Pradal Serey - History

History

Fighting has been a constant part of Southeast Asia since ancient times and eventually led to organized combat systems. In the Angkor era, both armed and unarmed martial arts were practiced by the Khmers. Evidence shows that a style resembling pradal serey existed in the 9th century, which may be one of the reasons why the Khmer empire was such a dominant force in Southeast Asia. The kingdom of Angkor used an early form of pradal serey, named Yuthakun Khom, along with various weapons and war elephants to wage war against their main enemy, the Vietnam-based kingdom of Champa, and later, Siam. Re-enactments of elephant battles are still recreated at the Surin Elephant Round-up.

At this time, the kingdom of Angkor dominated and controlled most of what is now Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. As a result, Cambodia has influenced much of Thai and Lao culture. This leads the Khmer to believe all Southeast Asian forms of kickboxing started with the early Mon-Khmer people; they maintain that Pradal serey also has influenced much of the basis Muay Thai. On top of oral stories from their ancestors, the basis of this argument are the bas-reliefs left behind by early Khmers in the ancient temples of the Bayon and other Angkor temples. Much of the writing on ancient Khmer art has either been destroyed or adopted by the invading Thai armies when the Siamese sacked and looted Angkor and took Khmer captives including members of the Khmer royal court back to Ayutthaya. The Khmer warrior-king Jayavarman VII and the founder of a unified Laos, Fa Ngum, were among the military leaders believed to have been trained in the old fighting styles of Cambodia.

During the colonial period, martial arts like pradal serey were considered by the European colonists to be brutal and uncivilised. The French turned the art into a sport by adding timed rounds, a boxing ring and western boxing gloves in an attempt to lessen injury. 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. In the 1960s, Cambodian boxing promoters held inter-martial art exhibitions.

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