This is a weapon that occurs all over South East Asia from India to Okinawa. Difficult to define properly, the Sai is somewhat known as a short sword, but it is, in fact, closely related to a trident. It is a hand weapon with a central ‘blade’ between 15 and 20 inches in length and two forward-curved quillons. The butt end of the handgrip terminates in a pronounced pommel. The whole weapon is made in one piece of solid iron weighing up to 3 pounds.
Although the Japanese have been familiar with the trident and the basic sai for much more than a thousand years the weapon never became part of the classical tradition and remained so far as we are concerned within Okinawan-Te.
In order to improve the handgrip under conditions of stress, many sai users bind the hilt with strips of cotton material over a wound-cord base. Often two or three sai were carried, one in each hand, and the possible third thrust into the waistband in the rear, (small of back). Originally the sai was a formidable weapon, easily able to kill or maim an enemy either by striking or thrusting or even as a missile.
Now the use of the sai is restricted to the Okinawan karate systems and its sharp points have been blunted and smoothed out. However, its manipulation requires a very high standard of training and skill. To be really effective against a good spearman or swordsman, the sai user must himself be expert in the use of the spear or sword other-wise he cannot hope to defend and counter these major weapons successfully. When we look at the use of the sai it immediately becomes apparent that this is in no way a short sword. It falls within the category of a double-armed truncheon and its techniques are entirely subordinate to Okinawa- Te.
In the hands of a expert, the sai can be employed to block cuts of blows delivered by sword, poleams, or unarmed attacks. As in all true combat, defense is never enough to gain the victory, and the sai can be used most effectively as a formidable weapon of offence, by both poking and thrusting or by ensnaring the opponent’s weapon in the prongs, even disarming him, while kicking or striking blows are delivered to parts of his unprotected anatomy.