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The Ancient Chinese Sport of Jianzi



Many would be unfamiliar at the mention of the term ‘Jianzi’, but it is a strikingly popular game in China. Perhaps the names ‘Chinese hacky sack’ or ‘shuttlecock’ would be more familiar. Ring any bells? Or perhaps you have even come across a group of people kicking around this colourful feathery toy while walking around the parks in Tianjin?

Jianzi is an ancient sport in China which originated some 2000 years ago. At a time where toys were less available, this is the game that dominated popular culture. This sport involves the use of a very simple device – simply put; it is a few colourful feathers attached to a rather small sack. Players kick the sack,- very much like in football, and the feathers help to keep it in the air for longer, thus giving them more time to perform stunts with them.

Generally, there are two forms of the game; the circle kick game and the duel kick game. The circle kick game involves six to eight people passing the shuttlecock whilst standing in a circle. They may even make it more competitive by circling in the opposite direction while passing the shuttlecock. The duel kick game is a two person game which involves more aggressive high kicks, where the one who misses the shuttle looses the point. The intensity of the game can be increased or decreased to one’s liking and is appropriate for all ages.

The game reached such popularity and it spread around the world- acquiring many names in the process. The game has attained an international prominence, creating the formal game, which involves the use of a rectangular court. The International Shuttlecock Federations (ISF) was established in 1999 and hosts annual shuttlecock competitions, showcasing the best acrobatics and skillful kicks of Jianzi Masters from around the world. It bears great resemblance to the better known sport, badminton, but without the use of rackets!

There are many variations of the game, but simply, the aim of the game is to keep the shuttlecock in the air by using your feet or body without using your hands. There are four basic kicking techniques: kicking with the inner ankle, the outer ankle, the instep and the sole. These techniques can be self improved and you can come out being your own version of a ‘Master of Jianzi’.

It is not a surprising sight to see a group of middle-aged people kicking around like they are in their early twenties! But do not be fooled by the ease of their techniques. This sport does look like a lot of fun but it is not as easy as it looks!
The Jianzi shuttlecock is a very simple ‘toy’ but its simplicity is what makes it so interesting. The toy is easily carried everywhere and is enjoyed whether it is played by one’s self or with a group of people. This game brings with it a good aerobic workout for your entire body and couples it with a great deal of fun! If you haven’t tried it yet, Jianzi is one piece of the Chinese culture you don’t want to miss!

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