Monday, April 16, 2018

Guide to Okinawan Sai (Sai-jutsu)

Professor of Budo, Soke Hausel,
teaching sai clinic at University of
Wyoming's Corbett Gym.
It was in the late 1960s when Soke Hausel was introduced to the sai while attending college at the University of Utah. Earlier, he had been introduced to nunchaku and kyokushin kai karate - later he was introduced to other systems of karate, kobudo, kobujutsu, karatejutsu, jujutsu, ninjutsu, iaido, sojutsu, naginatajutsu, hanbojutsu and self-defense including Shorin-Ryu karate and kobudo. Soke Hausel taught martial arts and self-defense at the University of Wyoming for 3 decades prior to moving to Arizona where he teaches a minimum of 6 martial arts classes each week along with periodic clinics in kobudo and other arts.

The sai is one of many Okinawa kobudo weapons taught at the Arizona Hombu Karate dojo in Mesa, Arizona. The 3-pronged trident has a pointed shaft surrounded by two curved prongs and may have originally have been used by Okinawan farmers similar to a pitchfork, seed-furrowing tool, or a harpoon tool in fishing. But since iron was uncommon on Okinawa, more likely, the weapon was originally imported from China by a member of the Okinawan royal bodyguard. Typically, two zai are used in combat, but 3 or 4 can be employed with two in hand and the others placed in the obi (belt) to access for throwing. So, this weapon may have been a trident weapon imported from China or some other southeastern Asian country. 

As a farming implement, sai would have been mounted on a stick to produce a deep central furrow (seed trench) with parallel shallow guide furrows designed to line up the next seed trench. Metals used for steel were uncommon on Okinawa, but iron deposits were known on mainland Japan [primarily low-grade spectite (iron-clays) and high-grade massive sulfides (iron-sulfide or pyrite)]. Other metals used in steel toughening such as titanium and tungsten were also uncommon on Okinawa. Thus, most metallic weapons had to be imported. So the weapon (tool) was likely introduced from China, India, mainland Japan, or some other southeast Asian country. 

Amira blocks bo attack by Taylor during bunkai training
Some Chinese, Indian and Indonesian weapons have similar appearance. The Chinese Tiger’s Fork from Southern Chinese Kung Fu arts such as Hung Gar is similar to a Hindu weapon known as the Trishula and the southeast Asian weapon known as the tjabang. Certain varieties have truncheon-like sai mounted on wooden staffs. Possibly, Okinawan peasants, or royal body guard members, removed the truncheon from imported staffs to produce a stealth weapon with greater mobility.

The shaft of sai is referred to as the monouchi, the pointed tip is the saki, and the bottom rounded knuckle at the opposite end on the handle (pommel) is the tsukagushira. The handle is known as tsuka. Three-quarters of the way up the shaft are two curved prongs known as the yoku and the pointed tip of these are tsume. Yoku are considered wings extending from the shaft from the moto (base of the wings) perpendicular to the shaft.

Kobudo class at the Arizona Hombu Karate dojo
train in kata.
Unlike modern martial artists, Okinawans didn’t care about length of sai, because the weapon was not common. When held in a gyaku-mochi (reverse) grip, the monouchi of the sai is often selected to cover the forearm with saki extending to the elbow; a length of 18 to 23 inches (nearly 2 shaku). This allows one to strike with an outward elbow strike (soto hiji uchi) projecting the saki into an attacker. The pommel is round, square, or multi-angled. It is important to find sai with good balance so that it can easily be rotated from normal to reverse grips.

There are three types of sai: (1) Tsuujo-sai which is the more traditional sai with parallel yoku that project in the direction of saki; (2) the Manji (nunti)-sai is a similar three-pronged weapon with one yoku facing an opposing direction, and the (3) Jutte-sai (aka jitte) which has only one yoku. The jutte became a popular weapon with the Japanese and Okinawan police as it is easily carried on the utility belt and used for blocking, striking and activating pressure points.

Sai waza (techniques) mimic techniques in karate; thus a practitioner can quickly learn this weapon. However, it is very awkward at first, with sleeves of the karate gi often catching on yoku of the sai. And like karate, the sai will be more effective with powerful koshi no chikara (hip power) and suri ashi (sliding movement).
O'Sensei Bill Borea (RIP) blocks bo attack by Dr. Adam with sai during bunkai training in kobudo class at the Arizona
Hombu Karate dojo

In Soke Hausel's clinics and classes at the Arizona Hombu Karate dojo in Mesa, Arizona, members train in a variety of kobudo and samurai weapons along with karate and jujutsu. For example, when karate or weapons like the sai are taught, members of the Hombu learn all about the basics (kihon) and history of the weapon. They learn to manipulate the weapon by learning muscle memory through training in a group of forms known as kata. And to be sure they can use the weapon in combat, they also learn many bunkai (pragmatic applications).

Nancy and Suzette train in bunkai during kobudo class at the Arizona Hombu

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