Bump, Set, Kick

Volleyball meets soccer and gymnastics in East Asia.

By / September 2012

The sport of sepak takraw dates back some 500 years. It began in Malaysia and soon spread to Indonesia and Thailand. It is redolent of volleyball. A net separates the teams. A serve initiates the action. First team to 15 wins a set. Winner takes best out of five. Bumps are common, sets are expected, spikes are praised.

The big difference is that sepak takraw players cannot use their hands or arms. Most competitors compensate with their feet. Covering the 6.1 x 13.4 meter court like ball-hawking black belts, the players, many of which have been formally trained in gymnastics, produce dazzling displays of athleticism, kicking a rattan ball over the 6-foot-high net with flare and precision.

Sepak takraw has been a staple of the Asian Games since 1990. During that time, Thailand has won four golds and two silvers. Also an overpowering force in the team and woman’s competition, Thai sepak takraw teams have won 18 gold medals total.

And they do not look to be letting up anytime soon. Last year, in the first-ever International Sepak Takraw Federation-sanctioned World Cup, Thailand mauled the Malaysian squad in the final match three sets to none.

Sepak takraw is all about rhythm and reaction. A successful bump, set, spike requires coordination, spring, grace. The winner is the team that misses the fewest number of steps.


Patric Brasher is the sports columnist for EthnoTraveler.