‘ He musn’t be a man cause he dosen’t have the same set of sai as me’
*my butchered version of Satisfaction, by the Stones* but good marketing, perhaps.
I was a brown belt when one day Charles Murray told me that I should get some pair of sai and a bo for myself. While I had seen seniors practice kobudo down at the Salisbury dojo, it had never crossed my mind that one day I would be studying this. That next week I had to travel to Philadelphia for a business trip to Philladelphia. I made the time to travel to the original location of Asian Martial Arts, in an old storefront business on North Broad Street. Having no idea of what I was purchasing in fact, I bought a set of steel sai according to the measurements Charles told me to purchase. For he bo, I got one of the proper length, a piece of wood slightly bent and with a density as if it was filled with lead.
I still have both of them, now from 1978. The bo is a primary practice bo because of its weight. The sai are a bit niched but work and feel perfect in my hands.
From Salisbury they were different from the Sai on Mr. Lewis’ desk, which were shorter and more dagger like. Which it turns out Charles had gotten for Mr. Lewis when he was in Okinawa. Most of the black belts practiced at different times than the rest of the class, so I had not seen much kobudo.
Charles started me on Chantan Yara No Sai. When he was stationed on Okinawa, he was a new shodan, and didn’t have Chantan Yara. He learned it there. When the Okinawans stopped by after their work, to train, he remarked how all of them would assist him learning it, making corrections. He started me on Chantan Yara perhaps to have someone to practice with.
The sai felt alkward to me. They were nothing like being perfectly balanced. Then my wife was teaching at the YMCA and one time when practicing there, I was sweaty when the sai flew out of my hand and dropped straignt down to hit my big toe with the handle, Ouch!
Every weapon I have studied eventually bit me.
Later as a new black belt I began competing with sai. Eventually switching to Bo Shi Shi for my normal competition kata. But one time when at a tournament in Delaware, I was very ill, so for some reason I switched to sai. I competed with Chantan Yara. Afterwards when changing one of the judges, a Senior instructor who I didn’t know I existed came up to me and congratulated me for showing such power.
I just kept practicing over the years. When my students got to the point they were learning kobudo, for sai, it was also their favorite weapon.
IMO, the key to sai, is not that the weapon must be perfectly balanced and made. From a theoretical level the last thing I would want is for someone to pick up my sai and have them feel perfect in their hands. Instead, I would want the sai I use to feel wrong when they pick it up, off balanced. But to me, with lots of work they would have become perfect to me, as I would have made the adjustments over the years of work so the sai were perfect to my touch.
Of course there is little reason in today’s world to use sai for defensive reasons. But the hard sweat equity from the constant study makes them invaluatle.
Back around 1990 I attended a clinic with Sherman Harrill in Chicopee, Ma. It was held by Chester Houlbecki. Among the studies Sherman had us work on, at one point he turned to me asd starded talking about Kusanku Sai. It was not what the clinic had been about.
Sherman started discussing the Kusanku Sai kata. “You know where you throw the Sai to the ground and then use your 3rd sai to continue? I told him yes. “Originally that was a throw into the body of an attacker, and not into the floor. But the dojo became to busy and it was changed for safety. It wasn’t a good idea to throw the sai into other’s bodies. “ LOL
Years later after the deaths of John Dinger (my student) and then Sherman himself, many of my adult students stopped training. Citing their ages as the reason for leaving training, I had over 15 years training with most of them. It was their right, but I felt their departure. But that meant more time for Mike and I to work on our own advanced training.
One day working Sai with him, it came to me how the way the sai was used in a closed down strike, was also a method to apply to a descending pull for an application, not as a constant pressure pull but one where the pressure was applied as if you were striking down as with a sai.
That was when I began looking at all kobudo as a force enhancer for application utilization. We age and grow slower and weaker, But decades of work on Kobudo allow us to use the skills the training develops with our applications. It works in practice, but is difficult to express with those who have shorter time in the arts.
The variety of weapons, help develop skills. My friend Ernest Rothrock in his Chinese studies has a tremendous number of different weapons in his studies. I have felt the manner in which they assisted his claw development in Eagle Claw. As the Chinese invented gunpowder, the retention of weapons was not an accident. They build skills.
Most Okinawan kubudo doesn’t have the same depth, but it still is a significant force enhancer if one takes advantage and practices for decades.
And some seek the perfect Sai, Good for them, each must follow your dream, But my less than perfect Sai are perfect to me.