Thursday, May. 13, 2010

Make a Move

Best Way to Fend Off a Lion
Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Though there is no evidence that lions ever populated Southeast Asia, the Cambodians certainly took no chances. According to their legends, lions once roamed the countryside, attacking villagers and their precious buffalo, and long before the great Khmer Empire began in the 9th century, farmers developed a ferocious martial art to defend themselves against the predator. These techniques became bokator (sometimes written as boxkator).

Meaning "to fight a lion," bokator is a martial art depicted on the walls of Angkor Wat. There are 10,000 moves to master, mimicking animals such as monkeys, elephants and even ducks. King Jayavarman VII, the warrior King who united Cambodia in the 12th century, made his army train in bokator, turning it into a fearsome fighting force. The Khmer Empire wasn't just an empire of grand temples, says bokator grandmaster San Kim Sean; it was also "an empire of martial artists."

Despite its long tradition in Cambodia, bokator nearly disappeared when the ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge took power in 1975 and exterminated most of the discipline's masters over the next four years. But San has been able to revive the ancient art. He escaped the Khmer Rouge and moved to the U.S. Fearing that the techniques he learned as a youth would be lost forever, he returned to his homeland in 1995 and spent years scouring it for surviving bokator masters.

San was able to gather a handful of practitioners in Phnom Penh in 2001. Today, he says, there are more than 2,000 students across the country. For $120, the grandmaster offers a 30-hour training course introducing the deadly art to foreigners at his Cambodian Boxkator Academy,, in Phnom Penh. San says his classes "will make you strong, make you feel better and will help us to save bokator forever." They might even save you from the occasional marauding lion.