Friday, June 4, 2010


"In Kobudo, one does not defend with sai, one becomes the sai"

In Arizona, both mudansha and yudansha (lower rank belts and black belts) at the Arizona Hombu Karate and Kobudo Dojo in Mesa, Gilbert, Chandler and Tempe forcus on karate as well as martial arts weapons. It is traditional that students of the Shorin-Ryu karate systems learn kobudo along with karate. Kobudo is primarily the art of ancient Okinawan farming implements, fishing and merchant tools used as weapons – basically the tools of trade for peasants. Some students may also elect to train with bladed weapons of the Japanese kobujutsu styles (such as kenjutsu, i.e., the bladed samurai weapons). By learning kobudo and kobujutsu, it becomes apparent that a belt, pen, baton, car keys, cell phone, book, magazine, stick and most any tool can be used as a weapon of self-defense at the spur of the moment.

Kobudo is a martial art that blended with karate in the Okinawan martial arts systems. It is thought that the practice of kobudo began in earnest sometime after Okinawan King Shoshin issued a proclamation (1480 AD) requiring all peasants of the kingdom surrender their bladed weapons. This was done because King Shoshin was a apparently a non-violent Buddhist who felt all Okinawans should share his beliefs, but others believe it was done to keep the Okinawan peasants from rising up against the Okinawan government. As a result, Okinawa was later invaded by Japanese samurai and since there was no Okinawan army, there was little to no resistance to the invasion. The Okinawan trade industry then became the possession of the Satsuma clan of Japan and the Okinawans became subjects of the samurai.

In recent years, many Asian and American hybrid systems of karate elected to remove kobudo from their curriculum for unknown reasons, even though original forms of karate included kobudo. Even many of the Japanese karate styles eliminated kobudo after karate was introduced to Japan in the 20th century. This likely was because kobudo was seen as a peasant art to the Japanese, whereas karate was both a peasant art and art taught to royalty.

Okinawan kobudo includes weapons such as the sai, nunchuku, tonfa, kama, nitanbo, tsue, bo, kobutan, eku, ra-ke, kuwa, manrikigusari, hari, nireki, surichin, tetsubo, tekko, tinbe, yawara, suruji, tanto and more.

The sai is a three-pronged trident with a pointed shaft surrounded by two curved prongs that project from the handle. The most common sai have parallel prongs, although others exhibit opposing prongs or just one. Typically two zai (plural for sai) are used, but three may be employed with two held by the hands and a third in the obi (belt) available for throwing. The origin of the weapon is thought to either have been as a farming implement, or more likely to have been a trident imported from China.

Some people suggest that the sai was originally a farming implement. In other words, the weapon could have been some a kind of hoe used to dig furrows. As such, a sai mounted on a stick would have produced a central deep furrow (seed trench) surrounded by two outside shallow guide furrows used to line up the next seed trench.

Another concept is that the sai was introduced from China, India, or some southeast Asian country. There are ancient Chinese, Indian and Indonesian weapons that have similar appearance to sai. The Chinese Tiger’s Fork used by many Southern Chinese Kung Fu arts such as Hung Gar is similar to a Hindu weapon known as the trishula and the southeastern Asian weapon known as the tjabang. These have trident-like sai mounted on long wooded staffs.

In the past, Okinawans didn’t care about the length of the sai, as the weapon would have been uncommon with few choices. Today, when held in a reverse grip, the long blade of the sai is often measured to cover the forearm of the individual so that it extends to the tip of the elbow, or about one inch past the elbow (typically 18 to 23 inches). This will allow one to strike with an outward elbow strike (soto hiji uchi) and projecting the point of the blade into an attacker. The pommel is often round, square or multi-angled.

I usually tell students that the best measurement would be a shaft that extends just short of the elbow. But more important is the balance of the weapon – be sure it is well-balanced so that it can easily be rotated from normal to reverse grips.

Soke Hausel teaching Sai-jutsu at the University of Wyoming.
Sai techniques parallel techniques and movements in karate, thus a karate-ka can quickly learn to use this weapon. And just like in karate, the sai will be more effective using effective koshi no chikara (hip power) and suri ashi (sliding movement). Training in sai kata and bunkai is part of the art. 

At the Seiyo Hombu in Mesa, Arizona (Arizona School of Traditional Karate), members train in most weapons of Okinawa Kobudo.


Our training center is open to the public - we focus on Adults and Families. Come learn the traditions of Okinawan Karate & Kobudo. Much of the class is conducted in both Japanese and English to help students learn Japanese. We also teach meditation, philosophy and martial arts history interjected in karate classes.

Ryan Harden shows his power in blocks at the
Arizona School of Traditional Karate in Mesa,
Gilbert and Chandler in the East Valley of Phoenix