It’s very hard to learn the clinch anywhere in the world outside of Thailand. Truth told, it’s hard in Thailand also. Part of that is that the clinch is not really instructed so much as learned through hours and hours of simply doing and figuring out for yourself what works and all the many things that don’t work. Because it requires so much time and trial and error, most of us simply don’t get the exposure – we just don’t have that kind of immersion and time – to really learn the artform within the artform of Muay Thai.
I’m by no means an expert in clinch, but due to my dedication to learning and the fortune of being at a gym where I have the opportunity to learn (Petchrungruang), I’ve become an above-average clinch specialist as a female fighter. And because I’m a westerner, I’m familiar with the western-style of learning, which hungers for technique and breakdown and theoretical framework, while still having actually learned most of my skills through the Thai style of endless hours. Due to this bridge between the two, I believe I’m able to offer something unique in teaching what has worked for me or what I’ve learned through all my hours to other westerners who are keen to learn. While not an expert, I stand as a kind of half-way point between expertise and conveyable concepts, and hopefully this should be of benefit.
As such I’ve been invited to give a clinch seminar at the Khongsitta camp in Bangkok, part of the Thailand Training Camp package on August 25th. I’m really excited for this opportunity to relay some of the things I’ve learned that really work for me and have won me a lot of fights. Below are some of the things I aim to cover.
The Basics – Body Frame
There are very simple things that sometimes get passed over in learning clinch, mostly because so little is known and understood that the practice often ends up being learning a few “tricks” (specific throws, trips or escapes). Tricks are great, but they aren’t accessible if you’re unable to work yourself to the positions necessary to implement them. Simple things like foot position (this unfortunately doomed me in my last fight), and keeping your stance wider at the bottom and tighter at the top: your feet outside the stance of your opponent, your elbows tucked in tight inside their guard up top. It sounds very simple, and it is, but it can be overlooked. Like knowing to step while swinging a bat in order to engage your hips. You can swing a bat otherwise, but the power comes from the proper, usually unspoken, frame of the body. Same with the clinch.
The Power of the 9th Limb – The Head
A more advanced technique, although equally simple, is engaging your head. Not “using your head” as in being clever, but literally using your head to pin your opponent’s arms, neck, or crushing the jaw. It’s incredibly effective and protects you against elbows to boot. This is something I learned only recently. Learning how to utilize your head to pressure, pin and seal off literally gives you an extra appendage in grappling. We know Muay Thai as “the art of 8 limbs,” but Muay Boran is the “art of 9 limbs” because headbutts were allowed. I’m not advocating for headbutts, but you can still use your head effectively. The head is a very important aspect of almost all locks, from the side lock to long clinch. It can direct and turn the opponent’s chin and take a lot of leverage away from her or him.
The Lock – The Blade of the Arm
Every Thai gym seems to develop their own tendencies in how to attack or defend in the clinch. A few dominant traits tend to develop due to whichever techniques are known by top instructors, and then through endless clinch work they can become ingrained in a camp’s style. For instance, at Sor. Klinmee where I also train, they really seem to be into jerking the head down suddenly for attack. At my home gym, Petchrungrung, it’s the lock. There is a fundamental lock that a lot of the fighters use, and under which I suffered for a few years. It’s paralyzing. Through lots of trial and error I’ve learned my own version of it – each fighter develops their own variation it seems – and I want to pass this on at Khongsittha. It isn’t always easy to secure, but once you get it it can be devastating. I’ve crushed very experienced opponents to the ground. Yes, it is only one tool, there is no “go to” move in clinching. Everything has counters. But the more effective tools you have, the harder they are to defend.
The Power of the Hips
Westerners tend to have a really hard time keeping our hips in, mostly due to the cultural and social discomfort of stitching your crotch against somebody else in a non-sexual situation. It’s awkward. Thais don’t seem to have a problem with this at all and so their baseline position is already better in the clinch than when westerners lock up. Even when western fighters do know to keep their hips in, they might do so conservatively. It’s not a “slightly in” kind of deal, it’s a really drive them in kind of rule, when it is required. I’ve struggled with this a lot and there are a few tips to when you can alleviate that hip-in position in order to strike, as well as bending at the knee instead of the small of the back to make it a more comfortable and stronger frame.
The small of the back is a huge key to clinch as well and strengthening those muscles, as well as knowing how to catch the bend before it goes too far, is a big deal in avoiding having your head ripped down. Less experienced tendencies cause some folks (most folks) to try to back out of horrible positions, which is a terrible idea, but engaging the small of the back and driving forward can get you out of a lot of bad positions. As well as bouncing, which is as awkward to practice as driving your hips in can be, but it’s equally important.
The Bounce – Disrupting Rhythm
When you start fighting at higher levels in Thailand clinch moves away from an exercise of strength, or even angles, and becomes one of timing. Much of what happens in Thai clinch in stadium fights is what does not happen. Fighters are waiting for the other fighter to attack so that they can throw or counter. There are a lot of threats going on, even when it appears nothing is happening. This actually has been a big issue with me when fighting Loma, the best Muay Thai fighter in the world at my weight. She is expert at reading a fighter, waiting and then throwing. One of the techniques I’ve been training and have used to some success in fights is the Bounce. The bounce is a disruptive bouncing that you can do that prevents your opponent from reading your rhythm. Very often in clinch when under pressure one can grow very still and very tense. This is the last thing you want to be because it makes everything you are doing very readable. I’ve found that the bounce is an effective counter measure to this – though in my highest pressure fights I still don’t use it. It can overwhelm and confuse your opponent if they are not familiar with it, and as an added benefit it also dramatizes dominance to judges. Practicing the bounce in training also increases your own confidence and balance, putting you into positions of recovery. Think of the Sandworms in Dune reading the rhythm of Paul walking in order to attack, so he has to disrupt the rhythm of a normal walk to hide himself – nerds will know what I mean.
Clinch Entry – The Hop
This is a big one for me, and something I make great use of. It is extremely simple. You just put your lead knee up and hop into clinch entry. The knee acts as guard to discourage kicks and counter knees (the swivel can check either on both sides), and it threatens to load your own knee. It also has the benefit of keeping your hips in. Clinch entry is something I’m still working on, but it is one of the most important aspects of clinch because it frames what you are able to do initially. The Hop can be a very easy to learn, effective cheat into clinch positions.
These are just some of the things I hope to share and discuss with the students and trainers there. I’m sure to learn a lot myself
It’s enough to say that I’m excited to be training at Khongsittha for a couple of days. Both Sean Fagan (Muay Thai Guy) and Paul Banasiak (Muay Thai Athlete) will be there, as well as rising female fighter Kate Sholy. It’s going to be great mixing with this crew. On the 24th I’ll be there for both the morning and afternoon sessions training hard beside everyone else, and then the same on the 25th, with my seminar happening in the afternoon of that day. If you are in Bangkok you can drop in and train with us on either day, morning or afternoon. You just have to pay the 450 baht session drop in fee to the camp. But please send me a message beforehand if you would like to attend.
You can read all of the Muay Clinch Articles I’ve written.