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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Bokator bid to become UNESCO cultural heritage

Bokator bid to become UNESCO cultural heritage

Bokator Grand Master San Kim Sean (L) and NOCC Secretary-General Vath Chamroeun pictured at the NOCC. Photograph: Sreng Meng Srun/Phnom Penh Post

The National Olympic Committee of Cambodia (NOCC), in conjunction with the World Martial Arts Union, will seek UNESCO recognition of the Angkorian-era martial art bokator as an intangible cultural heritage — a status the ancient Angkor Wat temple complex holds with its place on the World Heritage List.

Cambodia’s traditional fighting discipline goes back nearly 2,000 years and ranks among the world’s oldest martial-arts forms.

“The World Martial Arts Union, of which Cambodia is a member, is wholly supportive of our mission to have this status bestowed on bokator, which has immense historical significance in the evolution of Khmer life and tradition,” NOCC secretary-general Vath Chamroeun told the Post yesterday.

The Kingdom will have to meet certain prerequisites before earning UNESCO’s seal of approval.

The foremost is to declare bokator as a Cambodian national cultural heritage, and steps have already been initiated in that direction.

“We have provided lot of historical evidence, including some rare and breathtaking Bokator depictions on the walls of the Angkor Wat temple,” Vath Chamroeun said.

“We have a two-pronged approach. It is the development of bokator on one hand, and its conservation on the other.

“I’m very hopeful UNESCO will recognise bokator’s legitimate, indisputable claim as a cultural heritage asset.’’

Prominent among the bokator development schemes charted by the NOCC, in association with the Cambodia Bokator Federation (CBF), is to include this traditional sport as a subject of learning in all schools.

As well as increasing the number of bokator competitions and rewarding talented exponents, the NOCC envisages making bokator movies to reach a wider audience.

“When our turn to host the SEA Games comes, we will include bokator as a medal sport,” Vath Chamroeun said.

CBF president and grand master San Kim Sean is keen to stress the impact of achieving World Heritage status.

“UNESCO recognition will be a big boost to bokator, which nearly disappeared during the Khmer Rouge rule,” he told the Post.

“For Cambodians, bokator is an empirical legacy built into their lives for thousands of years. It is our duty to preserve this tradition.”

San Kim Sean, the founder of Cambodia’s first bokator academy, has played a huge role in unearthing mounds of historical evidence that has been presented to UNESCO in support of the bid for World Heritage status.

“My aim is to secure the future for Bokator, strengthen its appeal and base in Cambodia, spread it to other countries, see to it that bokator is a medal sport in the SEA Games and look hopefully forward to the day when a World Bokator Championship takes shape,” he said.

A determined community is waiting for the day bokator receives its historical due as Cambodia’s contribution for the enrichment of world cultural heritage.

To contact the reporter on this story: H S Manjunath at



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