A breathtaking journey into the past and present of Cambodia’s culture, the Smile of Angkor Show introduces the visitors to an ancient Khmer sport that still plays an important role in the Cambodian society. Boxing, or more precisely, Bokator is a traditional Khmer martial art that dates back to the third century.
There is not so much evidence about the lifestyle of the ancient Khmers and warriors in Khmer literature, so the modern knowledge about it is mostly derived from the temple reliefs. Scenes of Khmer martial arts (Kbach kun boran in Khmer) can be found in carvings on the walls of stone temples and monuments of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Bayon, Preah Vihear .
The Bokator is believed to develop itself from “Lokusskor”, the fighting method invented by the weapon master Lok Kru Sathekori in the 3rd century. The “Bokator” (or Kun Bokator) school was founded in 537 AD by another master named Lok Kru Yaksakri, based on his method of fighting with two shields (Khel) against swords or spears. The style is described the similar way in the “Dictionnaire Cambodgien” published in 1967-196, and also by Cambodian Bokator masters (krus) today.
In “Bokatao ” or Bokator Kun Khel, arms are employed much more actively than legs. In the 3rd century, when this style emerged, Cambodian soldiers had to fight against swordsmen and spearmen, so they were wearing heavy armor and could not jump around too much. For that reason, the fighter in Bokator is always in a low position (similar to the fighters of Kalari Indian payatt) , and his main techniques are close fights and simultaneous attacks on vital points to dislocate joints from the human body .
Moreover, Bokator fighters attached great importance to the psychological aspect of the fight. To scare and to suppress the spirit of the enemies they used magic mantras of Indian Brahmins. Nowadays, many keilakors (Bokator fighters) still recite these mantras before the fight to ensure their strength and dominate of the opponent.
There is not so much information available about the original Bokator style (The Tao Bokk Kak ) that emerged in the third century AD, as it had changed a lot during the last 17 centuries. First changes took place well before the Kingdom of Angkor (ninth century AD), when the fighters started to melee weapons for military purposes. During the reign of Jayavarman VII, the Greatest King of Angkor, the teaching principals of Khmer martial arts were again reformed and restructured.
Today, the Bokator is actively practiced in Cambodia under the name of Pradal Serey, Khmer modern boxing. Large traditional Khmer boxing schools are located in the province of Battambang (Cambodia’s second largest city). From there, the sport was spread throughout the country.
Nowadays, Khmer boxing is one of the most popular sports practiced in Cambodia, on a par with volleyball. Those who traveled around Cambodia and visited Cambodian villages had for sure seen groups of the men gathering in front of their houses to watch daily broadcasted boxing games.
Bokator is the ancestor of many Asian boxing styles, including the famous Muay Thai, although not so many people are aware about it. The Smile of Angkor will take you back to the roots of the Asian traditional martial art, showing the Cambodian warriors fighting on the terraces of Angkor. But do not worry, nobody will get hurt!