An Interview with Dieselnoi | On the State of Muay Thai
Above is an video excerpt from an 18 minute interview I did with the immortal Dieselnoi Chor Thanasukarn, the greatest knee fighter in history, who ultimately was stripped of his Lumpinee Belt and forced into an early retirement because nobody would fight him. He remains an absolute pillar of the Thai legends in Thailand’s Muay Thai community, and a fixture of what Muay Thai means in Thailand. In this clip he is expanding on a complaint echoed by many veterans of the sport: that Muay Thai scoring has damaged the sport by favoring strength over technique and effectiveness. Emblematic perhaps of this changeover were Saenchai’s final defeats at the hands (clinch, really) of Yodwicha, the expert clinch and lock fighter who had significant size on the stylish Saenchai. Yodwicha remains a favorite fighter of mine, and was indeed co-fighter of the year with Sangmanee, but what you hear is that Muay Thai as a whole has moved towards definitive throws, and demonstrations of power. In this interview clip, Dieselnoi gives more depth to this, speaking on how promoters have helped shape this move (generally it’s always blamed on gamblers, so this is an interesting addition), often guiding match ups to size differences which will favor strength. He also talks about how there once was a hierarchy of fighting styles, such that in scoring one style of fighter (the example he uses is Muay Mat – puncher) could not defeat another style (here, Muay Dtae – kicker), unless the puncher really dominated. He does not fully flesh out the idea, I’ll be looking more into it in future interviews, but it seems that there was a kind of rock-paper-scissors hierarchy in scoring, that no longer exists today.
Dieselnoi also talks about his famed catch-weight fight against Samart Payakaroon, to establish who would be awarded the immense honor of Yodmuay that year. Dieselnoi dropped an enormous amount of weight to come down and weigh in below Samart’s weight – it was agreed that Samart would get a weight advantage at weigh in. In the full interview he describes his weight cut in detail; it was brutal.
What this really is about is finding ways to not only tell the story of Muay Thai history, but also present the men who lived it and created this history. This interview series, supported by patrons, will be focused on the perspectives of legends, helping us to understand where present day Muay Thai came from and how much it has changed. And, to shed light onto the lives and careers of these men. The Muay Thai Library project already has archived nearly 50 hours of training with legends, krus and hidden gems of Thailand’s Muay Thai, documenting the state of Muay Thai techniques all over Thailand. This new Beyond the Library series brings added depth to those hour long commentary sessions.
You can see the full Dieselnoi Interview here: On the State of Muay Thai – in becoming a subscriber you help make more of these interviews, and their translation – possible. You also get access to tons of exclusive content.
Dieselnoi’s Heath: As many of you know, Dieselnoi has had some struggles with his health. A year ago we raised over $3,000 to help contribute to his pending medical expenses due to a very poor heart (he’s already undergone one heart surgery and may require another), an amount he is very thankful for and surely the support is incredibly meaningful to him. People still do occasionally contribute to the fund (I sent him a donation this week), though treatment is not imminent now; you can still send him the good will if you like. His health seems much improved, he’s lost weight, he’s sharp as ever, but he remains a heavy smoker. He is quickly short of breath and at our 4 Legends Seminar he was forced to stop several times because he only has one setting: 100 mph and shredding. His lips turned blue, as they have when he’s trained me, and he had to sit down. I’ve never met man more passionate about Muay Thai. When he teaches you something, it’s the heart he’s after. And it’s a tall order to fill, meeting Dieselnoi’s heart for Muay Thai.
thank you to both Prin and Pan who translated the interview and made the closed captions possible
Below is the text of the Patreon Only post, giving insight into the project and the full interview, with the full interview:
Beyond the Library – Interviews episode 1
I’ve wanted to start conducting interviews as a part of and expansion of the Preserve the Legacy Project, going beyond the Muay Thai Library. The aim is substantive interviews with the legends on the history of Muay Thai, the state of Muay Thai, and on their lives and careers. My Thai has finally gotten good enough that I can have at least basic back and forth conversations, and with the help of patrons who jumped in to help, I can get these interviews dependably translated. This is the first one of hopefully many, and as the debut interview it’s very special to me, because Dieselnoi is my hero, my idol, and like a favorite uncle. Aside from this interview which runs 18 minutes, I also filmed maybe 30 minutes of Dieselnoi flipping through Muay Thai history, fighter by fighter (beginning with fighters who preceded him), telling the story of Muay Thai’s evolution, from his perspective. I’m very excited about this dimension of the Preserve The Legacy project. It’s time consuming, and I still get a little nervous talking to these greats with miscommunications and gaps in my Thai abilities, but the efforts really pay off. I’m a shy person at heart, but if anything is worth getting over your shyness it is this. I love this interview and, just seeing how Dieselnoi is as a man and how he performs his conversations… it just has to be captured.
