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Kun Khmer

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(Redirected from Pradal serey)
Kun Khmer
Also known asKbach Kun Pradal Khmer[1]
Focusclinch fighting, strike (attack)
Country of originCambodia Cambodia
Famous practitionersEh Phouthong, Thun Sophea, Albert Veera Chey, Keo Rumchong, Meas Chantha, The Ouk family, Oumry Ban, Thoeun Theara
Olympic sportNo

Kun Khmer (Khmer: គុនខ្មែរ [kun kʰmae] lit.'Khmer Martial Art'), or Pradal Serey (Khmer: ប្រដាល់សេរី [prɑɗal seːrəj] lit.'Free Boxing'),[3] The sport consists of stand up striking and clinch fighting, where the objective is to knock an opponent out, force a technical knockout, or win a match by points. The sport was codified in Cambodia by the French colonial administration in the early 20th century, and was derived from centuries-old traditions, namely Bokator, the close-quarter combat system used during the Khmer empire.[4][5] The official Khmer name of the sport is Kbach Kun Pradal Khmer (Khmer: ក្បាច់គុនប្រដាល់ខ្មែរ [kʰɓac kun prɑɗal kʰmae] lit.'Khmer Martial Art of Boxing').[1]

Kun Khmer is most well-known for its elbows,knee and kicking technique, which generates power from hip rotation rather than snapping the leg. Kun Khmer consists of four types of strikes: punches, kicks, elbows, and knee strikes.[6] The clinch is used to wear down the opponent. In the clinch, opponents battle for the dominant position for short range strikes by way of elbows and knees. Cambodian fighters tend to utilize more elbow strikes than that of other martial arts in the region.[7] In Kun Khmer, more victories come by way of an elbow technique than any other strikes.


Map of the Khmer Empire (802–1431 AD), where Kun Khmer traces its origin.

Kun Khmer developed from the ancient Khmer martial arts, now commonly referred to as Bokator. Dating back to the 20 st century AD,[8] the martial arts in Cambodia are deeply rooted in the country's history, and are depicted in the various bas-reliefs of the Angkor period.[9] During the early 20th century, the local martial traditions were codified by the French administration, giving birth to Pradal Serey, now more widely known as Kun Khmer. Boxing matches were originally fought in dirt pits with limited rules, while hands were wrapped in rope.[4] From 1920 to 1930, it was common for boxing matches to result in deaths. In order to avoid the fatal casualties, the French set up a series of rules that combined Western boxing with Khmer boxing. The introduction of boxing rings, rounds, and gloves, as well as the prohibition of life-threatening techniques, transformed the local martial arts into a sport. With those new sets of rules, French and Khmer boxers would compete against each other in tournaments.[10] exhibitions.[11]

Downfall and revival of Kun Khmer

Khmer warrior using a thrust kick on Rahu in a bas-relief from the Banteay Chhmar temple (12th/13th century).

During the chaos of the Vietnam War, Cambodia was undergoing its own civil war. On April 17, 1975, the Maoist Communist rebels, the Khmer Rouge, overthrew the government of the Khmer Republic then-led by Lon Nol. The Khmer Rouge's plan was to eliminate modern society, and create an agrarian utopia.[12] The Khmer Rouge executed educated people, others who had ties to the old government, or anyone who was believed to be "advantaged" by the old society (doctors, teachers, soldiers, actors, singers, boxers, etc.), and forced the remaining Khmer population into labor camps—in which many died of starvation and diseases—to be re-educated under the new government. Traditional martial arts were banned at this time, and many boxers were executed or worked to death, which nearly caused the demise of Kun Khmer. An estimated 1.7 million Cambodians, or 21% of the population, died during the Khmer Rouge regime, according to the studies of the Cambodia Genocide Program of Yale University.[13] This despotic subjugation lasted for four years until 1979, when the Vietnamese, along with ex-Khmer Rouge officers, including former prime minister Hun Sen, overthrew the Khmer Rouge. During the relative peace since the departure of the Vietnamese and the re-establishment of the Kingdom of Cambodia, the country's traditional arts were revived, including Kun Khmer.[14]

