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AT 73, HE’S FIGHTING TO REVIVE THE MARTIAL ART YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF

The story of San Kim Sean, which he is grateful to relay in the shade of his training camp during a scorching Cambodian September, really begins some 800 years ago with the birth of his martial art, bokator. Like most everything here in Siem Reap, where tourists flock to see the Angkor Wat temple complex, the roots stretch to the Khmer empire.

Kim Sean, 73, repeats the word for emphasis: “empire.” Known to his students as “Grandmaster,” he flips through a book he illustrated and wrote describing some of the supposedly thousands of moves in bokator. A black-and-white drawing of a man with a six-pack and bulging muscles angles one elbow to the ground and another in the air for the page on “elbow-hooking.” Instructions read: “Keep elbow in straight down-top position, with fingers hooked. Push elbow down strongly.” Some of these techniques, he says, are even carved into Angkor Wat. “Like America’s now strong, they have a good army and good weapons. At that time Khmer empire [was] like America now.”

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