Kickboxing in Long Beach, California

Long Beach Khmer Kickboxing Center was created in 1986 by Oumry Ban, a former Cambodian kickboxing champion. Ban won his first national title in 1964 at 61 kilograms (or 135 pounds). His career shows 309 fights with 278 wins (31 losses only), 200 of them were KO!
In 1970, Ban joined the governmental army where he first started as a soldier, being part of brutal and bloody battles. Eventually, the army realized what a celebrity he was and sent him back to Phnom Penh to continue fighting. In April 1975, the Khmer Rouge took control of the whole country, Ban went to work in the rice fields like all his Cambodian fellows…
Oumry Ban arrived in the United States in 1981 as a refugee. He originally lived in Chicago and moved to Long Beach in 1986, the year he opened the Khmer Kickboxing center with the help of established Cambodian people who knew who he was. Since, Ban, the father of 5 children, has run this modest studio for 20 years and struggled to make ends meet. Several times he was offered to sell the business, but Ban can’t resign to it. Kickboxing is his life and too much about Cambodian culture to be stopped like that. In the club, some consider him a living legend, for what he has been through and the fighter that he was.
I got to visit that club after I met with Phiream Sok, 20, and his girlfriend Jeanne Thoek, 17, at the United Cambodian Community of Long Beach. The two come to the kickboxing center every evening from 7 to 9pm to keep in shape, remain healthy, and get rid of the stress of the day. Most of all, they like the spirit of respect and self-confidence (among other things) that one can find in the practice of Kickboxing. Phiream was born in Cambodia in 1989. He had to flee Cambodia with his mother and other siblings in July 1997 after his father - a Funcinpec colonel and Secretary of State at the Ministry of Interior - was killed in what human rights groups alleged was an execution.
On Phiream’s back, a tattoo: RIP: “Rest in Peace”…

Photo essay and text story: Stephane Janin