The sai – a metal baton-like weapon with two hooks – is a traditional weapon in many different martial arts from around the world. India, Malaysia, China, Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia all used the sai as a weapon and tool before it made its way to Japan. Studies suggest that the sai was developed from another instrument, the trisula (a trident-like weapon). Because of the trisula’s importance in Hindu-Buddhist religion, the theory is that the sai thus originated in India and spread across the Pacific region with Hinduism and Buddhism.
The sai eventually came to Okinawa, where it served as a police instrument for arrests and crowd control, and Prince Moto Chohei perfected its technique in 1668. From Okinawa, the weapon evolved again before becoming a part of the Japanese mainland’s culture. One hook was removed, creating the jutte, which was adopted by the police in Japan for jabbing and bludgeoning.
The sai and jutte were excellent weapons for defending against swords, and the jutte gained its own discipline, juttejutsu. Juttejutsu was developed by law enforcement in the Edo Period, and made the officers exceptionally effective at disarming and apprehending swordsmen. The officer could deflect the blade, and get inside for quick strikes to the head, wrists, hands, and solar plexus.
There are 18 disciplines of ninjutsu, but juttejutsu is not one of them. The closest equivalent is shurikenjutsu, with small handheld knives or circular discs (shuriken) as the weapon. Shurikenjutsu’s origins are not well documented, but the art itself survived over the years because of the shuriken’s versatility as both a hand-to-hand combat tool and a throwing weapon. During the Meiji Era in Japan, swords were outlawed by the government, and with them went use of shuriken. However, men such as Kanji Naruse and Fujita Seiko preserved the art in their writings for generations.
In all of pop culture, perhaps no individual and weapon are more recognizable than Raphael and the sai. As a rough-and-tumble hardhead with a short fuse, Raph’s weapon is a perfect fit. If hand-to-hand combat is what someone lives for, then an implement designed specifically for quick, effective body strikes is key. Raph turns them into extensions of his own arms for purposes of stabbing, cutting, bludgeoning, and occasionally throwing.
The weapon is also perfect for Raphael’s rivalry with Leonardo. Leo is the epitome of ninjutsu, unwavering in discipline and training to his very core. His success always leaves his less skilled brother feeling inferior, so the best way to gain some advantage is to master an instrument designed specifically for countering him. The sai was meant for disarming swordsmen, and it therefore makes the most sense for Raph.
However, studies in ninjutsu suggest a problem with the sai. While no weapon is technically off limits to a martial artist, and the ninja may need to attack with such an implement from time-to-time, there is no ninjutsu discipline for the sai, or even the jutte. There is a juttejutsu, but it’s not one of the practices need for mastering ninjutsu. In the strictest sense then, Raphael’s signature weapon has no place in the art.
What this implies is that Raphael is actually the least developed in ninja training. For someone like Leonardo, this would be a problem, and result in deep reflection. But for Raphael, choosing something separated from tradition shows ingenuity and promise. Raph marches to the beat of his own drum, and wants to be allowed to do things his way. With the sai he is accomplishing just that, and potentially developing brand new disciplines for a unique style of ninjutsu. Creating something no enemy has ever witnessed would give him considerable advantage in battle with any traditional ninja master.
Even though the sai isn’t a natural weapon of ninjutsu, Raphael makes it work, and creates an advantage that the average outside observer would never question. He is a truly unique warrior that should never be underestimated, and will someday prove that his way is just as worthy as anyone else’s. He doesn’t have to chase Leonardo, because he’s forging a completely different path that will be equal to all others.