Pradal Srey, the Cambodian Martial Art and National Sport

The differences with Muay Thai

muay thaiWhen eventual visitors to Cambodia see Kickboxing, it is normal to think that it is the world famous Muay Thai. Of course, its similarity is evident. In fact, Muay Thai seems to be more international and referred even in American movies. However, if you, a regular visitor and friend of Thailand, intend to explore Cambodia, one thing you must state on this soil: Pradal Serey is not Muay Thai. Maybe you can call it Kickboxing, but do not dare to mention “Muay Thai“, because it is not Muay Thai at all, although you see the same similar rituals, positions and forms – apparently.

If you say that Pradal Serey is the same Muay Thai to a group of your new Cambodian friends, likely you are going to lose their friendship. It is if you say that American and English football is the same. Let us see the differences if you are in Phnom Penh and want to enjoy a fight.

A thing you must know first is that the relation between Pradal Serey or Cambodian Boxing and Muay Thai has not been peaceful and that both nations disagree about it. For Cambodians, “Thai people stole their national sport.” Even if we are going to show that that is not completely true, most Cambodians think that Muay Thai is actually the Thai adaptation of Pradal Serey and presented to the world is a Thai sport. This discussion uses to arrive to political and historical disagreements among the two brother countries.

To this discussion you have to know also that Cambodia as a cultural and political body is older than Thailand. In this way, to arrive to conclusions in matter of history, culture and traditions in the South East Asia is not easy, even for South East Asians, and history has to be reviewed carefully.

cambodia boxing

What is Pradal Serey

Pradal Serey (ប្រដាល់សេរី) is a martial art of Cambodia belonging to the family of the South East Asian kickboxing. In this sense, Pradal Serey is very similar to Muay Thai, because both of them are within the same kind of martial arts that belong to this region of Asia, but also to other forms in different countries like follow:

  1. Muay Thai in Thailand.
  2. Tomoi in Malaysia.
  3. Lao Boxing in Laos.
  4. Lethwei in Myanmar.

It is likely possible that Pradal Serey is older than Muay Thai because Cambodia is the “Greece” of the Indochina Peninsula and several bas-relieves in the Angkor temples have evidences of its millenarian existence. As the Khmer Empire was most of the Indochina Peninsula, it is logic to state that the fathers of kickboxing are the Khmer people, as Cambodians influenced the development of Thai, Laotian, Burma and Vietnamese cultures. For this reason, many persons in modern Cambodia considered that it is Pradal Serey the legitimate martial art of South East Asia, although it is demonstrated that they can differ in many aspects.

During the 1995 summit of ASEAN, the Association of South East Asian Nations, Cambodia proposed to unify South East Asian kickboxing under the name Sovanna Phum (Golden Land), a word made from Pali, an ancestral language that is at the root of most of the South East Asian languages like Khmer and Thai. However, Thailand objected that each South East Asian country had its own kickboxing style and that Thailand made the kickboxing an international sport. As a protest, Cambodia does not participate in any international Muay Thai competition.

Some descriptions on Pradal Serey

Loyal to history, culture and language, the Cambodian kickboxing must be called “Kbach Kun Pradal Serey”. “Kbach Kun” means “martial art”, “Pradal” means “fight” and Serey means “free” = Free Fighting Martial Art.

The modern version of the traditional Kbach Kun does not use weapons, while is fought within the Western boxing ring, using gloves and follows the round-times as Western Boxing. In Pradal Serey the core techniques use hands and feet in four kinds of strikes:

  1. Punches.
  2. Kicks.
  3. Elbow strike.
  4. Kneeing attack.

The modern version of Khmer Kickboxing is a descendant of what is known as Kbach Kun. As any other martial art, it was a human weapon in wars used by all South East Asian nations throughout their history. Of course, the original Kbach Kun had not a ring but a battlefield and used weapons. Then the creation and development of the other nations in the Indochina Peninsula adopted and created their own versions of Kbach Kun (meaning Martial Arts” or the art of fighting.) It became a sport during the French colonization (1850s – 1950s) of Indochina that imposed some elements of the Western Boxing like the rings, gloves, referees and others.

Recommended sites

  • Serey Boxing: Traditional Khmer Boxing in Dresden (Germany ).
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19 thoughts on “Pradal Srey, the Cambodian Martial Art and National Sport

  1. It has undoubtedly hurt the Cambodians more than the Thais namely because the Thais are so stubbornly firm in their position on the art as their own. Cambodia tried to unite and rename Muay Thai under a term “Sovanna Phum” or “SEA boxing” – meaning “gold land” boxing in Khmer but the Thais refused insisting on their own origins. In direct protest, Cambodia did not enter the 2005 SE games.

  2. este arte marcial es camboyano, tailandia lo dio a conocer como suyo cuando camboya estaba en guerra, fue algo muy sucio por parte de tailandia y lo internacionalizo,
    pero el que sabe de este deporte sabe que el mejor boxeo de sudeste asiatico lo tiene camboya solo para conocedores,
    alguien a visto un torneo donde peleen un tailandes y un camboyano????
    los camboyanos siempre ganan , la diferencia que en camboya son coderos por naturaleza. mientras en tailandia en una pelea hay 6 codasos, en camboya se tiran mas de 60 codazos en toda una pelea con mucha tecnica de golpeo,
    los mejores boxeadores de camboya son, bun sothea,vorn viva,nuon soriya,chey kosal, ot phuthong, eh phuthong, bird kham, meas chantha, hay muchos mas visiten camboya, algunos de estos peleadores estan en you tube

  3. I have looked at many sites and have not come across a site like yours that tells everyone everything they need to know. I have added you to my bookmarks, can anyone else suggest the best muay thai gym in Thailand?

  4. I’ll be making a visit to Phnom Penh soon. I’ve read so much about Kbach Kun Pradal Serey. I would like to watch it in person when I’m in Phnom Penh.

    Where in Phnom Penh can I watch Kbach Kun Pradal Serey matches?

    • when you are in PP, please ask somebody to bring you to the Bayon channel in Saturday or Sunday. There is program all the afternoon. There are two places, one is near central market and other not far from Pich Island. A moto taxi will bring you easily or a tuktuk.

  5. Good post. Another good observation, historically, the Tai or Thai sacked Angkor because of their used of Canon and guns where Khmer fought with bare hands and dha – swords and sticks. Another concept that one must keep in mind, the Thai are so proud of themselves, suggested that “the kingdom of Siam stands as one of the few non-western nation to have escaped domination by western powers…” but how do Muay Thai techniques such as Mud Trong – long punch which is a combination of French and the Khmer language?

    I think they disgraced the art because they are blinded by their ignorance and stupidity. What they need to do is to look around from the Khmer tradition music, boxing to their sak yant – which they so call “Thai Tattoo”, these are Khmer invention with Khmer alphabet. Those historical ancient temple in Thailand today also have Khmer identity written all over, how does that be fair to call anything as Thai this and Thai that?

  6. For Cambodians, “Thai people stole their national sport.” Even if we are going to show that that is not completely true…

    You didn’t make a terribly convincing case.

  7. Pingback: A weekend of Pradal « I see Cambodia!

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  10. i hate thai so much because they have stolen everything from cambodia, before they ask khmer king to live in cambodia, after they had stead stand , they fight to take land from cambodia, they took as culture , kick boxing sport , education….. now they want Bre Vihea also
    so i hate thai so much

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