Friday, May 27, 2011

Soccer Tennis - 족구

I used to go to a lot of pretty intense soccer camps when I was younger. During breaks we would pass time by inventing new games with a soccer ball, from juggling competitions to obstacle courses. A common favorite was soccer tennis, played two-a-side on a regular tennis court.

Sepak takraw in Myanmar
I was somewhat familiar with sepak takraw, the SE Asian sport played with a small wicker ball over a volleyball net.

But I never considered soccer tennis more than a distraction during times when we weren't actually playing soccer.

It turns out that it's a real sport all on its own.

On a sunny day you will find a group of old-ish men playing the game leisurely (though the games often get quite heated) in many parks around Korea. But it's not just old people who play. Koreans take soccer tennis (called "jok-gu" [족구] in Korean) very seriously.

Last weekend my soccer team was booked on a pitch next to a 족구 tournament, where teams of four uniformed players squared off against each other on a series of lined turf courts. Each team had a coach, and each match had three referees officiating. Some of the teams were amazing to watch, with flying kicks and spins and smash winners every other play.

I never knew it was such a serious sport. And not only in Korea, either. Apparently the origins of the global sport date back to as early as the 1920's. I feel like I completely missed the boat on this one.

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