Jump to content

Kun Khmer / Cambodian boxing

Recommended Posts

So it's the 13th today, and I rewrote about the history of Kun Khmer to the best of my knowledge. I'll try to complete this soon, if anyone has any questions, feel free to ask.


Kun Khmer History:

The ancient art of Khmer fighting is called Bokator, which dates back to the 9th century and was used by the Cambodian soldiers in unarmed combat. Over the years it developed into competitions against other boxers which was known as Pradal Serey.

The original Pradal Serey competitions were held in the dirt and surrounded by an audience whom would act as their ring. For these competitions the boxers would wrap their hands in rope, and of course some would put glass or other sharp objects in the rope wraps to give them an advantage. 

During the colonial period in Cambodia by the French (1863-1953) the Europeans decided to modernize the sport, which included adding a boxing ring, western boxing gloves, timed rounds and a ruleset, since the hardcore fights of the past had almost no rules.

After the modernization by the French, Pradal Serey was growing strong, Cambodia's Boxing Federation (CBF) formed in 1961 and all referees/fighters/judges had to be licensed by them. Although village competitions were fought regularly without any licensing, any event held on TV had to do so under the CBF. So Pradal Serey was as well regulated as a sport can be in SEA. 

Khmers would fight regularly against the Thai's and from my understanding were at a similar skill level, so they were good fighters. 


This was all until 1975 when the Khmer Rouge came into power led by Pol Pot, and if you don't know about the Khmer Rouge Regime, I'll just write briefly about it...

The plan was to completely destroy a modern society and replace it with an agricultural society, and in doing so they murdered anyone with an education/skills or even for just wearing glass's since that was a 'sign' of intelligence, the remainder population was put into hardcore labour camps and were set to be re-educated (brainwashed) into the new governments regime.

Even though most boxers were uneducated and came from poor backgrounds, they had a skillset, which was seen as having an advantage over the society that the regime wanted to create, so they were also murdered. Any Pradal Serey teachers/boxers that were well known were the first to be murdered, so basically the less well known you were as a fighter or teacher, the higher chance you had of surviving, which meant that the most that did survive were low level teachers or fighters. 

Many Khmers fled to Thailand and other countries, and the Pradal Serey teachers/boxers worked in Muay Thai camps as padmen or would fight locally under a fake Thai name in order to make a living. 

The Khmer Rouge was overthrown by the Vietnamese in 1979 and afterwards the Vietnamese occupied Cambodia until 1993, and from 1979 until 1987 martial arts were banned. Although many teachers started teaching again after the Rouge was overthrown, it still wasn't safe. The reason being was that some of the population still supported the regime, which included the policemen and since they were under the Vietnamese occupation where martial arts were banned the Vietnamese police and the bad Khmer police caused problems for the teachers. So many of the teachers taught in complete secret and it wasn't completely safe until around 2000 in certain areas, although boxing events started again in the 1990's I believe.

After the Khmer Rouge Regime, the Khmers tried to get rid of the horrible past, so they renamed it from Pradal Serey to Kun Khmer. Kun Khmer is basically what you'd see today, I believe the level might've been higher during the Pradal Serey time, but unless there's video footage its hard to know.


Thailand vs Cambodia:

There's actually disputes between Cambodia and Thailand about where the art originated. According to what I read online is that the Indochinese boxing arts came from India, I've actually read that a lot, but I personally don't know...

Anyway, many Cambodians are angry/upset/annoyed with the Thais. In the Khmer's view the art originated in Cambodia and that the other countries developed their arts (tomoi, muay thai) from the Mon-Khmer people, that is how they believe Muay Thai originated - from the Mon-Khmer people. The reason they are upset is simply because the Thai's have made it famous and world-widely known as Muay Thai without giving any credit to the people/country from where they got the art from.

According to wikipedia Cambodia proposed an offer to Thailand to rename it 'Sovannaphum boxing' or 'SEA boxing' in order to unite all the different variations (tomoi, muay lao, lethwei, etc) under the same name, but Thailand rejected.  

