Muay Khao: The Knee Fighter

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Muay Khao images courtesy of Kyle Ching:

It is not flashy and it’s not a style known for knocking people out. The Muay Khao fighting style is one that is more notable in scoring favorably in the elite Muay Thai scene. Muay Khao fighters are also known to win fights and belts in the grand stadiums of Bangkok.

What exactly is Muay Khao?

Muay Khao is a style of fighting in Muay Thai that centers around knee strikes. Muay (Thai: มวย) means boxing and Khao (Thai: เข่า) means knee. So Muay Khao (Thai: มวยเข่า) translates as “Knee boxing”. 

The term is used to refer to the style of fighting as well as a Muay Thai fighter who favors the knee fighting style.

Muay Khao’s are usually close-range offensive fighters. They use their superior clinch prowess to trap opponents into relentless knee strikes. 

They are one of the most well-conditioned fighters with exceptional cardio and muscular endurance. Muay Khao’s wear down their opponents in the clinch before shutting them down with knees.

Knee fighters are not just one-trick clinch ponies. They employ mid- or long-range knee techniques for the best results.

Knees are also not used exclusively but supported by the clinch, punches and kicks. Some Muay Khao’s take advantage of the close-range fighting in the clinch to sneak in some elbow attacks.

Muay Thai Knee Techniques
muay khao

Knee techniques in Muay Thai can be used in close-range and mid-range combat as mentioned earlier. 

Muay Thai techniques often mimic weapons like swords and daggers, as they originated for the battlefields. Knee strikes are akin to spears, thrown to the torso in a stabbing motion. But Muay Thai knee strikes are more varied than what most people think.

Knee strikes are made with the pointed knee or the inner part of the knee joint. 

Knees aren’t generally as devastating as a left hook to the jaw or a head kick. They are usually more like the low kick, which can shut down an opponent with the resolute quantity.

That’s not all. Knees can also be held up and used defensively to block off an attack or keep the opponent at a distance. 

In the rock-paper-scissors Muay Thai formula, knees can effectively beat kicks and punches. Knee fighters have been able to overcome even the most technical fighters with a clinch-and-knee strategy.

Here are some of the knee techniques use by Muay Khao’s:

Straight Knees

The straight knee is the classic knee strike in the Muay Thai repertoire. It is directed at the sternum or abdomen of an opponent and can be delivered in close- or mid-range. 

This technique is as the name suggests, thrown forward in a straight trajectory. Straight knee is the first knee technique taught to Muay Thai beginners.

This knee maneuver is thrown with the rear leg for power. Alternatively, switch stance or slide the front leg to the back to execute a straight knee.

Straight knees can be thrown in direct counter (with proper timing and distance) against a straight punch or a slide back and right into the sternum in the clinch.

Diagonal Knees

Diagonal knees are similar to the straight knee but is more targeted at the ribs or the side of the body. The knee is thrown with more twist at the hips similar to when performing a round kick. It is more of a lateral trajectory unlike the straight knee. 

These are slammed into the ribs with or without engaging in the clinch. For added impact, the opponent is pulled via the neck into the direction of knee. 

Knee Strikes to Thighs

Knee-to-thigh strikes are almost used exclusively by clinch fighters. These are knee strikes with small movements that are driven right into the thighs of the opponents to weaken their legs. 

This technique rarely -if ever- stops a fight but they do hurt and the effect adds up over the course of a fight. It can also be used to encourage the opponent to dislodge from the clinch when in a less dominant position.

Supergirl Knee

Popularized of late by and named after the up-and-coming female fighter, Supergirl Jaroonsak, this is a very powerful knee strike. The technique is not invented by Supergirl but she took it to the next level and made it her signature move.

The shin is lifted, held diagonally and the entire knee is slammed right into the abdomen of the opponent. This powerful blow often takes the air out of an opponent when properly executed. 

The technique is used most effectively with the clinch where the opponent is held at a distance locked in the clinch. 

Flying/Jumping Knee

Known in Thai as “Khao Loi” (เข่าลอย), the flying knee is a fan-favorite move as it is a sight to behold and causes considerable damage.

Some people make distinctions between flying and jumping knee but most people (including Thai commentators) generally refer to knee-in-air attacks as Khao Loi. 

The leaping move targets the head for maximum effect. It is not so much as typical Muay Khao move and generally not a frequent maneuver in Muay Thai.

Khao Loi have often been used as finishers. You will sometimes see them in MMA, kickboxing and Muay Thai. 

The momentum and force of the jumping knee to the head can achieve devastating results. It is a stunning and aggressive move guaranteed to get fans excited.

