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Arizona Hombu Karate Dojo

Traditional Okinawan Martial Arts (Karate, Kobudo, Self-Defense, Samurai Arts)

Sai - Traditional Okinawa Kobudo Weapon

SAI. The sai is one of many Okinawa kobudo weapons taught at the Arizona Hombu dojo. These 3-pronged tridents with pointed shafts surrounded by two curved prongs, may have originally been a pitchfork, seed-furrowing tool, or a tool used by some fishermen. But since iron was uncommon on Okinawa, more likely, the weapon was imported from China by the Okinawa royal guard.  Typically, two zai are used in combat, but three can be employed with two held in hand and a third in the obi (belt) for throwing. The weapon, originally a farming implement, may instead have been a trident weapon imported from China or some other southeastern Asian country. 

As a farming implement, sai would have been mounted on a stick to produce a deep central furrow (seed trench) with parallel shallow guide furrows designed to line up the next seed trench. Or it could have been used similar to a pitchfork. Metals used to produce steel were uncommon on Okinawa, but iron deposits were found on mainland Japan [primarily low-grade spectite (iron-clays) and high-grade massive sulfides (iron-sulfide or pyrite)]. Other metals used in steel toughening such as titanium and tungsten were also uncommon on Okinawa. Thus most metallic weapons were imported. So the weapon was likely introduced from China, India, mainland Japan, or some other southeast Asian country. 

Some Chinese, Indian and Indonesian weapons have similar appearance. The Chinese Tiger’s Fork from Southern Chinese Kung Fu arts such as Hung Gar is similar to a Hindu weapon known as the Trishula and the southeast Asian weapon known as the tjabang. Certain varieties have truncheon-like sai mounted on wood staffs. Possibly, Okinawan peasants, or royal guard members, removed the truncheon from imported staffs to produce a weapon of mobility.

The shaft of sai is referred to as the monouchi, the pointed tip is the saki, and the bottom rounded knuckle at the opposite end on the handle (pommel) is the tsukagushira. The handle is known as tsuka. Three-quarters of the way up the shaft are two curved prongs known as the yoku and the pointed tip of these are tsume. The yoku are considered wings that extend from the shaft from the moto (base of the wings) perpendicular to the shaft.

Okinawans didn’t care about the length of sai, because the weapon was not that common. When held in a gyaku-mochi (reverse) grip, the monouchi of the sai is often selected to cover the forearm with saki extending to the elbow; a length of 18 to 23 inches (nearly 2 shaku). This allows one to strike with an outward elbow strike (soto hiji uchi) projecting the saki into an attacker. The pommel is round, square, or multi-angled. It is important to find sai with good balance so that it can easily be rotated from normal to reverse grips.

There are three types of sai: (1) Tsuujo-sai which is the more traditional sai with parallel yoku that project in the direction of saki; (2) the Manji (nunti)-sai is a similar three-pronged weapon with one yoku facing an opposing direction, and the (3) Jutte-sai (aka jitte) which has only one yoku. The jutte became a popular weapon with the Japanese and Okinawan police as it is easily carried on the utility belt and used for blocking, striking and activating pressure points.

Sai waza mimic techniques in karate; thus a practitioner can quickly learn this weapon. However, it is very awkward at first, with sleeves of the karate gi often catching on yoku of the sai. And like karate, the sai will be more effective with powerful koshi no chikara (hip power) and suri ashi (sliding movement).  Read more about sai at our blogspot or visit our page about Tonfa.