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Sepaktakraw: Thai Kick Volleyball



Few, if any, sports have more wow factor than kick volleyball. Strictly known as Sepaktakraw — a cross of the Malay word for “kick” and the Thai word for “woven ball” — it is electrifying.

Infused with Parkour-style cool, Sepaktakraw mixes soccer and volleyball with gymnastics. Oh, and there’s a touch of martial arts in there, too, which is why it has been called “Kung Fu Volleyball”. It looks tricky, doesn’t it?

It is. See if you can think of a sport that demands more skill and has a higher entry level. The Huffington Post says that it might just be the world’s toughest sport.

Few would argue. The kind of athletes who succeed at it are ultra-coordinated and fanatically keen. You have to practice religiously to achieve the kind of superhero skills that Sepaktakraw players flaunt on the court.

The top skill?

It must be the “scorpion” overhead kick.

Although Sepaktakraw seems made for snappy, captivating video sharing site clips, its roots run as deep as Kung Fu’s.

Rewind five centuries or so.

Early variants of the game apparently evolved from an old Chinese army exercise. Playing in pairs, enthusiasts strove to keep a feathered shuttlecock airborne by repeatedly kicking it back and forth. Back then, the game apparently centered on challenging the body, boosting dexterity and loosening limbs after grueling stints of sitting, standing or working.

As the sport grew, its focus mysteriously shifted to Southeast Asia — kick volleyball grew particularly big in Malaysia and Thailand. The resting place for Thailand’s Emerald Buddha, Wat Phra Kaew, still contains murals showing the Hindu god, Hanuman, playing takraw in a ring with a troop of monkeys.

Human exponents of the game demanding monkey agility punted a rattan woven ball in a circle, without the ball touching the ground.

The game was all about showing off — peacock players tried to perform as many passes as possible while being artistic and spectacular.

In the 19th century, the Brits, who then ran much of the world, introduced classic English games like Badminton to Asia. Instead of just operating in a circle, exhibition-style, Sepaktakraw enthusiasts started playing for points over a Badminton net.

Doubtless, the competitive angle fueled the sport’s appeal. Sepaktakraw went “viral”, spreading all over Southeast Asia. As the game gathered steam, it was also adopted in Switzerland, the UK, Canada — you name it.

Sepaktakraw is also played in America — in particular LA.

Fiercely competitive, the game is Thai-dominated in both the men’s and women’s streams. Just as Brazilians take to soccer, Thais are naturally amazing at the quick-fire, immensely watchable sport.

Even if you are built like a bull, why not give it a go — flip a coin, play a set and see if you can defy gravity? A la ping pong, scoring goes up to 21. If the score is tied at 20-20, the “score ceiling” resets to 25.

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