The Sai

By Sensei Jimenez

In the Order of Isshinryu, we learn to use a weapon called Sai which is a type of “dagger”, frequently used as a club or stick but potentially for stabbing also. It is usually made completely of metal and the guards consist of two hooklike ‘wings’. The Sai can be found in India, China, Indo-China, Malaya and Indonesia, since the development of the Sai was not recorded in writing, its exact place of origin is unknown.1

It is said that the Sai is the unconventional weapon for self-defense. Use of the Sai develops strong wrists and forearms.

It has been said that similar weapons are found in other countries but the Sai itself was first used in the Japanese- dominated part of the globe by the okinawans to defend themselves against the weapons of the Samurai and Brigands. The art of the Sai is called Sai-Jutsu. Almost all the Okinawan ko-budo weapons originated from farming and fishing tools. The Sai is one that more likely did not and, seems to have been designed as a defensive weapon.2

There are five main theories as to the origin of the Sai. All of this theories breakdown or reject the theory that the Sai was a pitchfork-like tool use to pick up hay. There are two reason for this: First: The Okinawans did not harvest hay, they did not use pitchforks, and their farming methods are much different from those of the west. Second: The size of a farm in Okinawa is very small compared to a standard American and neighbors countries farms and it involves much more actual hand labor with less tools.

The first theory is that the weapon comes from the Okinawan ladies hairpin, called kanzashi, which had a similar shape to that of the Sai. The second theory is that the shape of the Sai comes from the Manji Sai, which comes from the Manji symbol that represent the philosophy of In – Yo ( Ying – Yang ) with each pairs of tails that make up the symbol running in opposites directions. The third theory is that someone who was inspired by the Kanji (Japanese writing based on Chinese characters) devised the shape of the Sai for right “migi” and left “hidari”. These contain the Sai – shape radical for hand. The fourth theory is based on the traditional Okinawan believe that the human from itself represent authority. While looking to the Sai, one can visualize a stick human being.

Add to these theories is a fifth which evidence favors Indonesia as the place of origin. In Indonesia, weapons and fighting arts are as old as the history of man and are life it self. The external importance can readily be seen to be practical, but it is the inner meaning, the spiritual relationships, which are most closely tied to the cultural achievements of the nation,.

This fighting arts and weapons can be brought into three major combative categories: (1) Kuntao; (2) pentjak-silat, and (3) endemic forms. Pentjak-silat is the fighting application of skillful body movements in variations for the self-defense. Hindu culture gave pentjat-silat a vast heritage of combative ideas. Many of the grappling tactics used stem from Indian origins; the thigh slapping antics of various pentjak-silat styles smack of Hindu wrestling ritual in Hindu culture. The Indian Tirsula, the trident-head spear, is belived to have served as the prototype for the tjabang, the forked iron truncheon. The tjabang is variously known as titjio in Southern China and Sai on Okinawa and Japan.

The tjabang a short metal truncheon fitted with two tine projections that emerge from the shaft at a place where the handle ends. Overall length range is approximately twelve to twenty- five inches; it is a pre-Majapahit weapon and was originally used defensively as a shield.4 Certainly the place of origin of the Sai wasn’t Okinawa.

1 See Donn F. Draeger & Robert W. Smith: Comprehensive Asian Fighting Arts, pages 65 – 67: Walter E. Cooling O.I.B.B.P. pages 9 -10.

2 The Okinawan Sai, a kobudo weapon for self-defense, Journal of Asian Martial Arts, Vol. 4 Num.1, pages 85 – 99.

3 Donn F. Draeger; The Weapons and Fighting Arts of Indonesia, page 11.

4 “Stone sculpture artworks in Java depicting this weapon give historic support which predates its appearance in Chinese and Okinawa interpretation. Donn F. Draeger; Ib. page 33.