What Is a Sai and What Is It Used For?

There were many types of weapons in the past that are nothing compared to what we have today. Many such weapons are of cultural significance and show how the law and order system was managed in the earlier era. However, most of these have become outdated as they have been replaced by proper guns. Let’s talk about one of the most known weapons of all time known as Sai. 

What Is A Sai?

The sai looks like a cross between a trident and a dagger. It is a three-pronged weapon mostly used in Kobudo and means Hairpin in Japanese.  However, the sai cannot be classified as a Japanese knife or sword, because it does not have a blade in it.

A sai is typically made from stainless steel, with a long, needle-shaped prong in the middle of two small prongs. The endpoint of the middle prong is always blunt.

This blunt weapon gets its popularity from Okinawan martial arts, where it is commonly used for ninjutsu, like a bludgeoning weapon to incapacitate the opponent. In many fights, sai can work as a defensive weapon to block the enemy attacks from hitting the wielder. 

The History of The Sai

Historians believe that the sai did not originate in Okinawa. According to them, the actual idea of the sai was brought in the region through trade routes. The sai was originally found in Asian countries like China, Vietnam, India, Indonesia, and Malaysia. In India, sai was used as a trisula, a trident, which comes in two forms.  It can either be a long-handled, or short-handled trident. 

It is hard to identify the actual origin of the weapon, because of its cloudy historical foundations, but back then Okinawa was in the middle of the prime trade routes. So many historians believe that sai as a weapon grew in popularity, and moved to Okinawa with the spread of Hinduism and Buddhism.

Sai as a Japanese weapon

In numerous Japanese movies and shows, a sai can often be seen as the weapon of choice for different heroes. An example of this is the famous show, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. 

In Japanese folklore, it is mentioned that ninjas often used a sai in their fights. Outside the Japanese cultural references, there are different types of sai used in history. 

Types of Sai

There are two types of sai used and mentioned throughout history.

  • Chabang
  • Trisula


In some countries, the Chabang is also known as a Tjabang, while in Southeast Asia, it is called a tekpi. Similar to a sai, a tekpi has three prongs and is a truncheon-type weapon with no blades. Historians believe that the tekpi evolved from a sai, however, the exact origin of tekpi is still unclear.

The main similarity between a sai and a Chabang is that both of them cannot be used in a fight to stab an opponent as they both don’t have a sharp blade.


A Trisula is thought to be the original weapon from which all the other variations of the sai are generated. The trisula is mentioned in ancient Hindu texts and is said to be the weapon of choice for many Hindu gods. In many Indian religious artworks, their deities, and ancestors, can be seen holding a trisula. Furthermore, a trisula is also depicted in many cave paintings around the world.

One thing all the historians agree about the trisula was that it was used by ancient Indians. It can be placed on a staff to make it into a trident, or it can be used as a small weapon like sai. The main difference between a sai and a trisula is that a trisula can be used as a dagger. In contrast, a sai cannot be used to cut or stab someone, as it does not contain a blade.

What is a Sai Used For?

Similar to trowel, the Sai was first used by farmers as a tool for weeding and harvesting vegetables and rice. Many farmers expected that they would experience problems with invaders, and they needed to protect themself and their families. As a result, the sai was modified by farmers to use against bandits and raiders. 

Back then, in Okinawa, the king outlawed possession of weapons for civilians. This could be the likeliest reason for the popularity of sai in Okinawa. A sai could be used for defense but did not classify as a lethal weapon, and so was not outlawed. 

In contrast, some people believe that the sai was originally used by Japanese women for self-defense. The weapon further grew in popularity in 1668, when Moto Chohei, the Okinawan prince got interested in a sai and introduced it as a weapon for the domestic police (ufuchiku). The police used the sai for controlling the crowded rallies, and to arrest criminals without hurting them physically.

Why Is A Sai a Double Weapon?

The sai has an advantage in speed and maneuverability, but its disadvantages lie in being small and non-lethal. Sai works best with a range of weapons like spears or staffs. As it is made from metal, a sai will not break when it gets struck by a heavy weapon.  The drawback of being a non-lethal weapon becomes dangerously high if the opponent has swords or other strong weapons. Here the sai must be used as a double weapon, to maximize damage. 

When using sai as a double weapon, a sai in one hand must block, lock, or control the opponent’s weapon, while the other sai will perform the counterattack. 

The Elements of Sai

There are 6 elements in a sai. Each element has its importance, and the wielder of the sai must have complete knowledge about them, to use the weapon perfectly. 


The shaft of the Sai is called a Monouchi.  The shape of Yamanouchi can either be round, or faceted.


The prongs that are on both sides of the middle prong are called Yoku. These prongs are created to guard the middle prong. The Yoku must be symmetrical and shorter as compared to the middle prong.

Tsume and Moto

The tip of the yoku is called Tsume while the actual center point of the yoku is known as Moto. 


The term tsuka referred to the handle of sai, it is a traditional name used by the makers when describing the handle. It is a material that is used to cover the handle for better grip. 

In old times, materials like twine, leather, or other animal skin were used for the tsuka. However, today, martial artists mostly used sports or hockey tape for better grip.

Tsuka Gashira and Saki

The bottom portion of the tsuka (handle) is known as Tsukagashira, and the blunt tip of the sai is called saki. This tip must always be blunt, even as it makes the weapon weak for an attack.  


Sai can be considered as one of the best traditional weapons of all time. Since it does not have a blade, it is definitely the one that can be used for non-lethal damage. In modern contexts, Sai can no longer be used by the forces of any country. However, it still stands as one of the important cultural elements. There are many knives that you can buy though. Follow the ultimate guide to knives to find out more. 

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