Not as many fighters attended this year’s bokator national championship, which concluded Friday, but those that did say the ancient Khmer fighting system is planting strong roots among young Cambodians.
Hun Samoth, one of the event’s chief organizers, said that about 200 fighters—including 16 women—from 13 clubs in Phnom Penh and eight provinces attended the tournament, compared to the 286 who showed up to last year’s.
The decrease in attendance has puzzled some, and prompted skeptics to wonder whether newly revived bokator, which has burst onto the scene as a competitive sport in the last few years in Cambodia, may already be losing steam.
Gold medal winner Luy Vibich, who left last year’s competition empty-handed except for a swollen face, said he was pleased with how far he’d come in the span of just one year, and that he planned to step up his game for a third go in the 2008 championship.
For Luy Vibich’s trainer, however, next year’s competition might not be something to look forward to. Sun Try, 52, said he was disappointed with the five-day event overall, given that none of his four other fighters walked away from Olympic Stadium with a medal.
“I feel shame when my students lose…. As a fighter, you need to be fearless,” he said, adding that he wasn’t sure his fighters had it in them to train hard and win more medals next year.
Hok Chheang Kim, secretary-general of the Bokator Federation, said that because the Ministry of Education Youth and Sport helped subsidize this year’s competition, fighters were asked to register with local authorities before attending and some had trouble doing so.
Hok Chheang Kim said he fears attendance may diminish further if bureaucracy becomes too much of an obstacle prior to the competition.
“I am worried that next year there will be more of a decline,” he said.
Bou Chumserey, undersecretary of state for the Education Ministry, said he regrets that the registration paperwork was confusing for some, and he will work to smooth out the process by next year.
“I strongly hope that our dear young people continue to develop bokator with an aim to compete internationally,” he said.
San Kim Sean’s Phnom Penh bokator club won the most gold medals overall, with his 23 fighters taking nine of the possible 18.
He said that bokator is young and, like young children who are learning to walk, it may stumble on the way to growing up.
“Kids like bokator a lot…. They are not perfect, but they’re smart. They are our seedlings. Our seedlings are children, not men with gray hairs,” he said.