so both my sister and I added it to our names when we grew up.

 

What is your whole name?

 

It’s Hōkūlani Haila Hi‘ilealii Holt.

 

When you were a baby, you lived with your grandparents?

 

Yes. I was hānai’d, which is a kind of a Hawaiian behavior of taking a young one into your home. So I was hānai’d by my maternal grandparents on Maui, and lived with them from baby time until I was five years old, continuously. They missed having children in the home, so I was the next one up. My mother was pregnant with me, so they came to ask if they could have this baby. And at first, my dad said no. Several times, he said no. But finally, he agreed.

 

Do you remember the first time you danced the hula?

 

I don’t. But my mother has pictures; my mother has pictures of me about, I don’t know, maybe about three or so. I don’t remember that time, but I guess it happened, because she has the pictures. So it was quite young.

 

Do you think you just were like osmosis, picking it up and doing it?

 

Well, during the younger years, definitely so. When I got a little older, probably somewhere about seven, eight, or nine, then I went to classes. I was taught by my auntie and my grandmother, that I remember formally. So it wasn’t until then. It’s a little different when you have hula in the home. I lived with my grandparents, and my auntie lived in the same household, so when she had the neighborhood children over for hula, I’d go to that class. But because I lived there with them, when she got inspiration to dance, whether it’s Saturday at four o’clock or Monday at nine o’clock in the morning, or whenever, you just get up and dance.

 

Hōkūlani Holt graduated from the Kamehameha Schools in Kapālama and went on to study Travel Industry Management at UH Mānoa. She ended up graduating with a degree in Organizational Relations, but shortly thereafter her life would be dominated by hula.

 

Who were some of your mentors outside of the hula world?

 

M-m; outside of the hula world. Do I have a world outside of hula? I don’t know. I do know that for chanting, that was Pualani Kanahele. She was my chant teacher. But outside of hula, what do I do outside of hula? I think hula is mostly my whole life.

 

And it’s your whole life now, but you didn’t see it that way before. When did you decide you’re gonna be a kumu?

 

I didn’t decide. My mother decided for me.

 

And why did she decide?

 

After I graduated from UH, I was married, had my first daughter, my oldest daughter. And we were living in an apartment on Beretania Street. And I thought, I don’t want to raise my children in an apartment on Beretania Street. So the only place that I knew of was Maui. So I moved home to Maui to raise our family there.

 

You would have two more children after that.

 

Two more children after that. When I went to Maui, I was still a dancer, so I went to look for a hālau to belong to. And there was not a lot of kahiko being done on Maui at the time. And so I was moaning and groaning to my mother, and so she said, Well, I think it’s time for you to begin teaching. And I went, No, that belongs to other people, that doesn’t belong to me. And she said, No, I talked to your auntie, and I think it’s time for you to begin teaching. I went kicking and screaming, but I went anyway. So in 1976, I opened a hālau. The name of the hālau is Pā‘ū O Hi‘iaka. Literally, Pā‘ū O Hi‘iaka means the skirt of Hi‘iaka. When I began thinking about what to call hālau, I had long conversations with my mother. And I knew I wanted a plant name, I knew I wanted a plant that lived near the ocean ‘cause I always lived near the ocean, and so the Pā‘ū O Hi‘iaka plant was one of those that has always been around where I was. There’s a story about its getting its name from Pele, as the plant protected her sister down at the beach, Hi‘iaka I Ka Poli O Pele. But also in hula, Hi‘iaka’s pāū or her skirt was magical, and could defeat enemies and create storms, and bring people back to life. More importantly for me is, I wanted my students to be like the Pā‘ū O Hi‘iaka plant. It grows in really inhospitable places, Makapu‘u, Ka‘ena, the top of Kaho‘olawe, South Point, and still is a beautiful flower that’s no larger than your baby fingernail. So I wanted my students to be like that too, that no matter what’s going on, you keep chugging away, and you still look beautiful.

 

What kind of a kumu were you and are you?

 

I believe that I’m pretty strict. I hope to instill in my students a love for hula, but also a love for this place that we call home, and for all the many generations of people that came before us that created the chants and the songs, and the movements that we use.

 

When you were a young woman beginning teaching—

 

M-m.

 

—was it hard to have the authority to—

 

Oh, yeah.

 

—to teach people who might have been older than you?

