The “Neak Leng Kun” event, which was recently held at the National Olympic Stadium, proved popular with local and international fight fans. 

The matches were fought using Kun Lbokator, also commonly referred to as bokator, the Kingdom’s oldest and most comprehensive fighting style.

The tournament may prove to be an important step in the promotion of the ancient martial art to the world, following the sports’ successful debut at the 32nd SEA Games 2023 in May, for the first time in history.

The December 15 event featured several well-known Cambodian fighters, including Chan Ratana and Sou Kakada, who took on opponents from several regional nations. More than 2,000 people bought tickets to the live matches, while over two million tuned into the online stream, the majority of them foreigners.

Ou Ratana, deputy secretary-general of the Cambodia Kun Bokator Federation (CKBF), explained that the rules, conditions and forms of the Neak Leng Kun were entirely created by the ancestors who built the mighty Khmer Empire, with no outside influence. He added that the style has attracted a lot of support in recent years, with many new fans.

The participating countries – Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Laos, all praised Cambodia for its organisation of the event.

“We didn’t just inherit the martial arts of our ancestors; we arranged every part of the Neak Leng Kun competition, as it exists only here in Cambodia. It is a source of pride to all of us that it is gathering more and more supporters. This event served as an important platform for pushing Kun Lbokator on the international stage,” said Ratana.

He added that the event showed the richness of the Neak Leng Kun Lbokator, which includes striking, grappling and submission techniques. The rich technique can be seen engraved on the majestic ancient temples of Angkor, bit are also well-known abroad through the growing popularity of MMA and Jujitsu.

“All of the forms and rules of the style have been practised by Cambodians for thousands of years. We just lacked the means to promote it as a sport, both inside and outside the Kingdom. Now, we are using the ancient battlefield martial art as a tool to expand the world’s knowledge about it. We want all Khmer to be proud that so many world-famous techniques are actually the martial art of their Cambodian ancestors from thousands of years back,” he continued.

The founder of modern Kun Lbokator, Hok Chheang Kim, said the internal rules, conditions and regulations of competition were introduced by the CKBF in 2004. Cambodia also introduced the sport to the SEA Games in 2023 for the first time. 

“I’m really excited about all of the achievements that have made our bokator grow famous. I hope the next generation of Cambodians will come together to make it more famous. Personally, I myself turned from a boxer into a coach. I also use traditional Khmer medicine to provide free treatment for people with bone fractures,” added the 77-year old.

During the December 15 Neak Leng Kun tourney, well-known MMA fighter Chan Ratana defeated John Mc Leary Ordino of the Philippines on points after a hard-fought three rounds. Rin Sarath was able to score a knockout by way of a flying knee strike to the chest of his opponent, knocking out Filipino Jiar Orlando Casstillo at the end of the third round.

Pich Ponleu also scored a win in the third round over Lao boxer Honggvixay Sivilay, while Long La was able to get the job done in the second, felling Indonesia’s Sanjaya Hutagaol. Vietnamese fighter Pham Van Giang was forced to concede a loss to Nang Sovann, unable to come out for the third round.

Sou Kakada defeated Indonesian boxer Muhammad Yunus Dhae Atu on points, while Pich Khamtai was the only Cambodian fighter to taste defeat, with the judges awarding a points win to his opponent Hoang Phuc Thuan of Vietnam.

“Neak Leng Kun is a new programme, but it is organised almost as well as the ONE Championship. I would like to see more sponsors coming forward to support the format, as this is an international event that promotes Kun Lbokator – a precious part of our cultural heritage. I cried when I won because I was so excited to hear the cheering from our supporters,” said Ratana after his match.