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Kun Khmer / Cambodian boxing


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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).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxuHxRrti5M

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TgI0YBKluHQ

Long Sophy 

Meun Sokhuch  good stoppage

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rE39zh54I2E

 

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

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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.

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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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=--DlclqbmeM

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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.

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  • 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.

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Aitor´s fight (poor quality):

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WKE-gZJ-hNU

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!

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Aitor´s fight (poor quality):

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WKE-gZJ-hNU

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:

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  • 2 weeks later...

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

http://www.newyorker.com/news/sporting-scene/mixed-martial-arts-meets-khmer-boxing

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.

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