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3rd World Sports Club Report: Orienteering

After the second lockdown we had a two-week reprieve of being able to meet and train together outdoors again – time for one last Not a Bootcamp and World Sports Club before the winter break.

I spent a couple of days rifling through the World Sports Encyclopaedia to find sports that could be played in the dark and with minimal shared equipment. In response to my slightly frantic messages the day before it had been suggested that perhaps goalball could be a good option, or other sports that don’t require sight, but finding a ball with a bell in it at a day’s notice seemed tricky at the best of times, let alone during a pandemic…

Thankfully the encyclopaedia, as always, had an answer – orienteering! By happy coincidence I remembered Rachel telling me about a keen local orienteer who’d shared a trail they’d made for their children around Greenbank during the last lockdown. Perfect! I e-mailed out our new meeting location – the corner of Emlyn Road and Greenbank Road, 07:00, wear a red carnation.

We convened in the dark trying not to look too suspicious – four creeps in trainers, minus one who was sensible enough to sleep through their alarm, with two compasses between us. I’d stayed up the night before desperately watching YouTube videos on how to take a bearing so I think we were all relieved to have Rachel there, with her experience of navigation and willingness to teach.

Our first clue led us on a happy trot up to the mosque but this came to a slippery end on the path through Rosemary Green, which was steep and greased with the night’s rain. It levelled out though and we were soon back up and running with our torches strafing the grass, searching for a gap in the far fence. The next clue was a symbol that Amy described as looking like a cottonbud, and we had to find the stick in the middle – the cutting through the embankment!

As we ran along the outside of the cemetery Lotte told us about “dropping” – the Dutch predilection for dumping children in the woods on their birthdays with an instruction to find their way home. I’m not sure what felt more cruel – that or meeting at 07:00 on a winter morning for a run in the rain. Still, it should harden us up, in the Dutch-Spartan tradition.

We paused under the old viaduct for the next clue. The sky was brightening a little and the arches loomed as patches of more solid darkness, occasionally lit by the headlights of the passing cars. The road was flooded and the water lapped over the edge of the pavement where we stood consulting the map. We ran away from the main road, down a squelching track towards the allotments, past a rolling stream, and then straight up a contour line via steps that took us from the mud and shanty-like sheds to the fresh bricks of a new estate.

We ran in the road, glancing in at the people in dressing gowns making their breakfast lit by Christmas lights, and talked about treasure hunts, then cut back over the Royate Hill reserve. We stopped at the mosaic and I remembered what Yaz had said on our Christmas walk last year – how this marked the first time a compulsory purchase order was used in the UK for the protection of wildlife. Every pocket of green space in the city has been fought for, and I felt appreciative of the fact they were there for us to thread together on our route.

We ducked through the hole in the railings and ran back through the cemetery. By now it was alive with dog walkers and the morning’s events felt like a strange dream. The feeling grew when I got home and began my work day – a secret adventure under cover of night. It’s like there are multiple cities – the night city and the day city, the city of the roads and the city of alleys, the housing estates and the allotments, the way to work and all the other ways… Orienteering broke our nodal urban experience into glorious, pointless meanderings and the contrast of that with the monotony of lockdown made normality feel richer. I was back at home but the house was somewhere else.

2nd World Sports Club Report: Tiro Con Honda & Ringtennis

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, we convened at the top of Eastville Park. After having a go on Nic’s recumbent, everyone started trying out the shepherd’s slings while Leila and I marked out the last of the Ringtennis courts between a father and son practicing football and a group playing frisbee. As the tennis and lacrosse balls flew off the slings in all directions around us, we soon realised that we might need a little more space…

Our first sport, Tiro Con Honda, comes from the Balearic Islands off the east coast of Spain – Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, Formentera etc.. It involves using a shepherd’s sling to hurl natural stones either as far as you can or at a target. The method – rotating the sling around your head to hold the stone in place through centrifugal force before releasing one end to propel it forwards – was probably brought to Ibiza around 600BC by migrants from Phoenicia, an eastern Mediterranean marine empire, and was originally used by shepherds to discourage straying sheep.

The target is a 120cm x 120cm square (cuadro) raised 50cm off the ground with a 50cm diameter diana (bullseye) in the middle. The stones are cast from two of three distances – 30, 60 and 90 pasos (1 paso = 65cm footsteps), and you receive variable points depending on your accuracy and the distance. There are three attempts. We took many more.

I had followed a YouTube tutorial to make the slings out of duct tape and some sash cord but, try as we might, we initially couldn’t get the ball to stay in. The technique went something like this:

  1. Place the ball in the pouch
  2. Put the loop at one end of the sling round your index finger and the knot at the other end between your ring and middle fingers
  3. Convince yourself that this time something different might happen
  4. With a sudden burst of energy, frantically whirl the sling round your head
  5. Protect your head with your arms and look around wildly to see where the ball has gone, hoping you won’t hear the sounds of a pile-up on Fishponds Road

We were working in pairs, with the optimistic idea being that the partner would act as a fielder. Instead, they just ended up pointing out where the ball ended up – usually behind you.

I remembered a different design that had a slit through the middle of the pouch so used a key to add that to the slings and this helped quite a bit. We all took on board each other’s tips about technique and by the end I think all of us had managed to get a ball to go forwards at least once. The sling was used as a weapon by the Spanish Army until the end of the Renaissance. I’m not sure we would have given their enemies much trouble.

