Dressed in black uniforms with white belts, eight skilled fighters demonstrate their skills with staves and knives, as well as advanced punching, kicking and wresting techniques. When combined, these unique techniques are known as pencak silat – a full-body fighting form which incorporates strikes, grappling and throwing. 

Pencak silat is the national martial art of Indonesia, but has been embraced by the soldiers of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF). Each of the dedicated athletes demonstrating their talents is a loyal member of the Kingdom’s army.

The International Pencak Silat Federation was established in 1948, with the sport first contested at the 1987 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games and the 2018 Asian Games, which Indonesia hosted.

The unique martial art was inscribed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in December 2019, three years before Cambodia successfully registered Lbokator on the same list in November 2022.

Indonesia and Cambodia entered into a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on an exchange of training between Lbokator and pencak silat in June 22, 2022.

The signing ceremony, held at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, was witnessed by then-Prime Minister Hun Sen and Prabowo Subianto, Indonesian defence minister and president of the International Pencak Silat Federation.

Through the MoU, the Kingdom sent 28 women, most of them Lbokator athletes and soldiers, to undergo pencak silat training in Indonesia, accompanied by two coaches.

At the same time, Cambodia dispatched two Lbokator instructors to train Indonesian athletes, in preparation for the 32nd SEA Games 2023, which was hosted by Cambodia.

Mutual success

As a result of this bilateral cooperation, the athletes of both nations were able to claim gold medals at the 2023 SEA Games, with the Cambodian team winning two gold and eight bronze medals in pencak silat events.

Nine members of Military Region 5 won one gold and four bronze medals, while the Indonesian team won three gold, five silver and 12 bronze medals in the Lbokator competition.

In response to its successes at the May 2023 SEA Games, Cambodia decided to re-establish the Cambodia Pencak Silat Federation, but with a completely new structure.

A general assembly of the federation was held at the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia (NOCC) on February 18, at the beginning of its first mandate, 2024-27.

During the assembly, the participants elected six military officers as the executive committee of the new federation.

Major General Seng Thearin, deputy commander of the 5th Army Division and Chief of Staff of the army, was appointed as chairman, while Brigadier General Sing Tum, commander of the 51st Infantry Brigade, became permanent deputy chief. Ou Dara became secretary-general.

“I highly appreciated the spirit of the first general assembly of the Cambodia Pencak Silat Federation. The federation will not only fulfil its legitimacy as a national sports federation, but will also provide exciting opportunities to members of the executive committee, technical officials and athletes. We all come from different backgrounds, but we share a sense of family and will work hard to organise the federation,” says Thearin.

In order to promote the sport, he urges the executive committee to develop the skills of the federation’s officials, so it is capable of holding domestic and international competitions, as well as knowledgeable coaches. This way, it can produce athletes who have the will, discipline, ethics and ability to win on the international stage.

“We do not yet have an advanced understanding of all of the techniques of this sport, but we have the will to gain it. I hope that many of our sporting men and women will take part and bring glory to the nation,” he says.

Confident leadership

“Now that we have decided to do this, we must do so successfully. I have faith in Ou Dara, because we have worked well together in other fields for many years. I believe the federation will run smoothly and successfully during its first mandate,” he explains.

Ou Dara has an in-depth knowledge of martial arts events, whether demonstrations or combat. He also serves as deputy secretary-general of the Cambodia Kun Bokator Federation.

“Most of the leaders we selected are military commanders. We have worked together to carry out many different tasks in the world of martial arts, especially Lbokator,” he notes.

“After years of working together, we have come to know each other’s hearts and minds, and so we organised this federation. As secretary-general, I am in charge of administration. It’s safe to say that we have a strong executive composition, with leaders who are willing to promote the martial arts and make them more prominent. We believe this will lead to more medals on the international stage,” he adds.

Sim Sok David, a soldier, won gold in the artistic tunggal (single) pencak silat event on his home soil at the 2023 SEA Games.

He expresses his happiness at the formal re-establishment of the Cambodia Pencak Silat Federation, noting that it will provide a stronger base for training athletes, which should lead to increased success in competitions.

“I’m pleased we have formed the federation, because I believe that we will have a clear training programme and well-rounded coaches to train our team. I personally will strive to strengthen my own ability to continue to win medals, so that my parents will not be disappointed,” he says.

The 23-year-old shared his faith in the federation’s executive committee, most of them military officers.

“I have 100 per cent confidence in our leadership because I know them well. Their work is always clear and thorough, whether in the military or the world of martial arts. They have organised a network of coaches to train our defence forces in martial arts, so I believe they will surely lead the federation forward,” he says.