In this article we provide a series of useful drills (Tanren) that you may wish to practice to improve your Sai weapon handling skills.
Be sure to practice these drills away from expensive flooring, furnishing, or delicate equipment, and more importantly away from family pets, young children, or your spouse. It is your responsibility to insure that nothing is damaged and nobody is injured while you practice the use of the Sai.
Grip Change Drill
This is perhaps the simplest and most fundamental of drills. You may perform the drill with a single weapon or with a weapon in either hand. If the drill is done with two weapons then you may wish to practice doing the movements concurrently with both hands, or do the drill by alternately with one hand and then the other. In one case you would be practicing using the weapons with simultaneous movement, and in the other using the weapons with independent movement. Both will contribute to your learning.
- Begin by holding the weapon with a standard grip with the Tsuka Gashira extended forward at Chudan level.
- Move your index finger back until it contacts your thumb. Press the two digits tightly together.
- Release the grip of your fingers on the Yoko and then invert your wrist slightly until your fingers wrap around the Tsuka.
- With a quick snapping motion project the Saki toward angle one as you establish a reverse grip.
- Move the Saki inward (or upward) toward your bicep until your thumb moves between the Yoko and Monouchi. Squeeze your thumb against the side of your index finger.
- Release your grip on the Tsuka and allow the weapon to spin between your thumb and index finger until you can establish a standard grip.
- Return to step 2.
This is overall a very simple drill. You will become accustomed to this movement in very little time. It will become second nature to you, but you have to start somewhere and this drill is definitely the place to begin. You may notice that the drill can be done moving the Saki in either a vertical or horizontal orientation. You will want to practice both. You might also find it useful to move the weapon vertically when making one grip change, and then move it horizontally when making another.
To virtually eliminate the chances of dropping the weapon be sure to pay attention to the role your thumb and index finger play in these transitions. This is a level of weapon control you will want to become instinctive.
As you become familiar with the drill note the path the Saki takes during the various transitions. Think of potential contacts that may occur with clothing or the Sai held in the opposite hand. These are all part of weapon familiarity. Just work slowly to understand how things are moving in real time. This is not very complicated, but it will help to be observant as you first begin practicing with the weapon.
This drill is performed when holding a Sai in each hand. Weapons will be employed either singly or concurrently during different sections of the drill. You may be done the same or different movements with the Sai when performing concurrent motions. You will also convert your grip, using standard, reverse, and knife grips at various times.
- Begin by holding both Sai in a standard grip with your forearms extended forward and parallel to the floor. Your elbows should be placed at your sides.
- Flip the right Sai horizontally to transition to a reverse grip. The Saki should point to angle one. Now flip the weapon back horizontally to establish a standard grip in the original position.
- Flip the left Sai horizontally to transition to a reverse grip. The Saki should point to angle one. Now flip the weapon back horizontally to establish a standard grip in the original position.
- Flip both weapons vertically concurrently to transition to a reverse grip. The Saki of both weapons should point to angle one.
- Convert the grip of both weapons to a standard knife grip.
- Spin the right weapon so the Saki moves down, back on the outside of your forearm, and then forward again to its original position. You will need to release the grip of all but your thumb and index finger during portions of this spin.
- Spin the left weapon so the Saki moves down, back on the outside of your forearm, and then forward again to its original position.
- Spin the right weapon down and back so it moves outside of your forearm to repeat the spin found in step six above. As the Saki points T2, begin the spin using the left weapon found in step seven. Perform five spins with each weapon. During these spins, when the Saki of one weapon points to angle one, the Saki of the other weapon will point to angle two.
- To terminate this spin sequence stop the motion of each weapon when the Saki of each weapon in turn points to angle one.
- Lower the left weapon to your side as you move the right weapon outside of your left arm. Perform a spin while the weapon is on your left side by allowing the Saki to move back, then up and forward again. Repeat this same spin on the left side a second time. Now move the weapon to your right side and complete a spin (identical to the spin in step six) on your right side.