Kun Khmer match at the Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh in the early 1970s

.[15] Cambodia has made an effort to popularise its style of boxing, despite the lack of financial funding. Numerous gyms have opened, and large masses of students, local and foreign, have come to train in Cambodia. There are weekly matches held, the majority televised live, and many of Cambodia's best have traveled internationally to compete. There are currently approximately 70 boxing clubs nationwide.[16] In 2022, one of the first Kun Khmer schools abroad opened in the United States. It was started by a former national champion by the name of Oumry Ban in Cambodia Town, Long Beach, California.[17]

Kun Khmer is administered in Cambodia by the Cambodian Boxing Federation (CBF), formerly the Cambodian Amateur Boxing Federation (CABF), which was established in 2023. All referees, judges, and fighters must be licensed by the CABF. Television stations which hold Khmer boxing tournaments do so under the supervision of the CBF. The individual stations are responsible for organizing boxers, trainers, medical staff, and musicians. The CBF supplies the match referees, judges, and time-keepers. The current president of the CBF is Major-General Tem Moeun.[18][19][20]

900 year old bas-relief of knee attack to the head. Located at Angkor Wat (1100s).
Kun Khmer martial artists practicing knee techniques in modern-day.

Abroad, Cambodian boxing is promoted by four organizations. These organizations include: the European Khmer Boxing Federation, based in Germany; the Fédération des Arts Martiaux Khmers (FAMK), based in France; the Ánh Binh Minh Khmer Martial Arts Association, located in Vietnam; and Kun Khmer Australia, based in Australia. Other newly created organizations can be found in Spain and Italy, while Belgium is in the process of forming its own Khmer boxing organization.[21] The International Sport Kickboxing Association (ISKA), based in the United Kingdom, has held matches involving Cambodian boxers. Additionally, Khmer boxers have fought abroad in countries such as South Korea.[22]

Tournaments are screened live on national television. TV5 Cambodia holds live tournaments on Friday and Sunday, CTN holds live tournaments on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.[23] Bayon Television holds live kickboxing tournaments on Saturday and Sunday,[24] while TV3 holds a single tournament on Sunday, and Apsara TV has added a single tournament on Thursday.

Khmer soldier uses a thrust kick on a [other]] soldier in a bas-relief from Banteay Chhmar temple (12th/13th century).
Thrust kick in a modern Kun Khmer match.

Life as a boxer


Kun Khmer is an athletic sport that relies on agility, toughness, and flexibility.[25] Most participants are young adults due to the physical conditioning that a boxer must endure to keep their body in shape. The average age ranges from 14 to 25. Most Cambodian boxers come from impoverished backgrounds, and compete to earn money to feed their families and themselves. Top kickboxers can have as many as 200–300 fights in their careers.[26]

Clinching is an important part of a Kun Khmer match.

Cambodian boxers were traditionally paid by the crowd. If the crowd appreciated the boxer's efforts, they would reward him with food, alcohol, and cash. This practice still continues today, but in line with western practices, bouts pay official fees. Until recently, the average purse for a fight was US$15. Today, purses are based on experience. A new Cambodian boxer can earn US$25 per fight, while more experienced kickboxers with more than a dozen fights can earn up to $75. "Brand name" kickboxers can earn over $100 a fight. Special purse fights will pay up to $250, with the purse contributed by a corporate sponsor. "International" tournaments, organised by the broadcasters, will pay individual purses of up to $1000, sometimes higher.[26]

An estimated 70% of boxers in the Phnom Penh circuit come from the rural northwest. The provinces of Battambang and Banteay Meanchey produce a steady supply of boxers.[27] Some of the best Kun Khmer champions come from the Battambang Province, although a number of big name stars have come via Southern Cambodia, such as Eh Phouthong from Koh Kong Province, Thun Sophea from Svay Rieng Province, and Meas Chantha and Seng Makara from Kandal Province. Cambodian boxers train in a gym under a Kun Khmer kru. Many boxers train 6–8 hours a day and 7 days a week.

