Sport in Cambodia

Sport in Cambodia

Cambodia has increasingly become involved in sports over the last 30 years.

Football is popular as is martial arts in particular. The martial arts of Bokator, Pradal Serey (Khmer kick boxing) and Khmer traditional wrestling are all practised in the country.

The ancient sport of Bokator

Bokator/Boxkator, or more formally, Labok Katao(which means wielding a wooden stick to fight lions) (ល្បុក្កតោ), is an ancient Khmer martial art said to be the predecessor of all Southeast Asian kickboxing styles. Depicted in bas reliefs at Angkor Wat, Bokator was the close quarter combat system used by the ancient Angkor army. Bokator bears much of the responsibility for Cambodia's domination during the Angkorean era. It is believed that Jayavarman VII, the illustrious ruler of the Khmer Empire, was a practitioner of Bokator. Bokator weaves together Cambodia's ancient religious traditions of Buddhism and Brahmanism.

Unlike kick boxing, which is a sport fighting art, Boxkator was a soldier’s art, designed to be used on the battlefield. It can be considered a complete martial art, using strikes, throws, drags, trapping, locking, and some elements of ground fighting. Every single part of the body can be used as a weapon. Boxkator practitioners are trained to strike with knees, hands, elbows, feet, shins, and head. Even the shoulders, hip, jaw, and fingers can be used to fight an opponent to submission or death.

When fighting, Bokator practitioners still wear the uniforms of ancient Khmer armies. A kroma (scarf) is folded around their waist and blue and red silk cords called sangvar day, are tied around the combatants head and biceps. In the past it is said that the cords were enchanted to increase strength, although now they are just ceremonial.

The kroma shows the fighter’s level of expertise. A series of grades, each taking at least five months to complete training seven days a week and 2 hours a day, are represented by different colors.

The first grade is white, followed by green, blue, red, brown and then black which has 10 degrees.

After completing their initial training, fighters wear a Black Kroma (scarf) for at least another ten years. To attain the Gold Kroma you must be a true master and must have done something great for Boxkator. And to become a true master it will definitely take some time as just in the unarmed portion of the art there are between 8000 and 10000 different techniques; only 1000 of which you have to learn to attain the black kroma.

The art contains 341 different styles some of which are the duck, crab, horse, bird, dragon, eagle, crane, wind, fire, water, earth (or stone,) king monkey, lion, elephant, apsara (traditional Hindu sacred nymph), and crocodile.

Because of its visually similar style, Bokator (Boxkator) is commonly wrongly described as a variant of modern kick boxing. Bokator has many forms based on styles as well as straight practical fighting techniques. While Pradal Serey is a more simplified freestyle fighting system which uses a few of the basic (white kroma) punching, elbow, kicking and kneeing techniques

Pradal Serey

Pradal Serey or Traditional Khmer boxing is a popular sport in Cambodia. A match consists of 5 sets of 3 minute rounds and takes place in a 6.1 meter square boxing ring. A one or two minute break occurs between each round. At the beginning of each match boxers practice the praying rituals known as the Kun Kru. Traditional Cambodian music is played during the match. The music is played used the instruments of the skor yaul (a type of drum), the sraliai (a flute like instrument) and the stringed chhing. Boxers wear leather gloves and shorts.


*1. A boxer is not allowed to strike his opponent while he is on the ground.
*2. A boxer is not allowed to bite.
*3. When an opponent can not fight anymore, the referee stops the fight.
*4. Blows to the back of the opponent are not allowed.
*5. A boxer may not hold on to the ropes.
*6. Blows to the genitals are prohibited.

Victory can be obtained by knockout. A knockout occurs when a boxer is knocked down to the ground and can not continue fighting after a 10 second count by the referee. Victory is also obtained from the end of the match when judges decide by a point system which fighter was more effective. If fighters end up with the same score a draw is called.


Styles of boxing have been practiced in Southeast Asia since ancient times and were developed through the influence of martial arts from India.

