View Full Version : Sai <iron truncheon>

Doug Daulton
24th October 2000, 17:18
An open thread dedicated to general questions regarding the sai or iron truncheon as used in Okinawan weapons traditions

24th October 2000, 20:10

Here is my two cents worth or maybe ten dollars worth on the evolution of the sai & bo nunti. My conclusions are based on my own research and applying some logical deductions towards the historical evidence.

My conclusions are based upon several facts which we can put together to form a picture of how things may have happened.

1. All inventions of man go through an evolutionary process, none appear at first in their final form.
2. There are no natural iron ore deposits on Okinawa making anything made of iron extremely expensive. Too much so for peasant farmers to have any farm tool made of it when wood could be substituted. Bladed tools being the exception of course such as knives or kama blades.
3. Worldwide, up into the early 1800’s most farming implements were made of wood (not iron) again, because of expense. Plows, shovels, hoes, pitchforks, rakes, all were most exclusively made of wood. This is even true in the West.
4. It is generally accepted my modern scholars and even among the Okinawans who have researched this that the sai was used only as a weapon and never served a purpose other than this.
5. The bo nunti design does not lend itself at all well as a fishing gig or spear. If you examine historic examples of Pacific area fishing spears they were made of bone & some wood, having normally three shafts which were covered with barbs carved out of the bone. A fish simply would slide off the shaft of the bo-nunti and we also go back to the expense. Why spend a fortune on iron when wood or bone was readily available.

My belief is that the bo-nunti most probably was originally used as a boat pike or hook being much smaller than the weapon which evolved from it. A boat pike because of it’s use would have been made from iron. If you compare a modern boat pike of any culture to the design of the bo-nunti they are remarkably the same if you simply shrink the size of the nunti. The boat pike would have made the “natural” weapon for sailors. As time passed, the pike head could have easily evolved into a larger version being used more exclusively as a weapon. This theory is supported by an acquaintance who was a Marine stationed on the Island and who routinely saw some of the older fisherman using this bo-nunti to drag their nets and other things from the water onto their boats.

I also believe that the mangi-sai & normal sai are two of the natural evolutions of this weapon design. Both of these being weapons only. In fact, Akamine Sensei is quoted in one of McCarthy’s books as saying “the sai was always a weapon and was known to have been used by the Nago Bushi”. I am guessing that the Nago were an old Okinawan clan name.

Sorry for this being so long but I wanted to give proper supporting evidence to the theory.

Steve Barth

24th October 2000, 20:34

I have also read that many anthropologists believe that the sai design may have been developed first further South in the Pacific region. Unfortunately, this source gave no real substantiating evidence. I came across this in "Karate's History & Traditions" by Bruce Hains.

[Edited by BarthS on 10-24-2000 at 02:45 PM]

24th October 2000, 20:49
Okay I'm probably going to start something here but what the hell.

I practice Yuishinkai Ryu Kyu Kobujutsu as passed down by Motokatsu Inoue, and we follow the Kobujutsu system as handed down by Shinken Taira.

Now as a practioner of the style I have to say that I do not believe that the majority of the weapons in the system are derived from farm implements. The kama is the only one of which I accept this to be true.

The sai as well as the nunchaku are found in both China and the Phillipines. I was told in a previous thread on this forum, that the sai is also found in some Indonesian and Indian arts. It is definitely not indigenous to Okinawa.

Now as to the origins of the nunte bo and the manji sai. The manji sai was created by Shinken Taira after he was inspired by Buddhist temple ornaments. The only kata for the manji sai is called Jigen no sai and was created by Taira himself.

The nunte bo is a different story, and I relate the story that was told to my instructor by Inoue himself. The story goes that Taira was approached by someone in Okinawa who asked to lend a pair of manji sai. The sai were later returned. Later still when passing a shop Taira noticed a manji sai mounted on a bo being sold in the shop. Upon enquiring he was told that it was a nunte bo. Taira was upset as this invalidated the very essence of the manji sai. It was this event that convinced Taira to form the Ryu Kyu Kobudo Hozon Shinko Kai. The society to preserve Okinawan martial arts. He felt that they were beginning to become changed and corrupted. ( Wow even back then!)

