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Dance floors to chess boards: five unusual sports at the SEA Games

By Patrick LEE
The Indonesian martial art of Pencak Silat is thought to have been inspired by a battle between a tiger and a giant hawk. ©AFP

Hanoi (AFP) - There will be something for every sports fan at the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games which officially open with a glittering ceremony in Hanoi on Thursday. 

While traditional Olympic events such as athletics and swimming need no introduction, little-known regional sport specialities will also get a rare chance to shine.

AFP Sport highlights five unusual sports to watch at the 31st SEA Games:

Dancesport

Physically demanding, this is not for the faint of heart or for those with two left feet as it balances the artistry of dance with the athleticism of sport.

Under flashing lights and often to the relentless beat of Latin-American music, couples strut the dance floor in elaborate, sensuous, head-turning moves.

The flamboyantly dressed male-and-female pairs have just 90 seconds to wow a panel of judges who score them on technique, movement, presentation and their charisma as a couple.

Kurash

An ancient, simple form of wrestling believed to be more than 3,000 years old -- and apparently popular at some Central Asian festivals and parties -- kurash sees two players aim to throw the other on to their backs.

Unlike many other combat sports, fighters are barred from attacking their opponents' legs, while kicking or choking into submission is frowned upon.

Pencak silat

Many people will only have encountered the martial art by watching movie blockbusters such as John Wick or Indonesian action thriller The Raid.

Supposedly inspired by a battle between a tiger and a giant hawk, the Indonesian combat sport is a full-body fighting style that makes use of strikes, grapples, throwing and weapons such as sickles and machetes.

Competitors are judged on their technique with weapons included and in one-on-one matches, where points are scored for successful strikes and throws while defensive points are awarded for parrying or evading attacks.

Vovinam

Previously making appearances at the 2011 and 2013 Games, the Vietnam combat sport will be the only martial art performed at Thursday's opening ceremony.

Created in the 1930s, borrowing from elements of China's kung fu and other Asian martial arts, fighters make use of grapples with showy flying moves.

Competitors will be marked on acrobatic skill and head-to-head fighting.

Xiangqi

Also known as Chinese chess, the game is a popular pastime seen on the streets of Vietnam and much of China.

Making its SEA Games debut, it is more complex than its Western counterpart but the objective is the same, to checkmate your opponent's king.

Xiangqi is played on a board nine lines wide and 10 lines long with pieces placed on the intersections, with players taking turns to move pieces.

Xiangqi matches are expected to be among the quietest of the 40 sports taking place at the Hanoi Games.

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