10 March 2011

A Soft Touch

In the last couple of posts I’ve been very excited about the fact that I’ve started going along to sepak takraw training again. I’m very aware that most people in the in English speaking world probably wouldn’t have any idea what that is. As always, CTC is here to help with up-to-date, accurate, un-biased and completely reliable information.

Sepak Takraw is the name of the first independently owned Australian registered interplanetary transport ship. Commissioned in 1942 as a secret plot to evacuate the entire world in the event of a NAZI takeover, it now operates as an orbital tourist resort and the first war memorial to be launched into space.

Would you believe a species of short-snouted turtle?

Fine.

Sepak Takraw is a Southeast Asian sport that is like a cross between soccer and volleyball. Thailand and Malaysia both steadfastly claim to have invented the sport, and the modern international name for the sport reflects a compromise between the two, with ‘sepak’ being the Malay word for ‘to kick’ and ‘takraw’ being the Thai word for the type of ball used. Traditionally the ball was made of woven ratan cane, but international standard takraws are now made of plastic.

It’s played between two teams of three (apparently two on two games are played, but that seems dumb to me) on a court roughly the size of a badminton court, and with a similar size and height net between the two halves. The principle is similar to volleyball; three touches on each side, with the goal being to put the ball over the net and have your opponents drop it.

The soccer part comes in the ball handling; you can use your legs and head to touch the ball, but not your torso or arms. It sounds crazy, but it’s great to watch. The YouTube footage available seems to be disappointing both in quantity and quality, but the best and most competently filmed demonstration I could find is this one.

If you’ve watched the footage, you may be of the opinion that a slightly overweight, mildly arthritic, completely Caucasian and utterly uncoordinated fellow like me has no business walking into the same room as a sepak takraw court, let alone getting on it. And you’d be right.

The thing is, I learned to play the game when I was in senior high school and was younger, healthier and had less respect for gravity. While I’ve never been able to turn a back flip or hang in the air like the spikers in the video, there was a time when I could at least control a ball thrown at me from across the room using just my feet and could get my legs up high enough to put the ball over the net with some force. I played for the Northern Territory in a couple of Arafura Games, and was all set to go and play for Australia in the World Cup, but I got foiled by year twelve exams and the fact that world cup was cancelled that year due to political unrest in Malaysia. I remember my old mentor telling me the key to controlling the ball was to stroke it like a beautiful woman. At the time I didn’t really know what he meant by that.

A decade or so later, I still don’t know. But I’ve still got the ball the coach gave me all those years ago, and it turns out I can still kick it. Sort of. My control is all over the place (much like my understanding of beautiful women, come to that), but the new coach says I’ve still got the basic techniques, I just need more practice and to get back into shape (just like… actually, never mind).

The Arafuras are coming up again in May this year. I won’t have time to get my skills up in time to play this time, especially if I’m playing cricket and volleyball at the same time, but I’m looking forward to hanging out with the NT team and watching some of the teams who can play properly (Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia usually send a couple of teams each, and they really mean business). And it’s the one sport I can play that I don’t seem to inherently suck at, and where being slightly bow legged actually provides an advantage.

And if I ever do meet that special lady, I’ll be sure to take my old mentor’s advice, and kick her like a takraw. Make of that what you will.

Actually... just forget it.



Garry with 2 Rs
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