Bokator martial artist demonstrates the rising knee fighting stance.
Bokator martial artist demonstrates the rising knee fighting stance. Credit: By Starlord1999 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,


Bokator is a traditional Khmer martial art that dates back to the Angkor period of Cambodian history, around the 9th century. The word Bokator means “”pounding a lion”” or “”crushing a tiger”” and was used to describe the powerful and ferocious fighting style of the Khmer warriors. Over time, the art has become an integral part of Cambodian culture, with many practitioners and enthusiasts dedicated to preserving and promoting the art.

Bokator was nearly lost during the Khmer Rouge regime, when many of its practitioners were killed or forced into hiding. However, in recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in the art, with efforts made to revive and promote it both within Cambodia and internationally. Today, it is recognized as a valuable cultural heritage of Cambodia and is practiced by people of all ages and backgrounds.

Origins and Techniques

The origins of Bokator can be traced back to the ancient Khmer empire, where it was developed as a fighting style used by the Khmer warriors in battle. The art was passed down through generations of practitioners, with each adding their own techniques and innovations to the style.

Bokator is known for its wide range of techniques, including strikes, kicks, throws, joint locks, and grappling. Practitioners learn to use their entire body as a weapon, with emphasis placed on developing strength, speed, and agility. It also incorporates animal movements, with practitioners imitating the movements of animals such as tigers, snakes, and monkeys to enhance their agility and flexibility.

One unique aspect of Bokator is the use of pressure point techniques, which involve applying pressure to specific points on the body to cause pain or disable an opponent. These techniques are often used in combination with strikes or joint locks to create a devastating effect.

Weapons used in Bokator

In addition to hand-to-hand combat, Bokator also includes training with a variety of weapons. Traditional weapons used include the krama (a scarf used for choking or striking), the short stick, the long staff, the sword, the spear, and the axe.

Each weapon requires a unique set of skills and techniques, with practitioners learning to use them both defensively and offensively. Training with weapons is an important part of Bokator, as it teaches practitioners to be versatile and adaptable in combat situations.

Overall, it is a complex and dynamic martial art that requires dedication, discipline, and a deep understanding of Cambodian culture and history. Despite its near-extinction during the Khmer Rouge regime, Bokator has survived and is now thriving, with a new generation of practitioners dedicated to preserving and promoting this valuable cultural heritage.

Training and Philosophy

Training methods for Bokator

Bokator is a martial art that requires rigorous training to master. The training methods are designed to develop strength, agility, flexibility, and endurance. The training includes a combination of physical exercises, martial arts techniques, and mental conditioning.

Physical training for Bokator includes a variety of exercises such as running, jumping, and weight training. These exercises help to build strength and endurance, which are essential for mastering the techniques. The martial arts techniques of Bokator include punches, kicks, elbow strikes, knee strikes, and grappling techniques. These techniques are taught through drills and sparring sessions.

Mental conditioning is also an essential part of Bokator training. Practitioners are trained to develop mental fortitude, discipline, and focus. Meditation and breathing exercises are used to help practitioners stay calm and focused during training and competition.

The philosophy behind Bokator

The philosophy behind Bokator is rooted in the ancient traditions of Cambodia. Bokator is not just a martial art, but a way of life. The philosophy behind the art emphasizes the importance of discipline, respect, and humility.

Practitioners are taught to respect their opponents and to never use their skills for personal gain or aggression. The philosophy behind Bokator also emphasizes the importance of mental and physical balance. Practitioners are encouraged to develop their minds and bodies equally, and to use their skills to benefit their communities.

The philosophy behind Bokator reflects the values of the Cambodian people, who have a long tradition of valuing discipline, respect, and community service. It is not just a martial art, but a reflection of the Cambodian culture and way of life.

The role of Bokator in promoting discipline and mental fortitude

Bokator plays a crucial role in promoting discipline and mental fortitude. The rigorous training required to master Bokator helps practitioners develop discipline, focus, and determination.

Bokator also helps practitioners develop mental fortitude by teaching them to overcome obstacles and challenges. Practitioners are taught to remain calm and focused even in the face of adversity. This mental fortitude extends beyond the training mat and into everyday life.

