S.Yamaaranz: By restoring ancient traditions, Shagain kharvaa will become more interesting

On the left S.Yamaaranz with State Zaan Ch.Sanjaadamba

Trans. by B.DULGUUN

Shagain kharvaa, also known as ankle-bone shooting game, is one of the ancient traditional games of Mongolia. Shagain kharvaa is an interesting game played mainly by middle-aged men to test their skill and precision. Each year, more and more people are becoming interested in the game of Shagain kharvaa.

Shagain kharvaa was invented in the 13th century and was the main entertainment for noble families in the beginning, but later it became the fourth official sport in the National Naadam Festival.

The following is an interview with the head of Apu Company Shagain kharvaa team and Mongolian Ulemj Darkhan Mergen (Champion) S.Yamaaranz from Khairkhan soum of Arkhangai Province, highlighting important aspects of Shagain kharvaa.

This year’s Shagain kharvaa of Naadam Festval was very different from previous years. Many teams participated and the competition was fierce. Was it interesting to see Mongolians working and living abroad team up and compete?

The Mongolian Shagain kharvaa Association held its fourth annual meeting and approved a new rule. They attracted more participants by restoring the ancient tradition, changing it from having two targets to setting up 15 targets. A State Shagain Kharvaa Championship was organized after the new rule was approved. In connection with the change, the number of teams participating in Naadam Festival’s competition escalated compared to last year and made the competition more intense with more rivalry. Additionally, Mongolians living in the USA, Belgium, France, and South Korea returned home and teamed up to join the competition. Restoring ancient tradition and approving a new game rule was an excellent decision as it boosted the involvement of people in Naadam Festival and made Shagain kharvaa more interesting. Previously, only teams that made it to the top ten were able to compete for first place, but now, any team can win the competition.

A Mongolian Shagain Kharvaa Association was established in the USA. Do you keep in touch with them?

There are ten teams in the USA. A Shagain Kharvaa Championship is organized annually for Mongolians residing in Belgium and France. Also, there are five teams in South Korea. Shagain kharvaa has been developing rapidly and expanding its range to over borders. It’s also commendable that more and more young people are getting interested in Shagain kharvaa. I went to the USA to compete in Shagain kharvaa Championships four times.

I like being prideful of my homeland, Mongolia. I’ve been to almost every part of Mongolia as Shagain kharvaa competitions are organized in every province. I refresh and regain my strength by exploring each region’s nature and ancient historical monuments.

When did you start playing Shagain kharvaa? Who introduced you to this sport?

I’ve been training in Shagain kharvaa for 15 years. My father and big brother used to shoot ankle-bones so I learnt it after watching and participating in competitions along with them. Neighbors would instinctively get interested in playing Shagain kharvaa. At first, I was only interested in the game but later, my skills begun to develop as I used my brother’s ammos (ankle-bones). I grew up in Khairkhan soum, Arkhangai Province. I competed in the province’s Shagain Kharvaa Championship in 1998 and our team came in third place. This motivated me and from then on, I trained frequently. Shagain kharvaa became the fourth official sport of the National Naadam Festival in 1998. My first competition was in the 2005 Naadam Festival’s State Shagain Kharvaa Competition. I got four-consecutive wins from 2006 to 2010. I established a Shagain kharvaa team with the help of Apu Group three years ago. During this period, we won the state championship once and came in second place twice in the Naadam Festival’s State Shagain Kharvaa Competition. Several team members have been training with me for many years.

Were your friends influenced by you to play Shagain kharvaa?

I have many friends with the same interests and motivation. My childhood friends are now training in Shagain kharvaa and we play in the same team. Approximately ten days before Naadam Festival, we headed out to a resort of Apu Company in Terelj for training. Thanks to this, we were able to partake in the competition. Three members of our team won the title Ded Mergen, two got Garamgai Mergen, and another two got the title Darkhan Mergen. Mongolian Ulemj Darkhan Mergen and Sports Master G.Yuruult shoots for our team. Before matches, he gives advice to team members on how the other teams compete. A year ago, the Mongolian Shagain Kharvaa Association registered Shagain kharvaa in the UNESCO Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage. Shagain kharvaa is a mental game which requires player’s wisdom, skill, and sensitivity.

