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Oum Tharoth practices Bakato.
Oum Tharoth practices bokator. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Oum Tharoth: Young Cambodian fights for martial art

“I want to be a strong woman who can protect and preserve Khmer martial arts and culture,” says a young lady who is passionate about Bokator.

Oum Tharoth has been well-known as a Bokator fighter and performer since 2008.

Her team performed in South Korea in 2010 and 2011, and visited Vietnam and South Korea again in 2012. She demonstrated her martial arts skills in Tokyo this year.

Tharoth is always appreciated in every performance and competition she takes part in. She is proud because she can represent Cambodia with her unique talent.

The 23-year-old has an older brother. Her father is Oum Dara, who has been a violinist since the ’60s. Her mother is Sam Vanna, a housewife.

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Tharoth fell in love with Bokator after seeing a friend perform. She decided to be trained by grandmaster San Kim Sean in 2007.

She had never learned any martial arts before, so it was difficult at first. There are many techniques to remember, and she had to practise and practise. Her family did not support her then, but now they support her.

Tharoth says everything about Bokator is good for her and Cambodian society. It is healthy and “I can protect myself, my family and my culture”.

She now trains with Westerners in two-hour sessions twice a week.

Her former grandmaster describes her as a fine girl and hard working, but he is concerned that she is training with Westerners. “They don’t know as much about our martial arts as us,” San Kim Sean says.

Tharoth wants to be an actress or a singer. Failing that, she would be happy working in an embassy or an international organisation.

She encourages Cambodian youth not to waste their lives and to make the most of every opportunity that comes their way.

“Do something good for society or do something that relates to our culture such as arts, martial arts or something like that,” she says. “And if you want to be a Bokator performer or a fighter, you must try hard. You have to push yourself to succeed. Or just learn about this real Khmer martial art in your spare time. At least you should know what Bokator is.”

Grandmaster Sean says Bokator is the Khmer martial art which he recommends all youths learn and preserve. “Understanding and training can obviously gain benefit you in health and wisdom.”

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