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Chinlone, Burma’s Most Popular Sport
Knock, knock, knock; Anyone who has been to or lives in Burma knows the hollow click sound of a small ball when it is hit in Burma’s most famous ball game, played here for 1,500 years: Chinlon. It is played with a ball that is about 6 inches/14 centimeters in diameter and has 12 pentagonal holes.
Wein-kat is the team version of chinlon, and the solo version, played only by women, is called tapandaing. Chinlon, which means reed ball in Burmese, is played with just that: a woven wooden/rattan ball and also has its roots in tzu chu, an ancient Chinese game called kuju.
A team of six players pass a light woven ball back and forth with feet, knees, shoulders and heads between them as they move around the circle. One player moves into the center to take the solo part and create a dance of different movements that are linked together. The soloist is supported by other players who try to return the ball to him with one shot. There must also be a high level of coordination among the players so that they do not interfere with each other. When the ball hits the ground, it is dead and play must be restarted.
It’s a football game that’s a little different around the world. Similar games are called sipa in Singapore and Indonesia, takraw in Thailand, sepak raga in Malaysia, da kau in Vietnam, kator in Laos, and kemari in Japan; South American stylistic cousins are batey and pok-ta-pok, just to give you a few examples.
It is played by young and old people, mostly men, but also women, anytime and anywhere in the country. It is a sport of harmony and unity and an integral part of all pagoda celebrations. Every year in Tabodwe (February), when the Mahamuni Pagoda Festival is celebrated in Mandalay, hundreds of chinlon troupes from all over the country gather here in their biggest festival to perform chinlon at its highest level.
Basically, any dry, flat surface is suitable for chinlon, but the best is a circle 22 feet / 6.7 meters in diameter made of dry, highly compacted soil. This chinlone court is hard, but flexible and soft.
At the Pagoda Festival in Mandalay, live music from traditional Burmese orchestras “sets the tone” for both the style and rhythm of the players, while moderators entertain the audience with funny comments and call out the names of the chinlon players’ moves. These movements and ways of hitting the rattan ball – some 200 of these movements have been developed over time – are a mixture of Burmese dance movements and martial arts; a very large number of them are purely artistic. The most difficult of them is performed behind the player, who does not see the ball that he should hit. It takes many hours of hard training to master these kicks.
The exact execution of chinlon kicks and correct body position are very important. For each movement, the correct way to position the body, head, arms, hands and feet and to play correctly allows the six points of contact of the body with the ball, namely “chai pya” (fingertips), “chai miet” and “chai fa miet”. ” (outer and inner sides of the feet), “chai fa naunt” (heels), “chai fava” (sole) and “du” (knees). But to stop the high-flying ball and put it on the feet, “pakon” (shoulders), “mai ci” (chin) and “in bat” (chest) are also used.
Chinlon, which is not really a ball game played within a team, is very demanding and requires the full concentration of each player. They must be focused during the game with and without the ball; a state of mind called jhana. It’s not about winning or losing to the opposing team, it’s about grace and aesthetics. The object of the game is to pass a wooden ball in the air with an elegant shot from one player to another within a team of six players located in a ring. Thus, the game of chinlon is judged by the style and grace in which the team performs.
There is also a competitive relative of chinlon, played by two opposing teams over a net. This 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 common as in China.
Chinlone or similar games are played in many countries, but I think it is no exaggeration to say that there is no country with the extraordinary skill of the game in Burma.
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