It wasn’t long ago that I first came to know of a man named Dieselnoi. My partner Kodee, who trains me, is a deep enthusiast of traditional Muaythai legends and would often tell me about the legacy of great fighters like Namsaknoi, Samkor, and Samart Payakaroon. Essentially, it was him who brought Dieselnoi to my attention.
During our daily training conversations, Kodee would often bring up those he admired in the sport – Dieselnoi was definitely at the top of the list, along with Samkor. Kodee has a thing for left-hand fighters.
“Dieslnoi is the man,” he’d say. He’d often sing his praises. We even use ‘Diesel’ as a code name for one of our ring-game moves. I bet you could guess which one.
But despite my knowing of this Muaythai legend, I admittedly lacked any greater knowledge of the man.
The Sky Piercing Knee
Dieselnoi, often nicknamed “the little engine” or “the sky piercing knee”, was one of the legendary fighters of the Muaythai golden era of the 80’s and 90’s.
He was a lumpinee champion for four years running, till he was stripped of his title. Why? Because no one wanted to challenge him. He had dominated everyone in his weight division to the point where he ran out of opponents.
His most notable match was against Samart Payakaroon in 1982 where Dieslenoi was set to defend his Lumpinee Stadium Lightweight title at 135 lbs. Samart, an equally legendary fighter of the “golden age”, was, in the end, outscored by Diesel’s knees. Dieselnoi, therefore, remained the champion and continued to be so till his retirement.
Off to Thailand
Having learned of Dieselnoi’s resume, an opportunity to train with him presented itself. It was around May 2017, ahead of the IFMA Youth World Championships which were to take place in Bangkok in August. I was going to fly over there to help corner one of our fighters, as well as another fighter from our friend’s gym.
The students that I was taking over to compete needed a place to train to acclimatise, and I wanted to get some training in myself.
While planning for the trip Kodee said to me, “I’ve just been looking at gyms and it looks like Dieselnoi is training out of Master Toddy’s gym. Did you want to train with him?.”
Without hesitation I said yes, knowing the opportunity to learn from such a legend should be taken without question.
Fast forward a couple of months to July, I found myself in Bangkok once again. We were heading to Master Toddy’s from our hotel on the BTS (Bangkok’s sky train). It was a 20 minute commute from where we were staying in Nana to Master Toddy’s gym which is based in Bearing. You have to take a train and then a motorbike to get to the gym.
We entered into the gym for the first time. The place was reminiscent of a jungle. The bag stands were made of bamboo. There was a little waterfall in the corner part of the entrance way which is very tranquil, but makes you feel thirsty during a hot training session. There were leaves hanging over bamboo arches and snake skins were draped over some of the scaffolding surrounding the gym’s outer edges. If you’re lucky, you might find a large lizard slinking its way between the gym walls, or on the ceiling of the changing room.
We were training twice a day there. We went through our first training for the morning, and then I was to come back in the afternoon for my training with Dieselnoi.
I came back in the afternoon. I was warming up with stretches and some light bag work while I waited for Dieselnoi to arrive. Then he finally entered the room.
Meeting the Legend
Master O, one of the trainers at Master Toddy’s, was taking a one-on-one session with a young girl in the ring when Dieselnoi walked in. He stopped what he was doing, turned to me and said, “Melody, meet the legend.”
I turned to look and there he was. Usually in Thailand, I wait for the trainers to see me before I put my hands together, bow my head and say, “Sawasdee ka.” Otherwise, I’d feel like a complete goober, and rude, rushing up to someone with such status and greeting them. I waited for him to come over, and then I greeted him as respectfully as I could.
The first thing I noticed about him was his height. He is very tall for a Thai. I am tall for a female (about 5’10”) but Diesel was much taller than me.
He didn’t speak any English, so Master O helped translate our conversations. After I greeted Diesel, he shook my hand. Then he squeezed at my bicep, turned to Master O and said something in Thai. Master O said, “He said you look very strong.” I was chuffed.
