Memos from Asia

Sepak Takraw, Malaysia’s Unique Take on Volleyball

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Volleyball is not an unfamiliar sport to people all around the world, where players use their hands to hit the ball over the net and try to avoid the ball from reaching the ground.

But have you ever heard of a volleyball game, using feet?

Well, that’s exactly what sepak takraw is! It is a classic, Malaysian sport that can be played by everyone.

Origins

Close up Sepak takraw or Rattan ball in the outdoor field with copy space.

The name ‘sepak takraw’ comes from the Malay word, ‘sepak’, which means ‘to kick’, while ‘takraw’ means ‘rattan ball’ in Thai. It is also often dubbed as ‘sepak raga’ amongst local Malaysians.

Historical evidence shows that the earliest account of the sport was found in the 15th century, during the Malacca Sultanate of Malaysia, when a Malay historical text revealed that Tun Besar, the son of the sultan’s treasurer, accidentally hit the sultan’s son, Tun Muhammad, with a rattan ball during a game of sepak takraw.

Out of anger, Tun Muhammad murdered Tun Besar. Due to this act of treason, Tun Muhammad was casted out from Malacca and could no longer become the heir to the throne of Malacca.

The sport quickly became famous in neighbouring Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia, as some parts of Indonesia’s Sumatran areas were under Malacca’s reign during the 16th century.

It also became a popular sport in Thailand during the 16th century, and was even introduced in their school curriculum. A similar variation was also introduced in the Philippines, natively called ‘sipa’. In Myanmar, their own version is dubbed as ‘chinlone’.

It is unclear exactly where and how this sport came to be, but some people believe that it evolved from the Chinese ancient exercise called ‘cuju’, where you would need to kick a ball through an opening in a net.

By the 1940s, formal rules began to form and adapted the use of a net. Eventually, the sport became officially known as ‘sepak takraw’.

Equipment

The sepak-takraw court at the center of the village.

There are the only three equipment you would need to play a proper game of sepak takraw, and these items are:

  1. A court the size of a badminton double-sized court.
  2. A net, similar to a volleyball net.
  3. A rattan ball, or a ‘bola takraw’.

You can actually purchase a rattan ball on Amazon.

Players and Positions

For this sport, you only need two teams, with usually three players per team.

(Credit: Francois Schnell, CC BY 2.0)

During the start of play, players should be positioned as above, with the player at the back functioning as the server, or ‘tekong’. The other players should be closer to the net on opposite sides, one on the left and another on the right.

Once the referee blows the whistle, the rattan ball is immediately served and players are free to move about on their side of the court and exchange roles.

Rules

The most commonly played format in Malaysia is called ‘regu’ and is played in teams of three. Players will get into position before the game starts.

The feeder will toss the rattan ball to the server, and the server will serve using one leg, while the other leg must be kept firmly on the ground.

The game will play out almost exactly like volleyball, except that the use of hands or arms are prohibited. Luckily, every other body part such as the legs, feet, head or even the chest can be used. The ball must go over the net into the opposing team’s side.

To score a point, the ball must hit the ground on the opposing team’s side within the court.

A team can also score a point if the opposing team does a ‘fault’. Faults in sepak takraw happens when a team:

  • Fails to return the ball after exceeding 3 touches from the team’s players
  • Touches the ball with their arm or hands
  • Lands the ball out of the court boundaries
  • Causes the ball to hit the ground or ceiling
  • Server fails to serve the ball after the service throw
  • Server does not have one leg fixed to the ground while serving

In order to win a set, the team must earn 21 points, with at least 2 points leading over the other team. After every set, the other team gets to serve.

In order to win a match, a team must be the first team to win 2 sets.

For a more extensive set of rules with video demonstrations, you can check this Youtube video out!

Presence in the World

The first official sepak takraw competition was held at a swim club in Penang, Malaysia in 1945. Not long after, The Malaysian Sepak Raga Federation was founded and the sport was officially registered in the Southeast Asia Peninsular Games. The International Sepak Takraw Foundation (ISTAF) was then formed in 1988 to govern international play of sepak takraw.

Currently, sepak takraw is gaining more traction outside of Southeast Asia, especially in the United States and Canada.

In the United States, Malaysian students studying in American universities brought spotlight to the sport by teaching other American students the simple, but fun sport. In 1996, the United States Takraw Association was established, and teams from the USA became the first non-Asian teams to compete in the World Championships.

Similarly, Canada also has their own sepak takraw association established in 1998, called the Sepak Takraw Association of Canada (STAC) and has attended several World Championships since.

The ISTAF is now focusing on making sepak takraw an olympic game due to its historical roots, image and popularity. Not only has the sport made a name in many international competitions such as the Asian Games in 1990, but it also has 31 national associations under ISTAF’s membership, including many non-Asian countries.

So what are you waiting for? Put your sports shoes on and learn some cool tricks today!

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