You’ve been shooting ankle-bones for many years. You must have felt its significance. Can you comment on this?

Ankle-bone shooters respect this cultural heritage and tradition passed from our ancestors. Just like wrestlers, we also strictly maintain discipline and belief. People training in Shagain kharvaa for many years have healthy body and mind, sharp eye sight, and don’t get sicknesses caused by underdeveloped physique.

After Naadam Festival, many provinces celebrated their anniversaries. Did you visit provinces to shoot ankle-bones with your team members?

Just recently, the 90th anniversary of Khairkhan soum, Arkhangai Province was celebrated. With the team, I went to my homeland and won first place in a Shagain kharvaa competition.  I’ll be competing in Taikhar’s concord ankle shooting competition soon, which will be held in August 9 and 10. Taikhar’s concord ankle shooting competition is being organized for the third year. This type of shooting competition has been around for 410 years and it’s organized in many places, including in Naran and Khutul towns and Khongor Lake. Shooters of different regions gather to participate in this competition. Concord shooting is a form of entertainment that preserves traditions. In this game, the shooters rotate from the eldest shooter to the youngest. After the concord shooting competition, the fourth national festival for ankle-bone shooters will be organized in September.

Are you the first shooter of Khairkhan soum of Arkhangai province to gain the Ulemj Darkhan Mergen title?

The locals of my soum support me a lot. When I got the Ulemj Darkhan Mergen title in 2010, the local authorities organized a competition named after me and held a mini festival. This year, we enlisted two new members from my soum and they shot ankle-bones in Naadam Festival. They competed successfully and gained Ded Mergen titles. My objective is to develop Shagain kharvaa in Khairkhan soum as well as the whole of Arkhangai Province and train new generations. Lately, young people in Khairkhan soum are taking up interest in Shagain kharvaa. Teachers of local schools established clubs for Shagain kharvaa and are training students. Our Khairkhan soum is the birthplace of national wrestling champion Ts.Chimed-Osor. We’re very proud of him. He gained the Dayan Avarga title by winning in the National Naadam Festival of 1950. I’m confident that many strong wrestlers from our soum will be born to succeed him.

You were spotted supporting wrestlers of Khairkhan soum competing in the wrestling competition. Are you a fan of wrestling?

I enjoy watching horse racing and wrestling competitions. My uncle trains racehorses and races them in local competitions. When I go to my hometown, I feel a surge of energy by watching my uncle’s horses. The Naadam Festival’s State Shagain kharvaa competition ends before the fifth round of horse racing. Straight after Shagain kharvaa competition, I head off to the national stadium with my team to watch wrestling. This year, I supported State Zaan Ch.Sanjaadamba  who is from my home town and hoped that he would win. Out of all the wrestlers, he was able to reach the top four. I’m sure he’ll be able to win and make everybody proud someday. He has the strength, wisdom, and skills to become a State Arslan or a Champion. He probably will not make his fans wait too long.

Do you assess and learn from your competitors?

During competitions, we compete fairly and during normal days, we maintain friendly relations. We openly share our ideas, hopes and motivations for developing Shagain kharvaa with each other.  There’s a reason for hoorays and cheers in Shagain kharvaa. Elders say that hoorays and cheers have a supernatural significance. When Shagain kharvaa game begins, the cheers from the audience rejoices the heavens and the seas, and brings better weather, averts natural disasters and revives the colors of mother nature. It always rains in places where Shagain kharvaa is played. Experts say that Shagain kharvaa was created during Uguudei Khaan’s time. People say that the khaan held festivals to test shooters’ precision. It’s fascinating to know that this amazing tradition with such a long history has developed into a modern sport.

Do you have students?

Lately, locals have been asking me to take their children as my students. Competitions are held everywhere now. We can see young children’s hard work and how much effort they put into training from their achievements in competitions.

Source: http://mongolnews.mn/w/53818


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