Friday, July 30, 2010

The art of Bokator

One of the stories submitted to my forthcoming To Cambodia With Love guidebook came from martial arts adventurer Antonio Graceffo. It didn't make the final cut but it's relevant as the national Bokator championships begin today and Antonio is just about to publish a book on martial arts. His book, which covers his first six years in Asia has chapters about Cambodia and Cambodian martial arts such as Bokator, Bradal Serey and Jap bap Boran. It's called Warrior Odyssey: The Travels of a Martial Artist Through Asia (right).

Resurrecting Bokator Khmer - by Antonio Graceffo
The ancient Khmer martial art of Bokator is something which only belongs to Cambodia. The proof is 'written in stone' on the walls of Angkor Wat. Unlike kick boxing, which is a sport fighting art, Bokator was a soldier's art, designed to be used on the battlefield, and was practiced by King Jayavarman VII no less. Khmer Bokator is a very complete martial art, which uses strikes, throws, drags, trapping, locking and ground fighting. In Bokator every single part of the body can be used as a weapon. Bokator practitioners are trained to strike with knees, hands, elbows, feet, shins and head. Even the fingers, hip, jaw and shoulders can be used to pound an opponent.
Grand Master Sam Kim Saen is the man credited with reviving this wonderful martial art, which was almost lost. "During the Khmer Rouge time, masters of traditional arts, such as painting, music, dancing and martial arts were hunted down and killed." Explained Master Sam Kim Saen. "All of my training brothers and students, as well as two of my children, were killed by the Khmer Rouge." After the Khmer Rouge regime ended, and the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia began, martial arts were completely outlawed. To keep the art alive, Master Sam Kim Saen taught martial arts in secret, but was eventually turned into the authorities by an informant. Afraid for his life, he escaped to a refugee camp in Thailand, and then later, to the USA. He returned to Cambodia and opened up a Bokator training school, near Batook High School in Phnom Penh.
Bokator is gaining in popularity in Cambodia. There are now annual Bokator national championships held at the Olympic Stadium with the first finals taking place in 2006 and involving teams from nine provinces. To attain the highest level in Bokator, the gold karma, is a life-long endeavor; in the unarmed portion of the artform there are between 8,000 and 10,000 different techniques, only 1,000 of which need to be learnt to attain a black karma, the second highest level.

This is timely as this year's national Bokator championships begin today with matches held each day until the finals on Monday of next week. A total of 222 male and female exponents of the art will compete across four weight divisions, while competitors will also perform routines with or without weapons and in groups in twelve non-combative categories.

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