Pradal Srey, the Cambodian Martial Art and National Sport
The differences with Muay Thai
When 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.
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:
- Muay Thai in Thailand.
- Tomoi in Malaysia.
- Lao Boxing in Laos.
- 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:
- Elbow strike.
- 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.
- Serey Boxing: Traditional Khmer Boxing in Dresden (Germany ).