Khmer people believe that Pradal Serey predates other Southeast Asian forms of kickboxing. The basis of this argument is the bas-relief of two man believed to practice Pradal Serey in Angkor ruin, but no actual evidence can confirm that.

Ultimately Pradal Serey became a sport, during the days of the Colonial Cambodia. When the French came they added western boxing gloves, timed rounds, and a boxing ring to civilize the art. Originally matches were fought in dirt pits with limited rules while hands were wrapped in rope.

The Near Extinction of Pradal Serey

On April 17, 1975, during the chaos of the Vietnam War, a communist group called "The Khmer Rouge" overthrew the Cambodian government and rose to power after Lon Nol's pro-democratic government was crumbling after America left the Vietnam War . The Khmer Rogue's plan was to eliminate modern society and create an agriculture utopia. [Sites, Kevin. July 18, 2006. [ Year Zero] , (retrieved November 5, 2006)] . The Khmer Rouge executed all educated people, others who had ties to the old government or anyone who was believed to be an enemy (doctors, teachers, soldiers, actors, singers, Khmer boxers, etc.) and threw the remaining Khmer population into labor camps, in which many died of starvation and diseases, to be re-educated under the new government. An estimated 2.5 million Cambodians or 20% of the population died during Khmer Rouge Regime. This lasted for four years until 1979 when the Vietnamese along with ex-Khmer Rouge officers overthrew the Khmer Rouge. Pradal Serey had been banned during the Khmer Rouge era and many boxers were executed which caused the art of Khmer Kickboxing to be almost wiped out from Khmer history. Today Pradal Serey is being revived in Cambodia after peace has finally been established.

Pradal Serey Today

Pradal Serey is making a strong comeback since its banishment back in the 70's. Numerous gyms have opened and large masses of students, local and foreign, have come to train in Cambodia. There are weekly matches held, in which many are televised, and many of Cambodia's best have traveled internationally to compete. There are currently about 70 boxing clubs. Cambodia is attempting to market their style of boxing to the same caliber of Muay Thai.

Attempt of Cambodian to unite Southeast Asian Boxing Style

Cambodians had an attempt to unite Southeast Asia's boxing styles. At an ASEAN meeting in 1995 regarding the upcoming King's Cup Muay Thai competition, Cambodia wanted to rename Muay Thai as "Suwannaphum" boxing or "SEA Boxing", which represented Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. Suwannaphum means "golden land" in both the Khmer and Thai which came from the language of Pali and refers to mainland Southeast Asia. "SEA" is a popular acronym referring to Southeast Asia.

Thailand would not compromise, stating that each Southeast Asian country has its own boxing style and Thailand is the one who pushed their style into international sport. At the 2005 Southeast Asian Games, Cambodia did not enter the Muay Thai event in protest.

Notable Khmer Boxers

*Eh Phoutong- Khmer Kickboxing Champion
*Oth Phouthoung-TV5 kickboxing champion
*Meas Chanta - International Khmer Kickboxer
*Pich Arun - International Khmer Kickboxer
*Pich Sophun - International Khmer Kickboxer
*Chey Kosal - International Khmer Kickboxer
*Bun Sothea- Cambodian S1 champion
*Try Kuntor- Cambodian Kickboxer
*Bing Leung- Cambodian Kickboxer

Khmer Traditional Wrestling

A traditional Khmer wrestling match consists of three rounds. A round may be won by forcing an opponent to his back. A wrestler wins the match by winning two of the three rounds. After each round the loser is asked if he wishes to continue with the match.

Wrestlers participate in pre-match ritual dancing before the match. The match is accompanied by the music of two drums (called Skor Ngey and Chhmol, "female drum" and "male drum").

Traditional matches are held during the Khmer New Year and other Cambodian holdiays.


The Cambodian Football Federation is the governing body of football in Cambodia, controlling the Cambodian national team. It was founded in 1933, and has been a member of FIFA since 1953 and the Asian Football Confederation since 1957.

Phnom Pehn National Olympic Stadium is the national stadium with a capacity of 50,000 in Phnom Penh. [ [ VIP Sport Club, Phnom Penh's First Sport CLub] ]


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