Trying new food, attempting to speak another language and the challenge of understanding different customs and traditions – a large part of travel is all about experiencing the ‘new’. If you’re anything like us, we love this feature of travel the most, and thoroughly enjoy any chance to see something that surprises us.
In this blog we take a look at some of the unique sports that originated in Asia, some of which you may know already, but also some that may amaze you…
Thailand – Muay Thai
Muay Thai, also commonly known as kickboxing, is one of the world’s most respected forms of feudalism. Sometimes confusing to a casual observer, the points system are a heck of a lot more complicated than simply deciding if a punch, knee strike or kick connected with the opponent. Marks are given for defensive technique and evasion, as well as style and grace. More than just a punch-up, each bout is shrouded with tradition and rituals as fighters prepare for battle. Music is played by a live band throughout, from the warm-up to the final kick, dictating the tempo of the contest. Many islands around Thailand feature shows purely for tourists that are theatrically staged, but for the real thing you can head to Lumpinee Stadium or Ratchadamnoen Stadium, both in Bangkok, where titles are decided and heroes born.
Myanmar – Chinlone
Chinlone has many variations around Asia, but the Burmese non-competitive version is claimed to be over 1,500 years old. Considered as an art form as well as a sport, Chinlone can be ‘played’ as a solo performance or by a small group. When played in groups, the players form a circle and one person stands in the center. The aim is to keep the small rattan ball in the air as long as possible using feet or knees as they pass the ball between each other, with all the play passing through the central person. Like many things in Asia, the end result is only claimed a success if it is achieved with style and improper technique is not celebrated. As a solo sport, Chinlone is akin to a dance or even martial art, performed with grace and beauty. Some of the best Chinlone artists are women, as you can see in this YouTube video by 12bogster.
Japan – Sumo
Asia is home to many martial arts, most of which have transcended cultures and been embraced all around the world. The biggest exception to this rule must be the art of Sumo, a full-contact wrestling sport which is won by forcing the opposing wrestler out of the dohyo (circular ring). The country’s national sport since 1909, Japan not only claims origin of the sport but also absolute dominance in its professional participation over the last hundred years. No other country in the world has a pro league or tournament, although recently some non-Japanese wrestlers (especially from Mongolia and Tonga) have risen to prominence, causing the authorities to limit the number of foreigners permitted in each team’s ‘stable’…which sounds a bit like sour grapes to us! Another combative event where rituals and traditions are paramount, the sport is as much a performance as it is a battle, and the manner of the dress (such as the large diaper-like mawashi belt the fighters wear) and even hairstyles have remained unchanged over centuries…even if to an outsider they look bizarre! To catch competitive Sumo live, you’ll have to time your visits well. Six tournaments take place throughout the year, each one lasting just 15 days. There are three tournaments held in Tokyo (January, May and September) and one each in Osaka (March), Nagoya (July) and Fukoka (November). You’ll have to book well in advance too – tickets are hard to come by!
Vietnam – Da Cau
Da Cau is one of the most popular sports in Vietnam and is usually played by either single players or teams on a small court divided by a net. The competitive form of the game is similar to tennis and badminton (but without the racquet) as players attempt to land the ‘shuttlecock’ (a small, weighted ball that has several feathers attached) in the opponents area. When played casually, the aim is to simply keep the shuttlecock in the air as long as possible, and like Chinlone mentioned earlier, the more stylishly the better and even if an ‘ugly’ move produces a result, it is not celebrated. Each body part apart from the hands is utilized, as players artfully flick, kick, elbow and knee the shuttlecock back and forth. As you can see in this YouTube video shot by BelgianIronLorrie, the rallies can be spellbinding!
Indonesia – Pencak Silat
Pencak Silat is a martial art invented in Indonesia and is believed to have been a fighting style used as early as the 7thcentury AD. Passed down through generations, now the martial art is more commonly only seen in demonstrations, but every few years a Pencak Silat World Championship takes place. At the last tournament in 2010, participation had grown from 20 countries in the year 2000 to 32, indicating that although the spread of the art form may have taken over a thousand years, it is quickly becoming popular around the world. In terms of style, a close comparison can be made with the Brazilian martial art Capoeira, as both arts combine elements of dance and evasive movements.