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West Valley City Journal

West Valley resident continues Cambodian martial arts tradition

Jan 05, 2024 01:53PM ● By Darrell Kirby

Sambo Kim, right, attempts to take down his younger brother, Kirbbee Sok, during a demonstration of a form of ancient Cambodian martial arts. (Darrell Kirby/City Journals)

It’s a form of the martial arts that is not well known nor practiced by a lot of people, but a West Valley City resident is doing his part to change that.

Sambo Kim teaches Bokator, a mix of ancient, traditional martial arts whose origins are rooted in Cambodia. Various sources say it goes back at least a thousand years and was used primarily as a form of military fighting.  

Kim says it combines the key elements of a variety of forms of the discipline. “We’ve got empty-hand forms, animal forms (mimicking an attacking animal), grappling, wrestling,” he said. It also incorporates the use of hand-to-hand combat and weapons. “Basically, it’s a complete system of ancient martial arts style,” said Kim, a 2013 graduate of Hunter High School. “A lot of people have never heard of it or know about it. Me and my little brother (Kirbbee Sok), we’re the only practitioners in Utah.”

Kim took an interest in Bokator not long before he immigrated to the United States from his native Cambodia in 2006. He went back to his homeland in 2015 to get more hands-on training from the masters of the art. 

Kim’s efforts to create more awareness of Bokator is something he is doing not only here but outside the state. He has done some fighting scenes in a few movies, including a smaller independent film and a bigger production, both to be released in 2024. “My goal is to promote that martial arts style that I’ve been practicing and to put it in movies so people know more about it,” Kim said. His unique skills also got him an invitation to attend the recent Asian World Film Festival in Los Angeles. “I got to meet a lot of Hollywood movie stars, producers, and directors.” Kim hopes those connections will lead to more roles either in front of and behind the camera. 

The inspiration of others is what fuels Kim’s passion for Bokator. Foremost is that of his grandmother. “I look up to my grandma a lot,” he said. Within the martial arts discipline, Kim is motivated by the work of the late Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, who brought those skills into the mainstream American consciousness through movies and other media starting in the 1970s. Lee demonstrated his martial arts prowess in more serious films compared to Chan who generally did his thing as part of comedic and light-hearted plotlines.

Beside learning the physical moves, Kim says there is an equally important mental and spiritual aspect to Bokator. “Before we do any type of fighting or performing, we pray to the ancestor and to the master that passed away or to the master that’s still alive to pay respect,” he said. The industry also touts additional benefits of boosting self-esteem and confidence, particularly among younger participants. 

On a daily basis, Kim teaches Bokator and other martial arts to 100 students at Premier Martial Arts in West Bountiful. He gives private lessons to a handful of others. 

Over the next few years, Kim, who is 29, wants to continue building his Hollywood resume by participating in more productions that incorporate Cambodian martial arts. 

“After those, I maybe want to open my own school to teach Cambodian martial arts to the next generation,” he said. λ