Raised by the Ring


Bun Khim found himself at the end of his career, unable to fight. He had a good career in boxing but was not left with much money. It was then that he began training his sons to fight. He says he felt he had 'nothing else to give them.' Today he has turned his home and his yard into a Kun Khmer gym that trains mostly children, aged 6-12. It sits in the town of Banteay Mancheay, which means 'Victorious Camp.' Today more and more children, usually from lower income families, train to become Kun Khmer fighters.

During the Cambodian genocide, the Khmer Rouge banned martial arts and many fighters were executed or forced into labor camps, and the art nearly died. Recently the sport has been experiencing its revival, with fights broadcasted by major television networks in Cambodia. Internationally the fight is beginning to appear in the mixed martial arts community, with fighters competing internationally. Chan Reach, a Kun Khmer fighter and also a gym owner, says that children boxing is a part of the Kun Khmer tradition. To the community in Banteay Mancheay, whose sons train almost everyday, children who train to fight are perceived as more good mannered and 'more virtuous.' They see their children learning discipline. According to Chan, 'In this province, it is in their blood.'

Underage fighters are banned from fighting professionally in Cambodia. But some slip through fake documents, coupled by the need to earn additional income and experience in the ring. For the children, sparring happens in non televised events, and the children 'earn' their winnings through cash pooled together by the village. The winner can be rewarded anywhere from 7-10 USD, and many fathers hope they impress gym owners for the chance to get better training outside of the province. When their sons perform well, some families will make an informal agreement and send their children off to the capital, or to Thailand, where their son's education, housing, and food will be taken care of by a coach and a gym. Coaches find children in the province, and take them in for better training, in the hopes that someday they could become top fighters. For many poor families, there is hope that their children might someday lift them from poverty.

Bun Khim, however, is content to pass on what he knows to these children. When asked how he feels when his sons enter the ring, he says, 'Happy, like any other parent.' Mothers, however, often refuse to watch the fights. 



'Raised by the Ring,' elsewhere:

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Fotografisk Tidskrift, Cover Story

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