O.Meekhun Clinch Pedagogy
I clinch with the O. Meekhun kids everyday. Let me just say that the clinch technique of both PhetJee Jaa and Mawin, for kids, is just extraordinarily high. I’m a clinch fighter, it’s how I win virtually all my fights, but they put me down on the ground in a variety of pulls, trips and throws that defy the 13 kg (30 lb) difference between us. In PhetJee Jaa’s case this really is unique, for unlike most female fighters in Thailand, she has developed in exactly the same way as a male fighter would, mostly due to her older brother as a constant training partner. She is an absolute clinch demon, and watching her brother and her battle to the death each night is one of my favorite Muay Thai experiences. The clinch westerners learn largely is a pale, watered-down version of the art. At most it is just one tiny branch (a few techniques, tricks and principles) of a vast, enormous tree that spreads across Thailand…at least it is just “don’t get plummed” and “turn” or “knee”. Even the very good clinchers in the west only know a few techniques (in the vast scale of the entire art-within-an-art of clinch) and they don’t necessarily even all fit together to form a cohesive skill – like having four or five pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that aren’t necessarily from the same part of the picture. If I stay in Thailand another year and keep working clinch the way I have since moving to Pattaya, I’ll still only know a tiny piece of it. But obviously that’s worth the effort to go for it.
This is a really cool video of a pedagogy that isn’t widely shown. I’ve never seen it in Thailand either, in the few gyms I’ve been in. Oo (the smaller boy) has been with the O.Meekhun gym only a month or so, and has just started fighting. A really cool kid and only about 10 years old. Here, Mawin (13 years old) is working with Oo in clinch. Watch how he is basically guiding him through it like leading a waltz. He pulls him through the turns and rhythms, exposing openings where he can be attacked, letting him feel the vulnerabilities and again and again catch his balance. Watch how the gym escalates as Oo gains momentum (an important part of Muay Thai is responding to the crowd and you’ll see the whole gym stop and get into gambler frenzy mode quite often). This is really different than how I saw (and experienced) clinch as taught at Lanna, where (older) boys just seem to get bested, over and over until they sink or swim and develop their own techniques. There is something extremely generous about how Mawin teaches, and even how Mawin and PhetJee Jaa clinch. They have over 300 fights between them, but have very beautiful hearts somehow. Some young fighters just can’t stand for a moment to not be on top, usually because they have had to scratch and claw up a steep ring hierarchy. I can still see and feel how quietly furious PhetJee Jaa gets when bested – it is absolutely necessary for Muay Thai, which is a dominance game – but perhaps as they grew up together as brother and sister, the clinch battle is something else for them. They have, after all, molded each other. As the main training partners for one another, they have both dismantled and also forced each other’s strengths – Mawin clinches how he clinches because he’s had to learn around Phetjee Jaa’s strengths and she clinches the way she clinches for the same reason. Theirs is a symbiotic relationship. But now that they’re both trainers of the younger kids at their burgeoning gym, they break it down into little bite-sized pieces with a gentleness that they don’t offer each other – or me. Watching Mawin show Oo how to clinch like this reminded me of how my parents used to let me stand on their feet while they waddled around with me balanced there, ready to catch me before I actually fell, but allowing me to tip far enough that I understood the peril. That’s what Mawin is giving Oo in this lesson.