When Monks Take a Break

by Raymond Pagnuccio

From sunrise to sunset the life of a Buddhist monk is fairly routine no matter where in the world they may be. For most monks in Myanmar, their daily routine is pretty mundane. A typical day unusually begins around 4:30 in the morning with prayers followed by chores, breakfast and more prayers. The rest of the day is spent learning sutras, praying or tending to the needs of the lay people in the community. By evening it’s much of the same, more prayers, chores, dinner and of course more prayers. There doesn’t seem to be much time for hobbies or even free time. However, depending on the monastery, monks are able to indulge in extra circular activities.

While I was staying at the Sukhawadee Monastery in Northern Shan State, Myanmar, I happened to witness a group of monks taking a break from the rigors of monastic life and found out the secret of what monks do on their free time.

What I found out was not surprising; like most young men, monks like to engage in sports. In Myanmar, their sport of choice is a game called Chin Lone. The game is very similar to volleyball but participants are only allowed to use their feet, knees, chest, and head to hit the ball over the net. The game is played all over Southeast Asia, but in Myanmar Chin Lone is the national sport and is played almost everywhere.

The ball used in Chin Lone was originally made out of rattan strips woven together in layers with a circumference of 42 to 44 cm. Nowadays the ball is made out of synthetic rubber. However the traditional rattan ball is still in use today.

The court is 13.4 by 6.1 meters or 44 ft × 20 ft, and divided in the center by a net that stands 1.52 m in height from the center and 1.55 m at the posts. Each side has a serving circle that is 2.45 m from the back line of the court and 3.05 m from the sidelines.

Each team is made up of three players on each side known as Regus. Two players are up front by the net, one on the right and one on the left. The third player in the back is called “Tekong” he serves the ball.

The scoring is much the same as it in is volleyball, where each team tries to make the ball land on their opponent’s side of the court, thus giving them one point.

A match is won by best of three sets, with each set being played up to 21 points. The winning team is determined by best of three. Teams alternate serving every three points, regardless of who is winning. Once the ball is served, a violent ballet of kicking, kneeing and head-butting ensues just to get the ball over the net.

It was quite a sight to see a bunch of monks in their robes squaring off against some of the local lay people from the village. The game was fast and violent, something you wouldn’t expect to see a group of monks participating in. With near miss head butts and flying side kick the monks took on the appearance of Shaolin warriors rather than the shy and reserved young men I had gotten to know earlier that day.

As the sun started to retreat behind the mountains the intensity of the game picked up. For the monks knew that soon the would have to return to the life of a humble monk.

All photos are credited to Raymond Pagnuccio and are protected under copyright.