Ring Around a Shin, We All Fall Down Now?

A Deranged and Violent Way to Blow Off Steam


Shin kicking needs only two people with the desire to kick the bone marrow out of his opponent’s skin. The sport of shin kicking involves an ability too often overlooked: the strength to withstand excruciating pain. (Jonathan Armenti/The Observer)

Published: April 9, 2009

Frustrations run high during midterms and the paper crunch between spring and Easter break. Running to the Flame for late-night grilled cheese sandwiches or mid-afternoon gabfests in the second floor study lounge of Lowenstein only go so far to alleviate the stress. Sometimes, nothing is more relaxing than regressing and getting into a good ol’ shin kickoff.

The rules are basic—two people kick each other in the shins until one of them falls down. Originating in the early 1600s, shin kicking was one of the Cotswold Olimpicks events. Meant as a good-hearted time, the games were abandoned when they became too violent and the participants too vindictive. Shin kickers were allowed no protection, except for their own pants. This offered very little shielding from the competitive kickers, some of whom would affix nails to the toes of their boots to inflict the most damage possible. Several kickers were maimed, while some even died.

The game was officially ended at the turn of the 20th century—after a man ended up cutting off another man’s nose and keeping it so that the victim could not have it sewn back on. Apparently, England only needed half a century to let bygones be bygones and revived the game in 1951. Because, you know, there just wasn’t enough to do after World War II.

Shin kicking first made an appearance in the U.S. in the coal mines. English and Welsh immigrants introduced it to their American counterparts as a way to blow off steam. The whole slicing off a man’s nose after a round of shin kicking gone wrong? Mere child’s play compared to how these miners entertained themselves. According to truebrits.tv, one man’s, “flesh was laid open almost to the bone…though he never uttered a word. Instead, he gave his opponent a ‘sole scrape.’”

And, yes, a sole scrape is exactly what it sounds like. He scraped all of the skin, from the sole of the foot to the knee, off of the other man’s leg.  For fun.

The modern games have lightened up a bit. Now, participants are allowed to stuff their pants with straw for protection. Nails aren’t allowed anymore either. Nudity is another no-no nowadays.

Held just down the road from the cheese rolling competition in Gloucestershire, England, the two competitions are part the reinvented, friendlier Cotswold Olimpicks.

Adam Azulay, FCLC ’10, said, “[Modern] shin kicking is really painful, both for the kicker (since the shin is a strong bone) and the one getting kicked, obviously!”

The nicer version of shin kicking still involves a lot of pain, so a lot of alcohol is also consumed. Modern British shin kickers formed a team aptly acronymed, “S.K.A.B.” (Shin Kickers Association of Britain), after a few pints at their local bar, The Seagrave in Gloucestershire, which they also consider their current headquarters.

They are petitioning to have the sport become an official Olympic past time. You can find the full list of reasons online at daeschener.com. It doesn’t look like they’re making much headway, considering the list is touted as a top 10 list of reasons to allow the sport into the Olympics. In reality, the list consists of, “nine, actually—[S.K.A.B] couldn’t think of 10.”

“I hope they are joking about having this be a sport entered into the Olympics,” Azulay said. “There’s no way you could regulate something like this! What’s a fair/unfair kick?”

So maybe it’ll never be an Olympic sport proper, but the participants still get a kick out of it.