In my 20th fight I experienced great difficulty with the clinch. My opponent was bigger than I, which isn’t the problem really, even though it would seem that her strength or tendency to rest her weight on me seems to be what’s confounding me. But the problem, in truth, is that I am using upper body strength to pry her head away from me (quite well, but not enough to get her head down so I can knee it) but because she’s grabbing me so hard around the waist I can’t get my hips back to land straight knees. By focusing so much on trying to pry her head back, I’m not really working in the clinch, gaining advantages through angles or positions and I’m so busy working up top that I don’t think to start jamming my knees into her thighs which would cause her serious problems.
I asked Den to list for me things that I can improve for my next fight and he said, simply, “clinch more.” I told him that I’d heard him in my corner during the fight asking for straight knees, but that I couldn’t do it because she was gripping my waist so tightly. So Den had me grip his waist – which I did with all my strength – and he wedged his arms against my upper body as I had in the fight and pried my head back. But I still had his waist, just as my opponent had mine. Then, in one movement he pushed my head again and just stepped back with one leg and all of a sudden the shooting pain through my neck broke my grip and Den drove a knee straight into my sternum. Simple!
We asked him to repeat the lesson after training so we could get it on film. He’s a brilliant teacher and breaks it down very nicely. Like most of Muay Thai, it’s a collaboration between the upper and lower body and using explosive movement rather than constant pressure or “muscling.”
It’s a little frustrating to learn that what could have solved the fight for me could probably have been pantomimed during the fight (which, I own I might not have understood at the time), but it’s also beautiful that the solution can be taught in 4 seconds and applied immediately in training and my next fight. It’s not a long struggle to learn a combination or an increase in strength training – it’s a solution that looks very simple and can be improved in increments as I learn, but can be applied without great difficulty or extensive drilling.
And here’s round 4 of my fight to show what was happening in the fight and how I was using my upper body without employing the lower body as well: