Bushi Matsumura

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BUSHI MATSUMURA SOKON 松村宗棍
by Scot Mertz

Unyu, Bucho, Wu Chengda, Kayo Sokon, Kiyo Sokon, Bu Seitatsu Unyu
1809-1899 (Tomb Dates, confirmed by family Koseki)

Before we start on Matsumura himself, we need to take a look at his family.  According to documentation from the Bureau of Genealogies, Esu Anji Soso was the founder of the house of Bu (武).  The family name was Kayo (or Kiyo) spelled as 嘉陽, and this was the family name from around 1719 until around 1790, then many of the family members changed the name to Muramatsu (村松) and others changed it to Kiyo (井陽), later in 1861 the majority of the family reverted their name back to Kiyo.  Sokon being of the linear lineage kept the family name throughout.

Family lineage: (Name, Chinese Name, dates)
Ensu Anji Soso - Bu Genmin - 1472
Soju - Bu Sei'an - 1519
Zayasu Okite Pechin So'ei - Bu Sho'an - 1468-1560
Kobashikawa Okite Pechin Somo - Bu Eiso - 1519-1585
Noguni Pechin Sosho - Bu Juntoku - 1567-1648
Noguni Pechin Soho - Bu Kaishun - 1599-unk
Sobi - Bu Tokusei - 1649-1718
Sosa - Bu Eiho - 1675-1740
Soryu - Bu Chuyu - 1698-unk *exiled to Miyako 1729*
Soju - Bu Shisu - 1708-1752 - Had no legitimate sons
Sosho - Bu Yosho - 1714-1777 - Grandson of Sobi - Continued lineage
Shoshi - Bu Tokuon - 1742-1786
Sofuku - Bu Kosho - 1766-1828
Sokon - Bu Seitatsu - 1809-1899


On May 30, 1809 a young Kiyo Sokon (井陽宗棍) was born in Yamakawa Village to Kiyo Sofuku and Yoshie.  Kiyo Sokon was the 10th generation of the Bu clan (武) and the 7th generation of the Mo (莫) clan.  His father was Chinese (from the 36 families) and his mother was Ryukyuan.  Sokon was a fast study in Chinese and was called Wu Chengda by his Chinese friends (Bu Seitatsu in Japanese) and later in life when he traveled to China he used the name again.  The Bu and Mo families were always associated with great martial artists, and because of his ability to learn quickly and natural talent he also became a great martial artist.


Sokon trained with his father from 1821 to 1825 and learned Kake, Kumite, Shima, and bojutsu.  It was during this time that Sokon learned the value of Bun Bu Ryo Do (文武両道), which is the ability to balance physical training with mental training.


In 1826 Sokon entered into the service of the Ryukyu King Sho Ko.  At this point Sokon’s surname of Kiyo (井陽) was abandoned, as was the tradition for Royal guards.  When his name was changed to Matsumura (松村), Sokon was given the title of Chikudan Pechin.


Shortly after entering service Matsumura began training with the man who he was replacing.  This man was named Pechin Kojo Chinpe (also known as Umare Bushi of Kume, Nmari Bushi, Higa Kanematsu, Higa Machu, and Matsu Higa).


(**family legend**)  In 1828 King Sho Ko was conducting a plot to overthrow the Satsuma samurai that were on Okinawa.  Sho Ko sent Kojo and Matsumura to China as part of an envoy to try local training and possibly garner support for a military coup on Okinawa to oust the Satsuma.  This trip lasted for around 4 years.  Later in 1828 Sho Ko abdicated.


During his time in China Matsumura studied martial arts under several different instructors.  Some of them were also military attachés such as Iwa (Yáo Wéi Bó/瑶違伯) and Ason (Liú Lóng Gōng/劉龍公).  However he also looked at traditional martial arts and spent a lot of time at the Shaolin Temple (南少林) in Fujian province.  It was likely through this experience in China that Matsumura was first introduced to the idea of “kata”.


