A game, like those played with footbags, began around 2,000 years ago in China, called Jianzi. "Hacky Sack" is the name of the game coined by John Stallberger and Mike Marshall in 1972. Playing with footbags gained popularity in the early 80's and has since evolved into a worldwide sport.
Hand-free games are ubiquitous across cultures and time. While a simple premise, restricting the use of hands during play has challenged and delighted generations of players to use their bodies in creatively competitive ways. From ancient China through to contemporary America, kicking a small object around a circle of friendly players has always been fun.
The earliest version of hands-free ball game, cuju, dates to the 3rd century BC China and may have been a form of military exercise. More akin to contemporary tennis because it likely involved a net, cuju is also considered the source for the traditional Chinese game Jianzi (shuttlecock). Still played today in China, Vietnam and the Philippines, jianzi is played using a shuttlecock created by four feathers attached to a disc base. Using every part of the body but the hands, the shuttlecock is passed between players who attempt to keep it from touching the ground.
Any American of a certain age can see the similarities between the game hacky sack and Jianzi. The westernized version of a footbag game, “hacky-sack” was invented by Mike Marshall and John Stalberger in 1972, who trademarked the name before selling it to the toy company Wham-O. The original footbag’s were stitched together by hand with cloth and leather, filled with grains, pellets, plastic, and later sand and metal.
Arriving on the scene at the tail end of the hippie movement, hack sacking gained popularity through the 80s and 90s, becoming synonymous with a sunny and active disposition. Circling up became the favorite laid-back activity on high school and college campuses across the United States and other parts of the world.
Kicking footbags has become an international sport, with international competitions for Freestyle tournaments and Footbag Net.
"Footbag net combines the coordination of soccer, the court strategy of tennis, and the set-and-spike strategy of beach-volleyball , all while using only the feet. Players demonstrate remarkable agility by spiking the footbag over the net, using either the sole of the foot, a sweeping inside kick, or an outside push. Even more remarkable than the spikes are the "digs" players use to defend against the spikes. Players also block spikes in the air with amazing foot-to-foot battles over the net."