Khmer kick boxing, or ‘Khmer free boxing’ as some people refer to it, has become a popular televised spectator sport recently, and national station TVK is now getting into the act with a Sunday fight round to be beamed around the country live from Parkway in Phnom Penh. "The athletic combat sport calls for agility, flexibility and toughness as fists and feet of two competitors fly in a fight to the bitter end," said Mr Mel Kado, General Secretary of Cambodia Amateur Boxing Association. "Exponents use moves with exotic names like kla-krab (tiger lying down), and krapeu-ha (crocodile opening its mouth) to force their opponents into submission." Increased access to viewing the sport has lead to a revival in the numbers of young men practicing it (in Cambodia, boxing is not a sport for women), with about 40 boxing clubs now operating nationally under 19 municipal and provincial amateur boxing associations. "Boxing is becoming popular again, especially amongst young people in the provinces," Mr Nang Ravith, Vice President of the Khmer Amateur Wresting Association and owner of the Baksei Cham-krong Fight Club said.
"To promote it, my club is now including it-both modern and traditional styles-among our other styles, like Grecco and Khmer wrestling, Judo, Karate and Kungfu, for instance." But there is concern among some, such as the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, that Khmers do not realize that this sport originated here and that, although similar to the Thai sport of Muay Thai, it is intrinsically Khmer, down to the carved images of ancient boxers immortalized in bas-relief on the walls of the Angkor temples. Khmer boxers have in the past refused to attend bouts in Thailand called Muay Thai tournaments, suggesting instead it be called Sovanna Phum (Golden Village) Boxing and objecting to what they see as a Thai attempt to appropriate the sport. The Thais in turn have argued that no one has ever heard of Muay Khmer, and have refused to change the name. The decision wrinkles with many in Cambodia and has created minor international incidents between the two at times. "The Angkorian Empire far pre-dated the Ayutthaya Kingdom (1350-1767) and even the Sokothai Kingdom (1200)," Mr Chuch Phoeun, Under Secretary of State for the Ministry of Culture said.
"A senior Thai expert, a friend of mine, recently conceded to me at an ASEAN cultural experts meeting that prior to the Ayutthaya Kingdom, that Siam copied from the Angkorian Empire, and Sokothai was still in the feudal stage." But war, Khmer experts like this say, has meant that the inventors of the sport now lag well behind their neighbors in practice. That, officials say, will change over coming years as the Khmers fight back to regain recognition in the sport. Whatever the world federations decide to call it, there is a passion for kick boxing here that is only now being recognized, partially through television, to rise to levels of popularity seen in the sixties. Each bout is accompanied by the haunting music of the skor yaul (a type of drum), the sralai (a flute-like instrument) and the stringed chhing and as the boxers come out and bow solemnly in their traditional headgear, the roar of the crowd calls them to battle. Kbach Kun Pradal Khmer the official Khmer name for kickboxing _ thought to have originated as a sort of hand-to-hand combat technique for soldiers during war, and in ancient times there were no weight divisions. Instead the sport was fought on an all-comers basis. The sport has since become more regulated, and is fought in a 6.1 meter square ring in the same style as conventional western boxing bouts, with five 3-minute rounds broken by one minute rests between rounds.
Bouts are decided by the referee or officials, and a knockout is deemed to be when a boxer is knocked down and cannot rise within 10 seconds. Now local boxers will get the chance to take on their Thai rivals and let their fists and feet do the talking when the Parkway fights get underway in the first week of Januray.. Guest fighters have already been invited to take on local heroes in what the station expects to be a ratings bonanza, given the popularity of the sport and the extra spice of international rivalry.