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Chinlone, Burma’s Most Popular Sport
Talk, talk, talk; Anyone who has been to or lived in Burma knows the characteristic hollow clicking sound of a small ball that is Burma’s most popular ball game and has been played here for 1,500 years: Chinlon. It is played with a ball that is about 6 inches/14 centimeters and has 12 pentagonal holes.
Wen-kat is the team version of chinlon and the solo version played only by women is called tapanding. Chinlon, which means cane ball in Burmese, is played with just this: a woven cane/rattan ball, and has its roots in tzu chu also known as the ancient Chinese game of quju.
A team of six players moves around a circle with a light wicker ball moving back and forth between them using their feet, knees, shoulders and head. One player moves to the center to take a solo part, creating a dance of various moves that combine seamlessly. Alone is supported by other players who try to return the ball to him with a kick. Players must have a high level of coordination so that they do not interfere with each other. When the ball hits the ground, it is dead and the game has to be restarted.
It is a football game that is played all over the world with only a slight difference. Similar games are called sipa in Singapore and Indonesia, Thailand takraw, Malaysia sepak rag, Vietnam da kau, Laos kator, and kemari in Japan; To give you a few examples, South American stylistic relatives are Batey and Poke-Ta-Poke.
It is played by young and old, mainly men but also women, virtually at any time and anywhere in the country. It is a game of harmony and unity and an integral part of all pagoda festivals. Every year in Tabodwe (February) when the Mahamuni Pagoda Festival is celebrated in Mandalay, hundreds of Chinlon teams from all over the country meet here to showcase the best of Chinlon in their biggest festival.
Basically any surface that is dry and flat is suitable for Chinlon but the most ideal is a 22ft/6.7m diameter circle made of dry and highly compacted earth. It offers a hard yet flexible and soft chinlon court.
At the Pagoda Festival in Mandalay, live musicians from traditional Burmese orchestras ‘set the tone’ for both style and rhythm, while conductors entertain the audience with witty comments and names of chinlon players’ moves. These moves and methods of kicking the rattan ball – some 200 of which have evolved over time – are a mixture of Burmese dance and martial arts movements; A very large number of them are purely artistic. The most difficult of these actions is performed behind the player’s back where he cannot see the ball to be kicked. Mastering this kick requires many hours of rigorous training.
Correct execution of the Chinlon kick and correct body posture are all-important. Each movement has a clearly defined correct way of positioning the upper body, head, arms, hands and feet, and proper play allows six points of the body to contact the ball, namely ‘chai pya’ (toes), ‘chai myet’ and ‘chai pha’. Mayet’ (outside and inside of feet), ‘Chai Pha Not’ (Heel), ‘Chai Fawa’ (Sole) and ‘Du’ (Knees). However, ‘pakon’ (shoulders), ‘mai si’ (chin) and ‘yin bat’ (chest) are also used to stop the high-flying ball and keep it on the feet.
Chinlon being basically a non-competitive ball game played in a team, it is very demanding and requires full concentration on each player’s part. They must be extremely focused throughout the game with and without the ball; A state of mind called Jhana. It’s not about winning or losing to a competitive team, but about grace and aesthetics. The object of the game is to pass the cane ball from one player to the other with a graceful kick in a team of six players seated in a ring and keep it in the air. Thus, a Chinlon game is judged by the style and grace with which a team performs.
Chinlon also has a competitive cousin that is played over a net by two opposing teams. The game is called Sepak Takraw and it originated in Malaysia where it was developed in the 1940s. But in Burma this game of direct competition where one team wins and the other loses is not as popular as Chinlon.
Chinlon or similar games are played in many countries but I think it is no exaggeration to say that there is hardly any country that has reached the level of skill of this unusual game like Burma.
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