This past weekend, Myanmar, also known as Burma, hosted an international marathon.
Consider it a kind of “warm-up.” In December, the nation is due to host the South East Asian Games. Those games take place every two years.
The host nation is always given some latitude when it comes to the events. But Burma is under fire for wanting to localize the sporting line-up a bit too much.
For instance, Burmese officials want to include chinlone, a game that is maybe best described as a mix of soccer, hacky-sack and tai chi.
Canadian filmmaker Greg Hamilton has done a documentary about chinlone called “Mystic Ball.”
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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman and this is The World. This past weekend Myanmar, also known as Burma hosted an international marathon. Consider it a “warm-up” of sorts. That’s because next December Burma is due to host the South East Asian games. The games take place every two years, and the host nation is always given some latitude when it comes to the events. But Burma is under fire for taking a lot of latitude, localizing the sporting line-up a bit too much. For instance, Burmese officials want to include a sport called chinlone. To find out more about chinlone I’m joined by filmmaker Greg Hamilton. He’s done a documentary on chinlone called “Mystic Ball.” And Greg, if mystic ball is one way to refer to chinlone I’m gearing up for a great tale here. Describe the sport for us. What is chinlone all about?
Greg Hamilton: Well chinlone is an artistic sport that originated in Myanmar. It’s played by a single team of six players. There’s only one team. There’s no opposing team. And we use the feet and the knees to pass a woven rattan ball around-¦inside of a circle. In essence chinlone is noncompetitive, but there’s also a more modern version of the game that is competitive.
Werman: Describe what happens in the circle with chinlone. I mean how team-like is it?
Hamilton: So what happens is we play inside of a 22-foot diameter circle. The six players form themselves around the outside of the circle, and we walk in a counter clock wise direction. We start to pass the ball around. And then, one of the players goes into the center of the circle and becomes the soloist. And then they’re supported by the other five players. There’s a couple of hundred distinct moves that one can draw from. So in a way it’s kind of like jazz in that sense.
Werman: Yeah, I was going to say there is a musical metaphor here. How did you find out about this sport?
Hamilton: I just happened to come across the Burmese men playing in a small park in Toronto, here where I live. And I was instantly fascinated with it. And then I started going over and learning how to play in Myanmar.
Werman: And so, how are they going to turn this into a competitive sport?
Hamilton: First off, just let me say chinlone is thought to be approximately 1,500 years old or older. Sometime during the ‘50s they made it into a competitive sport. I guess we can compare it to figure skating or something like that. Where it’s a little hard to explain but it’s the same basic structure of the game. It’s one team at a time. And there’s ways that they can judge points based on, for one thing, how often they drop the ball to the floor, for another thing, players have to do these various moves in sequence, which makes it extremely difficult.
Werman: It must take a lot of control?
Hamilton: It takes a lot of control, and especially takes a lot of focus. And it’s considered to be meditative in that respect.
Werman: Have you seen chinlone played competitively anywhere outside of Burma?
Hamilton: No, no, no, no, never. Inside Burma, yes. And even inside Burma, the competitive version is not as popular as the noncompetitive version. One of the things that I love about chinlone it’s the kind of game you can play throughout your whole life.
Werman: Do you see a lot of old and young playing together, or is it really the oldsters have their games and the youngsters have their games?
Hamilton: No, not at all. In fact one time at one of the chinlone festivals I saw a team that had a 72-year-old man and a 9-year-old boy playing together, same team, and they had a really great game. And mixed genders, men and women play together on the same team, but not in competitions. In competitions, the men play and the women play separately.
Werman: Greg Hamilton, chinlone expert and director of the documentary “Mystic Ball.” He joined us on the line from Toronto. You can see trailers and clips from “Mystic Ball” at theworld.org. Greg, thanks so much for your time.
Hamilton: Thank you.
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