- Lower the right weapon to your side as you move the left weapon outside of your right arm. Perform a spin while the weapon is on your right side by allowing the Saki to move back, then up and forward again. Repeat this same spin on the right side a second time. Now move the weapon to your left side and complete a spin (identical to the spin in step seven) on your left side.
- Raise the left arm slightly as you move the left weapon to the outside of your right arm. At the same time position the right weapon under your left arm on the left side of your body. This is the starting position for a series of concurrent spins. The pattern of these spins will be as follows:
- One arm performs two rotations on the opposite side of the body. One rotation moves under the opposite arm, the other rotation moves above the opposite arm.
- The opposite arm perform a single rotation on its side of the body. The arms then both move to their respective opposite sides of the body where the spinning sequence is repeated with the opposite arms. This is detailed more in the following steps.
- Spin both weapons forward one time. Now move the right weapon to the right side of your body so the right arm moves under your left arm. Now rotate both weapons forward concurrently on the right side of your body. The left weapon will be moving on the outside (above) your right arm.
- Rotate your center to the left so that both weapons are now on the left side of your body. Now spin both weapons forward and then allow the right hand to make a second forward spin. In the first spin the right arm will spin under the left arm, while the second right arm spin will occur over the left arm.
- Rotate your center to the right so that both weapons are now on the right side of your body. Now spin both weapons forward and then allow the left hand to make a second forward spin. In the first spin the left arm will spin under the right arm, while the second left arm spin will occur over the right arm.
- Repeat steps 14 and 15 a minimum of ten times.
- Complete the drill by returning both weapons to a standard grip and lowering both arms to your side.
Blocking with the Sai is relatively straight forward. You will want to ensure the Monouchi rests firmly against your forearm when blocking to prevent the Monouchi from being driven into your arm at the moment of contact. The most common blocks performed with the Sai are Chudan Uke, Extended Outward Block, Age Uke, Gedan Barai and Ura Gedan Barai. Essentially any block you can do with the inside of your forearm can be done with the Sai.
- Begin by holding the Sai with a standard grip with your forearms parallel to the floor. Your arms are extended forward slightly such that your elbows are adjacent to each respective side. Now perform the following blocking sequences:
- Migi Chudan Uke followed by Hidari Age Uke.
- Migi Gedan Barai and Hidari Chudan Uke
- Migi Chudan Uke and Hidari Gedan Uke (not Gedan Barai)
- Morote Judan Outward Extended Blocks
- Circle the Tsuka Gashira of both weapons inward simultaneously and step back into Hidari Kokutsu Dachi F1. As your stance is established, deliver Migi Gedan Barai and Hidari Age Uke, both toward angle one.
- Change the grip on each weapon into a reverse grip as you press forward into Hidari Zenkutsu Dachi and press both weapons downward into Morote Juji Gedan Uke.
- Step forward into Heiko Dachi and raise the Saki of both weapons to deliver Jodan level Morote Outward Extended Blocks.
- Step forward R7 as you raise the left weapon upward into a vertical catching block. The Tsume of the left weapon should point upward and parallel to one another along the three-four octagon axis. Rest the Monouchi of the right Sai against and on top of the left Sai and slide the right Monouchi downward toward the Yoko of the left Sai. Now carefully insert the right Sai over the left until the Yoko of each weapon rests atop the Moto of the opposite weapon. You should see a small somewhat square shape comprised of the Monouchi and Yoko of both weapons that will ensnare an opponent’s weapon. Press slightly forward and down to apply pressure on the opponent’s weapon.
- Step back into Heiko Dachi F1 as you return to a standard grip on both weapons. Return to steps two through nine, but perform the blocks and movements on the opposite side. At the completion of the drill return your hands to your sides.
The purpose of the Striking Drill is to provide practice for the most common strikes that can be employed using the weapon.
- Begin from the normal stating position with both weapons held in a standard grip and hands extended forward slightly and parallel to the floor. The elbows should rest against the side of the chest.
