The martial arts scene in Cambodia has skyrocketed in the last couple of years, with a number of Khmer talents showcasing their skills in leading organizations like ONE Championship.
However, only a few aspects of the martial arts game has seen a more significant improvement than the local grappling community in “The Kingdom of Wonder.”
Leading the way is a dedicated group of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu enthusiasts with H/Art Academy founder Vivaddhana “Vi” Khaou as the spearhead.
The 30-year-old Khaou is a BJJ purple belt who has been training for a mere couple of years. Bu, despite being relatively new to the discipline, his journey is already dotted with tremendous success, having already established a well-renowned grappling hub in the Cambodian capital.
Aside from that, Khaou has also helped improve the ground game of top-level ONE Championship athletes including Chan Rothana and ONE Warrior Series competitor Emmanuel Onyedikachi, as well as collaborating with jiu-jitsu sensation Jessa Khan.
In August, he played a crucial part in Khan’s preparation before the 2018 Asian Games, where she ultimately won Cambodia’s first gold medal in Jiu-Jitsu.
The triumphant moment marked a milestone in Cambodian grappling history, but “Vi” asserts these are the first steps in a long journey that his team envisioned a long time ago.
“2018 has been a big year for us. We had planned to get a gold medal before we even had it. We foresaw that the Asian Games was the perfect platform for us to get started,” he says.
“We now have national athletes who can represent Cambodia on the global stage. That allows us to gain an image and show people what Jiu-Jitsu is.
“People have now seen Jessa get the gold medal, earning X amount of money, so now people see that there’s an opportunity to do martial arts professionally.”
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The H/Art Academy leader emphasizes that not many can accomplish what the 17-year-old has done. However, he also stresses that her success injects a lot of enthusiasm into the local martial arts scene and inspires the younger practitioners.
With the rise of internationally acclaimed martial arts organizations, the whole sport has seen a huge growth in popularity.
Khaou acknowledges the mainstream attention but makes a clear difference between the promotions that focus on the entertainment value and those that celebrate the morals which he feels defines martial arts.
“I definitely appreciate ONE Championship for their values,” he explains.
“Our focus is to develop jiu-jitsu as a martial art, not as an entertainment sport. It has a lot to do with discipline, respect, humility, and a number of other things, like being able to learn to be a better person.”
Not only is Khaou riding a wave that has raised the grappling standard a couple of notches, but he and his team have also set their eyes on empowering the young people of Cambodia.
Earlier this year, he established The AoKas project with the help from the International Jiu-Jitsu Education Fund (IJEF). The youth sports outreach program enables underprivileged and vulnerable children in Phnom Penh to try the sport and learn self-defense.
There are approximately 45 young kids who are part of the program, and with the support of partners and sponsors, Khaou’s team aims to instill a philosophy that will take martial arts in the community — and the country as a whole — to the next level.
“I want to see the success of Cambodian fighters here, and I want to see the success of Cambodian culture,” he states. “Our strongest resources are our people and the next generation. If we can show these [young kids] to have the same mentality as a great martial artist, [Cambodia] is bound to have a great examples.”
“When you take up martial arts, you don’t need to be fit; you don’t need to have prior knowledge. You just need to be able to show up, and you need to make sure that you’re ready to invest in yourself to become a better person.”
“Sometimes that might mean a lot of discomforts and [you have to] learn to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations. If you have never done that, you’ll have to prepare yourself to have that approach mentally. But just show up, showing up the is the most important part of you being a better person.”
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(This article was first published in November 2018)