Cambodia is a worthy travel destination for most expats. Many who visit the country revel in the grandeur and complexity of Cambodia’s heritage and culture. Visiting the Angkor Temples would take you back in time when the locals fought for their freedom.
One of the striking details one can note on the walls of the Angkor Temples are the stories of the nation’s struggle to freedom through honour, valour, and combat. Whilst most Cambodian warriors are overshadowed by their more popular counterparts such as Japan’s Samurais, they are as ferocious as well. These Cambodian warriors who fought enemies through hand to hand combat. Pradal Serey and Bokator are two forms of martial arts popular in Cambodia, both known as the original South East Asian martial art.
Under the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, many of Cambodia’s culture and heritage was lost, along with vital knowledge about Khmer boxing. A number of the masters lost their lives, while some fled the country. Even during the end of the regime, several boxers were afraid to relive the art. Thankfully, some brave souls were able to revive the lost art more recently. In fact, many scholars believe that Cambodian ancient fighting art as the main form for pre-modern fighting arts known to many today.
Also known as Kun Khmer, Pradal Serey translates to free fighting. This form of kickboxing was the direct descendant of the early Khmer fighting styles. The sports is Cambodia’s national sport, which had minor changes to fit modern competition.
Kun Khmer is widely popular in Cambodia, that several fights are hosted every week. It is under the supervision and regulation of the Cambodian Boxing Federation (CBF). The organization hosts several tournaments broadcasted weekly. In Siem Reap is a Pradal Serey boxing stadium known as The Ring of Champions. The CTN Angkor Arena can sit 700 spectators has tournaments every Wednesday featuring fighters worldwide.
Many of the boxers in matches are young adults trying to provide for their family. It is also preferred by trainers because of the physical conditioning that they have to endure to keep them in shape. These fighters usually compete in about 300 tournaments during their career. Their training lasts from 6-8 hours a day every day to prepare for a fight.
Since the practice of Kun Khmer is becoming more mainstream, many of the Cambodian fighters use it as a means to feed their families so it is not unusual to meet fighters who come from underprivileged sectors of Cambodia. Before, many of the boxers were rewarded with food, alcohol, and money should they do well in a fight. Whilst the practice still happens today, more organized fights give the boxers official fees. Depending on the skill of the fighter, payment can be as little as $20 to as much as $100. Some fighters even earn $1,000 when they fight in international tournaments. It may be a little amount to some foreigners, but for many Khmer fighters, it is enough to keep them alive.
For a more structured training in Kun Khmer, there are a number of fighting schools in the country, with the most located in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Battambang, where most Kun Khmer champions hail from. Expats are welcome to enrol in a class but they have to be prepared to get an intense workout physically and verbally as most instructors do not speak English.
The match usually has five rounds lasting for three minutes each. Each round is separated by a two-minute break. The boxers fight inside a 6.1 metre boxing ring and are required to wear leather gloves and nylon shorts.
Before each match begins, the boxers must practice kun kru, a praying ritual along with traditional Cambodian music via a skor yaul, sralai, and chhing.
Despite being a free fighting sport, the boxers are not allowed to bite, give blows to the back and crotch, to hold on to the ropes, and hitting the opponent whilst lying on the ground. Should one of the boxers can no longer continue fighting, the referee will stop the fight. Winning is by knockout. A knockout is proclaimed if a boxer slumps on the ground and cannot fight after a referee counts for 10 seconds. The referee may also choose to stop counting if it is already obvious that the boxer cannot stand on his own. Like boxing, victory may also be awarded according to a point system by judges.
The most common way of achieving victory is through elbow strikes. Instead of focusing on most fighting styles to give devastating blows, most fighters drop elbow strikes.
In 1995, during the ASEAN meeting prior to the King’s Cup Muay Thai competition, Cambodia lobbied to rename Muay Thai as Sovannaphum boxing or SEA boxing to represent Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos. However, Thailand refused and stated that Southeast Asian countries have own boxing art forms. In protest, Cambodia did not send any representative during the Muay Thai event of the 2005 Southeast Asian Games.
The two forms of fighting arts are hugely similar. Kun Khmer is regarded as an older form of Muay Thai, a less modern version with a focus on elbow rather than punches and kicks.
Betting is big in Cambodia. In fact, the locals are quite passionate about it that they even bet on every competitive sport there is including Kun Khmer tournaments. Under the Kram legislation, all forms of gambling are prohibited unless the Royal government permits it.
Despite being illegal in Cambodia, locals are very much active in betting. Some even resort to placing wagers online where the government cannot trace their bets. To many boxing specialists, the sacredness of the fighting art is lost in the modernisation of the sport. In the olden days, Kun Khmer fights are held in pagodas, which means boxers and spectators are expected to behave in a respectable manner. The use of modern stadium during fights subjects the martial art to disrespect. The widespread gambling in Kun Khmer fights is even regarded as the one that strips off the sacredness of the sport.
How can one bet on Kun Khmer boxing while in Cambodia?
Some gambling enthusiasts that it is never a problem for a persistent gambler. One of the ways they can do so is by attending the fights. While there, those willing to gamble will surely find someone who would take on their bets. Go to the noisiest part of the arena and it would not be impossible to find someone looking to gamble. It can be quite risky because there is the possibility that the other person is an undercover agent of the government.
Another way, a much safer option, is to place the wagers online. Look for online bookies accepting bets on Kun Khmer or Pradal Serey.