Unusual Sports: Competitive shin-kicking — over 400 years old and still kicking!

    The Cotswold Olympic Games take place in Chipping Cadem, England. Some games previously included racing and tug of war, but in 1612, the new sport — competitive shin-kicking — was introduced. 

What is competitive shin-kicking? Basically, two people face off, and their objective is to kick their opponent as hard as they can in the shins. You gain points every time your opponent falls to the ground from pain. There are three rounds, and whoever has the highest score at the end of all the rounds is the winner! When competing, the opponents tend to face each other while holding onto each other’s collars and violently or strategically swinging their boots at one another’s shin. The athletes are known to sometimes stuff straw up their pant legs to provide some sort of cushion for their shins. 

The good news, though, is that all competitors are required to wear “soft” shoes, meaning no cleats or anything pointy or sharp. Apparently, there have been issues in the past in which competitors wore steel capped boots, and though people enjoy the idea of two old men kicking each other’s shins in, they seem to draw the line on “hard” shoes.

Unlike other sports, most of the athletes are new to the sport each year. It shouldn’t be surprising that the damage done to the athletes the previous year makes competing once more too painful for them to return. Some champions have returned to defend their title, but it is very rare. Contestants also may not be able to walk off the field after their competition. 

It is important to point out that, like in most sports, there is a defensive side. There are certain tactics that you can deploy in order to win this competition, but you must be good at blocking or avoiding certain hits from your opponent as well as being able to strike at the correct time. When looking at this sport at that angle, it reminds me of a more common one-on-one sport: fencing. 

Fencing is also a sport that requires a lot of patience, and to be good at it, you must know how to balance the art of defense and of attack. But, of course, in this game, it isn’t swords but, rather, legs. 

Although it requires some patience, a more important skill to have in this sport may be pain tolerance. It was said that back in the old days, athletes who participated in competitive shin-kicking would build up a pain tolerance to the sport by hitting their own shins with hammers — dedication or just plain stupidity? Would you play a sport that wouldn’t allow you to walk again? That wouldn’t allow you to ever run, jump or play other sports? 

Maybe that question sounds simple, but the more you think about it, maybe it’s not as crazy as it may first seem. Take football, for example; though they have padding and don’t purposely hit themselves with hammers, they do hit each other in practice all the time. In game situations as well, the other team isn’t going in thinking, “Oh, I’ll only hit him this hard so he won’t get hurt;” they’re thinking, “I will do whatever it takes to get possession of that football.” Players will even make dangerous plays such as “targeting,” in which the player gets thrown out of the game because the play they just executed was deemed too dangerous. So, where should we even draw the line? 

Is there really a sport that is too dangerous to play? Though sports may seem too violent to its spectators, the athletes themselves are passionate enough to go along with the game’s risks, and isn’t it those risks which (psychotically) make the game more exciting and interesting for its participants?  Just like the colosseum games, actual lives were at stake, and, in some sense, it’s similar even now in modern day times. Of course, people aren’t purposely being sacrificed, but the players know that concussions are possible, they could get paralyzed, and, unfortunately, some get hit hard and may not wake up one day. 

Is it then the duty of an athlete to be an amazingly courageous performers? Are athletes the modern-day warriors? Whether it’s as destructive as fighting or as delicate as ribbon dancing, all sports take skill, patience and, most importantly, courage. The ability to defend one’s honor, to show off their strength both in muscles and of mind. Can we deny them of that? Should we? I wouldn’t have the guts to compete in shin-kicking — to me, the risks outweigh the benefits, but I feel like there’s something to be said about a person who is willing to risk their body, soul and mind for something their passionate about — truly a fearless spirit who keeps on fighting…