Bokator also promotes discipline and mental fortitude through its philosophy. The philosophy behind Bokator emphasizes the importance of respect, humility, and community service. Practitioners are encouraged to use their skills to benefit their communities and to promote peace and harmony.

Bokator Competitions

Types of competitions

There are two types of Bokator competitions: traditional and modern. Traditional Bokator competitions are based on the ancient traditions of Cambodia and are held in rural areas. These competitions are often held during festivals and are a way for communities to showcase their Bokator skills.

Modern Bokator competitions are more structured and are held in urban areas. These competitions are organized by the Cambodian Bokator Federation and are open to international competitors. Modern Bokator competitions include both forms and sparring events.

Rules and regulations of Bokator competitions

Bokator competitions have strict rules and regulations to ensure the safety of the competitors. Competitors are required to wear protective gear, including gloves, shin guards, and headgear.

In sparring events, competitors are awarded points for strikes and takedowns. The first competitor to score five points is declared the winner. In forms events, competitors perform a series of techniques and are judged based on their technique, speed, and power.

Bokator competitions also have rules regarding conduct. Competitors are expected to show respect to their opponents and to follow the rules of the competition. Any behavior that is deemed disrespectful or aggressive can result in disqualification.

Famous competitions and champions

Bokator has a long history in Cambodia, and there have been many famous competitions and champions throughout the years. One of the most famous Bokator competitions is the Bayon Challenge, which is held every year in Siem Reap. The Bayon Challenge attracts competitors from all over Cambodia and is a showcase of the best Bokator talent in the country.

There have also been many famous Bokator champions throughout the years. One of the most famous was San Kim Sean, who was known for his lightning-fast kicks and powerful strikes. Another famous champion was Hem Samnang, who was known for his technical skill and precision.

Today, Bokator continues to grow in popularity both in Cambodia and around the world. With its emphasis on discipline, mental fortitude, and respect, Bokator is more than just a martial art – it is a reflection of the Cambodian culture and way of life.

Bokator in Modern Times

The decline and revival

Bokator is an ancient martial art that originated in Cambodia over a thousand years ago. However, after the fall of the Khmer Empire, it gradually declined and almost disappeared during the Khmer Rouge regime, where it was banned along with other traditional arts and practices. Many masters were killed, and the knowledge of this martial art was lost.

After the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime, it was revived by Grandmaster San Kim Sean, who had learned it from his father. He began to teach it to the younger generation, and in 2000, he founded the National Bokator Federation of Cambodia to promote and preserve it. Since then, this martial art has experienced a resurgence in popularity, both in Cambodia and around the world.

Efforts to preserve and promote

The National Bokator Federation of Cambodia has been instrumental in promoting and preserving this martial art. They have organized national and international competitions, workshops, and seminars to showcase it to the world. They have also established a museum in Phnom Penh to showcase its history and culture.

In addition, the federation has been working with the Cambodian government to ensure that it is recognized as a national sport. They have also been working to have it recognized by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity. These efforts have helped to raise awareness about it and ensure that it continues to be practiced for generations to come.

Recognition as a national sport in Cambodia

In 2018, it was officially recognized as a national sport in Cambodia by the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport. This recognition has helped to raise its profile and ensure that it receives the support it needs to continue to thrive. It has also helped to ensure that it is taught in schools and universities across Cambodia.

The recognition of this martial art as a national sport has also helped to attract more international attention to it. It is now practiced in countries around the world, including the United States, France, Australia, and Canada. It has also been featured in international competitions, such as the World Martial Arts Festival and the World Martial Arts Masterships.


In conclusion, this martial art is an ancient form that has survived centuries of turmoil and is now experiencing a revival in popularity. The efforts of the National Bokator Federation of Cambodia have been instrumental in promoting and preserving it, and its recognition as a national sport in Cambodia has helped to raise its profile both locally and internationally.

This martial art is more than just a combat technique; it is a symbol of Cambodian culture and identity. It is a reminder of the resilience and strength of the Cambodian people, who have survived centuries of hardship and continue to thrive. As it continues to grow in popularity, it is important that we continue to support and promote this unique and valuable art.