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Image by lecercle
The gym, was a converted open-air garage with all the sweat, dedication, and poor-boy desperation of classic boxing gyms of yore. It had no ring, some punching bags, and padded equipment strewn across the floor. As I was changing in the back, I noticed three students taking a siesta on hammocks tied to a pillar at one end and what looked like a broken down military truck at the other. It was 2 p.m. Given the muscle-sapping heat of Cambodia, Khmer boxers practice early in the morning and late in the afternoon, sleeping the humid midday hours away.
I was lucky to find my instructor – Sang Kim Sean, a Grand Master of Khmer Bokator. Though more than sixty years old, he looked as if he was in his forties, and moved like a man much younger. I was scared.
We started with the basics, which are always the hardest to learn. Khmer fighters start with their hands high and their elbows out to create a cage around their head. When elbow strikes are an option, you would much rather create an impenetrable defense around your skull and leave your rib cage open than the other way around.
It took all of 10 minutes—OK, it was more like 3 — before I was gasping for breath and Sang was sitting me down and handing me a bottle of water.
Image by Ding Zhou