Okhna Heng Tola is a successful business man and does not need to work another day in his life. But he is still investing a lot of time and money into his dream: to save Cambodia’s martial art Kun Khmer.
In early February 2019, Okhna Heng Tola opened Ek Phnom Kun Khmer Arena in an attempt to revive Kun Khmer in Battambang and give the local fighters a place to compete.
Now, he hosts several Kun Khmer events a month, and have started to visit all the local clubs to better understand why the sport of Kun Khmer has stopped advancing.
“Before I opened [Ek Phnom Kun Khmer Arena], and before I had been to the small Kun Khmer gyms, I heard lot about the clubs and their life on the countryside in Battambang…” Okhna Heng Tola states.
“But when I went there to see the real thing, it was much worse than I thought. The gyms are very poor!”
“People in the city, people in Phnom Penh might think that the gyms have a little bit of equipment, but no, they are very poor! That is why Kun Khmer cannot develop and be compared to other countries [martial arts].”
Okhna Heng Tola fears Kun Khmer might disappear
Okhna Heng Tola has chosen to do things differently, and he says he wants the Kun Khmer fans to understand that we have to work hard to support Kun Khmer, or else we might lose the sport.
One way to support Kun Khmer is by buying tickets at Ek Phnom Kun Khmer Arena, something that Okhna Heng Tola says allows him to continue supporting the local gyms.
“Some people ask me why [Ek Phnom Kun Khmer Arena] tickets are not for free, like in Phnom Penh,” Okhna Heng Tola says.
“One of the reasons is that we don’t have a sponsor to help us cover costs, but also because I want people to understand that we must spend some money to support our martial arts.”
“We have a long cultural history here in Cambodia, but if we don’t preserve it, take care of it, love it, and spend some money to help, we might lose it,” Okhna Heng Tola states.
“Other countries, they spend money to take care and maintain the culture that they love. Here in Cambodia, it is very different. In Cambodia, we just love, but we don’t want to spend the money to maintain our culture.”
Okhna Heng Tola thinks Kun Khmer is important for Cambodia
Having visited some of the smaller Kun Khmer clubs in Battambang, Okhna Heng Tola says the situation is critical for Kun Khmer.
He urges businesses and wealthy people in Cambodia to step up and financially support the country’s Kun Khmer fighters.
“The rich people, sometime they spend 100 USD for one lunch or one dinner. But with 100 USD you can also support and help a small gym. I ask: ‘why do we not support them more?'”
“So that’s where I got the idea to support the gyms in Battambang. There are about 19-20 of them in Battambang, and I want to help them be better! But I cannot do it alone.”
On Sunday, 26 May Okhna Heng Tola will hosts Kun Khmer International Fight Night where Battambang talent Chhut SereyVannthong will take on WLC Champion Antonio Faria in the main event.
Okhna Heng Tola hopes that a lot of people will show up and show their support. In total, the event will feature six fights where the two last bouts are international bouts where Cambodia will compete against Portugal and Mongolia.
Part of the ticket sales goes to supporting the small gyms.
“One man cannot help all,” Okhna Heng Tola states.
“I am not the Kun Khmer Federation, and I don’t have a head position in the government. I am just one business man. But, I will do what I can to support Kun Khmer and I will do my best!”