The Bokator Federation of Cambodia has sent athletes to compete in the 2018 International Martial Arts Contest in Chungju, South Korea which begins today.
Administrators hope that participation can help boost recognition of Bokator, an ancient Khmer fighting system, in its bid for UNESCO recognition.
Mr. Chan Sarun, honorary president of the Cambodian Bokator Federation, donated $5,000 towards costs and said he expected Cambodia to receive good results.
“I hope Cambodian athletes can get good results from international athletic competition. I believe that all Cambodian athletes can channel the inspiration from our ancient fighting sport of Bokator.”
The Chungju World Martial Arts Festival has been held since 1998 with the theme of Meeting between World Martial Arts and Culture, for the globalisation of “Taekkyeon”, a Korean traditional martial art.
It is the only festival sponsored by the UNESCO, in which martial arts and culture meet each other including International Martial Arts Contest, an exciting martial arts contest, and colourful cultural performances.
Cambodia has been involved in the event in 2013, 2015, and 2016. Due to a shortage of funding, they were absent in 2017.
President Sarun urged players to focus on the task and remain strong when representing Cambodia in competition.
“Do not be afraid and worry about everything, he advised. “Work hard to compete for good results and gain national pride and honour for Cambodia,” he added.
The rebirth of Bokator is largely thanks to the work of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia (NOCC) and San Kim Sean, renowned as the father of modern Bokator. He is credited with reviving the ancient art after suppression by the murderous Khmer Rouge regime.
Bokator suffered during the Khmer Rouge years, when many people who were proficient in traditional martial arts were systematically exterminated, fled as refugees or were forced into hiding.
For the Federation, participation in the event will do much to boost the martial arts profile as it continues to seek recognition from The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Earlier this year, UNESCO requested a delay before it announced the inclusion of Bokator and Lakhon Khol dancing to its Intangible Cultural Heritage List.
Vath Chamroeun, Secretary General of the NOCC, said administrative issues at UNESCO necessitated the delay until 2020.
“UNESCO told us this year many countries have also submitted their cultural heritage for inclusion. They want to give priority to a country that has the least number of registrations, so that’s why they’ve asked us to delay our inclusion.” Mr. Chamroeun said.
The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts in a statement published last year said, a working group of officials had been preparing the application since December 2016.
“Documents relating to Lakhon Khol were sent to UNESCO in the morning on March 29 and the organisation acknowledged the application that afternoon,” the statement said, adding the Bokator application was sent on the same day.
The applications have been put through rigorous evaluation by international experts before being presented for approval at an intergovernmental committee meeting which was scheduled for next month and set for inclusion in 2019.
Bokator has also been submitted as an official sporting discipline for the 2023 Phnom Penh Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games), with reports suggesting the inclusion was supported by Laos, Vietnam, and Myanmar.
UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee has already listed several Cambodian traditions as intangible heritage, including the Royal Ballet of Cambodia in 2003, the Sbek Thom shadow puppetry in 2005 and the tug-of-war game Teanh Prot in 2015.
In 2016, UNESCO certified the chapey dong veng guitar-like instrument as part of Cambodia’s intangible cultural heritage, agreeing to provide more than $230,000 to support its protection and potential resurgence as an art form.
The chapey is an instrument with two to four strings used for traditional music, and when combined with poems in Khmer, becomes the chapey dong veng.
The Angkor archaeological site was acknowledged as a World Heritage site in 1992, while Preah Vihear temple made the list in 2008.