Matsumura returned to Okinawa in 1832.  He had just returned home when the new king, Sho Iku, told Matsumura that he needed a swordsman as a bodyguard.   In 1832 Matsumura traveled to Kagoshima, to train in Jigen Ryu from the legendary Ijuin Yashichiro.  Matsumura spent a total of 5 years learning Jigen Ryu.


Matsumura returned to Okinawa in 1837.  In 1838 he married a young woman named Yonamine Tsuru (與那嶺鶴).  At this time Matsumura was 30 years old, and his wife, Tsuru, was around 16.  Tsuru-sama was a bit of a tomboy growing up, and a lot of the locals in her village of Yonahara (area around Shuri Castle) use to call her "Yonamine no Bushi Tsuru".  Her family owned a business called the Yonahara Yonamine, they would sell items for the local farmers.  It was kind of like a farmer’s market.


Between 1838 and 1860 Matsumura Sokon became a highly trusted advisor of King Sho Iku, and the personal tutor of the young King Sho Tai.   He continued to train with local masters, such as Lord Yabiku, Lord Motobu, and various other famous karateka of the day.  Also during this time Matsumura produced quite a few writings and poetry, for his artist works he would sign his name as Unyu.


In 1860, Matsumura made a second trip to China as part of the Royal Emissary.  While there he made arrangements with the Ryukyukan in Fuzhou and ultimately came back from China in 1865 with Kojo Tatei, Kojo Isei, and Iwa (Yáo Wéi Bó/瑶違伯).


On March 11, 1879 King Sho Tai gave power of the Ryukyu Kingdom to Japan as part of the Haihan-Chiken (廃藩置県).  Chinese Viceroy Li Hongzhang (李鴻章) protested the annexation, and tried to enter discussions with former US President Ulysses S. Grant and other foreign dignitaries with no avail.


It should be noted that the Kiyo family name changed shortly after 1879.  There was an issue with families who had Chinese kanji in their names.  井陽 was considered too Chinese; the first character was changed back to 嘉陽 and pronounced as Kayo or Kaiyo.  This did not affect Matsumura himself, but all of his family had to adhere to the change.  To this day the family uses 嘉陽.


By the end of 1879 Matsumura became the guard at the Royal Gardens (御番, Uban), and was teaching karate to locals who were interested in the old ways of combat.  During this time there were several letters penned by Matsumura, most of them were signed as "Bucho".


Matsumura Sokon passed away on August 8, 1899.  Some of his students included Pechin Sakihara, Pechin Sakuma, Pechin Kiyuna, Ishimine Bishi, Kyan Chotoku, Motobu Choyu, Yabu Kentsu, Kuwaye Ryosei, Hanashiro Chomo, Chinen Sanda, Chikudun Pechin Tawada Shinboku, Itarashiki Chochu, Asato Anko, and Chibana Chosho.

Researchers Scot Mertz and Andy Sloane at the tomb of Bushi Matsumura in 2015

--- This research was compiled from various sources, the bulk of which was from interviews with family members of the Kayo family and direct descendants of Matsumura.  Family documentation was referenced for many of the dates.  Additionally the Bu Clan (house of Kayo) Genealogies from Shuri was referenced as was documentation from the Kojo (Koshiro) family for supporting references.  Some of this was also validated against research by Andreas Quast and his book Karate 1.0 and other conversations. ---

Effort and Opportunity

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Had a very unusual exchange a few nights ago with a parent of one of my students.  In so many words, I was conducting testing, but her child was not involved due to lack of time in grade.  Didn’t think anything of it, so the junior kids usually watch the tests so they can get familiar with how the testing is done and what is expected of them.  This particular testing was for junior kids age 5-8 and it was from white (9th kyu) to orange (8th kyu).
 
After the testing was completed and the remainder of class was done the mother came up to me and said that she felt that I was not giving her child an equal opportunity to test as the other children did and that it would only be fair if I awarded her child with an orange belt too, as her child participated by being present and watching the others.
 
