Kun Lbokator Athlete Aims High for Cambodia

La Bun Mary promises to raise Cambodia’s reputation through the  UNESCO-inscribed Kun Lbokator martial art. Photo provided by Lay Bun Mary

PHNOM PENH – As a Khmer proverb goes, “culture enriched, the nation prospers,” La Bun Mary promises to raise Cambodia’s reputation through the  UNESCO-inscribed Kun Lbokator martial art.

Mary, a member of the women’s team for the SEA Games 2023, also wants the ancient sport incorporated into the school curriculum.

Born in 2002, she was introduced to lbokator in 2018 when she was in 10th grade. She was intrigued by its place as cultural heritage of Cambodia’s ancestors, representing the Khmer identity.

As a young girl with less physical strength, Mary gave it a shot. She started training with the Developing Potential for Success School (DPSS) — a private English language school in the Chomporvorn suburb of Phnom Penh — that provides many side courses.

“I am very proud that I can be a part of preserving and protecting lbokator as well as urging all young people to come together to preserve this national treasure,” Mary said.

“Martial Art is not suited for females”

Learning Kun Lbokator was the best decision she had made though she faced family objections at the beginning on the ground that she was a young girl and not suited to learning such hard moves.

Born in 2002, she was introduced to lbokator in 2018 when she was in 10th grade. Photo provided by Lay Bun Mary

Now a third-year student of interior design at Setec Institute in Phnom Penh, she overcame the disapproval in a month. She showed that she was capable of performing demanding movements, such as an array of elbow and knee strikes, shin kicks, submissions and ground fighting. She has been strongly supported ever since.

“Initially, I received support from my sibling but not my father,” she said. “I secretly went to the training. But after seeing my health improve in a month of training, he let me continue my passion.”

Mary said since actively practicing the hard movements, her sleep quality has improved and her appetite has been enriched. She even put on some weight and is less prone to disease.

She added that the martial art helped her stay healthy and be able to protect herself in an emergency.

Mary recalled her first training in kun lbokator and that learning the movements and techniques caused muscle aches. It was even harder to practice during menstruation.

However, with comprehensive observation and learning, Mary has mastered most of the movements, having taken part in many competitions.

“It is crucial to follow the instructors on how to prevent danger and any incidental injuries,” she said. “I try to closely listen to the instructors. Eventually, I can perform many movements just like men can.”

Regardless of challenges and commitment, Mary has never thoughts of quitting as she said she enjoys difficulties and challenges.

“The happy environment and encouragement in the team keep pushing me forward,” she said.

Martial arts for mental and physical health

Kun lbokator coach Chhin Sila said martial art focuses and cultivates students’ mentality and energy. He said La Bun Mary is quick to catch up with the movements and bring about a good outcome, hoping Mary could win a gold medal for Cambodia at the SEA Games.

Sila became involved in the sport in 2012 and became a trainer and a judge in 2019. Between 2016 and 2019, he was a national athlete.

He sees potential in many young Cambodian athletes who not only show enthusiasm but also are hardworking with particular aims to represent the country.

Sila encouraged people to do sports and work out to maintain good health while being able to use martial arts as self-defense in an emergency.

“I urge you to practice a lot of sports, especially kun lbokator for health, self-defense and to participate in maintaining our national identity,” he said, pushing those who fear they would not be able to perform the martial art well to have faith in themselves and go for it.

“Martial arts are not just for fighting, but to keep our body strong and healthy. Please encourage all young people to practice martial arts for the national soul,” he said.

Lay Bun Mary partcipated in the competition. Photo provided by lay Bun Mary

Kun lbokator in the school curriculum

In the future, Mary aims to promote kun lbokator widely among the next generation in the hope that she can contribute to the preservation of the national legacy.

She wants to see the sport incorporated into physical education in  schools as a replacement for international martial arts such as taekwondo.

“I think it would be better if students can practice Khmer martial arts rather than martial arts from other countries,” Mary said.

Mary took part in her first competition in 2019 and won the silver medal. She took the goal medal during the 2020 Kun Botakor National Championship. The competition was disrupted in 2021 due to the COVID-19 outbreak. In 2022, she claimed the silver model during the third National Sport Event.

Bun Mary has strong enthusiasm and passion and will represent Cambodia and expose kun Llbokator widely to the world

On Nov. 29, UNESCO officially inscribed Kun Lbokator on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity at the 17th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Rabat, Morocco.

Though it has been inscribed on the UN heritage list, more effort to keep promoting and preserving is crucial.

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