It is intresting to note that the nunte bo does not appear in the curriculim of the Hozon Shinko Kai, and Taira tried verey hard to collect everything he considered historically valid.

Thats my two cents worth.
Flame On !

24th October 2000, 21:05

No need to "flame on!". I think that all opinions need to be considered. What are the real answers to any of these questions ? None of us will ever know for sure unless we can travel back in time and actually be there. The best we can hope for is to do our own research, and base our conclusions on what we find to be the historical facts and probabilities. I say probabilities because we simply can not know all the facts. I take "word of mouth" history with a grain of salt. I think even the Okinawans "make up" a lot of these stories to satisfy thier students and have all the answers. So as far as I'm concerned your opinion is welcomed.

25th October 2000, 01:09
Sai were used in a lot of ways.You could use'em to plant seeds by poking holes in the ground, etc.

As for a nunte bo, there are other nunte bo kata, and shinkaen taira taught what is called Tokyo Kobudo, using similar postures to Funakoshi's(who's stdentt he was in karate) karate, which are not the original Okinawan positions at all.

See Yamani Ryu Bojutsu and Matayoshi Kobudo, whch latter contains nunti bo kata different from the Taira created Jigen No Nunte Bo,such as Matayoshi No nunti bo created by Shimpo Matayshi, contemporary also, who has created katas for all the weapons..

See, there were no kobujutsu kata on Okinawa for anything but bo, before recent times.Only techniques, for the rest of them.

There were weapons dances for the bo, and there were of course Chinese forms for the sai and others, but the tonfa or tuifa, who ever saw these in China?
Tonfa was a mill handle.Nunchaku were horse bridles but much thinner of course.Sai were sa, or tjabang, or Twin Short Rods, but could be used to implant beans or seeds in the ground.

As for the fisherman using nunti bo for a boat pike and not a fish spear, fine,it's still a tool.

Also Seikichi Odo teaches kobujutsu of the Matayoshi lineage, with frog gig and shield,(yari and tinbe) with shield being a tortoise shell.

Also he does a nunti bo kata where you whirl the bo in a circle above the head to catch a fisherman's net cast at you.

So did farmer's and fishermen develop bujutsu, or were they the samurai, earning their pedestrian livings?

[Edited by kusanku on 10-24-2000 at 07:19 PM]

25th October 2000, 04:11
Originally posted by kusanku

Nunchaku were horse bridles but much thinner of course.

I disagree with you in several places, but I'm only going to mention this one. Nunchaku were flails, used to husk rice.

Originally posted by kusanku

So did farmer's and fishermen develop bujutsu, or were they the samurai, earning their pedestrian livings?

The answer is obvious.

Having trained with some of the senior instructor on Okinawa (however briefly), humping up and down the island (that's "hiking" for you non-military types), and discussing it with the local budoka, I remain convinced that most of the weapons of Okinawan kobudo were, in fact, farm tools. Some were not--the tortoise shell shield, tekko, sai (a popular Asian police weapon, and uses much less metal than a katana)... But the most popular ones--tonfa and nunchaku--were.

[Edited by yamatodamashii on 10-24-2000 at 10:24 PM]

25th October 2000, 07:44
Kusanku wrote
"As for a nunte bo, there are other nunte bo kata, and shinkaen taira taught what is called Tokyo Kobudo, using similar postures to Funakoshi's(who's stdentt he was in karate) karate, which are not the original Okinawan positions at all."

Taira Shinken studied Kobudo under Yabiku Moden who as I understand it never taught in Tokyo. This attituide that the moment anyone ever went to Tokyo they learnt some watered down version of karate or kobujutsu is absurd.

Taira was surrounded by such people as Funakoshi, Mabuni, Motobu. Their pedigrees are well documneted. To imply that their teachings were somehow incomplete because it does not fit into your view of things is merely poisoning the well.

Lets consider the facts:
Taira invented the manji sai design. This seems to be historically accepted and I have seen no one else contest this or site another inventor.

The nunte bo is a bo with a manji sai mounted on it.

This would imply that the nunte bo came into existence after the creation of the manji sai.

