Proud to be Malaysian: Personal Experience (Part 2)

South Korea's Hong Seung-hyun (L) strikes the ball against Japan's Toshitaka Naito during their men's team sepaktakraw game at the Bucheon Gymnasium during the 17th Asian Games in Incheon September 24, 2014. (REUTERS/Issei Kato)

Part 2: Sepak Takraw is a unique sport from Malaysia and we are the best in the World!

According to some historical documents, Malaysia is the sole inventor of “Sepak Takraw” which was originally called Sepak Raga.

However, Thailand, being the mightiest Kingdom in the South East Asian region at that time competed with the Malacca Kingdom by declining to admit that Sepak Takraw was originated from Malaysia. The Thais said that Sepak Takraw was originated from Thailand, and the game should be called Takraw instead!

Regardless (what both Kingdoms might have said), it was the British who had reinvented Sepak Raga and changed it to Sepak Takraw. Then, Malaysia had perfected it with the inclusion of Badminton and Volleyball rules to make it known as “Sepak Takraw”.

However, this entry is not about the history of Sepak Takraw! Because a contest to prove the origins of the game would not give any benefit to us… similar to how it was to China, who have tried hard proving that Football was originated from the Chinese Kingdom. Despite all these, China still has not won any World Cup tournaments since the time immemorial.

Sepak Takraw and Kids
Sepak Takraw is the most important People’s Sport in Malaysia, where the Government should continue to support at all levels especially at the local schools level.

My personal experience with Sepak Takraw started from my childhood days. During those days in the 80s, we played the game on the ground, and we built the net and court ourselves with rattan and woods. The balls were made from various materials including papers, stickers, plastics, and rubbers. When we had enough money, we would buy the original rattan ball and played it until it vanished into thin air. At schools, we played with friends and sometimes, we represented the schools for some local tournaments.

Then when I was studying in Japan, I was lucky to be introduced again to Sepak Takraw by my Malaysian senior (先輩), Brother Fauzi when he brought me to a Sepak Takraw clinic, to teach small Japanese kids about the game back in 1997. Since then, my Malaysian and Thai friends became the ambassador of Sepak Takraw in Japan, teaching kids and students about the game. All were sponsored by the National Sepak Takraw Federation of Japan.

Japan vs Malaysia
Susumu Teramoto (right) was captured playing against the Malaysian team during the Asian Games in Doha, Qatar.

I remember one occasion in 1999 when I had to participate a summer camp in Tokyo with the Japan’s Sepak Takraw National team (for promotional purposes). There I met Susumu Teramoto-san who was the ace player at that time. The national coach of Japan at that time was Mr. Ben Taat, a Singaporean who had just been appointed as the Head Coach after serving the Brunei National team in the previous year.

During this summer camp, I had witnessed the sparks of pride, understanding that “why a Malaysian should be so proud of Sepak Takraw!”

Sepak Takraw in Kampung
The image shows how Malaysians love to play Sepak Takraw anytime, anywhere especially in Kampungs or outside of towns or cities.

One night, I had a casual conversation with the National Team players who had a dinner after the training. Teramoto-san asked me whether I have played Sepak Takraw at the highest level before? I told him that I have never been a professional Sepak Takraw player, but only played the game with my friends in Kampung when I was little. I told him that it is natural that most Malay guys in Malaysia know how to play Sepak Raga or Sepak Takraw. Teramoto-san was so surprised to hear about that. Then they realized that there was a huge gap between Malaysia and Japan in term of Sepak Takraw skills and qualities.

To make the story more sensational, Ben Taat, the Head Coach added that Malaysians are amongst the strongest teams in the sport, like England in Football, and how Thailand is a similitude to Brazil in Football. Teramoto-san then added that he had seen Malaysia played against Thailand, and he was amazed at how the two teams competed with each other like Brazil and England competed in the World Cup final! He told me how he wishes that the Japanese youngsters understand the importance of learning Sepak Takraw at the young age, like how Malaysians and Thais do in their respective countries!

Teramoto then told me that the Japanese Sepak Takraw team was short of funding at that time because it was not so popular in Japan. Despite that, all the national players who were amateurs (not playing the game on a full-time basis) would hope that one day they could go to Malaysia and Thailand to learn the game. They wanted to do their best to raise more fund and reach the quarter final or semi final in the Asian Games or Asia Cup!

Malaysia Sepak Takraw
This is the most memorable image of when Malaysian national team has for the first time beaten Thailand during the 4th ISTAF event in Malacca recently.

But, what made me so proud to be Malaysian was when Teramoto-san added, “I have seen how the Malaysian players played against Thailand, and how their level was so high! I cannot imagine if we can match their skills now or in near future. Maybe it will take another 50 years before we can match Malaysia and Thailand!”

I then told him, despite the pride sensation in my chest at that moment, “at least your Football national team now is stronger than Malaysian football team?” in order to neutralize his disappointment.

Which then they replied, “yes, but if Malaysian football players use their Sepak Takraw skills, the Japanese team would be the losers!”

We then laughed out loud and continued enjoying our dinner before we had to go back to the court for training the next day.