The Ju-Jitsu Federation of Cambodia (JJFC) was established in 2017. Since the earliest days of its formation, it has dedicated itself to promoting the sport and training as many athletes as possible.

The JJFC’s hard work has paid off, with the federation sending countless sportsmen and women to both domestic and international competitions.

During the tenure of its second mandate (2021-25), Cambodian ju-jitsu competitors have accumulated a remarkable record, earning 87 medals at several regional and global sporting events. The team’s grapplers have claimed 28 gold, 32 silver and 27 bronze medals.

Despite its impressive recent achievements, the JJFC regards well-known ju-jitsu superstar Jessa Khan’s gold medal victory at the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia as the best of its historical accomplishments.

The Cambodian-American juijiteira’s performance captured the hearts and minds of many new fans and led to huge interest in the sport.

Building on its popularity, the now-flourishing federation set new records at the 32nd SEA Games in 2023, where, as hosts, Team Cambodia captured three gold, five silver and one bronze. Khan alone claimed a gold and a silver.

Her withdrawal from the 19th Asian Games, hosted by China in September and November last year, for personal reasons dealt a serious blow to the morale of the Cambodian ju-jitsu team, which failed to medal.

Cannot rely on one woman

Accepting that these less-than favourable results could be construed as an over-reliance on Khan’s performances, the JJFC has intensified its efforts to develop the next generation of grapplers, with the ultimate goal of ensuring that the 1.52cm (4’11”) superstar’s shoes are filled in the future.

“During the 32nd SEA Games, which we hosted, Khan suffered a loss in the final of the women’s ne-waza gi 52kg match and had to settle for silver, but she came back to take gold in the women’s ne-waza nogi event,” said JJFC president Seng Bunsong.

“We do not want to be solely reliant on having just one star like Jessa Khan – we want more elite grapplers. Our plans to develop the sport extend beyond the 2025 SEA Games in Thailand or subsequent SEA Games; we are also looking ahead to the 2029 Asian Youth Games. Through our plans for growth, I believe we will discover athletes as talented as Khan in the future,” he added.

Cambodian athletes perform in the men’s ju-jitsu demonstration event at the 32nd SEA Games, held in Cambodia in May 2023.Hong Menea

Kong Monamithura, who won two gold and one silver in ju-jitsu demonstration events at the SEA Games in Cambodia, voiced his support for the federation’s efforts to train young athletes who can take the lead in future international competitions.

“I support the JJFC president’s plans to identify a successor to Jessa Khan. Because she lives and trains overseas, communication and management can be challenges. Finding local talent akin to her would be optimal for the development of our sport,” said the 25-year-old on January 10.

Identifying an heir

Monamithura warned, however, that identifying a successor to Jessa Khan might be a time-consuming process.

“In the grappling categories of ju-jitsu, we have a limited number of female competitors. There are far more males getting involved in the sport, and many of them have the physical and mental toughness needed to do well,” he said.

“I believe that the federation will be able to train new athletes to Jessa’s level, but it may take some time. Those of us who take part in the demonstration disciplines are also training hard, and hope to earn more medals for the Kingdom, particularly at the 2025 SEA Games,” he added.

As part of its efforts to promote its efficiency, the JJFC held an extraordinary general assembly on January 9 to replace three officials who recently resigned.

Khim Samean replaced Sean Sopheak as secretary-general, while Chheng Silang assumes the role of treasurer general vacated by An Sovutdya. Chhim Theara will serve as deputy treasurer, replacing Sean Sophea.

Bunsong remains in his role as president, with Thong Panhathun as first vice-president, and Buth Sothy and Jasper Martijn Paas as vice-presidents. Sam On Boromei continues as deputy secretary-general, with Kim Keo Mongkul, Oliver King and Chean Chou Pheng staying on as board members.

“The past performance of the JJFC met with certain challenges, so today’s assembly was held to strengthen the federation. Without strengthening our leadership, it’s difficult to support our athletes. Our primary objective is to organise and lead competitions, under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia [NOCC] and our other partners,” explained Bunsong.

Pen Vuthy, director of the ministry’s Department of Education and Sports, supported the change of leadership. He urged the new committee to foster internal unity and delineate roles in order to ensure tasks are completed smoothly.

Advice for new committee

“Following the approval of the new executive committee, I suggest the federation formulate internal regulations which clearly define tasks and eliminate inconsistencies. Unfortunately, some of the Kingdom’s 48 sporting federations still have some problems. Some federations still suffer from certain misunderstandings regarding benefits, and sometimes non-transparent spending can generate emotional resentment,” he said.

“This is why it is vital to establish a permanent committee to decide on small expenditures. For larger tasks, semi-annual meetings should be conducted for budget approvals. Following this assembly, I urge the federation to devise an annual plan for international and domestic competitions and prepare a clear budget. This will prevent accusations of misappropriated expenditure, which could undermine collaborative efforts,” he added.

Bunsong also highlighted the need to enhance the internal unity of the executive committee.

“There is still certain discontent within the ju-jitsu family. We need to fortify the spirit of internal unity through discipline and respect, while evaluating and supporting each other. A family without harmony is unable to grow. Our commitment to the development of ju-jitsu must be a collective effort, not a personal endeavour. We must work together, not only for ourselves but for our team and our country as a whole,” he said.

“When our national anthem rings out and our national flag is raised during moments of victory, we are all filled with great pride. We must strive to accomplish many more such moments,” he added.