Health risk


As with all contact sports, health risks are a factor. According to Chhoeung Yavyen, a ringside doctor for the Cambodian Amateur Boxing Association, in the past five years, 30 kickboxers have sustained serious injury in the ring, including broken wrists, arms, shins, noses, and jaws, in addition to dislodged shoulders and hip injuries. One Cambodian boxer died in the ring in Svay Rieng Province in 2001, but that death was the result of a heart attack, probably brought on by diet pills consumed to help the boxer reduce his weight before the bout. Most of the injuries suffered are curable and don't leave lasting problems. Most boxers are allowed to return to the ring after receiving treatment.[28]

Rules and match setup

A warrior kneeling for a praying ritual known as tvay kru or kun kru. This ritual is used before fighting.

A match consists of five three-minute rounds and takes place in a 6.1 meter square boxing ring. A one-and-a-half or two-minute break occurs between each round. In olden times, ancient Khmer people would do praying rituals before going to the battlefield or war. [29] At the beginning of each match the boxers practice the praying rituals known as the kun kru or thvayobangkoum krou. There are different variations of the thvayobangkoum krou ritual with different names such as "Hanuman ties the bridge to Sita".[30] There are 17 different variations of the ritual. Most are based on the main characters of the Reamker story and believe to have occurred when Cambodia had a strong belief in Hinduism.[31] The pre-competition teacher offering ritual also serves to warm the muscle and increase blood flow.[32] The praying ritual at the preliminaries of the boxing match is considered a real dance.[33] Traditional Cambodian music performed with the instruments of the sampho (a type of drum), the sralai klang khek (oboe) and the chhing is played during the match. The music of Khmer boxing is called vung phleng pradall or vung phleng klang khek. The music is made up of two sections. The first section is for the boxer's teachers while the second section is the fight music.[34] The first part uses a spirit(teacher) to help the boxers concentrate their minds and have confidence. The first part of the music is played slowly in a rubato style. The melody is played by the sralai(oboe) and the sampho(drum) plays strokes at important points of the melody. The second part which is the fight music is played much faster and in meter. The music accelerates with the progression of the round. It stops at the end of the round or when someone is knocked out. When the fight is exciting, the audience claps in rhythm with the beat of the sampho(drum). [35] Modern boxers wear leather gloves and nylon shorts.[36]


  1. A boxer is not allowed to strike his opponent while he is on the ground.
  2. A boxer is not allowed to bite.
  3. When an opponent cannot continue, the referee stops the fight.
  4. Blows to the back of the opponent are not allowed.
  5. A boxer may not hold on to the ropes.
  6. Blows to the genitals are prohibited.

Victory can be obtained by knockout. A knockout occurs when a boxer is knocked down to the ground and cannot continue fighting after a 10-second count by the referee, a referee may forgo the count and declare a knockout if it is obvious the boxer will not regain his feet unaided. Victory can be obtained at the end of the match when judges decide by a point system which fighter was more effective. If fighters end up with the same score a draw is called.[36]



Notable Kun Khmer boxers

  • Eh Phouthong: TV5 Champion, Khmer Traditional Kickboxing Champion, Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen champion
  • Yuth Phouthorng: Koh Kong Province governor and original teacher of Eh Phouthong[37]
  • Thun Sophea: 2006 CTN 67 kg kickboxing champion
  • Bun Sothea: Two time Kubota Champion(54 kg and 60 kg). Student of Thun Sophea.[38]
  • Chan Rothana: Owner of Selapak gym and current ONE Championship fighter[39]
  • Keo Rumchong: Kun Khmer fighter competitor fighting out of Battambang, Cambodia[40]
  • Oumry Ban: Former Kun Khmer Champion to held the first national title in 1964 at 61 kilograms and current owner of Long Beach Kickboxing Center[41]
  • Sen Radath: Current Kun Khmer fighter and Vovinam Cambodia team fighting at 51 kilograms. He is a YouTube vlogger showing the art of Kun Khmer to his viewers.[42]
  • Prom Samnang: Techo Santepheap Kun Khmer World Champion (77 kg) [43]
  • Phal Sophorn: Carabao Champion (63.5 kg), Cambodia Beer Champion (63.5 kg), IPCC Kun Khmer Champion(63.5 kg)