Kind of bewildered by this, I explained that her child was not ready to test and that there was time in grade requirements.  All of my students receive books that cover the curriculum that they are required to know, and there are signature pages where everything is checked multiple times before the individual is allowed to test.  Her child did not have the book filled out, didn’t have the time in grade requirement, and didn’t know the material.  So she persisted that I should still give her child something anyway because of their participation.  So what I did next was probably not the right thing, but I called her child over and asked “can you perform Gekisai Dai ichi?”, the child responded “I don’t know that kata yet”, so I thanked the child and sent him on his merry way.  Looked at the mother and said “your kid doesn’t know the material; I can’t test him yet”.  With this she threw a bit of a hissy fit and took her child and left.
 
So what I would like to really cover is equal opportunity doesn’t mean equal outcome.  It seems like a lot of these younger parents (age 24 and younger) seem to not really understand that just because you are presented the opportunity to do something doesn’t mean that you are guaranteed the same outcome.  Meaning the real root of equal opportunity is being able to take a class, the outcome however is the result of how much time and work you put into it.  If taking a test for example and one person gets an “A” and another person gets a “F”, this doesn’t mean that it’s violating equal opportunity for the person who received the “F”, they were still granted the opportunity to take the test.  The outcome being the grade should not be altered because they participated in the test, but it is a result of the effort that went into it on that person’s part.  If the person comes back saying they felt that it was not fair that someone received an “A” and they received an “F” and they deserve an “A” because they took the same test and participated in class, this still goes back to outcome verses opportunity.  Equal opportunity is not equal outcome.  There are no participation trophies in life, and there shouldn’t be in karate either.  Effort = outcome.
 
Gambatte Kudasai,
Scot

Oshima Hikki (大島筆記)

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What follows is a quick translation and summary of the Oshima Hikki 大島筆記 followed by some important points that seem to have not been made public knowledge with this note.  Additionally if you would like to read this note for yourself and do your own translation you can find a scan one of one of the originals here at the University of the Ryukyus page.  All of my translation notes and footnotes will be in (* text *). If something is a different color try clicking on it!

Quick Translation and Highlights

On the 26th of April 1762 a Ryukyuan Tribute ship left the port of Naha and was headed to the Satsuma domain as it’s final destination.  (*The Satsuma domain 薩摩藩 is located on Kyushu, the southern island of Japan.  It was essentially the lower 3/4 of the island.*)  The first stop in the voyage was in Unten, which is in mid Okinawa, not far from Yayagi Island and Kouri Island.

The ship attempted to get underway from Unten several times, but bad storms and winds associated with 2 typhoons kept the ship in port.  The ship was finally able to get underway on 13 Jul 1762.  However three days later the ship met another typhoon in open ocean.  This time the mast and helm were damaged and the ship partially capsized.  The mast was ultimately cut off to allow the ship to return to a somewhat level pitch.  The ship floated with a north/northeast heading for three days like this.

On the third day land was spotted, the chief officer on board, Shionja Pechin, identified the land as being somewhere near Shikoku province Japan.

In the morning of 21 Jul 1762 the local authorities from identified the boat and asked them to drop anchor while the Satsuma authority was contacted.

On 22 Jul 1762 the boat was pulled by tugboat to Oshima, and the crew was put in a guesthouse ran by the local government.

The next section of the Oshima Hikki deals with the crew and inventory found on the ship.  Ryoen Tobe (*the man who wrote the Oshima Hikki*) recorded everything as close as possible to what was being said.

Ship’s Crew

There were four Ryukyuan Pechin onboard the boat.

Shionja Pechin (*Minister of Foreign Affairs*)
Gushi Satonushi Pechin (*Shionja Pechin's younger brother*)
Teruya Satonushi Pechin (*Shionja Pechin's cousin*)
Shionja Shi (*Shionja’s son*)


Ship’s Captain and Helmsman

Captain Takara
Helmsman Toma

Additional Crew

Two clerks, One Buddhist priest, Seven assistant clerks, Six extras, and 26 sailors.

After this section is an inventory of what was on the ship and interviews that were conducted either by Ryoen Tobe or by the Japanese authorities that Ryoen overheard and copied down into his report.

