Any fan can easily list the weapons that each Ninja Turtle uses, and Leonardo and Raphael are known to own two katanas and a sai, respectively. However, given the real world history of both chosen hands, the brothers could potentially better represent their personalities if they switched their blades.
It’s no exaggeration to say that every Ninja Turtle’s weapon is as integral a part of their iconography as the colored bandanas they wear, and every time a Turtle changes its color, it makes a big difference. But their armament predates these colors and for the most part has remained much more consistent to match the temperament of each turtle. The observant Donatello keeps enemies at bay with his bo staff, while the frenzied Michelangelo uses nunchucks to agitate and confuse opponents. But things get a little unclear when it comes to Leo and Raf, which may be due to long-held pop culture notions about the function of saya and katana.
Long before Marvel’s Elektra brought sai to Hell’s Kitchen, he appeared in 15th-century Okinawa, and it is believed that he was modeled after the Indian trisula and Chinese chabang. Soon it found use in the hands of Okinawan policemen in the same way as their modern colleagues would use a baton: for crowd control. The thick iron construction made it ideal for striking, and the two side prongs helped to capture and potentially break the enemy’s weapons. The katana is known as the curved steel samurai blade, and although it has protective properties, it is widely known as one of the most effective cutting tools known to man.
At first glance, it is clear why Leo and Raf received the same weapons as they did. The roots of the katana in the ancient Samurai war give it a respectful look, so handing it to the leader of the squad indicates a high level of maturity and skill. The Sai requires its user to close the distance to his opponent by delivering quick punches in quick succession, which could match the energy of the Raf right in front of your face. But given the practicality of combat, wouldn’t a tactical Leonardo like to have a versatile weapon that he could use both offensively and defensively, depending on the situation? And can the irascible Raphael view defense only as a secondary reflex, preferring instead to immediately put his opponents on the edge of the blade?
Leo and Raf have already fought many times, and their constant rivalry is one of the driving forces in the team. They are the only turtles who wield blades, but given their typical media ratings, they rarely ever actually use them to death anyway. Splinter chose Leonardo as the leader because he knew that he was the most capable and balanced of his brothers, but endowed him with a weapon that is most accurately expressed when it pierces everything in front of him. Perhaps he knew that Raphael would not be able to restrain himself if he was given power over such a fatality, and, ultimately, his father knows better. Nevertheless, the idea of Leonardo and Raphael exchanging their blades is fraught with some intriguing possibilities that the creators of Ninja Turtles should explore.