If so then it could hardly be considered a traditional Okinawan weapon. It may be effective and it may have katas, but it would be no older than +/- 50 years.

Also we have to consider the shortage of metal in Okinawa. This appears to be one of the major reasons that their tinbe were turtle shells rather than metal, or wood with metal reinforcements.

If this were true I do not feel that they would invent the metal sai purely as an agricultural implement. Yes you can poke rice holes with it, but you can do the same with an M-16 assault rifle. Hardly it's original purpose.

If anybody trains with practioners of the Fillipino martial arts, perhaps we could get their history of the tjabang (sai) and the tabak toyok (nunchaku).

25th October 2000, 08:51
First of all, Jason, I have seen early versions of nunchaku that were in fact horse bridles.

The nunchku itself seems too short for a rice flail, the san setsu kon was more used for this, but maybe some used them for this.

Secondly, we agree on Okinawan implements being farming tools.

Thirdly, yes, the farers developed bujutsu and were samurai, both.

Fourthly, my Okinawan Kenpo teacher was a United States Marine who had been stationed on Okinawa and learned his art in Kin Village, naha and ago City.

Fifthly, I am not a nonmilitary type, as I am ex-USAF, and I was trained as a North Vietnamese Interpreter.

Next, Adrian, you misread my intent, I said Taira taught what is called by many Okinawan karate and kobudo people "Tokyo Kobudo,' because his kata use Funakoshi's modified karate stances , and are less fluid or Chinese looking than Matayoshi kobudo or Yamani ryu, and I am not poisoning the well, I am telling the truth, because I have practiced Shotokan, Matsubayashi ryu Shorin ryu, and Okinawan Kenpo, for twnety seven, twenty eight and twenty eight years respectively, so I may know a little what I am talking about when I tell you that Shotokan karate, has altered its stances, techniques and rhythm to conform to Anko Itosu's system of school child karate, introduced on Okinawan in the 1900's, with the dangerous footwork and techniques having safeties put in, so to speak.

The Taira Kobudo, resembles Funskoshi's kobudo,and has very different stances from the original Okinawan bo and other kata.

For instance, the kokutsu dachi, which does not exist as such on Okinawa,is present in the Taira kobudo, this was invented by Funakoshi or his son, in Tokyo.

Shito ryu also has this, although not as much. As for Motobu, his karate is nothing like the others you mention, at all.he didn' use cat stance, kokutsu dachi, or any other stance bt Naihanchi and a forward twist version of it, both with fifty fifty weight distribution.

So, now, the Tira kobudo, which like Shotokan karate, is a fine style, yet cotains the grip by the waist like Shotokan, the kokutsu dachi, and a less fluid format suitable for teaching middle school children, which is what those were originally for.

The fact in the original Okinawan kobujutsu syles, the stances are higher, and more mobile, agile and fluid.The hand work, is more fluid also.

The bit of holding the bo against the ribs, and sometimes smacking the ribs with the bo(your own I mean), is absent from the other Okinawan kobujutsu , as it usually is brough against the outside forearm, which can take a whack with a bo lots bettter than onesribs, imho.

Now, as for poisoning the well, I have told the truth to the best of my ability,and remember, I do Funakoshi's style as well, and recognize the benefits( easier to learn and teach, better phys ed, easier to see the combat apps in the katas because they are done one after another, not all at once and in flashes like in the Okinawan ones, and the same can be said of Taira kobudo.

That said, I conclude with this:Chinese at are more sophisticated than their Okinawan descendants, and the Okinawan karate and kobujutsu styles are more sophisticated and complex than their japanese descendants, and this is good, because they can be like a ladder,or a mirror, in which one can look to see what is really supposed to be happening when one system turns out to be more sophisticated than some can handle, and this from my experience of about twenty for years as a teacher,sometimes it helps to learn similar styles.

Funakoshi's karate and Taira's kobudo are fine, but they did undergo simplification in Tokyo, Motobu's karate did not, he was a Tomari and Shuri Ryukyu Kempo practitioner, and not a kobudo man btw.

