What Channel Is The Football Game Going To Be On Chinlone, Burma’s Most Popular Sport

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Chinlone, Burma’s Most Popular Sport

tock, tock, tock; everyone who has been or lives in Burma knows this characteristic hollow snap of a small ball when kicked in what is arguably the most popular ball game in Burma and has been played here for 1,500 years: Chinlone. It is played with a ball that has a diameter of approximately 6 inches/14 centimeters and 12 pentagonal holes.

Wein-kat is the team version of chinlone and the solo version performed only by women is called tapandaing. Chinlone, which means reed ball in Burmese, is played with exactly that: a woven reed/rattan ball, and has its roots in tzu chu, also called cuju, an ancient Chinese game.

A team of six players passes the clear wicker ball back and forth with their feet, knees, shoulders, and head as they move in a circle. One player goes to the center to take the solo part, creating a dance of several movements linked seamlessly. The soloist is supported by the other players who try to kick the ball back to him. There also has to be a high level of harmony between the players to prevent them from obstructing each other. When the ball falls to the ground, it is dead and the game must start again.

It is a soccer game played around the world that varies only slightly. In Singapore and Indonesia, similar games are called sipa, in Thailand takraw, in Malaysia sepak raga, in Vietnam da cau, in Laos kator and in Japan kemari; South American stylistic relatives are the batey and the pok-ta-pok, just to give you a few examples.

It is played by young and old, predominantly men but also women at virtually any time and in all parts of the country. It is a sport of harmony and unity and an integral part of all pagoda festivals. Every year in Tabodwe (February) when the Mahamuni Pagoda Festival is held in Mandalay, hundreds of chinlone teams from all over the country gather here for their biggest festival to perform chinlone at its finest.

Basically, any dry, flat surface is suitable for the chinlone, but the most ideal is a 22-foot/6.7-meter-diameter circle made of dry, highly compressed earth. This gives a hard but elastic and soft chinlone cut.

At the pagoda festival in Mandalay, live music from traditional Burmese orchestras is ‘setting the tone’ for both the style and rhythm of the players, while moderators entertain the audience with humorous commentary and shout out the chinlone player move names. These movements and ways of kicking the rattan ball (some 200 of these movements have been developed over time) are a mixture of Burmese dance and martial art movements; a large number of them are downright artistic. The most difficult ones are executed behind the player’s back where he cannot see the ball that he has to kick. Mastering these kicks requires many hours of hard training.

Accurate performance of chinlone kicks and correct body postures are of paramount importance. For each movement there is a clearly defined correct way of positioning the upper body, head, hands, arms and legs and correct play allows for six points of contact of the body with the ball, namely the ‘chay pya ‘ (tips of the toes), the ‘chay myet’ and ‘chay pha myet’ (outer and inner sides of the feet), the ‘chay pha naunt’ (heels), the ‘chay phawa’ (soles) and the ‘du’ (knees). However, to stop the high-flying ball and place it on the foot, the ‘pakon’ (shoulders), the ‘mai ci’ (chin) and the ‘yin bat’ (chest) are also used.

Chinlone is a basically non-competitive ball game played within a team, it is very demanding and requires maximum concentration from each of the players. They must, with and without playing the ball, remain extremely focused throughout the game; a state of mind called jhana. Here it is not about winning or losing against a competing team but about grace and aesthetics. The object of the game is to keep the cane ball in the air by elegantly kicking it from one player to another within a team of six players who stand in a ring. Therefore, a game of chinlone is judged by the style and grace with which a team performs.

There is also a competitive relative of chinlone played between two opposing teams over a net. This game is called sepak takraw and originated in Malaysia where it was developed in the 1940s. But in Burma this direct competition game where one team wins and the other loses is not as popular as chinlone.

Chinlone or similar games are played in many countries, but I think it is not an exaggeration to say that there is hardly any country that achieves an extraordinary level of gaming skills like Burma.

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