Gold, silver and bronze medals, along with a photograph of a young woman receiving a champ-ion’s award, are housed in a glass box that highlights Eng Sou Mala’s achievements in Labokator.
Eng Sou Mala is a national Labok-ator player who has competed at Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium three times and has won many prizes in competition.
She was first selected to participate in the 2008 national competition, in which she won one gold and two silver medals. At her second appearance, she won three gold medals, a silver medal and a bronze medal, and on the most recent occasion she won two golds, a silver and two bronzes.
“When I was selected as a national competition player, I was really happy. The only thing I wanted to do was train myself to win,” Eng Sou Mala says.
The 23-year-old, who has studied Labokator for four years at the Cambodia Labokator Academy, has a brown scarf in the sport. She says she will attain a black scarf, the highest level, within four months.
Mala says her family and friends often wonder why she chose Labokator as a sport, but she admits she has enjoyed fighting since she was young.
Her efforts to preserve and enhance this traditional Khmer sport received a boost when she learned while watching television that the Cambodia Labokator Academy allowed female students to study there without paying fees.
“In the beginning, they (Mala’s parents and friends) reproached me, saying a woman shouldn’t play a sport that leads to having a bad-looking body,” Mala says.
“But I didn’t care what they said, because I was doing what I love.”
Although Mala loves studying Labokator, she recognises the difficulties involved.
She had never played sport before, so she faced many challenges while training because she lacked fitness and sometimes received superficial injuries. She also felt shy at first, because only a few women in Cambodia were playing this kind of sport.
Mala and a group of other Cambodian players competed at an international Labokator competition in Korea last year. Twelve countries participated, and Mala is happy to say that Cambodia was ranked second among them.
“Every year, as I trained in the sport, I could feel myself growing because I was trying hard to understand more about Labokator and myself,” she says.
These days, Mala not only a remarkable female Labokator player. She also coaches the next gener-ation of players and acts as a judge at competitions.
“Studying Labokator is not only about protecting yourself. It improves you physically, mentally and morally – and, especially, it brings you good health.”
Mala and a group of fellow Labokator players plan to create a Labokator Association with the aim of spreading knowledge of, and interest in, this traditional sport, raising funds to support Labokator players and providing the human resources to nurture and train them.