Seasoned soldiers and new recruits to the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) are set to receive training in the ancient martial art of bokator, military officials announced at a news conference on Wednesday.
The Cambodian Boxing Federation, the Cambodian Bokator Federation and the Yutkromkhorm Federation of Cambodia have signed an agreement to teach soldiers hand-to-hand combat, said Ith Sarath, head of the Defense Ministry’s training department.
Each federation represents a different school of Cambodian fighting, but have come together to ink a memorandum of understanding with RCAF to equip soldiers through a systematic training program, he said.
“Nowadays, there are a lot of modern weapons in the world, but even then, we still need martial arts for doing war,” Lieutenant General Sarath said at the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia’s headquarters in Phnom Penh.
He added that the program would both better equip the military and help to “safeguard the national legacy of the martial art.”
Lt. Gen. Sarath said he did not expect that Cambodian soldiers would ever actually use the fighting techniques in a war scenario, but that it would nevertheless turn them into more confident and skilled warriors.
He explained that RCAF had long trained its soldiers in hand-to-hand combat, but had not taught traditional Cambodian martial arts in a systematic way—partly given the divisions within the fighting community over what form that training should take.
“Our RCAF has martial arts already, but it was not the martial arts of our nation, and now three federations have combined their martial arts to have one martial art [representing] our national identity,” he said.
Hun Manet, the eldest son of Prime Minister Hun Sen and head of the Defense Ministry’s counterterrorism department, said work would now begin to prepare training materials for the program.
“We will put this program into all the military units across the country, and also the school for cadet officers,” said Lieutenant General Manet, who is also deputy president of the Cambodian Bokator Federation.
Vath Chamroeun, the Olympic committee’s secretary-general, said he was pleased that the martial arts groups had come together to offer their services to RCAF and that it would aid efforts to have bokator recognized internationally.
“We are preparing the documents to submit to Unesco to register the martial art as our heritage,” he said.
In January, Culture Minister Phoeung Sakona announced a campaign to have bokator added to Unesco’s “intangible heritage” list, which recognizes “traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors.”
In 2008, the Cambodian Royal Ballet and the shadow puppetry of Sbek Thom were added to the “intangible heritage” list, and Cambodia’s “tugging rituals and games” were added to the list last year.