 

Yeah. As a matter of fact, let’s say I’d open class or I’d be standing outside, or sitting inside, and people would come in, and they’d go, Where’s the kumu? And I’d go, that’s me. You’re the kumu? Yeah, that’s me. [CHUCKLE] So it was a little difficult at the beginning, but they either accept that this twenty-six-year-old is going to teach you hula, or you just find someplace else to be. I pity my first classes, ‘cause I was a little wishy-washy. Okay, we’re gonna be like this. Oh, no, no, no, no.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

That’s a little bit too hard. Okay, let’s try this. Oh, no, no, no, no. I think I’m gonna change it to this. Oh, yeah, okay, we’ll do it like—so I pity my first classes. I was a little wishy-washy.

 

But you found your way.

 

Yeah. Then I began to then understand how I wanted to be, when I became a kumu.

 

There are so many kumu hula, and one of them is Keali‘i Reichel—

 

M-m.

 

Who sat here and said—

 

M-m.

I’m a control freak.

 

A lot of the times, that’s what a kumu hula is, is we want things our own way. And we demand that. It is my world. I always tell my students, This is the world according to Hōkū within these four walls.

 

While Hōkūlani Holt has dedicated her life to perpetuating centuries-old traditions, she is very comfortable making use of twenty-first century tools to navigate through her extremely busy lifestyle.

 

I enjoy technology. I have two laptops, two desktops, I have a Blackberry, iPod, but then I love taking photographs, so I have cameras. But I do all of that because I love being in Hawai‘i. I take my camera and I take pictures, because I want to keep that with me. One of my favorite things to do, though, is to just sit. Sometimes that’s the best thing to do too.

 

Just to be alone, or to look at other people? What are you doing when you sit?

 

Look at other people. I like driving to some semi-solitary place and just watching our environment. I’m very much a morning person, so I get up early. I like to get up early to watch the sun come up, and those bits and pieces of time, I enjoy a lot.

 

And over all this time of living on Maui, has that pleasure ever been—I mean, do you still get that? I mean, I know there’s traffic, I know there are a lot more people, but you still find that peace?

 

I find that place on my ancestral lands where I grew up. I still have a cousin that lives in the same place where I grew up, so I go down to their house, I go sit on the beach, park at the park; any little place.

 

But Hōkūlani Holt doesn’t need to go anywhere to get in touch with her ancestral roots. A veritable road map of her heritage is with her … all the time.

 

The tattoos that I have, the first one has to do with my grandmother. She was a shoreline gatherer. And we lived down at the ocean in Waiehu. And so these items have to do with the sea, and most especially the close shoreline. This is the hāue‘ue or hā‘uke‘uke and is gathered among the rocks where we lived.

 

And this that goes around here is called pū‘ili halua which has to do with the two meanings of the word pū‘ili. One, it means to grab on and to hold on tightly to something and the other is the hula implement. Both of these things remind me that I need to remember that my grandmother was hula as well, and that I need to hold on to the things that she taught me.

 

In 2007, Hōkūlani Holt was the artistic director, writer, and choreographer for Kahekili, a hula drama about Maui’s premiere chief, thought by some to be the biological father of Kamehameha the Great. Because the story takes place in pre-contact Hawai‘i, Hōkūlani and her collaborators faced the challenge of filling in unknown details of life in Hawaii from that era.

 

I was very fortunate that there were fellas that wanted to come down the road with me and so we sit down, we read what we knew of the research that we gathered, select the parts that we wanted to talk about, and then think about, well, what chants we want to use, what is the look, what do you want to see when the audience looks at it. So then there’s the look.

 

Did you take creative liberty with the look?

 

Somewhat; somewhat. Partially because we don’t really know everything. We don’t know everything about what their clothes was like when they went to war, or what they may have worn if they were going into a particular ceremony. We know some, and we made some of those creative leaps within there, but there was some choice as to staying completely kahiko, or bringing in possibilities of other things.

 

How much creative license do you allow yourself as a kumu hula who upholds tradition?

 

I think for me, the guiding principle is, no matter what I do … if it were to continue as such, would it be recognizable as hula a hundred years from now? Because now, a hundred years from when the turn of the century was, we can still see hula is hula. So a hundred years from now, is what I do recognizable as hula? And so that’s usually my guiding principle, that it must be hula. Can it incorporate—like in parts of Kahekili, we did dances that are reminiscent of warfare. Can it include things that look like warfare? Yes, it can, ‘cause it still uses hula. Some of the costuming, perhaps … a bit more than what it might have been, maybe. I think our giant leaps were not too far off the cliff.

 

So what were some of the other things you decided in making Kahekili?

