Raphael Teaches Sai Fighting: A Review by Chris and Vincent

Raphael Sai training manual cover

Chris: It was really just blind luck that I happened upon the Donatello/bo fighting manual that we reviewed. But since Vincent is also studying sais, he asked me to look for the Raphael book. So I looked and looked and found it.

Vincent: I’m excited for this. As much fun as the bo is to use, sai are so much more fun. Thanks, bro! I want to say again that I’m far from an expert, since I only have a yellow belt in Kobudo. This book doesn’t say what style of martial arts they’re using, but a lot of the moves are very similar to Kobudo, so I can tell what they’re trying to do a lot easier than the bo book.

Also, I didn’t realize Raphael’s name was spelled with an “f”.

Chris: It’s definitely not. Which just goes to show the level of quality control on display here. The publisher, Solson, licensed the characters from Mirage Studios.

Raphael sai page 1

Vincent: I feel like there’s one too many Raphaels.

Chris: Uh… Hmmm. I get what the artist was going for here but I think the big background Raphael ends up making for chaotic art, especially in black and white. Needs at least some textures thrown in there. Also, Raphael doesn’t have his belt on in pretty much all of these images but he definitely always wears one because it’s where he “holsters” his sai when he’s not using them. The art looks rushed. Maybe as the last manual the artist was burnt out.

raphael sai holding and punching exercise

Chris: Wait. Step one is learn how to flip the sai? I don’t don’t that it’s important to have both grips down but I would have expected grip to be the first thing they’d teach you. Like, I legit don’t know what the main grip for a sai would be. Pointing outwards? Handles first? And then the punch seems to indicate you’re supposed to stick your finger out which would absolutely result in a broken finger. That much I’m sure of.

Vincent: Um yeah. Step one should be the proper grips for the sai, then learning how to flip. I’m actually writing an article that will get down into the nitty gritty of this more, but I have to take a lot of pictures and I’m notoriously lazy.

As far as that punch goes, yes your index finger sticks out. However, it rests on the handle of the sai. and since it’s shorter than the handle it’s not in danger of getting broken. This helps provide control, but more importantly makes it easy to flip back. The art is kinda failing us on this one. His big meaty turtle finger isn’t helping either. Here’s a pic of me holding it that way:

Holding a sai

raphael sai straight punch

Chris: Okay, I think I can actually follow this diagram. It’s like you throw each punch while bringing the opposite arm back. Then a double punch of some sort. In the middle, just hold the sai however you want and put your clothes back on. Got it.

Vincent: I should have mentioned this with the Bo book, but those images between the steps do make this more confusing. They should have put text into that space that further explained whatever they’re trying to show you.

raphael sai caution

Chris: Oh, sai are dangerous. You should NOT pierce your abdomen with them. Got it.

Vincent: Unless you’re a turtle, then go nuts. This probably should have been a useful bit of information to include before they had you doing all the punches…

Chris: Step one: throw a sai punch. Step two: stab self and bleed. Step three: learn how to hold a sai. Step four: profit!

raphael sai strikes

Chris: I could follow page one for the most part. Although figure 3 is a thinker. But the horizontal strikes don’t make sense to me. I am especially befuddled by figures 2 and 3. Did your sensei just have you hold them any damn way you pleased?

Vincent: Okay so there are two main grips with a third we haven’t really learned yet (#6 here). I have no idea where these other grips are coming from, so maybe they’re valid in other martial arts systems or more advanced type stuff. The art really isn’t doing us any favors here.

Also, I’m not sure about that “horizontal strike.” I don’t think the art is really showing us what they’re trying to do there.

raphael sai upward block

Chris: The extra illustrations on the pages really mess with me. I always read left to right, up to down, z-pattern style and then realize there’s an extra “fun” illustration in there that isn’t a step. After I figured that out, I understand what they’re going for here. The block makes sense although the grip in figure 3 doesn’t seem natural to me. Could work, maybe?

Vincent: This block does work. I think our three fingered turtle friend is helping with the confusion on that grip. It really doesn’t look natural for him.

