Takraw is played in various versions, in most parts of Southeast Asia, but perhaps nowhere else is this exciting game, in which players must neither touch the ball nor let it touch the ground, played with the enthusiasm and vigour shown by Thailand’s star performers. Games are played in the courtyards of wat or temples, at fairgrounds, and, particularly during the kite-flying season when there is little or no rain at Phramen Ground in Bangkok. The small and hollow rattan balls which are the essential,and sometimes only necessary equipment for a game,are sold in rattan shops and sporting goods shops throughout the country. While there are certain basic rules to takraw, the game varies according to the type of takraw being played as well as the place where it is played. In village games, for example, there is often no referee, and no score is kept; the winning player is simply the one who puts on the best show. The intricacy and speed with which it is played are astonishing. Methods of sending the ball aloft are the sole kick (using the arch or sole of the foot), the instep kick, knee kick, shin kick, shoulder kick, or head kick, and the crosslegged jump kick. The last consists of crossing the left leg over the right and leaping up to kick the ball with the instep of the left foot. Another version is the crosslegged knee kick. In this one, the player crosses his left leg over his right above the right knee, and then leaps into the air, kicking the ball with his right knee.
But that’s not all. One can use elbows, shoulders, even the posterior. The more complicated and impressive one’s feats, the better one’s score.
One of the most difficult of all acts is seen in a game of Hoop Takraw. The player makes a hoop of his arms behind his back, and kicks the ball with his heels through the hoop in such a way that it also passes through a hoop suspended in the air.
Hoop Takraw seems to be the most popular version of takraw in Thailand. A team usually consists of seven players (there can be no less than six) who stand at the perimeter of a circle. During a 30-minute period, the players cooperate with one another to earn a high score. Hoops are suspended above the centre and the players must hit the ball through them. Successive teams try to surpass the previous score.
Net Takraw is somewhat like badminton in that it requires a net and a court. Lots are drawn beforehand to determine placement of the players and the first serve. Near the net, the ball is then tossed to a teammate in the middle of the court, who kicks it into the opposite camp. The game then proceeds at an incredible pace as the ball is returned instantaneously, sometimes to great heights. Some players wear rubber plimsolls, while others are barefoot.
Net Takraw is played in the Southeast Asian Peninsula or SEAP Games (now call SEA Games) and other international competitions. Thailand introduced it to the SEAP Games, while Myanmar introduced the variation called Imitation Ring, wherein a player takes a particular position to toss the ball and all other players must imitate that position.
Apart from Net and Hoop Takraw, other variations are popular in Thailand. One of these is Tossing Takraw which has far less rules to abide by. The point is simply to see how many times the ball can be hit aloft by the player. It is a means of training for a player. Some can hit the ball from positions which call for stooping or lying down. A good player should be able to keep the ball aloft for ten minutes, and if he is joined by others, the group should manage to keep it in play for close to an hour.
Naturally, this is a skill which only the most adept players can manage. They have trained arduously and are able to concentrate for a long period as well as to use their bodies dexterously.
Three more variations of the game are called up hereunder.
In-scoring Takraw is played with no nets or hoops. The ball rotates from player to player, and each is scored according to the skill displayed. After 30 minutes or 10 starting throws, the highest score determines the winner.
Big and Small Ring Takraw are played by 7 or 5 players who stand in a circle and are given points for style, consistency, and retrieval of difficult balls.
Takraw Wong (Circle Takraw) is commonly seen everywhere around the country.
Takraw Lot Huang (Hoop Takraw) competitions usually take place at Sanam Luang during the summer season (February to April); and Net Takraw matches can be watched at the National Stadium.
Taken from: Thailand: Traits and Treasures. The National Identity Board, Royal Thai Government 2005.
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