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The sai is a weapon of Okinawan origin and believed to be an agricultural appliance once used to plow fields and originally the Sai were used to measure an evenly spaced crop or to hold cart wheels in place. Its design comes from the concept of a pitchfork and was originally developed in Okinawa during the Japanese occupation. After months and years of using this tool a person could become very proficient in putting the small point of this karate weapon exactly where he wanted it.
The Sai should be as long as your elbow to thumb crotch. This karate weapon was first used as a farm tool and later to fight against Samurais and their deadly swords. A pair of short swords called Sai was used defensively against the Bo and Samurai sword. As a weapon, it was used in unison with various karate stances and techniques, and in defense against sword attacks.
There are many uses of the Sai. Some of the common uses are to flip it out and strike your enemy, to block swords, strike with more power forward with a punch, or backward with an elbow. The sai was used to trap and disarm swordsmen. Also historically it was used to stab, block, trap and punch. Practitioners often carried a sai in each hand, and a “spare”‘ at the belt. The weapon could also be thrown effectively as well but the sai is now currently mainly used as a karate training weapon. It tests accuracy in striking and quick block-and-counter techniques.
Multi-purpose instruments like the Sai became especially useful, since an opponent’s weapon could be blocked and/or trapped with one Sai with the other could be used to deliver a thrust to an open vulnerable area of the body. Three sai were often carried, with one placed behind the back in the belt, where it could serve as a replacement for a hand-held sai that was thrown at an opponent.
Its basic form is that of an unsharpened dagger, with two long, unsharpened projections attached to the handle. Sai are constructed in a variety of forms and some are smooth, while others have an octagonal middle prong. The sai’s utility as a weapon is reflected in its distinctive shape. With skill, it can be used effectively against a long sword by trapping the sword’s blade in the sai’s tsuba. Very skilled users were able to snap a caught blade just with a twist of the hand. There are several different ways of wielding the sai in the hands, which give it the versatility to be used both lethally and non-lethally.
The exact 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 very early use of the weapon makes the user appear stiff and robotic but then as the training advances the flow and unity with body movement becomes ever more apparent. Advanced practitioners must learn to throw the Sai, a difficult requirement in view of the weight.
As a thrown weapon, the sai have a lethal range of about 20-30 feet. Throwing the sai was typically used against an opponent with a sword, bo or other long range weapon for safety. The heavy iron (or contemporary steel) sai concentrate enough force to punch through armor.
Training with a sai should be only done with a qualified instructor as they are a dangerous weapon and caution is advised.