The martial art of Bokator can be simultaneously balletic and brutal.
The world’s most well-known Bokator fighter is Tharoth “Little Frog” Sam.
She looks angelic and lithe—she tips the scales at less than 120 pounds. But if you’re pitted against her in the MMA octagon do not underestimate this woman.
“I am a bad ass,” Sam said.
Tharoth is one of the main subjects in the documentary “Surviving Bokator,” which screened at the Khmer Arts Academy on Saturday.
The “Little Frog” accompanied the film’s director Mark Bochsler at the screening.
The documentary focuses on Bokator grandmaster San Kim Sean.
Bokator is a Cambodian martial art that was in danger of becoming extinct.
During the Pol Pot era, those who practiced this martial art were systematically exterminated by the Khmer Rouge. San Kim Sean was able to flee to safety, but after the Pol Pot regime the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia began and native martial arts were completely outlawed.
The documentary focuses on the grandmaster’s efforts to revive Bokator by teaching the discipline to young students like Tharoth Sam. (She got the sobriquet from her love for a Cambodian amphibian delicacy.)
Director Mark Bochsler has set out to screen his film around the world to gauge response for the documentary.
“When I researched places to show the movie I found out that Long Beach is an epicenter for Cambodian immigrants in the U.S.,” Bochsler said.
One of the first audiences to see the film was in Long Beach and Bochsler has been back several times.
Bochsler followed San Kim Sean for more than five years. The grandmaster successfully taught local youth in Phnom Penh including Tharoth Sam but he wanted to re-establish the art throughout all of Cambodia. Some of the living masters were nearly 90 years old. But their age wasn’t the challenge. These men still held fears of the terrors of the Pol Pot regime. After much persuasion, he was eventually successful in reintroducing Bokator to nearly all of Cambodia.
The Little Frog is Cambodia’s Bokator shining star—literally and figuratively. She’s an MMA superstar and a movie star as well. She’s been in eight movies including Angelina Jolie’s historical thriller “First They Killed My Father.”
“In Bokator you must fight with your head,” she said.
And despite her size, she won’t deny that she has the heart of Muhammad Ali.
“I can float like a butterfly and sting like a bee,” she said.