Sun, Oct 14, 2007 - Page 9 News List

`Bokator' makes sudden comeback in Cambodia

nThe ancient martial art practice that was pushed to near extinction under the Khmer Rouge regime is enjoying an unexpected revival

By Seth Meixner  /  AFP , PHNOM PENH

Most of its practitioners were among the two million left dead by the time the regime was overthrown in 1979, and those still alive hid their talents out of fear, Sean Kim San said.

"The Khmer Rouge -- everything interesting they destroyed," he said, adding that after his return to Cambodia he unearthed about a dozen elderly bokator masters.

"But they were still scared about the killings, about Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge -- they were afraid to speak the truth," he said.

Still, he pieced together this puzzle, logging each swing or kick into his catalogue of bokator moves and slowly rebuilding interest in the ancient form.

Three years ago, he said he had only seven students in one school. Now more than 1,000 practice bokator in schools across 10 provinces.

"We have about 400 or 500 students here, including some foreigners," he said of his own gym at the end of a ramshackle Phnom Penh side street. "This is how far we've raised up the sport."

Mathew Olsen, an Australian instructor of the Korean martial art hapkido and a bokator convert, said he had not known Cambodia had its own martial art.

"I was surprised there was something with such a wide spectrum -- the weapons, the punches, kicks, the ground fighting and pressure points makes it very lethal," he said during a recent training session.

"Bokator is a very complete martial art, very interesting to foreigners," he said. "Basically I think there is more art in this martial art than a lot of other martial arts."

While one of Sean Kim San's hopes is to introduce bokator to the wider world -- and eventual inclusion in international martial arts competitions -- a larger and more immediate goal is to keep this very Cambodian tradition alive at home.

"It is very important to pass this from generation to generation because this is our blood. This was passed down from grand masters and our kings," he said.

He has a dream, he said, that bokator training will become a regular feature in Cambodian primary schools.

"That means millions and millions of people know very well bokator," he said.

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