Notable Muay Khao Knee Fighters

There are many Muay Khao champions in the Muay Thai world. Some of them are among the most decorated Muay Thai champions in the history of the sport.

Here we take a look at six of the most renowned knee fighters of all-time:

Dieselnoi Chor Thanasukarn

muay thai golden eraDieselnoi is considered by many to be one of the -if not the- greatest Muay Thai fighters of all-time. He earned the nickname of “Sky-piercing knees” for his widely-feared long-range knee strikes. 

The 6-foot-2 Muay Khao towered over his opponents, exploited his height and reach advantage to retain his Lumpinee championship title for four consecutive years. But Dieselnoi was much more than his gifted physical attributes.  

He was a technically gifted fighter who specialized in space and distance control. If you were caught in his clinch, it was like being coiled in a python’s squeeze and crushed by his relentless knees.  

Dieselnoi was forced to give up his belt after beating everyone including Samart Payakaroon and Sagat Petchyindee. He subsequently retired due to a lack of opponents to contest with. 

There is little doubt that this 1982 Fighter of the Year is the best Muay Khao ever.

Chamuakpetch Harpalung

muay thai golden eraNicknamed The Knee Computer for his knee attacking precision, Chamuakpetch Harpalung is one of the most-decorated fighters in Muay Thai history. He held a total of 9 elite-level titles including . Chamuakpetch is also the 1985 Fighter of the Year, an honor reserved for the very best in the sport.

Over nearly two decades competing at the highest level of the sport, Chamuakpetch clinched five Lumpinee Stadium belts and 4 Rajadamnern Stadium belts.  

He fought everyone at the top with wins over fellow golden era legends like Sangtiennoi Sor Rungroj, Oley Kiatoneway, Kongthoranee Payakaroon and even the GOAT himself, Samart Payakaroon.

Lamnammoon Sor Sumalee

muay khao legendA lesser known golden era legend, Lamnammoon is a well-respected champion in the Muay Thai scene even to this day. 

He was nicknamed “Mr Vampire Knees” (Thai: ขุนเข่าเวตาล) by the Muay Thai media for his vicious and sharp knees. 

Lamnammoon took advantage of his lanky frame and long legs, overpowering many of his opponents by a relentless clinch-and-knee style. 

He beat many legendary contemporaries such as Jaroensap Kiatbanchong and Samkor Kiatmontep, gaining four Lumpinee titles over his career.

Lamnammoon now runs his own gym in his hometown of Ubon Ratchathani. The camp is a great place to learn the Muay Khao style from the legend himself who speaks good English.

Petchboonchu FA Group

muay khaoMention the Muay Khao style and Petchboonchu FA Group is often the name that comes to mind. He is the most decorated Muay Thai fighter in history with 15 elite-level titles to his name.

Petchboonchu is a legend of the modern era and renowned clinch-and-knee specialist. He was a master -and monster- in the clinch, beating everyone from Singdam Kiatmoo9 to Nong-O Kaiyanghadao  to Saenchai.

Petchboonchu fought out of FA Group Muay Thai Gym in Bangkok during his time. He trained under the esteemed Kru Diesel who was Trainer of the Year in 2014.

FA Group gym is a popular spot among foreigners who come to train and learn the signature clinch-and-knee style as popularized by Petchboonchu. 

To know more about Petchboonchu, read this exclusive interview: “The Ultimate Diamond“.

Pechtmorakot PetchyindeeAcademy

muay khaoPetchmorakot is the modern-day Muay Khao supreme. The 26-year-old holds wins over a who’s who list of Muay Thai legends including Seksan Or Kwanmuang, fellow Muay Khao Petchboonchu FA Group, Glory multi-time champion Petpanomrung Kiatmoo9, and the living legend Saenchai. 

In a recent ONE Championship title defense, Petchmorakot delivered a skilled performance to defeat Yodsanklai Fairtex. 

The Petchyindee fighter excels not only with his knee techniques but is also a complete, well-rounded Nak Muay. But like Lamnammoon, Petchmorakot shines with his arsenal of knee techniques thanks to his lanky frame. 

Yothin FA Group

top muay thai fighters nowFA Group Muay Thai gym in Bangkok is one of the most well-known clinch-and-knee camps even today. Yothin FA Group is the gym’s current top fighter and frequently number one-ranked fighter at Rajadamnern Stadium.   

Yothin is living proof that you don’t have to be a physically blessed to be a successful Muay Khao. The 5-foot-7 knee fighter ranked consistently at the top at Rajadamnern Stadium beating the best contenders in his weight class.

Yothin is one of the most technical clinch-and-knee specialists today with a pure and precise Muay Khao style. Despite not getting a shot at any of the major stadium titles, he is always one to watch for.

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