The sai is a martial arts weapon with a fascinating history, exciting present, and promising future. Its three-pronged design can be found everywhere from ancient Okinawa and India, to Greek and Roman mythology, to modern day pop culture. Its sharp prongs and size—which made it easy to conceal and handle—helped everyone from soldiers to civilians defend themselves. Their beauty, grace, and ease of handling help modern day martial artists refine their skills—and demonstrate them for audiences. And all of the above make them an ideal choice of martial arts weapon for live and animated action sequences.
Let’s take a closer look at the ongoing history of the sai.
What are sai?
The sai is a traditional training weapon featuring two curved prongs and a metal baton in the center. Depending on the model, this tool can come with a metal, plastic, or rubber handle. They are typically sold as a pair for training and direct hand-to-hand combat. (For more information on which sai are right for you, see the ProForce® Sai Buying Guide.)
Where did sai originate?
Although the exact lineage of the modern day sai is unknown, many historians believe that it evolved from the trident (in Greek and Roman mythology) and the trishula (in Buddhism and Hinduism). And its creation is likely a case of multiple discovery. Variations of smaller three-pronged weapons were already in use in a number of other places before evidence of the Okinawan interpretation started to appear, including China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and maybe even Italy. It’s possible that a number of these weapons made their way to Okinawa and helped to influence the design and use of the Okinawan sai.
Once in Okinawa, the sai was adopted by farmers and other civilians as a self-defence tool. It was also adopted as a weapon by police forces and royalty. The style of sai training that we know and love today started to gain popularity in the 1970s following a demonstration by Master of Karate, Ryusho Sakagami at the Budokan in Tokyo. Since then, the sai and its techniques have spread all over the world.
Which martial arts use sai?
Today, sai techniques are taught in most forms of Karate, and they are a popular choice for weapons categories in Karate tournaments. The sai can also be employed in Korean martial arts like Tae Kwon Do and traditional Okinawan martial arts like Kobudō.
How do you use sai?
Although the specifics will vary depending on the martial art, there are some basic techniques and theories that apply to most use of sai in martial arts. Due to its size and design, it’s not particularly effective as an offensive weapon in combat, so its techniques tend to focus on defence and counter-attack. In these defensive maneuvers, one sai is generally used to block, deflect, or immobilize an opponent’s weapon while the other can be used for strikes.
Where else can you see sai?
While not quite as prominent in current pop culture as martial arts weapons like the bo and katana, sai have managed to carve out their own niche. These martial arts weapons have been featured in movie franchises like The Matrix and The Mummy, TV shows like Power Rangers and Xena: Warrior Princess, and video games like Mortal Kombat. They’ve also been popularized by their most famous fictional users: Elektra from the Marvel Universe and Raphael the Ninja Turtle.
(Although sai enthusiasts will be quick to point out that very few pop culture portrayals of this weapon are accurate, because they focus more on offensive techniques than the defence that really makes them shine in real life.)
Demonstration Sai: These sai are made of forged steel with a polished chrome finish and a leather wrapped handle to help prevent slippage during use. Their octagonal blade is available in 5 different lengths. Sold in pairs. $111.99 USD.
Round Chrome Sai: These sai are made of forged steel with a chrome finish and leather wrapped handles. Their blades come in 4 sizes are cylindrical in shape with a cylindrical end. Sold in pairs. $111.99 USD.
Chrome Octagon Sai: Made of forged steel with a chrome finish and leather wrapped handles for gripping and styling, these sai are excellent for competition and training. Featuring an eight-sided blade and handle end. Sold in pairs. $69.95 USD.
Round Black Sai: These sai are made of forged steel with a sleek black finish and leather wrapped handles. The blades are cylindrical in shape with a cylindrical end and come in 4 lengths. Sold in pairs. $111.99 USD.