As the team I’ve been training with in Cambodia boarded their plane to compete in the Copa de Bangkok IBJJF tournament, I was on my own flight to a considerably less strenuous weekend getaway. Instead of entering the competition with the rest of the guys and girls I’ve been training with, I decided to spend a few days exploring ruins in the Cambodian Jungle.
A Little About H/Art Academy and the Tournament
Before I get into my side-trip expedition, let me tell you about the guys I’ve been training with in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. They form a small gym called H/Art. Their tagline is something all BJJ enthusiasts can appreciate: Art / Heart / Harmony. It’s only been around for about six months and is the city’s only gym fully dedicated to BJJ. It’s insane how dedicated and tough these guys are for only training together for such a short time. I’ll write more about the gym in my next post.
When I began training with them at the start of the month, they were all fine-tuning their strategies and focusing on getting on weight for the tournament. They were hungry to prove themselves; especially Rithy, a white belt who, as of last weekend, is the first local Cambodian to compete abroad. H/Art ended up taking twelve medals back with them!
I really wanted to join the team for the tournament, but having only just got back into training about week ago since I got over a 4 week long respiratory infection. I need to take it easy and get back in shape before I push too hard.
Exploring Ancient Temples and Learning About Cambodia’s Politics
After a 45 minute flight Northwest from PP, I was in the tourist infested city of Siem Reap. Just outside the small city, are the temples of Angkor. Within a 400 square km area, there are hundreds of ancient temples, many still inaccessible and unexplored, that were completely consumed by the jungle until the French began restoring them in the early 20th century.
Saturday I woke to an unthinkably early 6:30am alarm (after working until about 2:30am the night before) to get to the temples before the blazing Cambodian sun made them unbearable. As the sun rose, me and two buddies met with our guide, hopped in a tuk tuk and headed off toward the most famous and largest temple: Angkor Wat.
After a few hours at the sprawling Angor Wat grounds, we spent the rest of the day traveling between and exploring temples of varying size, age and levels of dereliction. My favorite was the Face of Bayon. Although this was a relatively new temple, (only 600 years old) it was the most deteriorated because of the inferior sandstone it was constructed with. The crumbling walls, giant face statues and vast corridors would make it the world’s best laser tag venue. But sadly, I don’t think UNESCO or Cambodian government would sign off on that.
We also visited the temple used for filming the Tomb Raider movie with Angelina Jolie. It was stunning because massive trees have grown through the giant sandstone blocks to become a part of the temple’s structure. The historic architecture and natural fauna have melded together for hundred of years to create breathtaking scenery. It looked just like the first level of the original Playstation Tomb Raider game.
If you ever find yourself even remotely close to Cambodia, take some time to check out these wonders. I regret that I only had a day to explore. I could’ve spent a week trekking deep into the jungle to find the most remote and untouched ancient temples.
Grappling Lessons from an 800 Year-Old Carving
Since this blog is supposed to be about BJJ, I better end it with a tie-in to martial arts. While at the Faces of Bayon temple, I was lucky to stumble across this carving on the exterior wall depicting two Khmer warriors:
This scene shows that even ancient fighters had to be careful not to overextend their arms, especially when they’re on their back and excited to set up a choke. It makes me feel a little better knowing that wrestlers were getting caught in the same trap I do hundreds of years later.