Sai, which are used as weapons in ancient martial arts (kobudō), has been studied by warriors (bujin) since the Ryukyu Kingdom era. Originally used by the Buddhist monks of the Shaolin Temple in China, it is said that the tip was rounded and not sharp. It can be seen that it was not a tool to stab and kill, but a tool to let live and to arrest. Even in the Ryukyu Kingdom, officials of the government office called “Hirajo”, which was in charge of police functions such as maintaining security, carried Sai and used it to escort the king, put crowds to order, and to arrest criminals.
Kyan Shin’ei (1912-97) was born in Higa, Kitanakagusuku Village. Since Kina Shōsei, who was a teacher when Kyan was in elementary school, was good at Sai, he admired him and started martial arts under his personal instruction. He seemed so confident in his skill that he said, “Since I [first] grabbed [them], I never dropped a Sai.”
During his days at the normal school [in Shuri] he also joined the karate club and trained. His karate follows the styles of Yabu Kentsū and Hanashiro Chōmo.
In an interview, Kyan explained, “Sai is a very interesting martial art because it is abundant in wrist manipulations and varied movements. That’s why I’ve been doing Sai for 40 years until today. I don’t remember training having been difficult.”
Since every country has martial arts for the preservation of its nation/race/ethnic group, he talks about his pet theory, saying, “Unlike the martial arts of the world, Okinawa’s Sai are not to stab the opponent or for self-protection, but the aim is to appease the opponent without causing injury, and it has a deep meaning that cannot be fully expressed in words. As a weapon modeled after the human body, the Okinawan Sai is also an abstract symbol of the Platonic ideal of peace.
At the Okinawa Kobudō Presentation Meet held at the Naha Theater in 1961, Kina performed Sai (kata 1) and Kyan performed Sai (kata 2) on stage with his teacher, Kina Shōsei.
At that time, Kyan was the secretary-general of the Okinawa Teachers Association. Before the Kobudō presentation meet he emphasized, “I would like to make use of Sai and Bō, which are unique to my native place, a physical exercise equipment and make them a subject of physical education in schools. My present performance is an individual martial arts demonstration, but when done as a group performance, I think it is good as a physical education, to inherit the fine Kobujutsu left by our ancestors, and in that sense it is also good from an educational standpoint. We have an obligation to hand it down more to the younger generations.
Afterwards Kyan served as the chairman of the Okinawa Prefecture Reversion Council until 1971, driving the movement of reversion of Okinawa to Japan. He ran as a candidate for the House of Councillors in 1970, and since he was elected for the first time, he has continued to bring attention to the “Spirit of Okinawan” (Okinawa no kokoro) in national affairs for five terms and twenty-four years until he retired in 1995. The background to this is the strong spiritual power he has cultivated over many years in the practice of Karate and Kobudō.
The above is a translation of the following article:
Series of Biographies of Okinawa Kobudo (7): Control the opponent without causing injury. Kyan Shinei (1912-97). Sai. Bringing attention to Okinawa’s platonic ideal of peace. Weekly Okinawa Karate, No. 248. Okinawa Times, January 9, 2022.
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