What’s in a name as Shakespeare once asked, well when it comes to sport and
national identity seemingly a lot, with the current hot potato being whether a certain
sport should be called Muoy Thai, or Kun Khmer.
The controversy arose when Cambodia announced it would officially introduce the
term “Kun Khmer” instead of “Muay” for the “Thai Boxing” competition taking
place at the 32nd SEA Games in Cambodia.
To read about Prum Samnag click here
Muoy Thai or Kun Khmer
As English speakers this is largely a debate we have not been part of, or indeed had to
endure, but for locals of both Thailand and Cambodia this has not been the case. The
discussion was kicked off when what we might call Thai Kickboxing in the west was
added to the 32nd SEA Games to be held in Cambodia this year.
To cut a long story short, the sport was included, but under the name Kun Khmer,
rather than Muoy Thai as it is known in Thailand. This was not only seen as an
affront by the Thai’s, but also a rallying call by nationalist on both sides of the divide
over who actually invented the sport.
So, is it Muoy Thai or Kun Khmer?
In true boxing style, we will start in the red corner! Thailand can claim Muoy Thai
lineage back to the 16th century, with there being documented evidence from foreign
observers from at least the 17th century. The sport was according to the Thai’s originally invented as a marshal art to be practiced by the military under King Naresuan.
And in the blue corner we have Kun Khmer, which sadly there is much less
documented evidence about. We do know though that Cambodia claims it was also
invented in the 16th century, but in Cambodia and before Thailand.
You can read about the history of Muoy Thai here.
Does it really matter?
To outside observers probably not, but to citizens and indeed netizens of both nations
it has really riled both sides of the fence. Aside from the anger of fans the furore has
also put extra pressure of boxers from both sides of the border, with Khmer boxer
Prum Samnang stating he felt some matches “could not be lost”, literally as matter of
The fierce nationalism has also made its way to the business world with Oknha Srey
Chanthorn, Honorary Vice President of the Khmer Boxing Federation offering a villa
worth $270,000 to any Khmer boxer that can beat Thai martial art champion Buakaw
So, does it matter? Yes it does. Quite simply whilst the winner of this face-off
between Cambodia and Thailand will not exactly solve the question of whether it
should be called Muoy Thai or Kun Khmer, the bragging rights and kudos it would
give either nation really should not be underestimated.
To paraphrase Bill Shankly, sport is not about life and death, it is much important
This article is adapted from BPVE SPORT Cambodia, reported and edited from the great team – Cambodia Sports Review.
Follow BPVE SPORT
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram: @bpvesport