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Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu

What REALLY Made Samart Special...He Fought in Cowboy Time in the Age of Hard Men

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I've been reflecting on the untouchable aura of Samart, on what made him like no other fighter, & I return to something Yodkhunpon said. He was talking about the fighters b4 the Golden Age. The Silver Age, or what might be called Cowboy Time. We showed him a fight between Thongbai & Adul. Thongbai was ripping low kicks endlessly. He said: In that Time u could fight like that. In my time the fighters would move [and he gestured that they would move like the wind, they would just be gone]. He then showed how the men of the past were HARD The Time before the Golden Age was Cowboy Time. The men had a made-in-stone toughness, I suspect. In the way that you might talk about your grandfather who had brick hands. This is just my working theory, but I think what made Samart like no other wasn't only his muay, but it was his time in history. He actually fought his last stadium fight before the 1990s, when the Golden Age wld b peaking. But, what he did was he bridged Cowboy Time with the Age of Femeu. He was the first to move like that, to dance, coming out of the Time of Hard Men. Perhaps just as Babe Ruth was the greatest Home run hitter of All Time because he was the first to really hit them monstrously, inventing the home run, maybe Samart holds an incredibly special place because he was the 1st to really float & move like that among the time of hard men, bridging Cowboy Time. And, he did this in parallel to the Hardest Man, Dieselnoi. The great Age of Femeu followed him, maybe flowed from him. Perhaps how the Age of the Dunk flowed from Dr. J in basketball. He was a transcendent fighter This is still just guessing, from afar, but it's something I've gleaned from looking back on eras and talking to greats. Yes, u can appreciate and swoon over his muay in retrospect, comparing techniques, but unless you include the time & men he fought in you can't quite grasp What it was like to see him move and hit like that. The hardness of the men he came into, that is what gives context to the freedom of the movements, their creativity and contrasted liberation. After him there were so many femeu and fluid fighters, the early to mid 90s were filled w/ them. But Samart was the 1 who danced among the men of stone. There is a place special and reserved for those who create a style so different from those around them. It's not just honorary, these fighters possess a quality in their muay that is unparalleled & unique. Began as a Twitter thread here.



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What do I mean, Cowboy Time, The Age of Hard Men. This isn't something I could ever be an expert in, something I can only glimpse from a far. But sometimes from afar you can see things. What comes to mind is the legend of Suk, The Giant Ghost, who happens to also be the grandfather of Sagat Petchyindee. Now, don't take this as a verbatim piece of history, but only my lasting impression from essays I read over the years. It all began with Suk:



above, a contrast of media image to Suk, Chuchai Prakanchai, peak years 1948-1951

There was apparently a movement within Muay Thai, and in Thai magazines that covered the sport in the 1950s, that moved away from the "handsome" matinee idol type of masculinity that had been favored, toward men like Suk. The powerful and transformative Prime Minister Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram lead a government that reduced the traditional power and imagery of Thai royalty (again, as I have read), and magazines of the era started celebrating powerful, brutal men like Suk - I'm guessing, not exclusively, but now inclusively. I believe he had been imprisoned for murder at some point, and had an aura of a tough, a nakleng. This move in Muay Thai expressed larger political moves to celebrate the common man, the man of the country. There always has been a tension in Muay Thai, between the courtly, beautiful, artistic muay of Bangkok, and the brute, powerful muay of the men of the fields, up country. It has often played out in urban vs rural, Femeu vs Muay Khao, royal vs worker, dichotomies, and even to this day this is the case. It is only to say that with the rise of Suk Muay Thai began to swing toward that Tough Man side of the pendulum, ideologically. 

if you want to read about the history of Tough Man Muay, this is the essay to read: Rural Male Leadership, Religion and the Environment in Thailand's Mid-south, 1920s-1960s (PDF attached)


This is enough to say that Bangkok Muay Thai likely came under the sway of a swing toward a more common-man, tough-guy, nakleng muay in the 1950s-1960s, a strong thread of it remaining in the 1970-1980s. You see epic fighters of the late 1970s like Wichannoi, thought by many to be the greatest fighter who ever fought, and you see that they are chiseled out of rock.

This is Padejsuek, fighting around the time that Dieselnoi was on the rise:


This is Gulapkao's photo along side his hero Wichannoi (below), wearing his 1985 Raja belt, a photo Gulapkao treasures on his phone:



Into the 1980s, even though there were artful, elite and celebrated fighters in the 1970s, there had never been a "Samart" through these decades of Hard Men. As Dieselnoi ascended at maybe the most dominant fighter of the physical, relentless kind, Samart had come onto the scene as a fighter who fought so relaxed, so fluid, who danced among the Hard Men. It must have been like he was from outer space.

Below, Wichannoi Porntawee who fought from the 1960s -1980s, the ultimate Man's man:


If you want clues to how hard men like Wichannoi fought, here is a great article on his style: Vicharnnoi Porntawee: Legacy of The Immortal Boxer


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When you see the first of something, of a kind of movement, a way of being or expressing itself, it sometimes becomes hallowed, and no matter what follows from it after, it can never be surpassed. Like, as mentioned above, how nobody could hit home runs like Babe Ruth. Even if you hit them higher, bigger, more mashy now, he out homered entire teams. Nobody could that that. He invented the Home Run, in his person.


Many have dunked, but Dr. J did it at a time when men, mostly white, didn't move like him. And for that reason nobody really has ever moved like him since. He was expressive of something in the 1970s, then into the 80s.


And, no matter the behemoth and beautiful CGI creations in the genre of Sci-Fi, the greatest Sci-Fi film will likely remain Kubrick's 2001 a Space Odyssey in 1969, over 50 years ago. 


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What likely sets these "greatest" apart perhaps is the era in which they arose. Their creations in sport and art expressed something at a time in transition, of social upheaval and burgeoning. Be it race, or politics, or commercial art, these "1sts" told a new story at a time when a new story was needed. And Bangkok Muay Thai just at the time of Samart was in exactly this position. Thailand found itself bursting with economic growth. Rural workers flocked to Bangkok, the city flourished with investment. Thailand itself was under an evolution, and the Muay Thai of the Golden Age which he helped usher forward, into the 1990s (the Asian Financial crisis in 1997), was a new art-form, built on the bedrock of the Tough, Hard men of Cowboy Time, flourishing with the femeu legends of that era.

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I should add, thinking about this over time, that there were femeu fighters in the Silver Age. Pudpadnoi is just considered incredible by Golden Age fighters, for just how femeu he was, perhaps in the very same way that I'm talking about here with Samart, but further back in time. And, there were very femeu fighters contemporary to Samart, for instance Samingnoom who fought and lost to him twice. Identifiable though, Samart perhaps was the first one to float, in that disinterested way of his. The one to push it all to another place. And then, to ascend after fighting, to the place of entertainment star, an idol that rode the Golden Age enthusiasm that flowed after his retirement. A perfect storm.

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