Concerning Kusanku

The mention of Kusanku comes from the ship’s captain.  He was recounting a time that he was in China and he mentioned that he saw a small man performing a demonstration where he defeated several larger men.  He did this with very little effort.  The name Kusanku as it is written means “Government Official” or “Mr. Government Official”, which is an indication that the captain never learned the name of the individual giving the demonstration, only that he was employed by the Chinese government.

Ending notes

The Oshima Hikki is a very cool document to read through, it is a bit of a tough read because it’s not in modern Japanese but well worth the effort.  Kusanku, NEVER visited Okinawa according to the note, the ship’s captain was just recounting a demonstration that he saw in China.  The ship itself never went to China on that trip, but instead was going from Naha to the Kagoshima area.  I think this can’t be stressed enough that the story that has been put out with the Oshima Hikki wasn’t really transmitted well and not many people seem to have gone back and actually researched or translated it.  One last note is the kata that is presently known as Kusanku has really been named that for about 100 to 120 years, the original name for that kata was Ufukun (大君).

Gambatte Kudasai!!!
Scot

Karate Rank and Titles

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There seems to be a lot of confusion on the Internet regarding titles.  So I hope this blog will at least make the water somewhat less muddy.

The use of titles in martial arts stems from the Dai Nippon Butokukai (大日本武徳会).  A lot of the members from the pre-WW2 Butokukai were also members of the Japanese government and military, so when the DNBK would issue titles it would come from someone with that type of authority.  The three titles that were originally issued from the DNBK were: Renshi (錬士), Kyoshi (教士), and Hanshi (範士).

These titles have a somewhat militaristic meaning to them.  So to break these down.

Renshi -  (錬) Tempering/Refine/drill/polish (士) Warrior – These are your lower level teachers who are typically around a 6th dan (Rokudan Renshi), and are considered people who have the full curriculum (Menkyo Kaiden) but are still working on refining techniques.

Kyoshi – (教) Teach (士) Warrior – These are really individuals who should be focused on teaching.  They are considered a master teacher, they should know the full curriculum and be able to teach it with a high level of understanding.  This typically comes in at 7th dan.  Additionally in the education system teachers are called Kyoshi spelled like 教師.

Hanshi (範) Model/Example (士) Warrior – These are senior level teachers who have spent many years teaching and now may be the head of a group or organization.  They should fully understand the curriculum that they were taught and be able to transmit the style with a high level of accuracy.  In Japan and Okinawa a Hanshi can be an 8th dan and above.  In styles like Kendo an 8th dan is the highest obtainable rank.

In my opinion if there is any SHU/HA/RI, it should be between Renshi, Kyoshi, and Hanshi level individuals.  Prior to that students should be learning the curriculum, not trying to incorporate their own ideas into it as "training".  That is really something for someone who has already got the training and understands it well enough to incorporate things that are meaningful.

So those are the three titles that started this whole mess.  After WW2 the DNBK was dissolved on 9 November 1946 as part of the post war treaty with the US, many of the senior members even lost their government jobs, and they were not re-established until 1953.  However the newly established DNBK no longer had any government or military backing, and many of the senior members left for other groups and never returned.

Since 1953 many of the martial arts groups started incorporating new titles and licenses for their patrons.  Some of these new titles include:

Shihan (師範) – Essentially a chief instructor of a dojo.
Shidoin (指導員) – Intermediate level instructor (regardless of grade).
Saiko Shihan (最高師範) – Senior chief instructor, top instructor in an organization.

The most recent edition to martial art titles is Soke (宗家).  Soke is a whole different can of worms because it is actually a legal title for someone who is an inheritor.  This is typically done through a family’s koseki (戸籍), which is a family register.  This becomes enacted when someone passed away, the soke is the heir to the estate and they usually take care of things for the deceased person, such as funerals, any back property taxes, and things of that nature.  In the martial arts they use it as someone who has inherited a system from someone.  Which is misleading at best.