Just as the arts taught in Okinawa are simpler and less sophisticated than Chinese Kung Fu of the Northern Soutehrn and Internal persuasions.

It does not mean any of them are etter or worse than the others, just simple and less simple.

'A punch is still a punch, a kick is just a kick, the fundamental things remain-

It's still the same old story, a fight for love and glory,its not the style, but the man, as time goes by.":D

Is everybody happy, or have we got a flamefest?

Brian Dunham
26th October 2000, 00:51
I feel that it is an unfair assumption to make that someone came up with the nunte bo by corrupting Taira's manji sai. There are many examples of sai (from China as well as Okinawa) that feature opposing tines, with a regular handle. The opposing tines were definitely not Taira's creation. Taira's idea, I believe, was to connect two opposing pointed shafts(blades), with opposing tines at or near the center. The nunte bo could very well have been around long before Taira created the manji sai.
Also, the fact that Taira did not include a kata for nunte bo does not indicate it's lack of importance. It is my understanding that he also did not include kata for eaku, but that he and his followers sometimes used eaku while performing Sunakake no kun(a relatively new bo kata).
The nunte bo can easily be adapted to bo waza and kata. In fact, one of the kata for nunte bo in the Matayoshi style, Tsuken no nunte bo, is actually Tsuken no kun, performed with nunte bo.

26th October 2000, 15:00

If a version of the manji sai exists outside of Okinawa, I have not seen or heard of it. ( Of course thats not saying much.) The only reversing of the twines that I have seen has occurred on sword guards, mainly of the western variety.(rapiers)

My arguement follows the basic transivity approach. If x=y and y=z then x=z. Mark Bishop in his book on Zen Kobudo states that the nunte bo is a 7 shaku bo with a manji sai affixed to one end.(pg 22) If Taira invented the manji sai, and the nunte bo contains a manji sai, then the nunte bo cannot be older than the manji sai.

You yourself seem to validate this postulation by saying that the nunte bo can be adapted to bo kata and waza, and that Tsuken no nunte bo is actually a kon kata adapted to the nunte bo. It would indicate that the nunte bo is a fairly recent addittion to the Ryu Kyu arsenal.

Incidently Taira's system does include kata for the eku, it is simply that the eku is classed in the category of bo, and thus may sometimes be missed. It is essentially just a big stick with a flat end.


I am unable to comment on the stylistic differences. Our karate system derives from Yasuhiro Konishi who studied under Mabuni, Funakoshi, Miyagi and Motobu. There is probably also jujutsu influences in their. I can say that our stances are usually in a high natural position, occasionally we do go low for some leg conditioning. However I have never partaken in randori from anything other than a high natural stance.

However I do find the comments about "Tokyo Kobudo" indicative of the attempt by Okinawans to wrestle their art back. The implication is that true karate rests only on Okinawa and that the Japanese were taught some ineffective schoolchild art, and if you want true karate you must come to Okinawa and only Okinawa. I have watched Taira's Okinawan disciples refusal to acknowledge the existence of Inoue or the Japanese side of things, making comments like he did not study long enough, he only knows incorrect kata. Despite the fact that their instructor awarded this man a certificate that is basically a menkyo kaiden. This refusal to acknowledge a Japanese heir apparent because of cultural prejudice is understandable but no less said. To say that the Japanese do not understand or have an incomplete system says more about their teachers than about the students.

As to the horse bridle nunchaku, its a bit of a chicken and egg question, what came first. If the nunchaku was derived from it how do we explain the san bon nunchaku, and the uchi bo,( a flail with two rods of unequal length), also the sansetsu kun which is basically the Chinese three section staff. Was the horse bridle developed to be a nunchaku, or was the nunchaku developed to be a horse bridle.

John as always I await and look forward to your reply.