 

That we will expand our look at warfare, ‘cause that is something that people don’t know too much about or think about. And to know that, sometimes people only think of Hawaiian culture as only aloha. We were a very competitive people, and we had warfare like we have warfare today. So sometimes, people don’t like to look at it, and we thought, no, it is where we came from, so it’s important to have that as well. I loved highlighting about the chiefesses. For me, that’s one of the greatest things that Maui contributed to the royal lines, is it’s females that created all the royal children. And so, some of those things are not commonly seen, so we decided to bring those out into the open more.

 

Kahekili received the prestigious American Masterpieces Dance award from the National Endowment for the arts and has toured Hawai‘i, California, Arizona, New York, and Germany. Between her job at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, her halau, and productions like Kahekili, Hōkūlani Holt has found the time to be a Director of Pūnana Leo O Maui Hawaiian Language Preschool; the first Maui Site  Coordinator for Nā Pua No‘eau—that’s The Center for Gifted and Talented  Native Hawaiian Children; Culture and Education Manager for the Kaho‘olawe  Island Reserve Commission; and, on occasion, a judge at hula festivals.

 

I think competition in hula has created a phenomenon in which perhaps some, not all, but some kumu hula forget that the competition ends at the stage, and when they get off the stage, it sometimes continues. And for me, I like to always remember that we all love hula, that’s what we do. We love hula, and because of that, we have that commonality with each other. What I try to do when I judge is appreciate where that particular kumu hula is coming from. That maybe their style is not my style, but you can appreciate excellence in what they do, no matter what they do. Because this little pea brain cannot hold all the different performances that went on, so I only judge what I see on the stage at the moment, and never compare one to the next. I compare it to what is in my head as excellence, and I compare what I see on stage to what I believe is excellence in hula. There is always fallout, because you don’t go into a competition not thinking that you want to win, and you try your hardest, and you’ve practiced your hardest. And when you don’t win, it’s a great disappointment, and you want to know why. And so sometimes I remember, and sometimes I don’t

 

But people come up and say, How come?

 

Right; they do. And I say, sometimes I don’t remember, because I’m judging one performance at a time. And when that’s finished, I drop it out of my head and I look a hundred percent at the next performance that is in front of me. All I can say is, Did you do hula? Did you bring excellence to what you did? I tend to be a foot person, which means I watch the feet, because—

 

I thought you’re supposed to keep your eyes on the hands.

 

No, feet.

 

Oh, that was a composer from latter day. [CHUCKLE]

 

Feet for me, because if the feet is good, then the rest will be good, I believe. And then, there’s interpretation, there’s how they have expressed the words that they’re trying to dance. So I believe perhaps it’s because I try to be fair, and I try to always be consistent.

 

As a kumu hula, who gets to join your hālau?

 

Oh, I take anyone. I take anyone who would like to come. I don’t teach children well.

 

M-m.

 

I don’t teach children well, so I don’t have children’s classes, but I do have adults. And I take anyone who is willing to learn.

 

And what does it take to get them kicked out?

 

Don’t listen. [CHUCKLE] Don’t listen. If you don’t listen to the kumu, there’s no excuses, and out you go.

 

It’s not a democracy?

 

Not at all.

 

As I tell my early classes that come when you first come to be a new student, I tell them that I am goddess in the hālau, and if you think I’m the crazy woman, don’t come back next week, ‘cause it is my hālau. [CHUCKLE] So that’s how we approach hula.

 

And when somebody’s not very good at hula

 

M-m.

 

—but has a good heart—

 

M-hm.

 

—do they get to stay in?

 

Oh, absolutely. There’s always a place; there’s always a place. And you’re never too old to start hula. The desire must there. But just like anything else … your abilities are your abilities; it’s not the same as the next person. It is who you are. So maybe if you’re not in the advanced class, it’s okay. Because where you are is where you can flourish. So sometimes people need to remember that kumu knows best, and kumu will put you where she thinks or he thinks is the best place for you. But I believe hula is for everyone.

 

Hōkūlani Holt seems to believe that there is something of value for everyone in the Hawaiian culture, and while she cherishes and preserves Hawai‘i’s past, she also embraces Hawai‘i’s present, and is hopeful about its future. We’d like to thank Hōkūlani Holt for taking time out of her very crowded schedule to share her story with us. And we’d like to thank you for joining us on Long Story Short.

 

For PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kākou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit pbshawaii.org.

 

What did you mean when you said that in hālau, you learn to appreciate little things?

 

M-hm. Little things for me from this week to next week, you have learned where to put your eyes. That’s enough. Because we have progressed from this week to next week, where to put your eyes. The little things like that are as important as where to dance your feet, and where to dance your hands. The little things.