Weapons of Ryukyu Kobujutsu

The Sai is the second weapon introduced in the Ryukyu Kobujutsu syllabus and favoured by many being in such contrast to the Bo. It is the first of the short weapons and is one of the most difficult to do well.

Many study Sai but few master the qualities needed to make this an exceptional weapon and part of their natural body movement and way of fighting.

There are 2 types of Sai taught in the system, “Tsujo no Sai” and “Manji Sai”. This weapon has the second largest volume of kata in the Ryukyu Kobujtsu syllabus to Bo, being of 8 kata.

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.

The Sai are of good weight which makes the techniques effective, unlike many of the lighter styles seen today in competition. There is a clear distinction between effective combat and visually pleasing techniques! Advanced Sai uses 3, with one held in the belt behind ready for, and used for throwing. With the study of “Shingetsu Ryu” Shuriken in the style this advanced requirement is taught from San Dan and equips the user to throw anything.

The tang is of the Korean classification and the pommel is found in many guises, round, square or multi angled types being 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 Manji Sai which was made by Sensei Shinken Taira has a half reversed tang looking much like a swastika or the kanji for temples with a pointed pommel end denoting Sensei Taira’s preference to a stabbing motion instead of the smashing techniques dominant with the Tsujo Sai.

The efficient use of the weapon is 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 more apparent. Sai is the practise of ‘Shuto’ in empty hand and emphasises 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.

When studying Sai particular importance should be paid to uniting the weapon usage with the body and controlling its movements. The Sai being heavy makes for difficulty in obtaining flow and shift but this must be practised. The recovery of Sai to a holding position must be clean and the stances must be worked on. You must focus on “hara” and keep the abdomen tight with breathing deep in the stomach. If you do not the usage and movement are weak and lacking. Many try and work the Sai with their arms and shoulders only and neglect good “tachi kata” devaluing the understanding and usage. This must be studied well.

As previously mentioned advanced practitioners must learn to throw the Sai, a difficult requirement in view of the weight. Well made Sai have good balance and this is quickly realised but the general Sai found today in most outlets are inferior and of bad balance either in the shaft or the pommel. Throwing is therefore very difficult. It is worth investigating well first before you obtain your Sai and if you are serious, price has no bearing, as they will last you many many years.

The Sai explores the weakness of Bo and long weapons thus making Bo-jutsu stronger as kumite is explored. One compliments the other making the study of Kobujutsu a fascinating journey.

Sai Tsukai Kata Click on the Play button above to view a demonstration of Tsukai Kata.
Sai Kumite Click on the Play button above to view a demonstration of Sai Kumite.
Tsukenshitahaku no SaiKojo no Sai
Hamahiga no SaiTawata no Sai
Yaka no SaiChatanyara no Sai
Hantaguwa no SaiJigen (Manji) no Sai
All the kata are steeped with effective bunkai and this is the building blocks to multiple attackers and the intensity needed to understand the weapons strengths as well as its weaknesses. To know the weapon completely is to know what can and can’t be achieved. It is also a way to know yourself!
Sai kata are deemed long and demanding and quickly highlight the need for fitness to be a given otherwise concentration and the skills needed to improve are not understood and lost. Doing a big Kiai is not a prerequisite to good Sai kata or general good usage.