The sai are a staple of traditional martial arts weapons. The simple three-pronged design of the paired daggers allows the user to attack, deflect, and counterattack against armed opponents. When you buy a pair of sai, you’re investing in a weapon and training tool that needs to be top quality. Make sure you get the most appropriate size for your hand.
Getting a poor-quality or poorly sized pair of sai compromises your performance and, more importantly, safety.
Competition or Training?
The material and weight of the sai you should get depend on whether you intend to use them for practice or competition. Practice typically involves two-person preset movements known as kata, which are intended to drill attacks and defenses into muscle memory.
Competition involves more elaborate forms consisting of movements against an imaginary opponent. It is judged by the technical skill and presentation of the kata. The weapons used in a competition are made of stainless steel, sometimes with a chrome finish for extra shine. Leather or cotton around the hilts allows a more sweat-resistant grip. Competition sai replicate the historical weapons as closely as possible.
Sai’s are offered in multiple sizes to provide the best fit.
Each weapon can be held in forward or reverse grip. In reverse grip, it is used to protect the forearm with sweeping blocks and deflections. Therefore, it needs to extend just past the elbow.
Straighten your fingers and measure from the tip of the middle finger to the elbow.
Select the pair of sai that most closely matches that length. The width of the grip should be half the distance from the base of your thumb to the base of your fingers.
Octagonal vs. Round Cross-section
Sai are available with round and octagonal cross-sections. An octagonal cross-section offers better gripping while a round cross-section fits more comfortably in your hand during forms.
Holding the Sai
Two main methods exist in sai handling: forward grip and reverse grip. In the more common reverse grip, you hold the sai with the last three fingers curled over the outer prong with the main shaft pointed backward along your forearm. Your index finger should point toward the end of the handle. This grip is used for blocking weapon strikes or augmenting a punch with the end of the weapon.
In forward grip, you hold the sai with the index finger going just under the crossbar and the thumb at the joint between handle and prongs. The other three fingers curl around the handle. This grip allows more conventional dagger-like use of the sai. Switching efficiently between these two grips is an important part of sai training. Practice doing it regularly with both hands as many kata require quick transitions between forward and reverse grip on both sides.
When investing in a pair of sai, it is a great idea to buy a case to safely and conveniently hold and transport them.
Even though the sai do not have sharpened points, they can still cause serious injury if used at full speed. Always ensure ample free space when practicing. Never use weapons for free-form sparring and only practice contact forms with a partner under the supervision of a qualified and trained instructor. Always use proper technique and avoid trying flashy spinning maneuvers that can cause you to lose grip. Before any contact practice, inspect the sai and ensure they are in good condition. If they have bent, chipped or cracked, do not use them.
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Sensei Chris Feldt is the owner and chief instructor of Samurai Karate Studio, a leadership academy located in Northeast Columbia, South Carolina. His school teaches karate to children and adults ages 4 and up. SKS specializes in self-defense, anti-bullying, stranger danger and character and leadership development.
Mr. Feldt was an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina for college credit in karate and self-defense. Samurai Karate Studio has been recognized as a leader in martial arts instruction by being honored with the Best of Columbia Award for martial arts instruction for 8 consecutive years in a row.
Sensei Feldt is a certified instructor for C.O.B.R.A., a worldwide self-defense, and personal protection program. SKS offers Active Shooter Training, Real Estate Safety, 10 Week Self Defense Academies, Bully Workshops, and Child Safety Camps.
We also provide corporate safety training.
Sensei Feldt has been a guest speaker in the Richland 2 School District covering school talks on stranger danger, anti-bullying strategies, kindness, and making good choices. He is available for both private and corporate self-defense seminars
Samurai Karate Studio is also a proud member of MAAB, Martial Artists Against Bullying, a nationwide program made
up of martial arts schools throughout the country that are committed to helping children who are victims of bullying. If you or someone you know is be ing bullied, we are here to help. But, you have to take the first step and either call us at 803-462-9425 or email us at: [email protected]
Bullying is one of the most serious issues we face today and with the right coaching, students can learn how to defeat the bully using non-violent strategies.