Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Out of the ring: how encounter with prize fighter led to family


Out of the ring: how encounter with prize fighter led to family

Out of the ring: how encounter with prize fighter led to family

Chan Rothana, 27, is a champion Yuthakun Khorm fighter from one of Cambodia’s leading martial arts families. Bokator’s lesser-known cousin, Yuthakun Khorm is fought without gloves and harks back - so its exponents claim - to the 14th Century Angkorian Empire. About a year ago they opened Yuthakun Khorm tournaments at Beeline Arena.

French-born Cindy Coupon, 24, is the daughter of a restaurateur and speaks fluent Khmer. Four years ago she walked into Rothana’s gym to for a lesson from the fighter, and fell in love with both the art form and the athlete.

The pair now has two daughters, aged four and two-and-and-a-half, and recently opened Selapak, a school teaching Yuthakun Khorm and Apsara dancing to tourists.

They are co-owners, along with another French-Khmer couple.

Cindy Coupon, 24
“He is famous in Cambodia. A lot of people know “Chan Rothana” because he does a lot of fights on TV in Bokator and Kun Khmer [another traditional boxing]. I had seen him on TV two or three times before and my friend told me about him, but I was not interested in that.

My friend Theo trained at Rothana’s father’s club and he brought me to see it - I saw Rothana and I decided to train there. It’s a physical sport, but I like it.

Rothana was just friendly, it was easy for us. I speak Khmer so he was very surprised: ‘Oh! She can speak Khmer’ - So he started to play and joke around with me. I’ve never studied Khmer, I just talk with people and it comes.

It’s funny because though he is a fighter but he’s very…he’s not nasty. He always smiles and doesn’t like to hurt people. I get worried about him (in the ring) all the time! He’s never KO (knocked out), but sometimes there’s a very strong serve. [I saw him fight live] maybe one or two months after I met him. I was sweating – I was afraid something would go wrong.

Cindy and Rothana fell in love at the gym, where he was an instructor
Cindy and Rothana fell in love at the gym, where he was an instructor. Scott Howes

We are just fiancées. His family want us to marry but it’s up to us - it’s OK. When my parents met Rothana for the first time, we were not yet together. My mother organized a show for the Chinese New Year [at the restaurant] and I told her I knew people who did Yuthakun Khorm, who could come to do a demonstration. It was the first time she saw [Khmer boxing].

Sometimes I want to go back to France but when I do go back, I always miss it here. I’ve been here for nearly ten years, it’s my second home. I would like to go back for one or two months and maybe later live there.

The first time Rothana went to France it was for fighting competitions. I went to see him for three days in Paris…the second time was for Christmas and we went with my family, to my grandmother’s house. He was very surprised we could go out walking at night - that the streets were clean and the cars were fast but not dangerously so.

My older daughter learns Apsara dancing, but she also likes Yuthakun Khorm and when I go to training, she stands near me and does the same.

Before [we opened Selapak], I had told Rothana it would be good if we could have a boxing club, but I didn’t think we would open a school with Benoit and Sen, teaching Cambodian arts.”

Chan Rothana, 27
“I learned Yuthakun Khorm from my father and my father learned it from my grandfather. Before I met Cindy I was running a boxing club, where I taught for three hours a day. It depended on the season, but sometimes we had six or seven foreigner students and some seasons we’d have just one or two come to study Bokator. We didn’t have women study though – we had four Cambodian women, but no foreign women. It was a little bit strange when women came to study but I could see [Cindy] really loved to learn it. Even though society thinks it’s not good for women [to learn martial arts] they still do it because they enjoy it.

Rothana’s moves make him a national celebrity
Rothana’s moves make him a national celebrity. Scott Howes

I appreciated Cindy [learning to fight] because Yuthakun Khorm is a kind of exercise and is important for the body, and women who learn it can use it to protect themselves. I didn’t know Cindy before, I just knew her friend, who brought her to the club. I was happy to meet her – he introduced me to her and told me she wanted to study Bokator. I wasn’t that surprised that she spoke fluent Khmer because my friend Theo spoke it fluently too.

It was probably 15 days afterwards [that we started dating]. We sent texts and chatted a lot.

I know everyone in Cindy’s family - they’re very kind and gentle. We’re not married yet, but we’re waiting to save some money before we marry. For me, I want my daughters to study Yuthakun Khorm too, but if they want to do anything else, it’s up them. But in my mind, I’d really like them to study it too.

This is my first business. Before, I was a teacher in my father’s club. I want to teach both foreigners and Khmers.

I’ve been to France two times and it was really good: the weather, traffic - better than Cambodia’s. I think I want to go to France again but first we have to save money in Cambodia - she wants to go back and live in France for good eventually. I’m happy that she’s happy to live with me in Cambodia, though France is nicer. It’s probably because she loves me.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Research key to Kanitha’s rep for expertise

    Sok Kanitha is used to weighing in on controversial issues using a confident approach that signals expertise and authority, and a recent video she made was no exception. Her “Episode 342: The History of NATO” video went live on January 16, 2023 and immediately shot to 30,000 likes and 3,500

  • Cambodia maintains 'Kun Khmer' stance despite Thailand’s boycott threat

    Cambodia has taken the position that it will use the term "Kun Khmer" to refer to the sport of kickboxing at the upcoming Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, and has removed the term Muay from all references to the sport. Despite strong reactions from the Thai

  • Knockout! Kun Khmer replaces ‘Muay’ for Phnom Penh Games

    Cambodia has decided to officially remove the word Muay from the programme of the 32nd Southeast Asian (SEA) Games 2023 in May. “Kun Khmer” will instead be used to represent the Southeast Asian sport of kickboxing, in accordance with the wishes of the Cambodian people. Vath

  • Artificial insemination takes herd from 7 to 700

    Some farms breed local cows or even import bulls from a broad for the purpose of breeding heavier livestock for meat production. One Tbong Khnum farmer has found a more efficient way. Hout Leang employs artificial insemination to fertilise local cows. Thanks to imported “straws”

  • New int’l airport nearly half complete as travel industry returns to life

    Construction of a new airport that is slated to serve the capital has passed the 43 per cent completion mark, raising prospects for a proper recovery in the civil aviation and tourism sectors as international travellers return to the Kingdom in increasingly large numbers. The figure

  • Chinese group tours return to Cambodia starting Feb 6

    Cambodia is among 20 countries selected by Beijing for a pilot programme allowing travel agencies to provide international group tours as well as flight and hotel packages to Chinese citizens, following a three-year ban. As the days tick down until the programme kicks off on February 6,