Chinlone is the traditional sport of Myanmar, dating back to at least the 7th century (Pyu era). Traditionally, Chinlone was played at pagoda festivals and monks’ funerals. Testimony to that was a silver cane ball excavated under the remains of a collapsed pagoda stemming from that early period, near Kalakan Kone village, Hmyaw Sar town, in Pyi district.
However, since Myanmar’s period of colonization the sport has become more popular. Now it is played not only as part of entertainment programs, but also as a stand-alone leisure activity.
Burmese lads playing chinlone in the 1890s; Source: www.theglobalgame.com
Chinlone is a combination of sport and dance; a team sport, though without an opposing team. In essence it is non-competitive, yet it’s as demanding as the most spirited ball games. The focus is not on winning or losing, but on how beautifully the game is played by the team and its individual players.
Teams of 6 people playing inside a circle of dry, hard packed mud; Source: www2.asean.or.jp
Typically it is played in groups of 5 to 6, the aim being to keep the ball in the air without touching it by hand while the members of the team move around a circle. One player goes into the center of the circle to perform solo, creating a dance of various moves strung together. The soloist is supported by the other players, who try to pass the ball back with one kick. When the ball drops to the ground, the play is dead and it has to restart. In the past, Chinlone balls were woven from strips of palm leaf or bamboo, but nowadays cane is mostly used.
Players use six points of contact with the ball: the top of the toes, the inner and outer sides of the foot, the sole, the heel, and the knee. The game is played barefoot or in special Chinlone shoes that allow players to feel the ball and the ground as directly as possible. The typical playing circle is 6.7 meters (22 feet) in diameter. The ideal playing surface is dry, hard packed dirt, but almost any flat surface will do.
Over the centuries, players have developed more than 200 different ways of kicking the ball. Many of the moves are similar to those of Myanmar’s dance and martial arts.
It takes years of practice to become a skilled Chinlone player;
Both men, women and children are playing the sport, often on the same team, and it’s not unusual to see elders in their 80’s playing. To play it well, the whole team must be absolutely ‘in the moment’ – their minds cannot wander or the ball will drop. All serious players experience an intensely focused state of mind, similar to that achieved in Zen meditation, which they refer to as “jhana”.
In addition to the team style of chinlone, which is called “wein kat” or “circle kick”, there is also a professional solo performance style called “tapandaing”, staged by women mostly.
Solo performance with a cane ball has been around for about 50 years or so. It takes many years of dedicated practice to become a skilled player and almost a year to get to the point where it is possible to keep the cane ball aloft up to a thousand times without pausing or letting it fall to the ground. Performers can play with not only cane balls but golf and tennis balls too.
Chinlon Solo Performance
Solo performance with a cane ball requires a hardy soul, robustness and stamina. Few women have become skilled performers without practicing for years first and it is only a tiny minority of people who can perform with a cane ball as a career.
Myanmar’s Chinlone women having a chance at a Gold Medal at the 2013 Sea Games;
Chinlone is one of a family of football games played throughout the world. It is related to similar games in Southeast Asia known as Takraw in Thailand, Sepak Raga in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, Sipa in the Philippines, Kator in Laos and Da Cau in Viet Nam.
However, nowhere in the world has the level of exceptional foot skills and quickness been combined with artistic manifestation and sanctity as in Myanmar’s Chinlone.