Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Bokator venue puts martial art on stage in Temple Town

Bokator venue puts martial art on stage in Temple Town

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A mural showing L’Bokator fighters on the wall outside of the Kun Bokator Restaurant Club. James Reddick

Bokator venue puts martial art on stage in Temple Town

Master San Kim Sean is very exact with certain dates – like September 29, 1980, when he left Thailand’s Khao-I-Dang refugee camp for America, or April 24, 2004, when the first L’Bokator congress since the rise of the Khmer Rouge was convened in Cambodia.

He is less precise, however, about the schedule at his new Kun Bokator Restaurant Club in Siem Reap, which is the first commercial venue in Cambodia to regularly feature L’Bokator performances and fights.

The newly opened venue will host performances of the ancient martial art, which dates back more than a millennium, as well as a weekly L’Bokator fight on Saturday nights.

Kim Sean can be forgiven for not wanting to commit to a specific schedule as his team irons out the details – to say that he has been patient in his quest to revive L’Bokator would be an understatement.

The now-72-year-old was taught to fight at 13 by his “uncle”, an older friend of the family. As with other traditional arts, the rise of the Khmer Rouge meant a sudden death knell for the sport. Not only was the sport rooted in the past, which was to be forgotten, it was also a potentially violent form of resistance.

Following the Vietnamese-led invasion in 1979, Kim Sean escaped to Khao-I-Dang refugee camp across the border with Thailand, and from there he went to a refugee camp in Houston, in the United States, before settling in Long Beach, California, in 1984.

But after more than a decade teaching martial arts in the US, Kim Sean gave in to his calling. “My mission from the gods is to help Bokator survive,” he said at the opening party of the restaurant. “You just have to say yes.”

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Master San Kim Sean. Uy Nousereimony

Kim Sean has largely succeeded. After spending the mid-1990s collecting knowledge about the sport from every corner of the country, he has established the ingredients for longevity.

He founded the Bokator Academy, a training school for fighters where his son – San Angkor Reachvan – is an instructor; he has has drawn up the rules for a modern incarnation of the sport; and the government now recognises the Bokator Federation, which supports fighters in the country. The restaurant, meanwhile, is the latest incarnation of his dream.

With a square stage in the middle of the room, the restaurant has the feel of a sleek boxing gym. On the outside of the room are rows of tables, and an upper deck presents perhaps the best view of the performance.

The fighters will have been trained primarily at the Bokator Academy and will be constantly changing depending on the night. The winners of the Saturday bouts, meanwhile, will move on to face other winners until a champion is decided.

Along with the entertainment are ample food options, including Plea Sach Ko, a Cambodian beef ceviche, Tom Yum Soup and steamed fish with soy sauce. The plates range from $2 for small dishes, $3-$5 for medium and $5-$12 for large.

While Kimsean expects the performances to mostly attract tourists, he is also hoping that having a space to show off the sport will help to garner local interest.

“The reason we opened the Bokator restaurant is because we want people to read and speak Bokator from their heart, their mouth and their brain,” he says.

Kun Bokator Restaurant Club is on Abacus Lane in Siem Reap and is open every day from 6pm-midnight. Performances and fights will be held from 8pm until 10pm on Wednesdays and Saturdays, with the possibility of other dates throughout the week in the future. Tickets are $25 for foreigners, food included, and free for Cambodians.

Additional reporting by Rynith Taing

MOST VIEWED

  • Kingdom’s domestic milk still cannot compete with imports

    Price competition and a lack of confidence by consumers are the main reasons the dairy market cannot compete with imports, said domestic milk producers. The large displays of imported fresh milk at the Kingdom’s supermarkets present a cumbersome obstacle for local producers, they said.

  • ‘Pesticide-laden cucumbers’ kill two, poison 150 in Banteay Meanchey

    At least two youths have died and 243 others are being treated for vomiting, diarrhoea, breathing difficulties, dizziness and muscle weakness after they ate cucumbers suspected to consist of pesticides. The incident happened on Saturday, said Banteay Meanchey provincial police chief Ath Khem. He told The

  • Three dead, 13 injured in collapse at Siem Reap pagoda

    At least three people were killed and more than 10 others injured on Monday after a dining hall under construction collapsed at Prasat Kokchak pagoda in Kokchak commune, Siem Reap province. Provincial police chief Tith Narong said Military Police, soldiers and local volunteers had successfully recovered 16

  • China Unicom enters Cambodia

    China Unicom, the country’s largest telecoms operator, has expanded into Cambodia to build optical telecommunication pathways in the Kingdom as part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The Hong Kong-listed company officially opened its China Unicom (Cambodia) subsidiary on Monday to become the

  • Forest Harmony’s $18M luxury villas break ground in Kampot

    Local and French joint-venture Forest Harmony has broken ground on its $18 million “second-home” Luxury Holiday Villas project in Kampot province. Century 21 Mekong CEO and local shareholder of the project Chrek Soknim told The Post that the project will comprise 90 villa units covering 18ha on a 97

  • PP-SHV Expressway on track for completion in early 2023

    The construction of the $1.9 billion Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville Expressway, which broke ground at the end of March, is on track to be completed by early 2023, Ministry of Public Works and Transport spokesman Vasim Sorya said on Monday. The 190km high-speed highway linking the capital to the