Eh Phuthong (Khmer: អេ ភូថង) (also Ei Phouthang) (born 1975) is a Khmer Cambodian professional kick boxer, teacher, and former reality TV host. Eh Phuthong currently lives in Phnom Penh.
To reach Phu Thong’s level as a fighter requires strict discipline. “I train hard so I’m strong in kicking, punching, and using my knee and shins,” he said. To toughen his shins he soaks them in salt water and rolls bamboo across them everymorning. He then runs 20km and spends hours working out with a punching bag.”In the ring I must have both strength and determination to beat my opponent,”he said. “In the first round I study his technique, searching for his vulnerabilities and deciding how best to confront him.”
Eh Phu Thong fears no man. “I was scared during my first fight, but if you are frightened, you can’t win.”
Eh Phuthong began learning Kun Khmer, traditional Khmer kickboxing at age twelve. Eh Phuthong had his first Khmer traditional kickboxing contest at the age of 17. He initially began fighting at the 48 kg weight class and then moved to the 63 kg weight class. In recent years, Eh Phuthong has explored media opportunities outside the ring. He has starred in two Khmer-language action films and was the co-host of CTN’s highly rated reality show, Kun Khmer Champion.
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Three clay pots hang in the jungle air. A man stands near them wearing the sacred armbands of an ancient Khmer warrior. Suddenly the man darts forward and executes a series of flying kicks, pulverizing the pots. This is a display of Cambodian kickboxing, bokator, Khmer for “to strike a lion.” According to myth, the founder of bokator killed a lion barehanded to defend his village. With roots going back nearly 2,000 years, bokator is a technique designed to kill. Rumor has it ancient bokator events included a ringside coffin to carry off the loser.
The first thing that jumps out when watching a bokator match is the competitors perform a ceremonial dance at the start of each match to honor their ancestors and continue dancing throughout the fight, filling the spaces between kicks, punches, and knees. The dancing also serves as a reminder that this is not actual bokator but sport, an exhibition. In true bokator combat, each strike would be thrown to kill.
As the Cambodian people continue to emerge from the devastation of their civil war and to forge a new sense of cultural identity, bokator is becoming a symbol of Khmer dignity. The traditional martial art’s absorption into the worldwide MMA circuit has the potential to bring an image of a renewed Cambodia to international attention. Master Saen once said in a video interview, “Why do the Cambodian people kill each other? No one knows why.” Perhaps the bokator renewal will bring with it hope that such killing won’t happen in the future.