The Martial Art soke is someone who claims to be an inheritor of a style, but this does not work the way many people think that it does.  To say that it’s used loosely is an understatement.  So let’s look at a style such as Gojuryu.  The founder of Gojuryu, Miyagi Chojun, never left a clear inheritor of the system.  His family eventually said that Yagi Meitoku sensei was the heir only because he was there the longest, but Yagi sensei never once to my knowledge claimed the “soke” title, nor did any of his students or other student’s of Miyagi Chojun.  Yet after his death an individual from mainland Japan that had only attended a single seminar (at best) with Miyagi in Kyoto claimed to be the only true heir to Gojuryu.  How is this even possible?  The answer is, it is not.  There are several examples of this throughout the martial arts.  Lots of shady business when it comes to the use of soke, and the vast majority of people who claim this title have no business claiming it.

When it comes to ranking, as a 7th dan, I will not promote my own students to black belt.  Because as a 7th dan who am I to think I can award something like a shodan to someone?  These should all be awarded by the head of the organization from a panel type testing, and not from a single individual.  What I will do is evaluate them and give a recommendation to my teacher in Okinawa (who is a 10th dan).  But no testing is done or rank is awarded unless he sees them in person and is in agreement with my recommendation or retests them with several of his senior students present to give input.  I started doing this back in 2013 as a way to knock off any perception of impropriety within my dojo.  We really do try to do things on the up and up, and I don’t take the idea of giving someone rank lightly.

So when it comes to this stuff, ethics is key.  Someone claiming a title like Hanshi, Soke, Shihan, or even Grandmaster is likely NOT what they are claiming to be.  The real people out there know how they are suppose to act if they actually have a title, and forcing others to call them by a title is not the way to do it.  Always try to be ethical, do the right thing, train hard, and there are no secret made up titles that will actually give a person knowledge.

Onegaishimasu!
Scot

Karate Rituals

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In karate there are a lot of really strange practices, most of which have meaning behind them, but for one reason or another the meaning was not passed along or properly conveyed to foreign students. Seeing what some of these practices have become is absolutely insane and the Western reasons for doing them have completely distorted the original meaning.
 
Wooden airplane made by the Melanesian people.
 
Shomen (正面) is a good example of this. I would compare this practice in a lot of ways to how the people of Melanesia would build wooden planes after WW2 and make sacrifices to the planes in hopes that they would come back and drop food. First of all, a Shomen is an object that is at the front of a dojo, it’s not a blank wall or the front of the basketball court or racquetball court. A proper shomen usually takes up a large portion of the wall, it has shelves, pictures, and sometimes personal items from the people who have gone before. A lesser version of this is a kamidana (kamiza/神棚), which is a shelf that acts as a simplified version of the shomen. Sometimes even a shinden (神傳) is put up (looks like a miniature temple) which also serves as a substitute shomen. So the real point of the shomen is to show respect to those who have gone before, namely your sensei’s sensei and his teachers. They shouldn’t be generic by any means; they should be very specific to the lineage of that dojo.
 
Shomen from the Shinjikan Dojo in Okinawa (Toyama Zenshu Hanshi's dojo)
 
So what to do if the front wall is blank? There are two acceptable methods for handling a non-shomen situation. First is to skip the shomen ni rei (正面に礼) and just do a sensei ni rei (先生に礼) instead. This puts the sensei, who is at the front of the room as the “person who has gone before”…. odd that is what sensei actually translates to! The second one is to do a mutual bow throughout the group with otagai ni rei (お互いに礼). The whole point of the bowing in ritual is to show respect to the people who have gone before, the one who is currently teaching, and each other.
 
Never blindly do things in your karate practice. Everything has a purpose, always question this and find the correct answer.
 
Gambatte Kudasai!
Scot

Chinto's Cave

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There seems to be a common misconception in the west about Chinto.  At first I believed the stories about him being a pirate and living in a cave and what not too, but when I started researching this matter it really started falling apart very quickly.  So this is summary of what I found out about the event itself and the cave that is attributed to Chinto.

