Let me preface this – this post is directed in particular to small-bodied fighters, and perhaps especially women.
Thai clinch is one of the hardest things to learn no matter where you live in the world. Outside of Thailand it is difficult because there are so few high level clinchers, nor are there many instructors with lots of experience in it. It’s often taught and practiced in a very narrow scope, that is far from its Thai origins. In Thailand it can be even harder to learn, and that is because it is not taught in a conventional way that is accessible to westerners in the length of time most of us are able to spend in Thailand at any given stretch. Many western-oriented gyms Thailand do not emphasize clinch, and even if you go to a “clinch” gym in Thailand where clinch is happening some may be disappointed, either because they are poorly matched with partners, or because of size or situation they can find themselves just clinching with westerners who also don’t know much clinch themselves. Part of how clinch is taught in Thailand is by being exposed to people of greater skill, balance and timing. There is little just-right “baby bear” clinch training in the country for a visitor. And for women it can be even more difficult or complicated in Thai settings, due to social mores, many of which western women may not even be aware of. The greatest part of this difficulty, especially if you find yourself in more traditional gyms, is that Thai clinch is usually taught to Thais when they are very young, and through a process largely consisting of self-teaching. You just clinch and clinch and clinch for years, an hour at a time, and you pick up techniques by having them done to you, or by watching others. This process, over time, can give you a surreal sense of balance and timing, and a style all your own, but it’s very hard to dip into this if you are visiting westerner, even if you are staying an extended period of time. An additional part of this difficulty is that westerners – already complicated by the fact that they are on average so much larger and older – don’t often come in contact with the younger fighters who are going through this process, on the come up, so they are no directly exposed to other Thais who are somewhere around their own level of development. A major part of why I moved from my gym in Chiang Mai to Petchrungruang in Pattaya is that I had finally found a gym full of young fighters – who were more or less my size – deep in the process of learning clinch themselves. I could immerse myself in the process with them, learn at the appropriate rate. I realized pretty quickly that despite having spent 2 years in Chiang Mai, and even being a clinch fighter myself (just by virtue of kind of a “natural” inclination), I didn’t even know how to clinch when I first started at Petchrungruang. My clinch training opportunities at my Chiang Mai gym had been few and far between, the little clinch I did know, which was practically nil, came mostly from actual fights.
None of this is intentional in these gyms, it’s how it shakes out. Thais who learned in the traditional method often don’t even think in terms of demonstrable mechanics that westerners often really want or need, given their ages and state of development. How do you learn a language, you learn it by speaking it, that’s how everyone learns it. Same with clinch. But there are very few opportunities to “speak” clinch at the right level, right along Thais that are learning it to. In my 6 years in Thailand, as a clinch fighter, I’ve been to a lot of gyms and found that it is extremely rare to find the kind of gym that has had a history of acceptance of and experience with female fighters AND is a gym primarily focused on raising up Thai boys to become champions (and not focused primarily on training westerners). When you can find this kind of gym you’ve found something uncommon, I think. Petchrungruang is such a gym, and I was very surprised at what I found at Keatkhamtorn. This post isn’t for everyone. If you are a 70-80 kg guy there may be better options, I can’t speak to that reality here. (I usually recommend Kem’s Gym for longer term people who want to train in clinch. Check out my recommended gyms list.) This is just about the rarity of clinch opportunity I found at Keatkhamtorn, especially for women, and especially for women around my size (I’m 47 kg).
I was a little unclear on what time I should arrive at the Keatkhamtorn gym, so I ended up arriving just as the young fighters were finishing up. I warmed up and got padwork with Kru Chai, and when I asked if I could get some clinching there was no hesitation at all. The owner, Police Captain Gae, called two boys over from where they were doing situps on the far end of the other ring.
One was slightly smaller than me (45 kg) and one was bigger (maybe 51 kg), and I was man-in-the-middle. So, I’m always “it” and anytime someone is thrown down, the boy who is actively clinching with me switches with the one who is waiting. It’s exhausting in any gym to be man-in-the-middle, but these kids were awesome. They both “scratched” all the time, meaning they are game to push back, push forward, return a dominant position – there’s no “going through the motions” time at all, which is something you will find at other Thai gyms where maybe there is only one or two boys (who don’t really want to clinch with “the girl”, and worse when you are skilled, be bested by “the girl”). Each boy was quick to get back in the mix, mostly to try and get their revenge points back. But they were also both very controlled (meaning no unnecessary injuries) and, while serious about the work,were also playful and light-hearted. I could feel from how they clinched that this was a gym with lots of work ethic, respect and that all the boys learned the same thing. You go forward, you clinch hard, you keep it relatively light for training, you are respectful. It felt like there was great gym culture here. The trainers and gymmates all watched and cheered, which is just good gym camaraderie in general but it’s also important practice in the sport of Muay Thai to have an audience (and a practiced in the art of gambling audience at that) as it acclimates you to the pressure of being on stage, as well as lets you know what movements and positions are visibly dominant from outside the ring and not just a secret between you and your partners. We clinched for maybe 30 minutes and I loved it; it was technically and physically challenging – the boys are both stadium fighters and very good partners for me – but it was also fun, which is really important.
above, you can see a minute or so of the clinching which probably went for more than 30 minutes. video here
One small thing I was impressed with, was that Kevin told me that when I was clinching the owner of the gym, Captain Teerawat Chukorn, while being very surprised and complimentary of my clinch, was also criticizing me (quietly) every time I moved back – this is a bad defensive habit I’ve picked up from training with Thai boys that are just too strong and big for me. I step back and counter strike with knees. It’s technically a “score” but it does break aesthetic. Kevin said that it was really more of a “in this gym we don’t do that” kind of feeling. He could feel that they are very hardcore on essential energy and performance, under appreciated qualities of Thai style. His fighters compete in the National Stadia of Bangkok (Rajadamnern and Lumpinee) and so they train what scores in those top rings: forward, always. This is true clinch ethic, never retreat, and hearing it made me confident that if I spent a lot of time there it would be impressed on me as well. Everyone learns the same thing. I’ll definitely make this gym a clinch destination for me when I’m in Bangkok.
above, the boys doing their knee work with kettle bell weights
I’m a bit of a unicorn when it comes to being a clinch student. I’ve spent years in clinch now so have some practiced strengths, and I speak Thai, so I cannot say that my experience will be your experience. But I can say that this kind of gym opportunity is very uncommon to find. The owner Capt. Teewarat speaks English and has been training westerners (maybe with an emphasis on Europeans) for a long time. He tells me that this is Maria Lobo’s gym of choice when she comes to Thailand so high level female fighters are appreciated. I’m not sure I would recommend the clinch process for absolute beginners, but if you are smaller bodied and you want to really dive into a Muay Khao clinch gym for at least a week, and maybe a month, this gym is something you should seriously consider.
I came in the evening, and they seemed to have two or even three training times for afternoon/evening session. I was told to come at 5:30 and by the time I got there the boys all seemed to be winding down. When I left around 7 pm two western women arrived for what may have been more fitness work. After I clinched Captain Teewarat invited me to come at 4 and train with all his boys. Maybe you have to be invited to train with the fight team? I’m not sure. If I were coming for the first time I’d come in either in the morning or at 5:30 and see what time they’d like me to come.
These were the prices and times that were given to me
3 hrs. 400 Baht – 1 session a day
6 hrs 700 Baht – 2 sessions a day
4,000 Baht per week – 2 sessions a day
15,000 Baht per month – 2 sessions a day
You can contact them through their Facebook Page which will respond in English
above is a map – it’s down a sleepy little street that feels very quaint and Thai