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:
- Place the ball in the pouch
- 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
- Convince yourself that this time something different might happen
- With a sudden burst of energy, frantically whirl the sling round your head
- 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.