All of these points are basically leading to the point of why you won't see many Cambodians fighting in Thailand, but you will see a lot of Thai's fighting in Cambodia. For a Khmer boxer to fight under 'Muay Thai' is very shameful and it can really affect their reputation, but there is a lot of money to be found in Muay Thai...

Cambodian promoters have found they can make a lot of money by bringing over (questionable) Thai's to fight the Khmer boxers, you will literally see the Cambodian audience go wild. If you look at the videos on YouTube with the most views, it is also the Khmer vs Thai ones and the Thai's name is often never in the title, for example 'Vong noy vs Thai' 'Keo Rumchong vs Thai', etc. Although you can find some really good competitive Thai vs Khmer fights. 

So most involved Kun Khmer fan/fighter/teacher/promoter seem to have a negative view on the Thai's because of Muay Thai, the only Thai boxer I've seen Khmer people support is Buakaw, and Buakaw has fought in Cambodia a few times (against westeners) and he's from Khmer descent, I think...? 



Kun Khmer vs Muay Thai: Uncomplete

The differences, so I don't know how many people on this forum actually watch Kun Khmer, its actually very entertaining. The Khmer boxers tend to focus more on throwing a lot of strikes and being very aggressive, they tend to ignore the clinch and if they do clinch it doesn't last long. 

For me, a lot of Kun Khmer fights are like watching the golden era in Thailand, the fighters are relentless and I've never seen them dancing off round 5. 

The way they throw their techniques seem to be similar but, not the same. If you watch a lot of Kun Khmer you'll start to pick up on the differences, the judging is also different as is some of the clothing worn etc.


Fighters, personal favourites at the moment:

Keo Rumchong - famous for heavy punches and low kicks, Ot Phuthong vs Keo (Ot's kinda old in this).


Sen Rady - fought at lumpinee, fights a lot of thai's


Long Sophy 

Meun Sokhuch  good stoppage



Past fighters:

Bird Kham is probably the most famous Khmer fighter ever, he actually still fights now... but its sad to watch, better to watch him 10 years ago.

Ot Phuthong he was on the fight quest I think it's called, as the final fight. He's very good, had a good fight against Keo Rumchong

Eh Phutong or maybe he is most famous? Very good also, both brothers are.

Meas Chantha fought a lot of foreigners.


To write:

add training/gym videos

female fighters

  • Like 4
Link to comment
Share on other sites

ooooh thanks so much, I was thinking about asking Sylvie or Emma about this, and also about differences with MT, seems you will answer that later ! 

Great topic! Looking foreward to read more :) 

Yes, I will expand on it, I didn't even write half of what I wanted to, I had all these good ideas and then when it came to writing it I was so tired it all came out poorly written. I'll finish it tomorrow.

I also want to learn more about lethwei (Burmese boxing) since they've started to use gloves in some of their fights it seems. And there's even Muay Lao and Tomoi, but I don't know much about those haha.


The Cambodians definitely put on a show. I saw Keo fight recently, he beat a Thai guy. I think it was on a Thai Fight event.

Yes Keo fights on Thai Fight, he got KO'd by Yodsanklai also, but the way he fights is just... relentless, big heart. He has a short highlight video on his IG https://www.instagram.com/p/5pOoM5jIoZ he's very powerful. I actually really want to see him fight Yodsanklai with gloves on, gloves can change a lot, I think he'd lose but... maybe not as badly.

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Really good post and thread. Sylvie interviewed a big Bangkok promoter who is involved in a plan to build an International Kard Chuk stadium, I believe in Mae Sai (?, don't remember), in order to promote Thai vs border country fighting. He has a big vision, but this is something that might mean a lot for Khmer fighting.

An interesting aspect of this is that there seems to be something of an ideological tension within Thailand about the history or source of Muay Thai techniques. There seems to be a strong effort to portray Muay Thai has having a "royal" lineage, and align Muay Thai with nationalist efforts, protecting the nation, etc., distancing itself from techniques found either in the North or in Isaan (with its Khmer origins). There seem to be noble vs populist narratives in struggle, making the loss of Khmer fighting knowledge a hole in history.

