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Grand  Master San Kim Sean mixes it with his students  in South Korea.​​ PHOTO SUPPLIED
Grand Master San Kim Sean mixes it with his students in South Korea.​​ PHOTO SUPPLIED

New bokator training school to open

Grand Master San Kim Sean, who has contributed to the survival of Khmer traditional martial arts and is founder of the Cambodia Bokator Academy, is starting up a Bokator Training School in Siem Reap where he wants to run daily shows welcoming tourists to the ‘Land of the Warrior​.’

He told Insider that his new school is extremely important because it can provide bokator lessons to the young generation, and become a tourist attraction for those who wish to see and learn about Cambodian martial art.

Aspiring bokator warriors work out in South Korea under the watchful eye of Grand Master San Kim Sean (centre of seated trio).​​
Aspiring bokator warriors work out in South Korea under the watchful eye of Grand Master San Kim Sean (centre of seated trio).​​ Thik Kaliyann

The new school is still under construction, but will be ready for the opening in early December and he is thinking of setting an evening timetable for tourists to visit the show after dinner.

“I have discussed this with some Cambodian tour guides who inform me that the most preferable time for tourists would be from 8-9pm,” he said. “But I have not yet made a decision.’”

His school has been largely self-financed, but he has also received some aid from his overseas friends.

“The new school will cost more than $3, 000,” he said. “But thankfully my overseas friends have helped me because they know that my family has sacrificed everything just to bring bokator to the international stage.”

There is already one bokator training school in Siem Reap but this is way out of town in Krobei Reil village, Pouk commune, and his school is in Chang Kasou village, Slokram commune, much more centrally located and accessible to all tourists.

Grand Master San Kim Sean has spent most of his life spreading the message about bokator internationally, and has led Cambodian teams to the Philippines, South Korea, France, Malaysia and Vietnam.

He was instrumental in ensuring that the Cambodia Bokator Academy became an official member of the World Martial Art Union in 2009.

Grand Master San Kim Sean shows the illustrations he has drawn from temple wall depictions showing the ancient origins of bokator.​​
Grand Master San Kim Sean shows the illustrations he has drawn from temple wall depictions showing the ancient origins of bokator.​​ Thik Kaliyann

He holds a gold kroma and explained, “The kroma shows the fighter’s level of expertise. The first grade is white, followed by green, blue, red, brown, and finally black, which has 10 degrees. To attain the gold kroma one must be a true master and must have done something great for bokator.”

He and his family left Cambodia for America in 1980 after the Khmer Rouge regime. But realising that his beloved bokator was virtually wiped out during the upheavals, he decided to return to his homeland in 1995 to seek out Cambodians who were still alive and knew about bokator.

“We did everything to bring back our bokator and, after many years of our diligence the name of bokator was heard once again in Cambodia in 2004.”

But he also realised that a large part of his task was to reeducate local youth because most of them were unaware of their Khmer traditional martial arts culture and only knew about other countries’ boxing.

“Our country has gone through so much suffering and things that words cannot explain,” he said. “The youth belong to the last generation that can help to bring back what we have lost, and we have to come together as one family.”

He said he became infatuated with bokator at an early age adding, “I started to learn bokator when I was 13 years old, even though my parents didn’t want me to learn as they thought I could do better things than just learning how to fight. But they were wrong because now I have brought my precious Khmer martial art to the world, and last year we received a gold medal in Vietnam where people from 27 other countries demonstrated their traditional martial art forms such as karate do, taekwondo and shudo.”

A rendering of ancient Angkorian martial arts.​​ SAN KIM SEAN
A rendering of ancient Angkorian martial arts.​​ SAN KIM SEAN

It is believed that bokator, or an early form of it, was the close quarter combat system used by the ancient armies of Angkor. San Kim Sean said, “Unlike kick-boxing, which is a sport fighting art, bokator was a soldiers art, designed to be used on the battlefield. It uses a diverse array of elbow and knee strikes, shin kicks, submissions and ground fighting.”

Studying all aspects of bokator is a time-consuming and possibly lifelong endeavor because in the unarmed portion of the art alone there are between 8,000 and 10,000 different techniques. But only 1,000 of these must be learned to attain the black Kroma. San Kim Sean has collected more than 3,000 techniques and illustrated each of those techniques in a book which he gave to UNESCO.

He added that he also believes that King Jayavarman VII was a practitioner of bokator.

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