The prominence of bokator, an indigenous Khmer martial art, continues to grow with the second Cambodian National Bokator Championship set to begin today, event organizers said.
More than 200 fighters from around the country are due to gather at Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh over the next four days to compete for gold, silver and bronze medals at various levels, organizer Hok Chheang Kim said.
Grandmaster San Kimsean, who runs a bokator academy in Phnom Penh, pointed to the ancient origins of bokator—some forms of which are portrayed in bas-reliefs at Angkor Wat. “Angkor era owed its greatness to Bokator,” he said Monday.
When San Kimsean returned to Cambodia in the early 1990s after more than a decade in the US, he set to work streamlining bokator, making it more palatable as a recognized sport.
Some of the more violent aspects had to be removed and the style of fighting needed to adhere to set rules and regulations, he said.
Today, he said, 10 provinces have bokator clubs and his in Phnom Penh has trained more than 500 people over the last few years.
Despite bokator’s revival, however, there are those who question the sport’s legitimacy.
Meas Sokry, referee and judge chief for the Cambodia Amateur Boxing Federation, said that bokator amounts to a traditional art, something that people demonstrate for show at festivals.“Kick boxing is the real fighting technique,” he said.
Vath Cham Roeun, Secretary-General of the Cambodian Amateur Wrestling Federation, said Monday that bokator is an important element of Cambodia’s history, but it will take time before bokator can be a “real sport.”
“It is dance mixed with fighting skill. If we want it to be a real sport, we have to modernize it,” he said. “Like Muay Thai, [the Thais] modernized it to compete internationally,” he added. San Kimsean said bokator may be young, but it is most certainly a sport—and one with an increasingly international following.
“We will have the first world championship in Cambodia,” he said. “Let the world come here.”