Another club with an identity crisis…

Today, I thought I’d talk about yet another club. Now this weapon may not be recognizable to you as a blunt striking weapon, but believe me, that is what it is supposed to be. Or at least that is what is used to be. Before Hollywood got it’s grubby little hands on it… OK, I suppose you’ll want to know at some point specifically what kind of weapon I’m talking about… well here it is. Let me introduce you to the elegant Sai

The Okinawan Sai

The Okinawan Sai
[view full size]

No one really seems to know how the Sai Originated. Some historians say that the Sai developed in much the same way that the Japanese Kunai did, as an innocuous garden implement. However there is little concrete evidence of this. There is, however evidence that a similar weapon was used in China, and it is possible that this is a derivative of that weapon, though there isn’t any evidence to support that either. In fact we just don’t have enough real evidence, of any type, relating to its true origin. It’s an enigma. Like me. *Cough*

Regardless of it’s origins, the exotic Sai has become unique focal point of quite a few martial arts movies, in which they have been functionally converted from clubs to knives and daggers. A good well known example was the pair of Sai wielded by the hot-headed Raphael, from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise.


Raphael’s Sai

TMNT - Raphaels Sai
[view full size]


Another more recent addition to the Hollywood Sai club are the elegant weapons of the lethal Assassin Elektra Natchios, (played by Jennifer Garner) from the movies DareDevil, and Elektra.

Elektra’s Sai

Elektra's Sai
[view full size]

Now you will notice that both of these Sai fit the general physical characteristics and use of traditional sai. Except for two oh-so-small details. First, contrary to what hollywood would have you believe, sai were actually unlikely to have ever been used by Japanese ninjas. Nope. It’s all Hollywood lies. The second issue is in regards to the physical design of traditional sai.

You’ll notice that both of the sai featured above have flattened blades and a very sharp tip. In spite of the lack of knowledge regarding the origins of traditional sai, it’s structure and functionality has, in contrast, been very well documented, and is preserved within the styles of many martial arts schools. This is what traditional Sai are supposed to look like:


Traditional Okinawan Sai

Traditional Okinawan Sai
[view full size]

You’ll notice that traditional Sai “blades” are round or octagonal in shape, and had relatively blunt/rounded tips. And there was a good reason for that. Unlike the way they are depicted in the modern media, where they are used more like small swords or daggers, traditional Sai are actually truncheons/clubs. More like Jutte, than knives. They were not intended to be used as either daggers or knives, but primarily as an impact weapon Stabbing was not high on the sai functional list, and so if you look at most traditional sai, you will see that the main prong is not sharpened. In fact it has a blunt tip, in line with it’s primary use as a club.

However, that being said, I have to admit that while the new designs don’t exactly conform to traditional Sai specifications, for the most part, I like what has been done with them. A well designed bladed Sai should, in theory, be somewhat more versatile that the traditional, non-bladed design. I would totally use the new version if I had to make a choice.

I mean really:
Old Sai: No blade. New Sai: Double edged blade.
Old Sai: No point. New Sai: Wicked point.
Old Sai: Meh. New Sai (in black, of course): Schwing!!

I’d say it’s a no-brainer. But it could just be me…

Elektra’s Sai – [Medieval Weapon Art]


7 Responses to “Another club with an identity crisis…”

  1. September 8, 2008 at 4:25 pm

    u r right on some aspects the sais shown in the movie are actually a repetition of the salai-toln and a sai, but still very knowledgeable. my dad, grandpa aunt mom and pretty much whole family are martial arts instructors, i would know!

  2. 2 Crosseyes
    September 12, 2008 at 11:30 pm

    Oh, Phyre, I don’t think you’re a no-brainer! (lol :D)

    (now on-topic)
    One thing I wonder is about those side guards coming off the hilt; are they normally flattened, pointed, or both?

    Everybody(braedon’s family) was kung-fu fightin! dananana nana nuh nuh na.

  3. September 13, 2008 at 3:25 am

    LOL Thanks for the endorsement there Crosseyes. Sometimes I’m not entirely sure I’m sane…

    So far as Sai go, I have a pair, octagonal blade, but the prongs are cylindrical/rounded, with a pointed tips. I believe the traditional designs are tapering cylindrical/round blade/club, with rounded guards, also with pointed tips. The traditional styles are really not even designed for thrusting, though they can be quite painful if used that way. But they are primarily intended to defend against swords and beat people into submission with… 🙂

  4. September 13, 2008 at 4:28 am

    Hey, thanks for posting, I am actually not familiar with Salai-Toln, what exactly are they?

  5. 5 IVAN
    October 30, 2008 at 6:17 pm

    Hey Phyreblade!

    I’ve had a pair of Sai blades for years and only now started to use them. I am in no way proficient, but I know how to hold them properly, block, and spin them in my hand (I still drop them here and there). I would like to a class or whatch some kinda video. Got any suggestions?


  6. October 30, 2008 at 11:06 pm

    Hi Ivan,

    Well, There are a lot of places online you can find written and video guides on how to use sai, just google them, but I would highly recommend finding a good dojo. Your best bet would be a Karate school that teaches weapons forms, or something similar. But be prepared for them to tell you that you need to learn the unarmed basics first, I don’t know of any schools that will just teach you weapons alone…

  7. March 31, 2013 at 10:08 pm

    To jest właściwie doskonały kawałek:) Podziękowania dla pracujących na rzecz

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