Chamuakpet is one of the greatest fighters of all time. He was dubbed “Mr. Computer Knee,” a fighter out of the famed Hapalang Gym which produced Knee-fighting champions and included Dieselnoi in its stable, but Chamuakpet is considered one of the most well-rounded fighters of the Golden Age. He’s lived in Japan, teaching in Tokyo, for more than 20 years now. When he comes back to Thailand he complains that it’s too hot. He’s quiet, soft spoken, and comes off a little sad until his face erupts into a smile so big his eyes close behind the wrinkles of his grin. He carries elements of his time in Japan, little habits in the way he sits, he bows more readily than he wais. He’s overtly polite. In the ring, in his prime, he was devastating. He just came forward at a kind of pace and relentlessness that made other knee fighters need to come up for air. Watching him teach Thai and non-Thai students at my home gym Petchrungruang in Pattaya, I was a little surprised by how well he could isolate a single part of a technique and draw it out for correction. While working with me, my favorite piece of focus was how still he stays at the center of his body, which he uses as a means of invisibility against his opponent. They can’t see his weight transfer; they can’t see his intentions. He also made a point of looking in the opponents’ eyes, not necessarily as a psychological tactic, but surely as a way to read the effectiveness of your strikes; your proximity even.
Chamuakpet is in his 50s, still very strong and fit. He has a barrel body and strong legs; he wraps his wrists from the thumb in such a way for holding pads that looks a bit like the forearms of ninjas. He holds his hands up high, almost to his chin, in order for you to knee straight up into them. Like an uppercut, but with your knee. It’s incredible. It’s so thoroughly him. There are similarities with this knee and Dieselnoi’s knees in the corner, which cross his body and come up so high you think it’s impossible, but there are enough differences that you’d never mistake the two. Like homonyms, same sound but different meaning.
Before I was even born, Chamuakpet and Dieselnoi were gymmates. Dieselnoi was Lumpinee Stadium champion, undefeated and seemingly undefeatable as the champion for 4 years. He would go 7 months to longer than a year between fights, but stayed ready at all times with his relentless training. Chamuakpet was champion at both Lumpinee and Rajadamnern, with an unthinkable 9 belts between the two, in the Golden Age. The two teammates were Fighter of the Year, 3 years apart from each other. It must have been incredible. Now, here at my gym in Pattaya, Petchrungruang, the two men in their late 50s are excitedly arguing and elaborating to each other about how to approach certain tactics for fighting. I’m their student/prop, so they’re grabbing me to show something, then arguing, then grabbing each other to reinforce they’re point but with more violence. It’s dizzying how fast they’re talking, how quickly they move from one point to the next, the “aaah” or “maiiii” (“no”) with which they grunt out agreement or disagreement on each point. I’m excited, I’m listening and paying attention, but I’m also laughing so hard my abs hurt. It’s like your two boisterous uncles going at it at a family reunion, but Muay Thai Legends.
At one point, Jason Strout from New York, who is now living in Thailand and working as a commentator for the UFC Fight Pass show that broadcasts Muay Thai from Lumpinee and Rajadamnern, comes over to witness this (photo below). He doesn’t speak Thai. He just had a private with Chamuakpet and is showered and changed, but sweating from the fact of Thailand. He can’t understand what they’re saying, but somehow it looks like he’s picking up elements of it. Dieselnoi has climbed out of the ring, maybe to demonstrate something on the bag but more likely he’d thought to walk away and do something but then thought of another thing he wanted to say and that won out. Dieselnoi and Chamuakpet are agreeing now, enthusiastically, about how scary and all-time-great Wichannoi was. He was the legend to these legends, the all-star. They’re agreeing about his power, the way he would use his forearm to bash the back of your head if you leaned back on a knee and he moved to the side and crushed the base of your skull. They’re explaining why you don’t lean back, especially as a knee fighter who wants to land more than one. This is why their knees come straight up the middle. I’m translating this to Jason, who is nodding, and Dieselnoi says something while I’m talking that makes me laugh and I translate that, too. Chamuakpet breaks into a giggle – I’ve never heard him laugh before this moment. He’s standing inside the ropes, next to me, while Jason and Dieselnoi are outside the ropes, but we’re all squared off in a little huddle. “You aren’t Thai,” he says to me, “I’m Thai and I don’t understand him (meaning Dieselnoi), but you understand him better than me!” Dieselnoi does have an incredibly unique way of talking. I couldn’t even explain to you what it is. It’s not an accent, it’s not even vocabulary… it’s just it’s own thing. I laughed and nudged Chamuakpet with my wrist, “I speak Thai, but I also speak ‘Dieselnoi,’ but not fluently,” I joke.
This is just an incredible moment. Or collection of moments, really. It’s the culmination of 3 days of Chamuakpet at the gym, the first day ended with Kru Nu inviting the boys who’d all just fought and won at Lumpinee to come to the gym on their rest day and sit in the ring to listen to Chamuakpet and Dieselnoi talk about technique and how to train. “Sit down and learn something from the greatest,” kind of thing. We’ve had Dieselnoi at the gym, 3 days per week, for the last 6 months. When we learned that Chamuakpet would be home for a short while from Japan, we invited him to come advise at the gym and pick up some extra money via private training. Not one, but TWO of the greatest, at the same time. This is insane. And it’s exactly the kind of insane that actually happens because of the Muay Thai Library and because of my patrons. Kevin and I created the “Legends in Residence” project, bringing Legends of Muay Thai into my gym in Pattaya in order to close the bookends between the disappearing technique and knowledge of the Golden Age of Muay Thai and the living, contemporary practice of Stadium Fighters of right now, the Thai boys at my gym. They offer so much to each other. The knowledge of the Legends being passed on, the youth and present growth of the boys at the gym feeding the hearts of the legends, many of whom are fairly separated from fighting gyms in any steady way.
More Photos from the Stay
If interested in what it is like to train with a legend, read Shae’s telling of what it was like for him to train with former Fighter of the Year Samson Isaan: on the Roundtable Forum.
These kinds of efforts to bring legends of the past in touch with a living Thai gym, Legends In Residence, is made possible through my Patreon. You can easily become a supporter here.