Asia is becoming an increasingly popular sporting destination. The continent is home to the Asian Games, the second biggest sporting event in the world after the Olympics. It has other sports-related attractions, too, like the Asian Winter Games and the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games. Not to mention, Asia boasts a host of traditional sports that are obscure to most countries. Some of these, like the following, are popular in the culturally diverse region of Southeast Asia.
Sepak Bola Api – flaming coconut football
Sepak bola api shares similarities with the popular European of football. Only, the former involves the use of a sepak bola, an old, hollowed out, flaming coconut. Yes, bola en fuego! This Indonesian sport is played by two teams with an equal number of players, whose objective is to score by shooting the ball into the opposing team’s goal.
It is a sport with a certain sizzle, but surprisingly, no one gets hurt. Perhaps that three-week-long ritual the players undergo before playing helps them to get prepared.
Sepak Takraw – Volleyball + Football
Sepak takraw is arguably the most popular among the obscure sports on this list. It is now being played in various parts of the world, including such European countries, as Germany and Portugal. This Southeast Asian activity is a variation of volleyball, but with players using their feet rather than their hands.
Sepak takraw, literally translates as “kick ball,” and has a history that dates back to the 15th century. It involves two teams kicking a rattan ball back and forth over a net. It is a shared sport among several Southeast Asian countries, notably Malaysia (where it is also called sepak raga), Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand.
Bokator – ancient martial art
Cambodia is home to the ancient martial art/combat sport of bokator, whose storied history is engraved on the temple walls of Angkor Wat. Bokator, in fact, predates sepak takraw, with the former developed by Angkorian armies starting in the 9th century. It is, in a way, a precursor to mixed martial arts, as it involves elbow and knee strikes, shin kicks, wrestling, and ground fighting.
It is regarded as the father of Southeast Asian combat styles but is slowly fading in the shadow of other forms of fighting. Bokator’s masters, however, are trying their best to keep this martial art alive by passing on their knowledge to younger generations.
Chinlone – dance & sport
Like sepak takraw, chinlone traces its roots to the 15th century, and it involves kicking (or passing) a rattan ball from player to player. The sport is native to Myanmar and is said to have been played by Burmese kings in the past.
It’s a combination of sport and dance and is unique in that there are no winners or losers here. Rather, the focus of this sport is how a team — six players forming a circle — keep the ball “in play” using their feet. Players “dance” while playing, and are expected to come up with elegant ways to hit and keep the ball airborne.
Main Gasing – spin it!
Main gasing is basically top spinning and is more a recreation activity than a sport. But it is actually a traditional sport in Malaysia — a serious one at that. The best players can keep their gasing spinning for over an hour.
It first gained prominence in the Melakan Sultanate region (now Malacca) and has since become popular in Malaysia’s villages, where it is called kampongs. Main gasing is also played in some villages in Singapore, though the sport’s popularity there has waned considerably.