Irishman Richard Weir explains how he became a kickboxer in Cambodia and now passes on his skills to other expat sports lovers
Khmer kickboxing is not for the faint-hearted, but a few expats are making inroads into the sport at Richard Weir’s classes. Photo by: RAVY UONG
ASK expats how they ended up in Cambodia, and you’ll get all sorts of answers – many arrive as NGO workers, backpackers, businessmen, escapists and for an infinite number of reasons.
Richard Weir, a 28-year-old Irishman, came to the Kingdom to train and compete in Cambodia’s national sport of pradal serey, known more commonly to westerners as Khmer kickboxing.
A charismatic and down-to-earth character, with a penchant for spicy kimchi, Weir seems more inclined to break up fights than jump into them.
“I’m not a violent person. I like to talk things through. One of my roommates turned around to me one night and said: ‘Sometimes I forget you’re a kickboxer’.”
But Weir’s dedication to kickboxing is unquestionable. He originally began training in muay Thai, the Thai version of kickboxing that is essentially identical to Cambodia’s, to be able to defend himself after moving to Glasgow, Scotland, a city well-known for sorting the men from the boys. The next logical step, of course, was to go to Asia and train with the best.
“The ostensible plan was to train and stay here for about six weeks or so, but an Australian mercenary got me a job teaching English to third and fourth-graders, so I thought ‘all right, I’ll stick around a bit longer’.”
“A bit longer” has turned into four years, and Richard shows no signs of looking back. He wakes up at six every morning to go running or cross-training for at least an hour, then heads over to the Olympic stadium from 5:30pm to 7pm. “They [Khmer fighters] do all their training between about two and four, so I get there after. It’s just me and my trainer pretty much, so there’s usually this gallery of Khmers watching, going ‘ha ha, look at the white guy trying to kick’. It’s great fun.”
Asked what his family thinks about his choice to pursue kickboxing in Cambodia, Weir explains there is a mix of “amusement and concern”.
“My mother’s concerned about me, as any mother should be. The male side of my family thinks it’s great.”
Weir’s kickboxing interests lie not only in training and competing, but teaching as well. He leads a kickboxing class catering to expats three times a week at Kim Hour Gym in Phnom Penh.
“I’m not intending to teach people how to fight,” he says.
“I show them the different moves, but if they want to fight they’re not in the right place, because that requires a different mental, psychological game. Flying elbows are cool, spinning kicks are cool - here’s how to do them.”
His class has been running for about four months now and has steadily built a reputation among Phnom Penh expats as a fun way to work out.
Melanie, who is from Australia, has been to four of Weir’s classes in the past couple of months and said that it was a great way to exercise.
“I think it’s great. You always feel tired at the end, but you feel really strong afterwards.”
Asked whether she felt ready to jump into a ring and compete in a real match, she smiled: “Probably not, but I think I would put up a good fight.”
Given Weir’s penchant for flying elbows and spinning kicks, it may come as a surprise that he thus far only has three fights to his name. He defeated his first opponent by knockout in Thailand and lost his second fight against an opponent who went on to win his next 10 fights and become a B-level champion in Cambodia.
Weir won the third fight of his career last Sunday, July 10, via knockout in the second round.
“I went training yesterday and they said they wanted me to fight again this Friday. They kind of want me to do the Khmer fighter thing where they fight every week.”
Although his schedule may not permit him to fight each week, he certainly plans to make more appearances in ring in the near future.
“Month to month [fights] are absolutely possible. Kickboxing’s good for me in ways that are difficult to define.”
Classes are at Kim Hour Gym (National Road 5, 50m past Japanese Bridge) on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7pm and Sundays at 4pm. Classes costs $6 for one hour.