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. If you have questions, contact us at AWMA or ask your own martial arts instructor for advice. 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. For safety reasons, free sparring should never be practiced with weapons. Training sai like those offered by ProForce® are made of lightweight plastic or flexible rubber to allow the user to exercise greater control and safety.
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.
ProForce® offers sai 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.
Chrome vs. Nonchrome
If you plan to use your sai in competition, you will probably want a visually impressive chrome finish and will want to avoid using it for training. Chrome finish can crack or break during contact drills. ProForce® has both chromed and nonchromed sai for selection.
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.
At AWMA, we mainly offer leather-wrapped sai but you can rewrap them if you so choose. Leather tends to look better and retain its shape over time. Cotton wrap is cheaper but the fabric stretches and stains as it wicks moisture from your hands. You can also use the more expensive silk alternative for a traditional appearance.
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. AWMA offers two sai cases, one with a black vinyl outer casing and red felt liner inside, and the other with a heavy nylon abrasion-resistant fabric outer casing and red felt liner inside.
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.