Asia’s Pugilistic National Sports You Shouldn’t Miss

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Not all national sports on the Asian continent are violent in nature. Take Indonesia, for example, where the primary pastimes revolve around fun loving racket sports like Badminton. If Badminton doesn’t strike your bizarre button, however, don’t worry, traveling throughout Asia affords many opportunities to both witness and participate in brutal activities that have come to be national sports. This isn’t for everyone, to be sure, but some people like to see how well they can take a punch to the mouth or deliver a nun chuck strike to the ribs. Below are some of Asia’s more violent and intriguing national sports.

Eskrima (or Arnis): The Philippines
You’ll need to gather some weaponry before you do anything else: Sticks, knives, or anything with a blade really, and anything else you can turn into a weapon made up of hard, blunt and sharp materials that you can use to attack your opponent. Eskrima is the umbrella term for the traditional martial arts of the Philippines, which emphasize, in general, the above tactics and devices. Included in Eskrima are weapon disarming and hand-to-hand combat techniques. Originally, before modern sensibilities went and ruined everything, the most important practice in Eskrima was dueling without any form of protection. To get the crowd good and riled up, the matches were preceded by cockfights. Nowadays you can still witness duels, but they aren’t full contact like they were before, as the practice was deemed illegal to reduce the problems that arose from injury and death. Go figure.

Muay Thai: Thailand
The national sport of Thailand is often referred to as “The Art of Eight Limbs” because it makes use of fists, elbows, knees and leg strikes. Because of the damage that can be caused from the sharp and hard elbow and knee strikes, it’s considered one of the most brutal forms of kickboxing today. Muay Thai training camps dot the Thai landscape where nationals and travelers alike can live and train together to prepare for fights at local stadiums. If you’re in Bangkok, it should be considered mandatory that you go to Lumpini Stadium where the best fighters compete. Lumpini Stadium is grit and sweat. Mixed with blood. Most of it is old and dried on the canvas but it’s always freshly sprinkled from the evening’s fights. It’s a mass of hardened and stained cement, cigarette smoke, Chang beer and a piercingly loud audience. Don’t sit ringside. You’ll get the true cultural experience by hanging in the back with the older gentlemen drinking and gambling away their cash.

Bokh: Mongolia
“Bokh,” or Mongolian Wrestling, when literally translated means “durability,” and it’s widely considered to be the most important of what has been deemed Mongolia’s historic “Three Manly Skills.” The other two are archery and horsemanship, but they pale in comparison to the importance of throwing each other around in pink and blue tighties. You can thank Genghis Khan, a vicious and vile bastard, for this one. But it certainly makes for grand entertainment and, if you have a death/pain wish, a very unique opportunity to test your “durability.” The goal is to get your opponent’s back, elbows or knees to touch the ground before you do. There are no weight limits – which seems ludicrous, but whatever – nor time limits. Head to Ulaanbaatar – Mongolia’s capital – to check this out, it is home to the country’s main wrestling palace called, “Bokhiin Orgoo.”

In Japan it’s Sumo Wrestling. In South Korea it’s Taekwondo. If you make your way to Central Asia, you lose the one-on-one combat in favor of things like Buzkashi, the Afghan game of grabbing the carcass of a headless goat or calf, getting it clear of the other players and pitching it across a goal line. In any event, Asia is replete with unusual national sports that will test your grit, and in some cases, your control over a turning gut.

By Bryan Schatz

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