So first thing first, let's look at "Chinto's Cave".  This is really important so please make sure to note this, but infront of the cave is a marker stone.  The kanji on this stone says "地頭火神", which translates to "Temple of the Fire God".  Wait, Chinto wasn't a fire God!  Right... he wasn't, and he didn't live in this cave either.  This cave is called Furuferin Dokutsu (フルフェーリン洞窟), and is believed to be the home of the Hinukan (の神), who is the God of the Hearth in the original Okinawan religion called Tenpi.

The cave itself is very shallow, and inside there is a shrine to the fire god.  I asked several Okinawan people who were in the area what they knew about the cave and I got the same response from every one of them, that is the cave of the Hearth God.  Saying it's the cave of Chinto is just karate business to bring tourists to the area, but the cave itself is significant to the Okinawan people, just not how karate salesmen want you to think it is.

Ok now onto Chinto himself.  There are 4 sources that were used to put this information together, since not all of them told the full story.  Three of these sources are from the Ryukyu Shimpo from 1899, 1904, and 1914.  The fourth was a side note in the koseki of the Teruya family.

There is a string of events that you also need to be aware of and it explains why this individual was treated the way he was.  First is what is called the "Mudan Incident".  The Mudan Incident occurred in 1871, when 54 shipwrecked Ryukyuan sailors crashed on Taiwan.  Forty-two of these sailors were murdered by the aboriginal people of Taiwan, and the remaining 12 were rescued by some Han Chinese and were transferred to Miyako (宮古島) and handed over to the Japanese Navy who got their story then returned them home.  This story of the murder of 42 Ryukyuan sailors was not taken lightly and in 1874 the Japanese Navy retaliated against Taiwan.

So now that you have some of the background, let's look at 1872.  In late spring of 1872 a man washed ashore near Onna Village Okinawa.  He spoke a strange dialect of Chinese that the residents of Onna couldn't figure out, so they suspected he was from Taiwan, and because of this the Pechin in the area arrested him and took him to the Tomari area to try to find a translator who could communicate with the man.  The Pechin Matsumora Kosaku ultimately took charge of the man and found a translator.  The dialect he spoke in was Minh Chinese, which was a bit different from what most of the local people were used to hearing.  During the questioning of the man, it was discovered that his name was Mr. Lao (no first name is ever mentioned in any of the sources), he was a sailor from a merchant ship that was headed to Korea and a typhoon got them off course.  He was from Nan'an (南安市 /map) in the southern Fujian Province.  Shortly after this the local Pechin released the man and told him he could go home.  Mr. Lao was staying with the Teruya family in Tomari awaiting transportation, and began teaching a style of Nanquan that he knew to make money so he could pay for quicker accommodations to go home, he was only on Okinawa for a few months.

So what did this man teach?  Luckily for us in a 1904 interview with Asato Anko he covered who learned what from Mr. Lao or the man from Fukushu Annan (which is Uchinaguchi for Fujian Nan'an).  The material listed is:  Gusukuma and Kanashiro learned Chinto kata.  Matsumora and Yamada learned Chinte kata.  Yamada (Geiki) learned Ji'in kata.  Nakazato learned Jitte kata.

In summary, the common story about Chinto being in a cave and whatnot is actually somewhat linked to old Okinawan folklore (not related to this event).  It seems that over the years with the telling and retelling of this story elements and different people kept coming into play which actually had nothing to do with this event.  I am very sorry to let everyone down with this, but from what I can tell this is the truth of the event.  There was no cave (the cave is attributed to the Okinawan Hearth God), there was no plundering of a village (he stayed with a local family who took care of him), he didn't teach a massive list of kata, and he wasn't a monk.  The true part of the story is he was arrested for possibly being a pirate associated with the Taiwanese who executed 42 Ryukyuan (Okinawan) sailors the previous year, once it was sorted out he was released.

Gambatte Kudasai,
Scot

Product Review: Dreametal Sai

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When most people think of sai, the first thought that goes through their head is usually of the Shureido sai.  So since they have been a long established company, for this review I am using a set of medium Shureido stainless steel sai as the "control sai".  I am comparing the Dreametal stainless steel sai with blue handle wrap, it is a medium size, and both the control sai and the Dreametal sai come in at exactly the same length at 18.5 inches.  For the purpose of this article we will call the Shureido sai the control sai, and the Dreametal sai the test sai.

