Basketball, football, baseball, volleyball, oh my! We’re used to high school sports having a certain uniformity. That, however, is simply the result of our own cultural experience. While certain sports like soccer and basketball are practically universal worldwide, American football is rarely played outside the United States. Similarly, many sports that are routinely practiced in schools around the world are unique to their cultures. Let’s take a look at some of them!
The sport of judo was created in Japan, but that doesn’t mean it’s ancient. In fact, judo was created in the late 1800s and only became popularized in the 20th Century. Japanese high schoolers compete in this sport in a very big way, though it’s worth noting that judo has also developed a worldwide following as well.
If you find yourself traveling across China, your wanderings may take you past the occasional high school. And if this should happen, you may be treated to a view that is, in fact, entirely normal for China: large numbers of students practicing kung-fu outdoors on school grounds. Alone or in groups, punching, kicking, blocking, even using swords, halberds or other weapons. Despite the skill required to practice kung-fu correctly, it’s not that big a deal in the nation of its birth. Just another part of school life.
Here’s one that’s very gentle, even graceful. Chinlone combines team-based ball sports with dance. There is no score, and there are no points. The team passes the ball among themselves, resembling the keep-me-up performed by soccer players. However the kicking is combined with dance, so the whole thing takes on a fascinating, graceful performance as the players try to keep the ball — which is traditionally woven from rattan — from hitting the ground.
Australian Rules Football (Australia)
This is a game that may actually cause pain just to watch. Dating back to the mid-1800s, “Footy” (as it’s it’s often called) looks at first blush like an intense game of rugby. However Australian Rules Football does not allow passing, and is a full-contact sport that allows contacts — without padding — that can be very intense indeed. However its popularity among Australians continues to grow, with over 600,000 Aussies currently registered as players.
Originally created centuries ago as a way for young men to prove their worth, Moraingy is essentially a form of bare-knuckled boxing that is now practiced by both boys and girls. However, it is not as rough as it sounds. There is a referee, and they generally aren’t going for knockouts. The sport also has it own set of dance-like moves, and in fact there is a religious component to the sport, as it is usually accompanied by music that is known to lull fighters and spectators alike into a trancelike state. What’s more, between bouts the boxers perform dances.
Not many sports have been listed as Intangible Cultural Heritage assets by the UN and set aside for protection, but Capoeira has. Hundreds of years ago, Brazil, then part of the Portuguese empire, employed huge numbers of slaves, and those slaves would escape into the jungle whenever they could. Those slaves would be hunted down by professional slave-catchers, so the fugitive slaves would have to defend themselves against very well-armed attackers. This led to the creation of Capoeira, a form of unarmed combat that employs wild moves and dodges designed to confuse a foe. After many hundreds of years (and repeated attempts at banning) what was originally a self-defense technique is now much closer to a form of acrobatic performance. Capoeira has been exported around the world and is now performed on every continent, but in Brazil it remains a powerful cultural tradition.