While most recognizable by its kicking technique, which generates power from hip rotation rather than "snapping" the leg, Pradal Serey/Kun Khmer consists of four types of strikes: punching with the fist, kicking (with either the shin or the foot), elbow strikes, and blows of the knee. The clinch is also used to wear down the opponent. Compared to the Thai counterpart, the Cambodian style tends to emphasize more elusive and shifty fighting stances. The Khmer style also tends to utilize more elbow techniques than that of other regions. More victories come by way of an elbow technique than any other based technique.
Descended from a true martial (i.e. used in warfare) art, the technique and moves of modern Pradal Serey/Kun Khmer have been altered to create the sport version seen today. It is considered the national sport of Cambodia.
Many Cambodians believe that Kun Khmer predates other Southeast Asian forms of kickboxing. This is because ancient kingdom of Angkor dominated most of what is now Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
The basis of the argument that Kun Khmer has existed since 9th century (from the beginning of the Khmer empire) is claimed by many Cambodians to be the bas-relief left behind in the ancient temples of the Bayon and other Angkor temples. The entrance of the Bayon temple has several scenes of Bokator. Among them are two men grappling or wrestling, a man studying a rising cobra and two men fighting using their elbows. Kun Khmer has no "snake technique", but grappling (the clinch) and elbow strikes are integral parts of modern matches.
Much of the writing on ancient Khmer art has either been destroyed or adopted by the invading Siamese armies of the Ayutthaya Kingdom when the they sacked Angkor and took Khmer captives including members of the Khmer royal court back to Ayutthaya Kingdom.
Ultimately Kun Khmer became a sport, during the days of the Colonial Cambodia. When the French came they added western boxing gloves, timed rounds, and a boxing ring to civilize the art. Originally matches were fought in dirt pits with limited rules while hands were wrapped in rope. Some matches had boxers wrap seashells around their knuckles to increase the damage that could be inflicted.
Kun Khmer is administered in Cambodia by the Cambodian Amateur Boxing Federation (CABF). Despite its name the CABF covers professional Khmer Boxing. All referees, judges and fighters must be licensed by the CABF. Television stations which hold Khun Khmer tournaments do so under the supervision of the CABF. The individual stations are responsible for organising boxers, trainers, medical staff and musicians. The CABF supplies the match referees, judges and time-keepers.
The current president of the CABF is Okhna Oum Yorann.
Kun Khmer tournaments are screened live on national television. TV5 holds live tournaments on Friday and Sunday, CTN holds live tournaments on Saturday and Sunday . Bayon Television holds live kickboxing tournaments on Saturday and Sunday.
Recent exposure of Khmer Boxing to the western world have come from traveling journalists and tourists. In addition Khmer Boxing was featured on The History Channel's Human Weapon.
Cambodian Television Network (CTN) recently screened a Kun Khmer reality television series called Kun Khmer Champion. Kun Khmer Champion was produced by Ma Serey and co-hosted by Ma Serey and Eh Phoutong. It was won by 19-year old Khlang Mourng Club boxer Cheam Adam from Kampong Cham.
On August 28, 2008, Cambodian Kun Khmer fighters Vorn Viva and Meas Chantha won the ISKA Middleweight and Welterweight world titles in Phnom Penh. It is the first time a Cambodian has held a kickboxing world title.
Thailand would not compromise, stating that each Southeast Asian country has its own boxing style and that Thailand was responsible for making its kickboxing an international sport. At the 2005 Southeast Asian Games, Cambodia did not enter the Muay Thai event in protest.
The majority of kickboxers come from rural backgrounds and compete to earn money to feed their families and themselves, as it in the west, boxing is seen as "a way up and out", but of the rice field, rather than the ghetto. Kickboxers range from 14 to 25 years of age, although low earnings or, conversely, great success mean careers may go up to a decade longer. Top kickboxers can have as many as 300 fights in their careers.
Traditionally fighters were paid by the crowd. If the crowd appreciated the boxer's efforts, they would reward him with food, alcohol and cash. This practice still continues today, but, in line with western practice, bouts pay official fees. Until recently the average purse for a fight was US$15.00. Today purses are based on experience. A new boxer will earn US$25.00 per fight. More experienced boxers (with more than a dozen fights) earn up to $75.00. "Brand name" fighters will earn over $100.00 a fight. Special purse fights will pay up to $250.00 with the purse contributed by a corporate sponsor. "International" tournaments, organised by the broadcasters, will pay individual purses of up to $1,000.00, sometimes higher.
Cambodia's top kru include Treung Sossay and Chhit Sarim, both from military-backed clubs, and Sok Vichay, from the Khlang Mourng Boxing Club. Treung Sossay and Chhit Sarim were featured as the trainers in Kun Khmer Champion.
Victory can be obtained by knockout. A knockout occurs when a boxer is knocked down to the ground and can not continue fighting after a 10 second count by the referee, a referee may forgo the count and declare a knockout if it is obvious the boxer will not regain his feet unaided. Victory is also obtained from the end of the match when judges decide by a point system which fighter was more effective. If fighters end up with the same score a draw is called.