Test 1: Weight
For this test, I used grams as the weight measurement.  The control sai weighed 724g and the Dreametal sai weighed 660g.  So without a doubt the test sai weigh less than the control sai.

Test 2: Shape
When putting the moto (center of the sai / weld point) together, the test sai are more narrow than the control sai.  The control sai are exactly 2 inches from the yoko (side wing) to the monouchi (middle shaft).  The test sai measured out as 2 inches on one side of the yoko to monouchi and 1.85 inches on the opposite side taking the same measurement.  Below is a sample of how I am doing this measurement.
Control Sai 2"    -    Test Sai 2"    -    Test Sai 1.85"

For the sake of being thorough both sai in the test sai pair had the same 2" and 1.85" measurements, this is likely due to the jig being slightly off.

Test 3: Manufacturing
The first major noticeable difference is that the control sai has the octagon shape following a consistent pattern down to the moto (center) and rounding just before going to the yoko (wings/sides).  The test sai octagon shape disappears into a round base approximately 1" before reaching the moto.  The yoko are also completely rounded off coming off of the moto.  The moto between both sai are significantly different in size, with the test sai being roughly 30% larger.

The second difference is in the handle wrap.  The control sai is very smooth, and just feeling the sai move in your hand you are unable to feel a center string on how the handle is wrapped.  The test sai appears to use a slightly larger wrapping.  You can physically feel the center string on the test sai.

Regarding the center strings, the control sai has a center string that follows along the edge of the sai and is directly under the yoko, the string is somewhat smaller and completely unnoticeable on the wrap.  The test sai has the string going in the center of the handle directly under the moto.  This can be seen when you enlarge the handle photo above.

Test 4: Feel

The feel test sadly doesn't have any photos.  It is just how the sai feel in your hand and how they move.  The difference in the measurements on the yoko is not really noticeable when the test sai are in your hand.  Flipping the sai out from the inner position to the outer position feels natural, it doesn't seem to catch anywhere.  However when putting the sai together (like bringing them to your side when completing a kata) the differences in the yoko make the sai feel slightly off.  I flipped one of the sai over and it felt better (again likely an issue with the jig).  Movement and postures all feel good on the test sai other than when putting them together if one is backwards.

Test 5: Hitting Stuff

For the purpose of this test, I am striking the edge of my workbench with the sai.  My work bench is typical wood with a marbleized top.
During the hit test, both sai felt roughly the same.  There was no noticeable bending or major dents.  It should be noted that looking at the sai from the side there is a major difference on the thickness of the monouchi (center shaft) with the control sai being thicker.

One thing of note is that the test sai do not make the same type of sound as the control sai, or even a third set of sai from weaponsconnection.com.  The sound of the test sai is somewhat flat, not that it really matters, just notable because it's different.  Video below.

~ Final Thoughts ~
With Shureido stopping the sale of their sai it's been tough to figure out where to go for an acceptable level product that you can really recommend to students and friends without feeling bad or like they were ripped off.  In Okinawa the Shureido stainless steel sai were running for roughly $250 USD before sales stopped.  Their Iron sai (black) were roughly $100 USD.  These were great sai for their price.  The stainless steel Dreametal sai is not a bad set of sai, however with the price tag being close to $180 USD (this is for the Octagon Stainless Steel sai with blue handle wrap) it is difficult to recommend these as a Shureido level replacement.  They would be good for competition or other events where a lighter set of sai would be useful, however for daily abuse (sai against other weapons) this might not be the set of sai for everyone.  Overall I would give these sai a solid 8 out of 10 stars.

With this being said, this is just one person's assessment, maybe these are exactly what you are looking for, so before buying or not buying I would recommend trying out a set and seeing how they do for you.

All the best in your training, any comments on this assessment are welcome and you can reach me via the contact form on ryuho.jp.

Gambatte Kudasai!
Scot