- Strike with Migi Jodan Tsuki using the Tsuka Gashira
- Strike with Hidari Chudan Tsuki using the Tsuka Gashira
- Strike with Migi Chudan Tsuki using the Tsuka Gashira
- Step back with the right leg to form Hidari Kokutsu Dachi and strike concurrently with Migi Jodan Tsuki and Hidari Chudan Tsuki using the Tsuka Gashira of each weapon.
- Step forward with the right leg to form Hidari Han Zenkutsu Dachi as you strike with concurrent Jodan Yokomen Tsuki. These strikes move inward toward the temple area of a potential opponent.
- Invert the grip of the right weapon and strike downward with Migi Shomen Uchi. At the same time, invert the grip of the left weapon and strike horizontally with Hidari Nodo Uchi.
- Concurrently strike in the vicinity of each collar bone with both weapons concurrently.
- Step with the following pattern depending on whether you are right or left handed:
- If Right Handed
- Step L6 to form Migi Juji Dachi and bend significantly forward at the waist with your head T3.
- Strike with Migi Koshi Tsuki T4 using the Tsuka Gashira and
- If Right Handed
- Concurrently strike with Hidari Sune Uchi T4 using the Monouchi.
- If Left Handed
- Step R7 to form Hidari Juji Dachi and bend significantly forward at the waist with your head T3.
- Strike with Hidari Koshi Tsuki T4 using the Tsuka Gashira and
- Concurrently strike with Migi Sune Uchi T4 using the Monouchi.
- Step forward to again establish Heiko Dachi facing angle one. Strike with Migi Kubi Uchi followed immediately by Migi Nodo Tsuki.
- Step back with the left leg and strike with Hidari Sai Empi Uchi followed immediately by Hidari Sai Empi Tsuki.
- Adopt Migi Kokutsu Dachi as you block downward with Morote Juji Gedan Uke. Continue pressing downward with one hand (you non-dominant hand) as you retract your dominant hand slightly. Change the grip of your dominant hand to be a reverse knife grip and strike downward with Otoshi Tsuki T1.
Feel free to embellish this drill with other striking options. You may also wish to practice the drill such that both your dominant and non-dominant hands are used for each part of the drill. The purpose of the drill is to offer insight into how the Sai might be used to strike an opponent. There are an infinite number of possibilities.
This drill explores transitions from one type of skill to another; perhaps blocking one moment, striking the next, and changing grips the next. The two weapons are not always doing the same skill at the same instant. The drill description references to help make it clear which weapon is being utilized. In all cases it is assume an imaginary attacker is directly ahead at angle one. At various times this person may be striking, blocking, or otherwise changing his or her structure.
- Begin by holding each weapon in a standard grip while standing in Heiko Dachi.
- Step forward into Han Zenkutsu Dachi and use the back hand to deliver Age Uke while the front hand concurrently strikes with Jodan Tsuki.
- Lower the back arm to deliver Gedan Uke as you concurrently change to a reverse grip with the front hand. Now use the front hand to strike with Jodan Soto Uchi (V3 – V4) and immediately invert your front wrist to deliver Jodan Uchi (V4 – V4). You might think of the first strike impacting the face and the second strike impact the back of the head.
- Change to a reverse grip with the back hand and a standard grip with the front hand and strike using the back hand with Sune Uchi and while concurrently using the front hand to strike with Mune Tsuki. These strikes impact the lower leg and the mid-torso area.
- Adopt a reverse grip with both weapons and raise both weapons to perform Morote Jodan Ura Chudan Uke, making contact with the Monouchi of each weapon.
- Strike downward with Morote Otoshi Seoi Uchi, striking in the area of both collar bones of a potential opponent.
- Convert to a knife grip on both weapons and concurrently spin each weapon outward, down and back such that the weapons move outside of their respective arms. Continue the spin until the weapons again come forward and down, striking once again with Morote Otoshi Seoi Uchi.