We moved on to Ringtennis, a variant of quoits invented by the radical city planner Hermann Schneider. Schneider transformed the built environment of Karlsruhe, a city in south-west Germany, in the ‘20s through collaborating with modernist artists like Walter Gropius and Kurt Schwitters. He invented Ringtennis in the winter of 1925-1926. Like quoits, it was popular to play on the decks of passenger ships.

Nic told us how he used to play it with his dad and had memories of bruised knuckles from trying to catch the solid wooden rings. We had co-opted some gymnastics rings to play with and soon understood what he was referring to, especially if you used his dad’s tactic of throwing it end-over-end!

Ringtennis is played on a court 12.2m long x 4.6m (single) or 5.5m (double), with a 1.8m neutral zone between the two halves and a 145-152cm high net in the middle. Players throw the ring to each other over the net, making sure it stays in the playing area – not out of bounds or in the neutral zone. The ring may only be touched with one hand while balancing on one leg within the playing area. It can get quite fast-paced when you get the hang of it, so long as you can stand catching the horrible things.

As we played, the sun began to set and gave an advantage to anyone playing with their back to it. We flung the rings and our bodies all over the place and Sally wondered how many people had been lost overboard to Ringtennis.

After a good half-hour or so Lotte found, miraculously, that all of our games had drawn 50-all again! So we packed up our kit and headed home for the evening.

This was the second of our two trial runs of the World Sports Club. We will look at the feedback from this and our other experimental outdoor classes and put together a more consistent timetable for November.

For the next two Saturdays at 10:00 Isidora will be leading another trial session – Not a Bootcamp! This offers bootcamp-style strength and fitness training without the pseudo-military machismo that can come with that format. Come and enjoy the challenge of this style of circuit training, being outdoors, and training together, all supported by Isidora’s masterful programming and a range of adaptations for each exercise. You can book on for free here.

1st World Sports Club Report: Benthik & Lapta

On a relentlessly rainy Sunday morning that did its best to put off anyone sensible, it was brilliant to have eight players present for the inaugural World Sports Club. The plan had been to arrive early and find a good spot to set out our lapta pitch but we weren’t exactly struggling for position, being the only people in Eastville Park bar the occasional sodden dog walker.

We assembled under a tree thinking it might provide some shelter, though the leaves instead seemed to just gather the rain into larger droplets and soon we were all soaked through. Still, we were warmed by the joy of seeing each other again at our first in-person class since the lockdown and excited to get started.

The planned warm-up, an Indonesian game called benthik, proved to be more of a cool-down – a fairly stationary activity perhaps better suited to warmer weather. The object of the game is to scoop a short piece of bamboo off two stones using a longer stick. Fielders attempt to catch the short stick and then use it to strike a wicket formed by placing the longer stick across the stones. If the batter is not caught, they measure the distance that they hit the stick, score that number of points, and bat again, but this time with a different technique – the short stick being held vertically between the palm and the stone. On the third round, it is lent against a stone, scooped up and hit out.

We only played two rounds, which perhaps didn’t give us long enough to figure out the optimal batting technique and achieve the distances managed by children on YouTube, but Nic developed a ground-skimming method that thwarted any catching and Lotte managed the elusive third-round scoop-and-whack. But those blossoming bethnik careers were thwarted by the fact that some of us were visibly shivering, so we moved on to something more active – lapta.

Lapta is a Russian bat-and-ball game that has been played since at least the 14th century. Despite the amount of time it’s been around, it was very difficult to find a comprehensive ruleset in English – most of the written information was about how you need “firm eternal confidence that you cannot be defeated” and that “the lazy and cowardly have no place in this game”. Despite this, we marked out a pitch with the mandatory coloured cones and divided into teams wearing the equally mandatory, and very flattering, orange bibs, and started trying to figure out how to play.

Lapta could be described as a sort of mix between rounders, bulldogs and dodgeball. The pitch, which can be anywhere between 20-45m wide and 35-80m long, is divided into two unequal sections – the gorod (city), which measures from the baseline to a boundary (called the salo) drawn 10m down the length of the pitch, and the kon, which extends from the salo to the end of the pitch. Beyond that end-line is the prigorod (the suburbs).

The batting team line up at the baseline and the fielding team disperse themselves in the kon. One member of the batting team throws a ball to the batter, who uses a cricket-like bat to hit the ball beyond the salo without going out of bounds. They have two attempts. When this is managed, the batting team rush up the field and must make it from the city to the safety of the suburbs and possibly back again, avoiding the fielding wildfolk in the kon. If they make it, they score two points each. The fielding team attempt to catch the ball (getting the batter “out”) and then throw the ball at members of the batting team to prevent them from scoring. They can throw to each other and chase members of the batting team to get a better position.

We had half an hour left in the class and, knowing games are usually 30 mins each half, thought we’d take it easy by playing just 15 minutes each way. The batting team soon realised that the “game” was essentially just endless shuttle runs in the rain while being pelted with a muddy tennis ball, so we all agreed to play 7-minute quarters instead.

By the third quarter, some tactics had emerged. Jayde skirted the boundaries on her sprints through the kon, Maria made use of an overhead batting technique to great effect, Sally introduced a paired back-stop hunting strategy to the fielding, and Jen used a self-sacrificing decoy run from the suburbs to get her batting team back to safety.

As the sprints added up, and there were an increasing number of players lingering in the suburbs, there was some debate about whether the entire batting team always had to run. We had a brief discussion and decided that, really, none of us had to do anything.

With that liberating thought, and without any idea of what the score was, I can confidently say that we tied at 50-all (thanks Mike) and so were all winners (or losers, depending on how you look at it – we were soaking wet and knackered).

It was brilliant fun and we hope you can join us for two different sports next Sunday, this time at 16:00.