26th October 2000, 17:15

To find the "bo-nunte" or mangi design outside of Okinawa all we have to do is to look at the spear designs of China and Japan.Even Europe. All of these cultures had spear heads with reversing tynes (and many other designs as well) hundreds if not a thousand years before taira was even born. This is historical fact as these weapons are still in existence in museums and documented in very old manuscripts. The Japanese had more spear head designs than you could shake a stick at. There is an excellent reference work (out of print & very expensive) entitled Japanese Polearms by Robinson. The bo nunte for all purposes is nothing special. It is a spear for all intents and purposes. Was the Mangi sai a miraculous conception of a modern day Okinawan? It is nothing more than the removed head of the bo-nunte (spear). It is nothing more & nothing less than a spear head removed and turned into a short hand weapon. Again, this is nothing miraculously new. Their are examples of Japanese spear heads turned into short hand weapons in museums and reference works.

As for Taira having miraculously concieved of this idea from a Buddhist design? It makes a good story doesn't it? I find that both the Japanese & Okinawans enjoy a good story. Their are countless claims by masters of both cultures as to being devinely inspired. Let's face it, it adds credence to thier style. It's a fantastic marketing gimic. Look at Japanese swordsmanship for an example. There are so many RyuHa which claim devine quidance. In fact I think they all do except for Musashi. Another example from Okinawa. Ishin Ryu's founder claims to have been given his techniques by some godess in a dream! Come on! Let's face it. All these guys had a product to sell and they had to convince thier potential students that thier product was better than the next guy down the street.

There are only so many ways that the human body can effectively execute technique whether it be empty hand or with weapons. It doesn't take a God to show me how to hit someone. It doesn't take a Buddhist design for me to copy a spearhead design which was around for hundreds of years before I was born.

Believe it or not, I am not an irreverent son of a gun. I have all respect for the Gods and past masters. I simply no longer believe everything I hear in way of these stories which have been spread around for heaven knows how many years. Most of which simply do not hold water once they are scrutinized with a scientific methodology which demands hard suporting evidence.

[Edited by BarthS on 10-26-2000 at 02:08 PM]

27th October 2000, 07:03
Pretty much agree with you here, Steve!

Adrian. I do not deny the roficiency of Funakoshi, Mabuni, Gima, or Taira, and certainly not of Motobu since I derive from that lineage too.

The Okinawans do say what I said they do, and I of course say what I said, which is quite a different thing entirely.

As for the shool child system, if you look at my post where I introduce the term, it started on Okinawan soil, not japanese, by Itosu, and Funakoshi, Mabuni, Shiroma, and others, taught it there before ever bringing it to Japan.

That's why the Okinawans recognized it when Funakoshi et al., but not Motobu, introduced it to Japan.

As for using high stances, that's fine, not all Okinawan styles do but most do.Funakoshi originally taught shorin ryu in Japan, but he found the Japanese college crowd n particular, not over fond of it.

It seems that kendo had a great inflence on the evolution of Japanese competition karate, and maybe on the Taira Kobudo as well, and the chaned stances are part of that.

M statements stand about the nature of the changes, particularly about the kokutsu dachi, which is and was a Japanese invention.This may actually come from taijutsu systems, old jiujitsu.

Okinawans consider it wuite vulnerable to attack, I ve myself verified this. While a very comfortable and safe stance to take in solo practice, it is dangerous in a fight.

This may be why Shotokan tournament fighters ever, ever use this stance in kumite.:D

They prefer the fudo dachi, a stance simila to many an Okinawa stance, fifty fifty weight distribution and so on.

What Steve says about Chinese, Okinawan and Japanese hype can also be extended worldwide. None of these systems are Divinely revealed.

I'm here in the US, and I saw what happened to all styles of karate here in the seventies, as tournaments became popular, and kickboxing was developed as a sport.

All the styles became indistinguishable in competition, and a mess was the result. karate became americanized with boxing punches and lousy kicks, stupid rules took away all effectiveness from any other techniques.

Okinawan stylists followed suit, and we saw Goju and Shorin fighters using japanese and Korean stances and techniques in tournaments because the rules counted them higher scores.

Goju ryu people throwing roundhouse instep kicks and shorin ryu fighters throwing high head hook kicks made a mockery of tradition.Hey, but those guys did become Champions!

So when I talk about what happened to karate and kobudo when it went toJapan, yes indeed, it did, and it kept on happeneing in Korea, and America, and everywhere.

Know what? The Okinawans changed it from when they learned Kung Fu in Southern China , too.They implified it, and the body mechanics of Chinese Kung Fu were mostly lost in the Okinawan styles.

