photo by James Dennan


Bokator is one of the oldest martial arts in the world, although now almost extinct. The name Bokator translated is ‘to pound a lion’, and when you see just how brutal the techniques's a fitting name. The Armies of the Angkor used Bokator to dominate the battlefields of Indochina 1700 years ago, Although it is not known for sure as most of the records along with the Grand masters of the Art where either killed or forced into exile during the period of the Khmer Rouge. Many say the popular Muay Thai was originally derived from the ancient art of Bokator. Below you can see carvings on the famous temples of Angkor built in the 12th century.

Image from Sovannah Pal

The martial art is unique in that every single part of the body can be used as a weapon, whilst some times even using weapons such as bamboo sticks, staffs and even swords. There is said to be over 10'000 techniques. Traditionally a casket was placed beside the fighting arena to cart away the looser. 

I don't know if you have ever seen the tv series "Kill Arman". It's a guy who travels the world to fight 10 different Grand masters for 10 different Martial Arts, The clip below is his experience in Cambodia. It gives you a quick history of the country, it's people and the one of the worst genocides in recent history (1975-79).

"Cambodia/Bokator - Thirty years ago, the Cambodian genocide saw almost all of the masters of the ancient combat art of Bokator murdered. Only five masters survived the Killing Fields, among them San Kim Sean, the last remaining grandmaster. Arman lives and trains in Kim Sean's school in Phnom Penh, before travelling to the ancient Bokator temples of Angkor for a final showdown with San Kim Sean’s top fighter. (From Finland, in English) (Entertainment Series) PG CC" 



As you can see the fights were not designed to last long. It was originally meant to kill or disable opponents quickly enabling them to move on to the next victim.

Bokator is practiced by all ages, but it is the elderly who have retained the knowledge that are left to pass it on to the younger generations.

As you can see the a mixture of both tradition and poverty makes for some primitive yet, effective tools.

The tattoos are often Sak yant which tradtionally are given by monks using bamboo and have a range of different means associated with each design.Angelina Jolie has several Sak Yant tattoos, making them increasing more trendy among young travelers.

Pronounced “bok-ah-tau”, the word comes from labokatao meaning “to pound a lion”. This refers to a story alleged to have happened 2000 years ago. According to the legend a lion was attacking a village when a warrior, armed with only a knife, defeated the animal bare-handed, killing it with a single knee strike. Lions have never roamed Southeast Asia , although Asiatic lions are found in western India . Indian culture and philosophy were the major influences in Angkor culture. All the great buildings of Angkor are inscribed in Sanskrit and are devoted to Hindu gods, notably Vishnu and Shiva .Even today, bokator practitioners begin each training session by paying respect to Brahma .