above: one of the clinch drills Arjan Surat used, my partner Tessa Simpson
I went over to Dejrat Gym to have a private session and film for Patreon with Arjan Surat, who is an amazing “time capsule” type trainer of Old School technique in a Draconian method – he’s in charge of training the Thai National Team for IFMA and SEA world competitions. He’s awesome, you can see my first 1 hour private with Arjan Surat here. It didn’t quite work out that way, just because sometimes these things don’t, and I ended up being absorbed into the regular training with a group of Americans who had been at the camp for a few weeks already. Because we didn’t really know what to expect, we didn’t start filming straight away and now I wish that we’d shot the whole thing. Hindsight is 20/20, right? Ultimately, what Arjan Surat was doing was giving a group clinic on clinching, working us through a series of drills that are components of clinch without really being “clinch sparring” in the freestyle sense. It’s quite brilliant, really, and something that can be brought into the western-style of training with partners in drills and short combinations in a gym. It’s worth checking out as a trainer/coach for an idea of how to work clinch into your regimen when you have group classes of mixed levels. And as a student you could easily pair up with your buddy and do this yourself.
My partner in this video is Tessa “The Typhoon” Simpson (on Facebook), who is a 105 lbs Invicta fighter. She has grappling experience (an advanced BJJ belt) and so had really good intuitions for the relaxation to explosive movements in stand-up clinching and a really keen awareness of whatever it was that I was doing. If I managed to off-balance her a little with something she’d immediately try the same thing back at me, learning from the physical experience of being on the receiving end of the turn or jerk and then just reversing it. You can read more about Tessa on Sherdog, but for the purposes of this video it’s just important to note that even though we have different experience levels in the specifics of Muay Thai clinch, specifically, I think the both of us got something out of this. The drill I think would be great for straight up beginners (it’s just pulling and footwork), as well as great for people with experience in different disciplines than Muay Thai, as well as those who spend a lot of time clinching. Things like this can work as isolations aside from traditional non-stop Muay Thai clinch sparring.
When we first started, we all just imitated exactly what Arjan had demonstrated with Chatchainoi (an awesome trainer). For whatever reason, Arjan had put one hand behind his back (I think just showing us that this is not a “double lock” position, but rather a one-handed lock and pull/push) and we all did that. So this video starts with him showing what we’re all doing and then correcting us to put that “off hand” on the hip of our partner instead of behind our own backs. The hand on the hip is a kind of “feeler” hand. It controls the partner’s hip with enough firmness that they’re not going to be kneeing on that side, but you don’t clinch with one hand on the hip like that, except in very specific contexts, as you can take an elbow pretty easily. This is just for this drill, like dancing, where you feel your opponent’s movement by keeping that hand on the hip and keeping yourself squared up with them. The idea is to get a good lock on the neck with one hand and then use your hips and the pivoting of your legs to pull your partner around. At the very start of the video Arjan corrects Tessa on her hip position, telling her to keep her hips in or to toggle them in and out with the turns, but not to be “ass out,” which is a common position folks take when trying to turn people. If you put your butt back to turn, you’re turning with your arms and back, which is exhausting. If you keep your hips in, you turn with the strength of your hips and the pivot of your footwork, it is way more effective for way less energy, not to mention that you’re more on balance. This drill is so good for teaching how to feel the turns in the clinch. So many people, me included at times, wrench on the neck or forget to step out with the foot, trying to just twist their partner off of a static spot like doing a Russian Twist or something. You don’t have enough torque and it takes a lot of power for very little movement. By doing this kind of Waltz, you get the feeling for that step out and turn to get the coordination down. Tessa and I started doubling up on the pulls, as well as off-balancing each other by pulling immediately off of each other’s turns, and added in some pushing from the side of the neck as well. Just trying out different little variations because we were comfortable with the basic step pretty quickly.
You’ll see that a lot of the people are putting their hips back on the turn, just out of laziness or habit or trying to “muscle” the movement. That’s fine, you just correct it as you go, keeping the hips in every time you catch them going out. Again, it’s learning a feel for it. Everyone in the west learns the “double plum” lock, which works great if you’re facing someone who doesn’t know any clinch at all. But in Thailand you see very, very little of this in fights. Not because it’s a bad technique, but because if the person you’re facing knows any clinch at all, that’s not a position that’s easy to get to or maintain. But this half-lock and turn you see all the time. So, getting comfortable with that and having a feel for it to be quicker and on balance with it will make a huge difference in any exchange with your opponent in the clinch. It was also great to meet Tessa out of nowhere, I’m hoping when she comes back to Thailand we get to train together again.
You can read all my articles on clinch here