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Weapons of Ryukyu Kempo: SAI

Sai were not indigenous to the Ryukyu Islands. They were probably imported from China via the Fukien trade route. It is probable that in the search for arms by government officials, they did not seem like weapons among farming and fishing tools.

They weapon itself has many names and is common throughout the Far East. Sai were used in pairs and may have been introduced to Okinawa as weapons of Chinese martial arts, then later taken and adapted by the Ryukyu styles.

The shaft and tines of the sai were used to block, strike and ensnare enemy weapons. Sometimes an extra sai was carried in the belt as a backup. The shaft of the weapon was never bladed, which would have made any reversing action in order to strike with the hilt, or block with the shaft, along the forearm, completely impossible.

If the sai were used for thrusting to any depth into the enemy's body, because of suction it would be very difficult to withdraw the weapon, which would render it useless. This may be another reason why an extra sai was carried. Many of the weapons kata from the Ryukyu Islands were named after their founder, or their place of origin, and have been passed down to modern times.

The Okinawan Karate Club of Dallas teaches Toei Sai (also called Chatenyara Sai) and Towata Sai as taught to us by Shimabukuro O'Sensei. We also practice Hamahiga Sai as taught to us by Christensen Sensei.

This weapon is not the result of agricultural creativity as commonly written. Records from China prove its original existence although in a much more elongated form. The weapon is metal and of the truncheon class with its length dependent upon the forearm of the user. When held it should be about 3cm longer than the forearm and generally Sai are used in pairs. Advanced Sai uses 3, with one held in the belt behind ready for, and used for throwing.

The tang is of the Korean classification and the pommel is variant to round, square or multi angled types much dependant on the emphasis of the makers usage. The basic holding manner 'Honte-Mochi' (Natural) and 'Gyakute-Mochi'(Reverse) is prevalent with basic Sai whereupon the advancement to 'Toku-Mochi'(special grip) is introduced. This brings the usage and actions of the Sai into the same family as Tonfa and Kama.

The efficient use of the weapon is much reliant on the dexterity of the practitioner with his thumbs, which the tang is balanced and rotated on along with the loosening and tightening of the grip from the small finger for striking and consolidating power. The early use of the weapon makes the user appear stiff and robotic but as the training advances the flow and unity with body movement becomes ever more apparent. Sai is the practise of 'Shuto' in empty hand and emphasizes the need for 'Koshi no Chikara' (Hip power) and 'Suri Ashi'(sliding movement). The importance of body movement and good footwork is ever more apparent as the weapon is of a smaller classification than Bo. Advanced practitioners must learn to throw the Sai, a difficult requirement in view of the weight. The Sai explores the weakness of Bo, thus making Bo-jutsu stronger.