Guiddies tours

Study Martial Arts: Cambodia's Bokator

In Cambodia I wanted to learn about other aspects of the Angkor Era. Did you know that Cambodia has several types of martial arts, one of the oldest and millennium old one is Bokator (Labokator), often referred as the ancestor of Thai kickboxing. It barely survived the Khmer Rouge's cultural genocide. The art is nevertheless still alive thanks to the efforts and teachings of grand master Sam Kim Sean. This blog post is not only for travelers to Cambodia looking for an immersive experience, but also for Mix Martial Arts (MMA) adepts or anyone interested in the history, characteristics and beliefs associated to this lesser known discipline.

Brief History

Photo Credits: Federatio Khmer Sak Yant

Since the ninth century, the long reigns of Khmer Kings in South East Asia were attributed to their fierce Bokator fighters. Bokator is liberally translated as "pounding a lion". It associated with a legend of a fighter who killed a lion with a single knee strike. Nowadays it is known for its close contact techniques using not only elbow and knee strikes, but chin kicks, or even head, jaw, hips and finger tips for the submission or lethal blows to the opponent. The use of weapons is also part of certain fighting techniques.

Photo Credits: Federatio Khmer Sak Yant

Beyond the physical execution and performance aspect, Bokator is a structured system including a philosophy. Adepts are recognizable from their bodies covered in sacred Sak Yant, magical Cambodian tattoos believed convey strength and additional powers to their bearer.

Photo Credits: Federatio Khmer Sak Yant

Philosophy beyond the Fighting

Bokator fighting techniques are all inspired from Hinduism teachings, and incorporate wisdom found in Nature. Several teaching techniques include animal references (karma) such as "white karma the King Monkey, the elephant, the mythical Apsara (Hindu sacred nymph), the crocodile and the lion. The green karma refer to the crab, duck,horse bird and even dragon" (as discussed in . Meditation sessions are also inherent to its study and practice, as well as reciting prayers of blessing( Brahma) from old Sanskrit language. These prayers may also be tattooed on the fighters since it is believe they give strength and protection.

Photo Credits: Federatio Khmer Sak Yant

Children either boys or girls may study Bokator for self-defence or self control purposes. If younger Cambodian can now rediscover their own culture, it is mainly attributed to the effort of Bokator's grand master Sam Kim Sean returned from exile in the USA after the Khmer Rouge war and during the Vietnamese occupation. In the Khmer Rouge era, most Bokator fighters were executed, and the fews survivors repressed in the following occupation years. After his return to Cambodia in early 2000s , Sam Kim Sean who campaigned in the country to rally the few remaining living Bokator adepts. There are now several schools in Phnom Penh and in Siem Reap including the Federation Khmer Sak Yant.

Photo Credits: Federatio Khmer Sak Yant

Activities and Experience in Cambodia

As part of the mission on their Bokator school, the Federation Khmer Sak Yant welcome travelers to Cambodia to attend half-day or full day class including meditation session at their school in Siem Reap that can be found here.