- Press the front weapon forward to deliver Yoko Nodo Tsuki while bending the wrist of the back hand outward so the Monouchi points directly outward and to the side. Using the back hand deliver a horizontal Yoko Ude Uchi Tsuki. The purpose of both strikes is to impale the throat and upper arm using the Sai Yoko.
- Raise your front leg to establish Ippon Dachi as the front arm lowers to form Gedan Barai to protect the front leg. The back hand strikes concurrently with Yokomen Uchi.
- Change the grip on both weapons to a standard grip as you step forward with the front leg to form Kiba Dachi. Block with Morote Chudan Uke directly along your center line. Using your front hand, rotate the weapon so it is parallel to the floor and the Tsuka Gashira is near the weapon held in the back hand. Now perform a Soto Tsuki such that the Monouchi is projected directly toward the potential adversary. The back hand remains in what is now a guard or checking position.
- Retract the front hand and pull the front leg back to establish Neko Ashi Dachi facing angle one. Invert both weapons to form a Jodan Otoshi Uchi toward angel one as you convert to a reverse grip.
- Revert back to a standard grip and step forward to deliver Morote Chudan Tsuki with both weapons as you step into Zenkutsu Dachi.
- Pull the front leg back to establish Sochin Dachi as you change to a reverse grip with both weapons and block downward with Morote Gedan Uchi such that the Monouchi of both weapons cross at your center line.
- Retract both arms to set position then step forward into Zenkutsu Dachi as you deliver Morote Chudan Tsuki striking with the Saki of both weapons.
- Change back to a standard grip for both weapons as you pull back to Heiko Dachi and lower your hands to your sides. You may now either end the drill or proceed to step 2 above to repeat the drill or perform the drill on the opposite side.
This drill can be performed on either or both sides. It is deliberately vague about angles and right or left side movement so that either a right or left handed person can perform the drill. Naturally, you will benefit from being able to do the drill seamlessly on both sides, but learn it first on your dominant side.
This drill is not something you need to practice. We include it only for those who are curious and wish to explore this aspect of Sai usage. Do not perform this drill in your Dojo without the direct permission and supervision of the Head Instructor. This drill should be done outdoors in either soft soil (sand) or on grass (be careful not to break any sprinkler piping) when there is no chance that a weapon will strike another adult, a child, or a curious pet. You will want to use a fairly inexpensive pair of weapons for this drill as hidden rocks, errant throws, or weapon-to-weapon collisions can take their toll on the Sai you elect to use. The Sai should have a fairly small Saki to facilitate penetration into the earth, but the Saki need not be especially sharp.
Start by placing a soft stick or length of bamboo firmly into the ground so it projects upward roughly a foot above the ground. This stick should be oriented vertically. Stand back three or four feet from the stick and hold the Sai in a reverse grip. The Yoko should be oriented so they are both parallel to the ground (i.e. not aligned vertically). Keeping your wrist straight, swing the weapon in a downward direction and release your grip when you feel the Sai will land adjacent to the vertical stick. The goal is to have the stick encircled by the Monouchi and one Yoko. The Saki should be driven firmly into the ground. This throw simulates trapping a person’s leg causing the person to trip or preventing his or her escape.
The key to throwing accurately is to not involve the wrist in the throw. If the wrist moves or flexes you will find it difficult to accurately throw the weapon as the wrist will flex somewhat differently on each throw. Simply use the extension of the elbow joint to guide the throw. Maintain a relatively fixed wrist position. Then the only other variables you need to contend with are aiming accurately and timing the weapon release.
You may also draw the outline of a foot just forward of the vertical stick. You could draw this with a stick or use powdered chock or some other substance to create a suitable outline. Now throw in front of the vertical stick so that the Sai would impale the foot.
You can also move away from the vertical stick somewhere between ten and twenty feet and practice long distance throwing. This is more difficult to do well due to the distance and angles involved. The goals remain the same, however, either entrap the lag or impale the foot. Neither of these will be easily accomplished with great accuracy when you first begin.