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Traditional fighter wants to break resolute stranglehold

Traditional fighter wants to break resolute stranglehold

Chan Rattana, 22, wearing a black T-shirt, practices yuthakun korm with Seng Sochan, 27, at Olympic Stadium.

Having trained in the discipline for 45 years, an exponent of yuthakun korm wants to see the martial art recognised by the Khmer Martial Art Federation

It is a widely held belief that bokator is the beginning, middle and end when it comes to Khmer martial arts.

But Som Chan Bunthoeun thinks otherwise. He is a master and instructor of an alternative discipline called yuthakun korm, or kormayuth, which he claims is the truest traditional Khmer martial art form.

Ten years ago, the 60-year-old left his hometown of Battambang, and moved to Phnom Penh with his family to promote yuthakun korm. His ultimate aim is to have the style recognised by the Khmer Martial Art Federation.

Fighting for acceptance
Established in 2004, the federation currently classifies bokator as the pre-eminent fighting style in Cambodia, but Som Chan Bunthoeun has been fighting for his art’s acceptance for a number of years.

A lack of funding and sponsors has thus far thwarted his quest to found either a federation or association for yuthakun korm, although his passionate efforts have certainly ruffled a few feathers at the Khmer Martial Arts Federation. Its director, San Kim Sean, said he didn’t want to hear any more about Som Chan Bunthoeun.

“He has a different purpose to us, and we have already cancelled his membership of the federation. Technically, this means he has the right to do anything he wants,” he said.

Without legal expertise or funds to set up his own association, Som Chan Bunthoeun needs the help of the federation to make his dream a reality. He says this help has not been forthcoming, despite the fact that he has “filed all the relevant documents relating to Khmer martial arts”.

‘Purest form’ of combat

There are currently around 15 trainers in eight provinces who teach yuthakun korm. Som Chan Bunthoeun trains around 20 fighters at his club.

Pum Nar Kri works with students in Banteay Meanchey and shares Bunthoeun’s belief that it is the purest form of Khmer combat, even claiming that no instructors in Phnom Penh teach real Khmer forms.

“They all mix Khmer martial art with a number of different styles,” he said.

The farmer and fisherman also revealed he would be happy to accept a position in any prospective federation, as long as it doesn’t affect his family adversely.

“I want to promote this Khmer martial art, but only if the position can provide me and my family a livelihood on a par with my current career,” he explained.

Som Chan Bunthoeun, who was schooled from age 15 in yuthakun korm by his grandfather, is adamant his odyssey will bear fruit.

“It has been a long struggle. I will not give up because we also get a lot of support from the audience when we hold competitions,” he said.