Oct 24, 2011

Weapons & Warriors: The Sai of the Ninja

This is a very popular weapon around the world, only made more famous by its use in films such as The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Xena, Daredevil and Elektra. Children everywhere became obsessed with the Sai after the red banded Raphael jumped onto the big screen, kicking butt with his half shell and his trusty pair of Sai.

Art by TL Jeffcoat
Like many of the weapons of the ninja, this was once a farming tool used in Okinawa. The weapon actually originated from a similar style of weapon in southern Asia, called a tjabang, which originated from the Indian trisula (trident). Contrary to what most people believe, the tip of the Sai is not sharp. It is actually a rounded smooth rod from tip to handle. The bottom of the handle is exposed steel and sometimes diamond shaped. The ninja often used the weapons backwards with the blades of the Sai running along their forearms to deflect attacks and then punched with the ends of the handles. The force of that kind of punch would probably be equivalent to being hit with brass knuckles.

The Sia are an excellent defensive style weapon, with the two prongs at either side of the blade perfectly spaced for catching wrists, clothes and swords. With a twist, the Sai could snare whatever the Ninja wished. Another excellent use of the Sai was when facing an opponent with a sword, the prongs made it very easy and quick to flip the blades back and forth from pointing out towards the opponent and back to the forearm again. Demonstrations of Sai often show the martial artist performing this act of flipping repeatedly. It is a simple action that must be mastered, as it could mean the difference between life and death for the ninja when he was fighting his worst enemy, the legendary Samurai. The Samurai were very skilled at slicing their enemies down very quickly and so the Ninja had to master flipping the Sai with lightning speed to deflect strikes or attempt to catch and disarm the katana. Somewhere mixed in with all that defensive technique, they would have to find that opening where they can strike and break something. The light weight and speed of this weapon made it very easy to deflect and counter much faster than their katana wielding foes.

Despite the blunt tip of this weapon, it is not considered a club. With enough force behind the thrust or swipe, it would easily break bones, but it is also still capable of ripping through exposed skin. A very stealthy bludgeoning tool, this weapon was also once used to identify police officers in Japan at one time. In the hands of a professional, it is one of the most versatile weapons ever made, with the ability to deflect sword strikes, catch the sword blades and easily disarm opponents and with fast fluid movements. Because of the ability to flip the blades back and forth, the Sai has hundreds of ways of injuring an opponent. Even the prongs are capable of tearing at skin and were often used to hook wrists or thrust into necks.

One unique stabbing maneuver that the Sai is suited for is the elbow stab. When the Sai is flipped along the forearm, the tip is much longer than this part of the arm and protrudes from the end of a bent elbow for several inches. This makes it the perfect back elbow striking weapon. With so much force from a thrust of this nature, the blunt tip is even capable of piercing skin.

There were several styles of Sai that were slightly altered from the most common style you see. Many of these unusual designs involved the rearrangement of the prongs for various purposes, including an inward hooked prong for grabbing hold of clothes easier. In the case of the picture here,  the prong facing downward makes that punching strike with the handle far more dangerous.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of Weapons and Warriors, click here to view the entire catalog of weapons and cultures. Thank you, see you next week.


  1. Nice write up. Is it hugely dorky that I loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a kid? I even went to the movie when it came out... think I was the only girl there. :P

  2. Lol, nothing wrong with that in my book. TMNT was pretty big when the movie came out. I knew plenty of girls that secretly loved the turtles.