They also show have said that the sai blade is supposed to rest a little to the outside of your forearm. That block isn’t going to do any good if a weapon hits the fleshy part that’s not covered on the outside (the goal of blocking is to push the weapon to the side as you block.) And generally many of our sai vs. weapon moves we’ve learned so far have the blades of the sai pointed out. I think you’d be using these type of blocks more against an unarmed opponent that will be meeting hand or foot against the sai.

raphael sai upward x block

Chris: I see what they’re doing here but man, you must have to have really strong wrists to block effectively this way. They should mention how you need to learn how to lock your wrist and toughen it up, too. It’s as though learning martial arts from a book isn’t the most effective method.

Vincent: We’ve been shown this one for a punch coming at you. I believe that if you’re quick enough with it you’ll hurt the other person’s wrist enough to give you time to follow through with a counterattack (but personally I’d just avoid the punch or hit their incoming hand with one sai and hit them on top of the head (or poke them in the chest or neck with the other.) I’ve also seen this move used to trap swords. I’m not sure of the physics of it, but I don’t think wrists are that big of a problem here. I think committing both of your offensive weapons to the block is risky.

Chris: I am pretty fast. Maybe I could use this move to block a few bullets.

raphael sai downward block

Chris: Here’s my interpretation of this one. Between figures 1 and 2, remember to flip the sai. Hold it against your body while pointing one of them out for a while. Place them down by your sides leaving yourself wide open to attack. Have a smushed head. Let your legs disappear.

Vincent: This one is fairly accurate, except that the blade of the sai should continue to rest on your forearm. Generally with this type of move you’d quickly follow up with some sort of counterattack with your opposite hand, which is “chambered” here, but you could easily do this block with the other in a more ready position. Basically, when you’re blocking like this you’re usually deflecting (in a way that it’ll take a second for your opponent to recover) and taking a step forward to close the distance and counterattacking.

raphael sai centerfold

Vincent: In my longer, more boring post about sai that I’m going to point out how that stabbing grip probably isn’t the best. But then again we’re not trained to jump from the moon to attack our opponents.

Chris: Wouldn’t it have made more sense for the ninja to be a bad guy instead of Leonardo? It looks like Leo is about to die.

raphael sai block and strike steps

Chris: Outside block = dance like you’re in the Thriller music video. Got it. The roundhouse elbow strike actually makes sense to me. Like, it’s the most clear move I’ve seen in one of the manuals. It even seems to indicate a small amount of footwork. I wish they’d use the arrows more.

Vincent: “Double Outside Block” is nearly incomprehensible. I don’t understand what he’s doing. Where are the arrows to indicate movement?! The attack instructions here are likewise useless.

raphael sai combinations

Chris: That is some really really bad lettering for comics. Not spaced in an oval within the balloon, too fat of a tail, even hyphenated words. Just bad. Oh, I also don’t understand what is backhanded about this.

Vincent: Karate and Kobudo are fun for their overwhelming amount of force. The goal is to avoid a fight as much as possible, but if you get into one completely destroy your opponent.

I think the back hand is that the strikes are coming from inside out? Some arrows would have been helpful here.

raphael sai training

Chris: The illustrations here are legible enough but I don’t think they represent a low stance very well. Raphael looks completely off-balance by the end. But it’s all saved by that grouchy monster face yelling at me to relax and sink.

Vincent: It would have been really helpful to actually draw the stances and label them like horse, eagle, and cat. Instead of having really poor interpretations of what may or may be the stances they’re trying to depict.

raphael sai versus other weapons

Chris: I bet it’s especially easy to disarm an opponent that just stands there. Like, Donatello is clearly not moving at all from one figure to the next until he gets the back of his leg impaled and he’s pushed over. Back to computers for you, Don.

Vincent: I really don’t know about this one. Almost every move we’ve been taught against weapons is with the blades pointed out. This gives you a bit more distance and control over other weapons. And against the bo we’re shown how to not only block, but optionally catch the weapon in the prongs of the sai so the opponent can’t easily strike back as you hit them with the other one. This is a weird one where Raphael seems to step back before his next strike. Seems like the kind of move I’d be shown in class and think, “Well, I’d never use this one in a real fight.”

And this is it, Chris? Wow, they’re missing a LOT of useful stuff for the sai.

Chris: Sorry pal. This is everything you need to know about sais to be an expert. I didn’t include the ads this time because they were all the same as last issue.