First Westerners Earn Black Belt (Black Krama) in Khmer Bokator, Cambodian Martial Art

In Martial Arts on August 20, 2007 at 6:03 am

Derek Morris and Antonio Graceffo, both of the USA, have successfully tested for black krama (black belt) in Khmer martial art. “This is a historic moment.” Said Grand Master San Kim Saen, who promoted his two leading foreign students. “It is the first time, in a thousand years, that we have begun giving the test again. And Derek and Antonio are the first foreigners ever to test.”


Derek, a former US soldier, first read about Bokator in an article written by Antonio, in Black Belt magazine, while he was on deployment in the Iraq War. “Derek wrote to me and asked where he should train after coming out of the military.” Said Antonio, who is both the first foreign student and the first foreign journalist to write about Bokator, in 2004. “I suggested Cambodia.” After being honorably discharged from the Army, Derek flew to Cambodia and lived in the Bokator school, training eight or more hours per day.


“It was hard at first.” Said Derek. “The only time I had lived in a foreign country before was Iraq. And we were pretty separated from the Arab culture.” After six months in Cambodia, Derek still found the Khmer language difficult. “I couldn’t talk with the people. I read a lot of books when I wasn’t training.”


Friendships between athletes don’t always need a lot of words, however. In addition to becoming close to Grand Master San Kim Saen, Derek said his best friend in Cambodia was his training brother, Sovanara. “We spent a lot of time working out together.” He also built a special relationship with the eleven year old son of the Grand Master, San Angkor Richawan. “Richawan taught me Bokator, and I taught him English.”


Derek was awarded both a Black Belt and an instructor’s certificate. “He will help me spread Bokator to the world.” Said the Grand Master.


Antonio was awarded a Black Belt in Bokator fighting. “I really love to fight, and I like learning practical martial arts. So, this was the perfect course of study for me. The Grand Master helped me improve my knee strikes, elbows, punches, and kicks. I also trained every day with the Cambodian wrestling team, because grappling is part of Bokator.”


In his Black Belt test, Derek had to demonstrate mastery of more than 500 Bokator techniques. “In a way, what Derek did is a lot harder than what I did.” Said Graceffo. “He had to learn the forms, the animals, and the demonstration techniques. I just had to improve on my ability to thump people.”


To view a new short featuring Grand Master San Kim Saen and Antonio Graceffo click the link below.


Derek Morris

Making the Grade in Bokator

Bay Antonio Graceffo

The first foreigners test for Black krama in Bokator, the traditional Khmer martial art.


Animal styles five aniumals duck, crab bird horse dragon for white karma green is hanaman elephant crocodile lion and apsara nymph and tets every technique from every belt.


Belts are white green blue red brown and black. Training almost sixc months living in school for five months just took apartmenmt train until recently 5-8 hours per day the last month or so only about four. At beginning could learn from everybody he only let people teach me whow ere standard I trained with wan a lot and his English got greta band jow that he isn’t training me his English seems to have taken some steps back.


He is intelligent if he didn’t live here he would do well.


No sparring and very little exercise but doing amrtial art for several hours a day keeps you very fit and flexible.


I leanred a little language a lot about the people made some friends it ahs been a trip.


Never lived in foreign country before other than a deployment in irqu but there we were quite separated from the arabs and didn’t learn much about their culture.


Cvant talk to peopploel first few montsh read a lot and listend to books now I watch a lot of tv and sometimes hgo out for a ber. My best khmer friend is sovanara because I spent so mcuhg time training with him and eh speaks decent englisha nd he and win and I lived together at the school. Butr wiun knows very very little English.


The problem is the lack of sparring if tehyw ere sparringt I thkin their defense is very godo because the knees and elbows are such good defense. They have a lot of pistions which might eb good for rela fighting buty some fo the animal pposistions font make a lot fo sense in a practical fighting context. For ecxamnpl thy have an extremely lwo standce which is great because epepopel aren’t use dto fightings oemoen that low the defense is easier because you are so low and can cover up.


I think in USA at my school we will spar more. Also I am not as much into traditional martial arts for example in kaarete we used to spar once a wekle or once a month and theyre was no training and no one tajght us yhouw to work the bag or fight. \in kick boxing you would learn that stuff.


I polan to go to thaialdn to study fighting with Kru Pedro Villalobos.


There has jonly been one black karma wan tehnmjasterst son and this wekened five khemrs will test. Why so fewq I think life gets in tehw ay for example his bets student was his nephew but he and hhis grioflreined moved out fo the family hsoue and moved in together without permissiona dn so he was banished from tehs chool. But he wqs so excellenmt there were moves he could do that no one else could do. Like the jumping knee with double backwards elbows.


575 techniques for black karma  not conting kicks punches and elbows. Master said the khemrs also have tod o wepaosn biut the fopreigners didn’t have to because our time was limited. And now he is changing saying atht maybe people have to leran blkack belt first and tehn learn eweaposn after. Going to thailadn because tyired of cmabodia also there are no cmaps her eno place to live and train in cmabodian people only train a few hours a weke and the intensity is missing and they don’t have equipment.


In cmabodia intensity is what you make it. If you come here and do it there way it wont be very intense but if you make it then it will be there peoepel are ncie and if you say to them teach me this teach me 6that hey will.


The lats few weeks we have been training toegtehr we added wretslingw hcih is at 6:30 Am in the olym,pic staduium and they is a gym there so we also do weight lifting after wrestling tehjn o to okator. We still ahevnt found a convenient kick boxing option to add. Paddy’s ois the best but it is a little out of the way Olympic staudim has weights werstlinga dne even boxing and it si with in wlaking distance of bokator.


If people want toc oem here and tarin it is a greta cultural experience nad you can get in shape and get very flexible hbut this is not the ebst p;lace to elanr to fight seriously. In time it amy bget better since master is expanding the program all tehd time but you could train here to get a abse and tehn takje that with you anywyere and learn to fight.


There are people doninbg karate and tae kwan do at lolym,pic staudienma dn bokatror id dying out the amsters who don’t know anythinga re trying to make oney by selling eth art people dwho do know stuff refuse to have stduenst or to teach there never was a book there is a roumor that oen exiusted but itw as burnmed and now there is a rumor someone has a book but has it hidden and won’t show it to anyone. Even the fake taeacehs wrote books but wont release tehm till they get money so the art is dying out san kim saen is really the only legitimate teacher in the country who has students and runs a school and teachers.


I want to cut out the flashy showy crap and just use the good techniques for my students.


Antonio Graceffo is an adventure and martial arts author living in Asia. He is a professional fighter and the author of four books available on Contact him see his website


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