So sad to think of the loss of Khmer teachers during the brutality of the Khmer Rouge (albeit a tragedy of such an enormous proportion, hard to single that out). This absence though draws out what is so absolutely unique about Thailand, perhaps in the world. The thing that makes Thailand like no other place, at least in this point in history, is the sheer number of fights, both in individual careers but also just nationally. It has a history of knowledge and continuity that is incredibly fight-tested, across tens of thousands of persons. Yes, great Thai fighters of the past are often neglected by their own, we know one fighter who was the best 118 lb fighter in the land who now just manages a bar, and there are countless stories like this; and yes, formerly esteemed gyms are now becoming more like adventure tourist centers, but still all this fighting is done in the context of a huge bed knowledge and memory. 

In a complete side note, the loss of masters makes me think of this very good documentary about the diaspora and loss of Kung Fu masters, much recommended:


  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes, great Thai fighters of the past are often neglected by their own, we know one fighter who was the best 118 lb fighter in the land who now just manages a bar, and there are countless stories like this; 

A friend of mine went to Thailand mostly as a tourist. He likes Muay Thai but didn't train it or anything. He met some guys at a local bar and became friends with them and eventually found out one of them was a former Lumpinee champion. He was working a normal job and was indistinguishable from any other guy.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

following similar  muaythai martial arts, a friend of mine, Aitor Alonso, will fight in Lethwei. I will let you know what he thinks about it (and the headbuts :-) )

Not only the headbutts, but the lack of gloves! I just finished watching fists of pride which was about the Burmese in the Thai camps of Mae Sot, and also showcasing the annual Thai VS Burmese.

Is your friend going to Myanmar to fight? I think the Burmese are really nice people.


That just reminded me, I need to finish this thread, I shall do it tomorrow.

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Aitor´s fight (poor quality):


He said that he faced a very strong guy (a "buffalo"  he called him) and that his head was rock solid like ground. As you said Bakpao he felt the lack of gloves and that was surprised by the uppercuts to the body in clinch. He will adapted to that beacuse he want to repeat :-) Overall, to him was a great experience and said that his opponent was a really nice guy, you can see that after the fight. Sorry but I got the video yesterday!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Aitor´s fight (poor quality):


He said that he faced a very strong guy (a "buffalo"  he called him) and that his head was rock solid like ground. As you said Bakpao he felt the lack of gloves and that was surprised by the uppercuts to the body in clinch. He will adapted to that beacuse he want to repeat :-) Overall, to him was a great experience and said that his opponent was a really nice guy, you can see that after the fight. Sorry but I got the video yesterday!

Your friend is good and he fought well, it just looked like he had a hard time with how relentless the Burmese boxer was. And in fairness to your friend Soe Lin Oo is very famous.

Yeah, I think if he trained maybe in a lethwei gym or trained lethwei style for a short period of time he'd adapt very well. 

Seems like a huge adrenaline rush to go fight in front of a massive audience against a local without gloves and headbutts, lol. :ohmy:

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

Just saw this article on The New Yorker which made me think of this thread.


I just came across the article through a friend. Justing Wong was at the Kongsittha Muay Thai camp that Muay Thai Guy put on last month, so it was cool to see him featured in the article. The Khmer Rouge was an incredibly scary part of history, the Boxer Rebellion in China was similarly freaky. It's nice to see re-emergence.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Most Recent Topics

