LONG BEACH - The smallest man in the room has the biggest heart.
Oumry Ban guides students through a series of punches, kicks, elbow and knee strikes in his tiny martial arts studio on Anaheim Street as he has for 25 years.
A former kickboxing champion in Cambodia and Southeast Asia, Ban is generously listed as 5-foot-6 and 140 pounds, but appears somewhere between that and his fighting weight of 110 pounds.
However, the 68-year-old's small frame and gentle disposition belie the fighter's heart that helped him survive the Cambodian genocide and a scary unprovoked attack here in the United States.
It is also the same spirit that has kept Ban going for 25 years at the same location at 223 W. Anaheim St.
"I'm stay long in same building, same place. It's a good feeling because I love it," Ban says. "I may lose money, or make just little bit, but I keep going."
The love runs two ways, and on Saturday, July 14,Ban will be feted by current and former students and friends and a VIP list of martial arts champions and masters from around the United States. The event at Dara Restaurant, 1223 E. Anaheim St., sold out quickly, although tickets may be available at the door. The suggested donation is $30.
The event will raise funds for United Kun Khmer, an organization that hopes to bring a wide array of Khmer fighting styles under one umbrella.
The dinner honoring Ban was the idea of Samat Muont, one of Ban's first students in 1987 and
Muont helped bring together a group of former fighters to sponsor tables for the event.
He says the event is to recognize "what (Ban) has done for the community and his students."
When Muont, a tae kwon do fighter at the time, first met Ban, it was as if all his martial arts training came home.
"I had heard 'pradal serey, pradal serey,' since childhood," Muont says, referring to the Khmer term for kickboxing.
However, Muont, a refugee from Cambodia himself, had never met anyone who could teach the ancient Cambodian fighting style.
"I liked the Khmer style," Muont says.
He got that and more from Ban.
"It wasn't just the technique, but the spirit of Khmer art," Muont says of what he received from Ban.
It is that spirit that draws Tippana Tith, a local Cambodian organizer and activist.
"I haven't seen a former fighter that is so gentle," Tith says. "That gives me so much respect for him."
The narrative of Ban has been detailed by the Press-Telegram, and it is one that is familiar in the Cambodian community.
Ban was at the height of his professional fighting career in Cambodia when the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975. By that time he had fought, by his estimation, more than 300 fights in his career.
Ban was renown for his fearlessness, usually taking on bigger fighters because few opponents of his diminutive stature were available - and those who were wanted no part of him. Among the monikers bestowed on Ban was the "Atomic Knee" for his strikes with the knee.
"Whenever he fought it was always sold out," says Narin Dura, a Cambodian fan of kickboxing who remembers Ban's notoriety.
The fame came to a crashing end when the Khmer Rouge came to power and began a brutal reign that left upwards of 2 million dead, including Ban's mother, two brothers and a sister.
Ban was targeted to be killed, but three times managed to avoid almost certain death.
Ban eventually immigrated to the United States and opened his gym in 1987. He has been there ever since and never closed the doors, even when the 1992 riots engulfed Los Angeles and Long Beach.
In 2006, Ban had his fourth brush with death when he was blind-sided and brutally beaten outside a restaurant on Anaheim Street.
The motive of the attack remains a mystery, although the attackers - Than Kim, Chan Um and Rantha Sok - took plea deals and went to prison in 2008. They also face possible deportation.
Ban has put the episode behind him and now devotes himself to teaching in his gym and raising his daughter, 12-year-old Sochada, who seems to have picked up some of her dad's fistic skills.
Ban's gym remains the only one in Long Beach that teaches the ancient form of Khmer kickboxing, which many say predates the better known Muay Thai style.
According to his friends, those who learn from Ban are getting the real thing.
"He's one of the originals," several say in chorus. twitter.com/gregmellen