Experts say the popularity of traditional Khmer martial arts such as Bokator and Yuthkrom Khorm is on the rise amongst young people, yet have warned the ancient sport may die out if not listed and protected under a UNESCO classification.
Not only does Cambodia have a long history of temples and arts, but martial arts is also embedded in our country’s roots, and link our ancestors to the new generation.
Chuk Chumno, an official at the Ministry of Tourism, said plans were underway to categorise Bokator as a UNESCO intangible traditional art.
“We are not sure when, but it will be soon since we are now preparing documents and finding more information to prove to UNESCO,” he said.
National Olympic Committee of Cambodia Secretary-General, Vath Chamroeun, said Khmer martial arts were important for the country’s identity.
“We are eager to have it listed because we want to conserve it from being lost – we also plan to submit it as a subject for learning in all public schools as well to keep it alive.”
Thong Keo Bunnate, an officer at Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport, agreed, but said it may be some time before the sport would be included in school’s curriculums.
Gold Master San Kimsean, also known as Gold Kroma, is the Father and the Founder of Bokator Federation at Cambodian Boxkator Academy.
The 67-year-old said learning the craft of self defense and fighting not only helped students to protect themselves, but was also beneficial for their health.
“It’s a sport that forces people to use their thought and commitment to it.”
“Bokator means that the kind of short stick used for holding links with the forearm used for defending.”
Although more and more young Khmers were taking up the sport, he said there was still a lot of foreigners wanting to learn Bokator.
Italian expatriate Andrea Careth, 26, who had learnt kung fu for three years said; “After seeing the Cambodian martial art on video, it is so weird and something new that I never saw it. I came here to learn the techniques because it is very good for fighting, and it is healthy for my body and mind.”
“After getting black Kroma, I will back home to spread the word of this martial art to my nation; I will be a teacher in my country.”
In July this year, Bokator was voted as the number one martial art in the Hong Bang International Martial Arts Festival in Vietnam, trumping 25 other countries from Asia and Europe.
The Yuthkrom Khorm Association is not very different to the Cambodian Bokator Academy.
“We are Khmer, so we really want our young generation learn and know more about what is ours, and unite to be one to develop and protect what left over from our ancestors,” teacher Norak Soeng, 25, said.
He explained that Yuthkrom Khorm is a name of ancient race that has appeared since ancient times- it comes from the word Runak Vichea that was a war theory of ancient armies.
Cambodia Martial Arts is more about sport than fighting now though- improving health and building stamina and patience.
An increasing number of females are becoming interested in the craft too, teachers said.
A female student at the Cambodian Bokator Academy, Eng Soumala, said she’d been practicing for four years.
“It makes me healthy, strong, patient, I get a fresh feeling. I can joint my country to develop my culture and advertise to other countries.”
San Kim Sean is trying to write a book on the technique of fighting for UNESCO and for the next generation.
If there is nobody protects it, I will give to the UNESCO to keep it for us; therefore, even though there are no people learning martial arts, we still have the name of Cambodian martial art on the world.” he said.