Created by a Hindu priest named Time in 788 AD, Maloyuth is the earliest recorded form of Cambodian traditional wrestling. It is believed to be the root of Bok Cham Bab. The sport of Maloyuth, however, focused greatly on chokeholds and body throws, considered to be teaching more deadly arts of grappling. Khmer traditional wrestling instead places more attention to agility and maneuvering, with less attention to the more dangerous ways of its former shell.
Back before, the sport of Khmer folk wrestling played three important parts to the Khmer life. The first being it prevented village people from fighting. Whatever tension two individuals would have; the community would give them the opportunity to fight it out in a regulated battle.
Secondly, it helped the youth maintain a healthy body, since the physical maneuvering and balance required helped to strengthen the wrestler’s body and mind. Unlike many other traditional sports of that time, Bok Cham Bab was quite a head its time as women had also practiced the sport since the early days.
Finally, another significant aspect to the Khmer folk wrestling was that it helped to determine tribal leaders. It was also a part of military training, helping decide who was strong enough – both physically and mentally – to be a better military leader.
One distinct trait to Khmer traditional wrestling was the importance the sport placed on the dance that comes before the match. Both wrestlers would have to step into the ring and dance to the music around each other before the bout began. The poses would resemble that of the various animal forms the culture had adapted from the Indian and Chinese influence. Not only was this pre-match ritual an important part of the Khmer wrestling culture, it also helped the fighters warm their bodies up.
Alternating between a dance and wrestle throughout the fight, with the drums beating to the pace of the bout, both wrestlers aim to push one another to the ground. Once grappling them down, they attempt to force their opponent’s chest or shoulders to the floor, which determines a win for that round. Using only their arms and legs, each wrestler must maneuver themselves with extreme precision. The winner is whoever manages to win two out of three rounds, as determined by the referee.
Much like Cambodia’s ancient martial art, Bokator, Bok Cham Bab is a part of the Khmer fighting sports that were wiped out upon the Khmer Rouge regime. From the words of Vath Chamreun, a wrestling official and trainer in Phnom Penh, “Before the Khmer Rouge, nearly every village wrestled. They wrestled at festivals and on holidays, such as Khmer New Year or Pchum Benh. But the art was banned during the Khmer Rouge time and many of the top wrestlers and coaches were killed.”
Even though there has been a long period of dormancy due to the Khmer Rouge regime and Vietnamese occupation, there have been a few villages that have resumed the traditions of the Khmer traditional wrestling, although overtime it has changed in that it is not solely focused on wrestling anymore.
Additionally, while there are a few provinces that have resumed practice of the old traditions, most have not. This has been because many of the provincial families are farmers, and the need to make money rather than be out wrestling has taken priority. Also, during rainy seasons, it made it difficult for people to train, limiting the amount of time one could train in the sport. For these reasons, it has been rather hard to preserve this cultural asset of Khmer.