Dieselnoi is an amazing man and energy. He is bursting with enthusiasm and intensity, and of everyone I’ve ever come in contact with in all of my Muay Thai interactions, I’ve met nobody who loves Muay Thai more than he does. When he trained me a few years ago he took a private moment and showed me his scars on his wrist, from where he tried to commit suicide because he had run out of opponents; his desperation was in not being able to fight, the one thing his heart rages after. It’s a very personal thing to share and he did not know me well then either, so he is not shy about it. It’s part of his intensity. A more happy note on something that makes Dieselnoi who he is, is his seemingly allergic reaction to wearing a shirt. The very instant he walks into a room he just has to pop his shirt off, he doesn’t give any care at all to not being a young, chiseled fighter anymore – a fairly common point of shyness among other former fighters. He was the greatest knee fighter ever – that will never change, six pack be damned! I do plan to do more interviews with him, possibly covering his life in stages, and I’m also working with him to possibly get his biography published (if anyone wants to help with that, either through connections or with skills offered, message me). But to the English-speaking world, this interview stands a bit as a first introduction to the wonder that is Dieselnoi. And I’m happy to offer it to you my $10 patrons, because of the significance of your support.
In the interview (there’s a subtitle transcript you can browse below) he takes up a popular subject: How much contemporary Muay Thai has changed since the Golden Age, and why. He first talks about clinch, and about how much it has changed scoring. This is very interesting because previous translated criticisms of contemporary Muay Thai came from Samart and Saenchai, famously Femeu fighters who wanted nothing to do with clinch at all, as fighters. Femeu fighters want to show their techniques, so Muay Khao scoring is always something they disfavor. On the other hand, Dieselnoi was a powerful knee fighter, and very willing to clinch, so his perspective is perhaps a different critique. His complaint is not that there is too much clinch, per se, but rather the way in which fighters are clinching now. They apparently only clinch with power, not technique, and throw too readily, turning Muay Thai into a strength game. Fighters now just lock up and throw, occasionally landing knees that don’t have the force and purity of the Golden Age, in Dieselnoi’s eyes. It’s just a strong man’s sport (in a future segment he mentions that he’s not a fan of Yodwicha, former co-Fighter of the Year, an expert at locking in the clinch. (I happen to be a big Yodwicha fan). He also gives added details in how promoters manipulate match-ups to bring out the strength advantage. Just to give you my view, in learning from and filming with these absolute legends of the Golden Age, the biggest thing that is missing from contemporary Muay Thai is Continuity. I talk about Golden Age Continuity here in my extended vlog. What I personally gather from what Dieselnoi is saying is that clinch now destroys continuity, it’s a rudimentary and interrupted version of what in the Golden Age was a riveting conversation. In his time you had extremely continuous knee and clinch fighters like Langsuan (hopefully coming to the Muay Thai Library soon), or Lamnamoon (also in the works for the Library), or Dieselnoi. all of whom won Fighter of the Year. The clinch in this kind of knee fighting was used to gain competitive advantage, in the flow of more continuous attack. This is missing in today’s Muay Thai. It’s not only a minimization of vocabulary (simplified technique), but, to follow the language analogy, a lack of elocution in how you frame your ideas and arguments.
He talks about the influence of gambling, which has been a complaint of both Dieselnoi’s friend Samart, and from Saenchai, but Dieselnoi interprets the problem differently. According to Diesenoi, it isn’t the gambling itself – there was more gambling in the past than there is now – but rather an effect of how power has changed. Dieselnoi’s manager was Klaew Thanikul, reportedly one of the most powerful mafia bosses in all of Thailand, and one of the great early promoters of modern Muay Thai. There’s an article on him here. I don’t know enough about Muay Thai history and that era, but know that Dieselnoi is coming from that world.
above, Dieselnoi with his manager
In the interview he also talks about his famous catch-weight fight with Samart Payakaroon, the outcome was to establish who would be named Yodmuay (best fighter) for that year. He believes that to present times he still suffers from that weight cut, which pushed him down to 129.5 lbs. Samart was coming up in weight, and weighed in at 133 lbs. The victory went to Dieselnoi, a fight for which unfortunately no footage has surfaced. It’s great to hear him talk about the fight, techniques in the fight, and the brutality of that weight cut.
There is much more coming from Dieselnoi in the future, and hopefully from many of the legends in the Library. I’d like to build a kind of oral history of the sport, as told through the voices of the fighters and krus I’m capturing in the Library. With the support of patrons and sponsors I can do that. (If you are a business and you would like to sponsor this series of interviews, and help make them happen, message me.)
Thank you for pledging substantively, helping to bring these kinds of projects forward!
If you are not familiar with closed captions on YouTube, you can turn on the English Language translation by simply hitting the “cc” button and allowing captions. You can see below:
A big and special thank you to patrons Prin and Pan, both of whom contributed to the translation, it could not have been done without them (and some help from their parents, I’m told, to help capture Dieselnoi’s very fast, and unusual way of talking). And to the other patrons who also volunteered to help with the translation. If you are a fluent Thai speaker and think you can help refine the present interview, message me with suggestions.
If you haven’t watched the sessions, he is in the Muay Thai Library:
#3 Dieselnoi Chor Thanasukarn – The King of Knees (54 min) – watch it here
#30 Dieselnoi Chor Thanasukarn 2 – Muay Khao Craft (42 min) watch it here
And, he was part of the Four Legends Seminar, the video of which can be seen here:
4 Legends Seminar – Bangkok April 2018 (1 hr 20 min)
Muay Thai Library legends Karuhat, Chatchai, Namkabuan and Dieselnoi were in seminar on two days instructing students from around the world. This is an hour and twenty minute video edit of a first-of-its-kind seminar in Bangkok. watch it here