Wonder what was lost when the Chinese learned it from India, Persia and Egypt?

trade-offs , all, but one thing remains, as I said- overall, the arts of karate and kobudo with Okinawanweapons, are Okinawan arts, and ye, it was the teachers who taught t those ways to the Japanese and others. maybe they had good reason for so doing.?

27th October 2000, 08:42
I may have explained it badly. I don't think that Taira was divinely inspired when he invented the manji sai. I think it was just a case of possibly looking at something like the Buddhist swastika and thinking "Hey! I could use that design on a sai."

No Tengu, no gods. Sorry if I gave that impression.

Joe Swift
7th November 2000, 01:57
Hello all,

With the recent discussions on the sai and its use, I thought I'd share a translation of the chapter on saijutsu from Nakamoto Masahiro's 1983 book "Okinawa Dento Kobudo: Sono Rekishi to Tamashii" (History and Spirit of Traditional Okinawa Kobudo), published by the Bunbukan Dojo.
For those of you who do not know if him, Nakamoto Sensei is a direct student of Taira Shinken and Chibana Choshin, and is Hanshi 9-dan in Okinawa Karate Kobudo. His dojo is the aforementioned Bunbukan in Shuri.


..."Every country has its own martial arts for the protection of its citizens. However the sai of Ryukyu is unlike the martial arts of other countries in that it is not to stab the opponent to death, but to subdue without mortal injury.

This has a meaning so deep that words cannot express. The fact that the Ryukyuan sai took its shape from the human form can also be said to be testiment to its use as a peaceful weapon. It is also interesting to note that the old sai have rounded knobs at the tip of the shaft. More
recent sai are sharpened at the tip, and one can often see
practitioners throwing them through the floor at demonstrations. However, when considering the old sai, the modern ones seem to be headed down the wrong path.

The UFUCHIKU ("chief inspector," an old Ryukyuan police rank) used the sai, whereas the CHIKUSAJI ("inspector," a police rank below the ufuchiku) carried the bo.

The sai is considered to be a weapon of Kobudo, but practice with the sai can also be used to strengthen the wrists. The fact that it lacks a cutting edge makes it markedly different from other weapons, such as a sword or a spear.

Currently, the sai are often used in pairs, but sometimes a third is carried in the "obi" (as a backup after throwing one).

The old police inspectors carried the sai in order to protect the King, control crowds, and arrest criminals. This makes it similar to the Jitte of mainland Japan" ...

tr. Joe Swift, 1999

You may also want to check for the new book entitled Saijutsu: Traditional Okinawan Weapon Art on sai kata by Murakami Katsumi Sensei, which covers a short history, three kihon-gata, Tawada no Sai and Matsumura no Sai. It can be found by doing a title search under "saijutsu" at


The ISBN is 0804832447 and it was published by Charles E. Tuttle Co.

Thank you for listening.

Hank Irwin
10th November 2000, 21:19
I have always heard that Sai came from China. Taira-Sensei inventing the Manji? I do not know, but from everything that I have heard and read over the years, I think not. The Karate the Japanese received from Okinawa was "school boy" karate. They did the same thing to MANY military servicemen. I think there are only a small handful of American KarateKa that were actuslly taught real Tode. The Okinawan's hated the Japanese and the Americans. What makes us think that they taught us anything!Choki Motobu was one of the one's that whent to Nihon with Funakoshi-Sensei. Funakoshi was threatned with death if he revealed too many secrets to the Japanese, that's why Motobu-Sensei was there, to make sure he didn't. But, Motobu was intercepted at customs for some cock-a-mamy reason and it goes from there.The fact remains, "School-Boy Karate" is what the Okinawan's taught the Japanese, plus no bunkai. But as what was said previously, there is a lot of Phoney-bologny out there when it comes to the "legends" and stories of past KarateKa. Many true, I think just as many false.
Sensei Hank Irwin

11th November 2000, 04:44
The Okinawans hated the Americans? I don't think so--I certainly never met any Okinawans who were around for WWII who didn't like Americans. Of course, their kids were another matter...