See also



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  2. ^ Graceffo, Antonio. "Cambodian and Chinese Martial Arts Compared (English language paper)". Retrieved 6 March 2024.
  3. ^ Goyder, James (April 26, 2014). "The A-Fighters: Reviving Cambodian Culture Through Khmer Martial Arts". Fightland. Retrieved 4 August 2015.
  4. ^ a b Sao, SokEng (7 February 2023). "Master San Kim Sean: 'Free Boxing' is a Name Given by France, but 'Kun Khmer' is Purely Cambodian". EAC News.
  5. ^ Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts of Cambodia. "Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Cambodia". Furthermore, it is developed into a popular national sport called Khmer traditional boxing.
  6. ^ "In Pictures: The Khmer warrior-artists". Al Jazeera.
  7. ^ "Pradal Serey: Kickboxing the Cambodian Way". Vice news. The most notable difference between the two fighting styles is the more frequent use of elbows in Pradal Serey than in Muay Thai.
  8. ^ "Kun L'Bokator, traditional martial arts in Cambodia". unesco.org.
  9. ^ Lim, Nary (31 January 2023). "Archaeologist shows Cambodian martial art sculptures at Khmer temples". Khmer Times. Retrieved 2 March 2024. A well-rounded archaeologist of the APSARA National Authority has unveiled Cambodian martial art bas-relief sculptures at temples at Angkor Archaeological Park, Siem Reap province. The archaeologist Phoeung Dara said that some Cambodian martial art bas-relief sculptures are related to Kun Khmer, wrestling and Lbokator.
  10. ^ "ស្វែងយល់កំណើតកីឡាប្រដាល់សេរីនៅកម្ពុជា". Koh Santepheap Daily (in Khmer).
  11. ^ Gray, Ralph (October 24, 1966). "Cambodian Boxing". National Geographic School Bulletin. 128 (7). National Geographic.
  12. ^ Sites, Kevin. July 18, 2006. Year Zero Archived 2006-08-08 at the Wayback Machine, Yahoo.com (retrieved November 5, 2023)
  13. ^ "Cambodia Genocide Project | Yale University." Cambodian Genocide Project.(retrieved 16 Jan. 2009)
  14. ^ Munthit, Ker (November 7, 2001). "Sport of kickboxing felled by Khmer Rouge returns". Cambodian Online. Associated Press. Archived from the original on July 23, 2011. Retrieved February 17, 2011.
  15. ^ Stockmann, Hardy (1974). "Khmer Kickboxers No Match for Bangkok Fighters". Black Belt Magazine. 12 (8): 62 – via Google Books.
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  19. ^ "The Phnom Penh Post". Retrieved 4 August 2015.
  20. ^ Tem Meurn interview. YouTube. 17 January 2010. Archived from the original on 2021-12-22. Retrieved 4 August 2015.
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  22. ^ Sokheng, Vong. June 11, 2008. Cambodian kick boxers triumph in South Korea[permanent dead link], Phnompenhpost.com (retrieved January 19, 2009)
  23. ^ "TV5 Cambodia Friday Schedule". Channel 5 Cambodia. 2011. Retrieved 2011-02-17.
  24. ^ "Angkor Youth Boxing Club » Weekend wrap up". Paddy's Gym. 2008. Retrieved 2011-02-17.
  25. ^ Vongs, Moul. "Khmer Boxing." Leisure Cambodia, Dec. 2001, www.leisurecambodia.com/news/detail.php?id=199. Accessed 9 September 2020.
  26. ^ a b Mallon, Scott (2003). "Traditional Khmer Boxing, The Comeback". Iron Life Magazine. 2 (11). Archived from the original on 2006-05-16. Retrieved 2011-02-17.