As soon as the session started, I could tell straight away that Diesel was immensely passionate about what he does. His focus on what he was teaching was fueled with intensity, and I fed off his enthusiasm.
I had two other trainers there to help hold pads and translate. I was completely focused on absorbing every bit of information I could get, even if I couldn’t quite understand all of it. After all, it’s not often that you get to learn from someone like him.
I felt nervous throwing my knees in front of him. My knees served me well in my last two fights, but there’s nothing like training in Thailand to bring you back down to earth where you eat a slice or two of humble pie.
Through Master O’s translations, Diesel said, “Your knees aren’t strong enough.” Initially I was deflated, but putting this into context they would be weak compared to the Thais. From what I’ve learned training in Thailand, every strike they perform is executed with both efficiency and explosive intent. My strikes weren’t stacking up to theirs. Not by a long shot.
He even said my grip strength was poor. Back home, I’m not too bad at muscling it with others who are of similar weight and height. But this is Thailand and we’re not in Kansas anymore. What I thought was a strong grip from me was actually more like a soft, baby arm grip compared to Diesel’s. He proceeded to demonstrate what a strong grip was on my neck. It felt like an Anaconda was choking me.
I know what strong feels like, because I’ve been overpowered before. But this felt different. There was something sharp and abrupt about it, like my neck was in a metal vice.
After being choked a little bit, and going through some technique, the training session ended. As Dieselnoi was leaving the gym, everyone stopped what they were doing (particularly the kru), and bowed in saying good-bye. Everyone did this when Dieselnoi arrived or left.
Observing this, I knew he carried the weight of much respect from those around him, no matter where he went. In my culture (Maori) we call this mana – having an ultimate level of prestige, influence and status.
Teaching with Passion
The days following, Dieselnoi showed me a variety of techniques and strategies to help strengthen my knee strikes and make them more effective.
One particular technique I shined to involved catching a round-house kick from an opponent and, rather than sweeping, you knee the bottom of their leg you’re holding, right on the hamstring.
Translated to me by one of the kru, Dieselnoi said, “This is how I beat Samart. By catching his legs and kneeing him. I took his kicks away.”
In between rounds, Diesel would proceed to the corner of a ring where a bucket was waiting for him. I wasn’t sure if he was spitting or throwing up, but I was a bit worried. I wondered whether these sessions with him were a good idea, given his health wasn’t that great, and as far as I’m aware, he’s still facing complications.
Deep down I felt guilty – like I was forcing him to teach me while he was in this condition. But every time he came back from the corner, his eyes were refueled with continued passion and conviction, and the session went on. He was so involved with what he was teaching, that he’d keep showing me things even after the session ended. I tried to absorb every ounce of information as much as I could.
It takes working with people at the top to realise how much you have left to learn. To think you have reached a level of ultimate mastery creates complacency and inability to be open to new things. Well, for me it does anyway.
Sometimes it takes getting beaten up by people far better than you, or learning from a legend like Dieselnoi, to understand what you need to do, to appreciate the skill involved, and to reach that next level of excellence that you’ve been striving for.
I learned many things working with Dieselnoi – how to knee better, how to be more violent in the clinch, how to be more efficient and more powerful. All things that will help with fighting and building skill.
But the most important lesson I learned is that, no matter how good you are, you can be better. As cliche as that is, I found the truth of it, from a personal point of view, inescapable. I was complacent with something. I got too comfortable. I thought I was good, but I wasn’t really. I could do better. I could be better.
As I mentioned before, Dieselnoi has been faced with some health problems as of late. Unfortunately, Muaythai legends like Diesel don’t always have the funds to be able to take care of themselves when faced with such issues.
I have donated to Dieselnoi’s cause, and have added details in the box below if you wish to do the same.
As Muaythai is a sport fueled by respect, I feel it’s up to those within it to help pay tribute to the masters of knowledge. After all, where would the sport be without legends like the “little engine”.