After a shoulder dislocation during a title fight in Belgium two months ago, Sen Bunthen has spent his time in Europe teaching Cambodian kickboxing
Photo by: Virginie Noel
Sen Bunthen (right, red shorts) throws a kick at a training partner at the Hanuman Boxing Club in Dresden, Germany, run by Voeurn Vath (back, black shirt).
MISFORTUNE was spun into a new mission for Cambodian kickboxer Sen Bunthen. An injury during the first of three scheduled fights in Europe forced the 27-year-old from Kampong Cham to change the focus of his visit from fighting to teaching and promoting Kun Khmer. The shift proved to be a positive one.
Sen Bunthen took on the task with great enthusiasm and professionalism. “It is the first time I am training students, and it really motivates me to see that they trust me and follow my advice,” he said. “I really enjoy teaching Kun Khmer and being able to introduce European students to the sport of my country.”
In July, French trainer Philippe Sebire visited Meas Sokry’s club in Phnom Penh as part of a trip organised by his association, Kun Khmer Development. “When we arrived, I noticed this boxer in the background, his body, his face, his eyes,” recalled Sebire. “When he came up to me to ask me to hold the pads for him, I was surprised. In fact, Sen Bunthen already knew who I was. I still had to find out that he is one of the strongest fighters I have ever trained.”
Their relationship developed, and Sebire decided to bring Sen Bunthen over to Europe for three fights, including a world title fight in Charleroi, Belgium October 31 against local fighter Ali Abrayem. Nearing the end of the first round, however, Sen Bunthen dislocated his shoulder and the fight was stopped.
“The injury and the lost fight were a big disappointment, because it was a waste of a great talent,” remarked Sebire. “Bunthen is a technician and has a very professional approach to training. He improved his pedagogic skills with us in Europe.
“I believe that he has the potential to become an excellent trainer, and I would like to work with him in the future,” asserted the Frenchman, noting that the methodology in Europe is more structured than the training techniques used in the Kingdom.
Hooking up with compatriots
During his three-month stay, Bunthen has taught at clubs in St Hilaire, Andresy, Lyon and Marseille in France, as well as in Frameries, Bassily and Charleroi in Belgium. His time in Dresden, Germany, with Cambodian trainer Voeurn Vath brought another constructive dimension to his experience. Classes at Hanuman Boxing Club revolved around analysis of the technical differences between Voeurn Vath’s traditional Battambang-based knowledge of techniques and Sen Bunthen’s modern fight-oriented techniques.
Voeurn Vath is one of the few to promote and practice of Kun Khmer in Germany, and inviting Sen Bunthen to teach at his club has helped push things forward. “For my German students, it is already quite an honor to be able to train with a Cambodian champion,” said the trainer. “But [Sen] Bunthen more than lived up to their expectations through his expertise and teaching ability.”
Unifiying disciplines in Europe
Promoting Kun Khmer as a Cambodian sport is no small task in Europe, where the kickboxing scene is largely dominated by Muay Thai and K-1 fighting. While the animosity over the originality of Muay Thai and Kun Khmer is intense at home, with Cambodian fighters refusing to compete under the Muay Thai branding, Thai trainer Thong Suruswadee has attempted to build bridges between the disciplines in Belgium.
Thong invited Sen Bunthen to stay and train his students at his clubs Somthai and Jilaa Gym, which have more than 90 members and have produced four Belgian champions. “Kun Khmer is at the origin of Muay Thai,” claims Thong. “The Thais brought Muay Thai into the modern age, but the tradition of the sport lays in Cambodia.”
According to Philippe Sebire, what makes Kun Khmer unique is the authenticity and history of the sport, which is inextricably linked to the history of Cambodia. Kun Khmer has kept its ancient techniques alive, while Muay Thai has lost a lot of its originality due to its exposure to the West.
Youngsters honour traditions
During his first visit to Cambodia in 2006, Sebire was astonished to see boxers practice ancient techniques on a daily basis. “I was also impressed by the fitness of the boxers, and shocked by the poverty they have to face,” he said.
On his return from this trip, Sebire and his Cambodian wife Duong-Tevi decided to develop Kun Khmer in Europe. Since then, they have invited eight Cambodian boxers to France, including Ei Phouthong, Meas Chantha, and more recently, Bheut Kam.
There is now a Kun Khmer Commission in the National French Contact Sport Federation with the aim of achieving the same recognition granted to Muay Thai, as well as helping Cambodian boxers to earn a living and making a name for themselves outside of the Kingdom.
“We are slowly starting to build the name of Kun Khmer in Europe by bringing over excellent fighters, and by organising tournaments and workshops,” revealed Sebire. “Just as Angkor Wat wasn’t built in a day, we are moving slowly to build an international reputation of quality for Kun Khmer.”
Sen Bunthen hopes to continue teaching Kun Khmer in Europe. “If I have the opportunity, I would like to open a Kun Khmer club in Belgium or France one day,” he said.