  27. ^ Roeun, Van, & Doyle, K. (2003, August 23). Elbows, Fists, Knees and Kicks. Khmer Times. Retrieved September 1, 2020, from https://english.cambodiadaily.com/news/elbows-fists-knees-and-kicks-40162/
  28. ^ Roeun, Van; Kevin Doyle (2011-08-23). "Fight Club Cambodia". The Cambodia Daily. Retrieved 2011-02-17.
  29. ^ ក្បាច់ថ្វាយបង្គំគ្រូកាន់តែច្រើនមិនត្រូវគេយកមកប្រើ [More and more teacher worship techniques are not being used]. (2016, February 23). Kohsantepheap Daily. Retrieved May 7, 2022, from https://kohsantepheapdaily.com.kh/article/140334.html
  30. ^ Sarita, N. (2009, October 4). អ្នកប្រដាល់ខ្មែរជើងចាស់នាំក្បាច់គុនខ្មែរមកស.រ.អា. [Veteran Khmer boxer brings Khmer martial arts to US]. Voice of America. Retrieved February 22, 2022, from https://khmer.voanews.com/a/a-40-2009-10-04-voa3-90179747/1141521.html
  31. ^ តើ​ការ​ថ្វាយបង្គំ​គ្រូ​មុន​ពេល​ប្រដាល់មាន​ឥទ្ធិពល​យ៉ាងណា​ចំពោះ​កីឡាករ ? [How does pre-boxing teacher worship affect boxers?]. (2017, August 17). Koh Santepheap Daily. Retrieved February 22, 2022, from https://kohsantepheapdaily.com.kh/article/%E1%9E%8F%E1%9E%BE%E2%80%8B%E1%9E%80%E1%9E%B6%E1%9E%9A%E2%80%8B%E1%9E%90%E1%9F%92%E1%9E%9C%E1%9E%B6%E1%9E%99%E1%9E%94%E1%9E%84%E1%9F%92%E1%9E%82%E1%9F%86%E2%80%8B%E1%9E%82%E1%9F%92%E1%9E%9A%E1%9E%BC.html
  32. ^ Tith, S. (2020, September 8). សារៈសំខាន់នៃការថ្វាយគ្រូសម្រាប់អ្នកប្រដាល់គុនខ្មែរ [The importance of teacher training for Khmer boxers]. AMS Sports. Retrieved February 22, 2022,from https://ams.com.kh/sports/detail/638
  33. ^ Marchal, S. (1927). LA DANSE AU CAMBODGE. Revue Des Arts Asiatiques, 4(4), 216-228. Retrieved September 29, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/43475410
  34. ^ Spiller, H. (2004). Gamelan : the traditional sounds of Indonesia. United Kingdom: ABC-CLIO.
  35. ^ Williams, S., & Miller, T. E. (Eds.).(2011). The Garland Handbook of Southeast Asian Music. Taylor & Francis.
  36. ^ a b Vongs, Moul (December 1, 2001). "Khmer Boxing". Leisure Cambodia. 1 (7). Archived from the original on May 16, 2011. Retrieved 2011-02-17.
  37. ^ Sothy, Meun (2004). "Khmer kickboxing club established for young generation boxers". Cambodiantown.com. Archived from the original on January 5, 2009. Retrieved May 11, 2006.
  38. ^ Nuon, S. (2020, April 14). Bun Sothea becomes the fifth Cambodian boxer to win two belts in a single boxing event. Retrieved December 29, 2020, from https://news.sabay.com.kh/article/1202520
  39. ^ "Chan Rothana". ONE Championship – The Home Of Martial Arts.
  40. ^ "Keo Rumchong". December 26, 2018.
  41. ^ "Kickboxing in Long Beach, California | Photo story | Stephane Janin | Asia Motion". www.asiamotion.net.
  42. ^ "Sen Radeth Official - YouTube". www.youtube.com.
  43. ^ Nonn, C. (2023, July 17). ធឿន ធារ៉ា និង ព្រំ សំណាង បានឈ្នះ​ខ្សែក្រវាត់ ស្របពេល​សង្វៀន​ថោ​ន បាន​បង្កើត​ប្រវត្តិសាស្ត្រ​ថ្មីសម្រាប់​គុន​ខ្មែរ [Thoeun Theara and Prom Samnang win belts while Town Arena makes new history for Khmer martial arts]. The Phnom Penh Post. Retrieved July 18, 2023, from https://www.postkhmer.com/sport/2023-07-17-1655-252423.html

Further reading