  • Latest Comments

    • He told me he was teaching at a gym in Chong Chom, Surin - which is right next to the Cambodian border.  Or has he decided to make use of the border crossing?  🤔
    • Here is a 6 minute audio wherein a I phrase the argument speaking in terms of Thailand's Muay Femeu and Spinoza's Ethics.    
    • Leaving aside the literary for a moment, the relationship between "techniques" and style (& signature) is a meaningful one to explore, especially for the non-Thai who admires the sport and wishes to achieve proficiency, or even mastery. Mostly for pedagogic reasons (that is, acute differences in training methods, along with a culture & subjectivity of training, a sociological thread), the West and parts of Asia tend to focus on "technical" knowledge, often with a biomechanical emphasis. A great deal of emphasis is put on learning to some precision the shape of the Thai kick or its elbow, it's various executions, in part because visually so much of Thailand's Muay Thai has appeared so visually clean (see: Precision – A Basic Motivation Mistake in Some Western Training). Because much of the visual inspiration for foreign learned techniques often come from quite elevated examples of style and signature, the biomechanical emphasis enters just on the wrong level. The techniques displayed are already matured and expressed in stylistics. (It would be like trying to learn Latin or French word influences as found in Nabakov's English texts.) In the real of stylistics, timing & tempo, indeed musicality are the main drivers of efficacy. Instead, Thais learn much more foundational techniques - with far greater variance, and much less "correction" - principally organized around being at ease, tamachat, natural. The techne (τέχνη), the mechanics, that ground stylistics, are quite basic, and are only developmentally deployed in the service of style (& signature), as it serves to perform dominance in fights. The advanced, expressive nature of Thai technique is already woven into the time and tempo of stylistics. This is one reason why the Muay Thai Library project involves hour long, unedited training documentation, so that the style itself is made evident - something that can even have roots in a fighter's personality and disposition. These techne are already within a poiesis (ποίησις), a making, a becoming. Key to unlocking these basic forms is the priority of balance and ease (not biomechanical imitations of the delivery of forces), because balance and ease allow their creative use in stylistics.
  • The Latest From Open Topics Forum

    • Hi, this might be out of the normal topic, but I thought you all might be interested in a book-- Children of the Neon Bamboo-- that has a really cool Martial Arts instructor character who set up an early Muy Thai gym south of Miami in the 1980s. He's a really cool character who drives the plot, and there historically accurate allusions to 1980s martial arts culture. However, the main thrust is more about nostalgia and friendships.    Can we do links? Childrenoftheneonbamboo.com Children of the Neon Bamboo: B. Glynn Kimmey: 9798988054115: Amazon.com: Movies & TV      
    • Davince Resolve is a great place to start. 
    • I see that this thread is from three years ago, and I hope your journey with Muay Thai and mental health has evolved positively during this time. It's fascinating to revisit these discussions and reflect on how our understanding of such topics can grow. The connection between training and mental health is intricate, as you've pointed out. Finding the right balance between pushing yourself and self-care is a continuous learning process. If you've been exploring various avenues for managing mood-related issues over these years, you might want to revisit the topic of mental health resources. One such resource is The UK Medical Cannabis Card, which can provide insights into alternative treatments.
    • Phetjeeja fought Anissa Meksen for a ONE FC interim atomweight kickboxing title 12/22/2023. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cu92S6-V5y0&ab_channel=ONEChampionship Fight starts at 45:08 Phetjeeja won on points. Not being able to clinch really handicapped her. I was afraid the ref was going to start deducting points for clinch fouls.   
    • Earlier this year I wrote a couple of sociology essays that dealt directly with Muay Thai, drawing on Sylvie's journalism and discussions on the podcast to do so. I thought I'd put them up here in case they were of any interest, rather than locking them away with the intention to perfectly rewrite them 'some day'. There's not really many novel insights of my own, rather it's more just pulling together existing literature with some of the von Duuglus-Ittu's work, which I think is criminally underutilised in academic discussions of MT. The first, 'Some meanings of muay' was written for an ideology/sosciology of knowledge paper, and is an overly long, somewhat grindy attempt to give a combined historical, institutional, and situated study of major cultural meanings of Muay Thai as a form of strength. The second paper, 'the fighter's heart' was written for a qualitative analysis course, and makes extensive use of interviews and podcast discussions to talk about some ways in which the gendered/sexed body is described/deployed within Muay Thai. There's plenty of issues with both, and they're not what I'd write today, and I'm learning to realise that's fine! some meanings of muay.docx The fighter's heart.docx
  • Forum Statistics

    • Total Topics
    • Total Posts
  • Create New...