In a little over a week, the Kun Khmer International Federation (KKIF) has accepted membership requests from 20 new nations, in addition to the exiting 29. The sudden influx of international recognition stems from the Kingdom’s successful introduction of Kun Khmer to the 32nd Souheast Asian (SEA) Games, which Cambodia will host.

“Over the past few days, many countries have approached us about joining the federation, and we now have almost 50 members. International media companies have been in contact with us too – they all want to learn about the history of our ancestral martial art,” said Meam Ra, head of the federation.

He added that each of the applicants was eligible for recognition as the representatives of their respective countries, but it appeared that some of them wanted to test Cambodia’s claims to Kun Khmer. Several delegates from other nations asked for evidence of Kun Khmer’s long presence in Cambodia, as there were suspicions that it may have originated in one of its neighbouring countries.

“We explained the history of the art to them, and presented clear evidence that shows its ancient connection to Cambodia and its people. We were able to point to sculptures at Angkor Wat – and other ancient temples – and many documents that show its origins in the Kingdom,” said Ra.

“In addition, Kun Lbokator was added to the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity on November 29, 2022. This also convinced them of our right to claim Kun Khmer as our own, and they have all joined us,” he added.

A team of Kun Khmer athletes pose for a group photo before their fight. PHOTO SUPPLIED

He made it clear that all members must adhere to the traditions of the sport. This means they must wear Khmer uniforms and head pieces, and traditional music must be played at matches. The federation is preparing to send coaches to train the athletes of the new members.

“The fact that we have been recognised – and that nearly 50 nations have joined us – is a great success. We now have requests pending from all six inhabited continents, and will suspend new requests for a while,” he said.

“We have limited the requests to 50 because we are very busy preparing to host the SEA Games. After the games, we will work harder to attract more countries to the sport of Kun Khmer,” he added.

At a January 26 special meeting between eight countries – Vietnam, the Philippines, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Cambodia, the participants determined 19 weight classes for Kun Khmer matches at the SEA Games, 11 for men and eight for women.

Vath Chamroeun, secretary-general of the Cambodian SEA Games Organising Committee (CAMSOC), said the Kingdom intends to expand the scope of Kun Khmer beyond the games.

“We established the KKIF so we could move towards an international tournament forum. Our ambition is to encourage Kun Khmer fighters to compete all over the world. We hope that this will inspire people to take up the sport in each corner of the globe,” he added.