The Sophistication of the Muay Thai Clinch

Arjarn Nick Hewitson is from the Petchyindee Muay Thai Boxing Camp International

develop a natural rhythm

One of the most distinctive features of a Muay Thai fight, yet one of the most unappreciated, is the clinch. As in Thai boxing the clinch is an art in itself. Generally people think of the clinch as being the same as in western boxing in that the clinch is used simply to tie up your opponent to stop further punishment or as a means of stealing a breather while you try to regain your senses after taking a powerful hit.

Although in Muay Thai the clinch can be a place where if sufficiently skilled you are able to take a limited breather, it is also the place where the fight can be quickly finished if you don't know what your doing. As the clinch is all about distance and control, it can be offensive or defensive in its set up.

exploit all weakness

Offensive clinching principals

Because of the distance at which you are relative to your opponent when throwing a punch, it is very easy to transition that strike into a feed in for the clinch, However it should be recognized that this will usually give you a choice as to deliver another punch, either a hook or uppercut, or one of the various elbow strikes available to you at this inner position distance. Of course there's nothing to say that you can't unload a technique or two at that close range position and then transition the arms into a clinch hold after already weakening your opponent. This method may also have more merit with regard to safety in that as you extend your feeder arm into position to take the control position for the clinch, you are very open to a counter punch or elbow strike, therefore the more disoriented your opponent is through being hit or through your speed at taking control of the situation can make this much safer.

With regard to clinching the ideal situation to find yourself in is where your lead hand has weaved its way inside your opponent's arm and your elbow is tight up against their shoulder, with your forearm pressing against their throat and your hand position sitting up high on the back of their head. Once this position has been achieved your rear hand should be doing exactly the same thing on the right side (it should be stressed that this action wants to be done as quickly as possible).

It is very common at this point for the person working in the clinch to throw a knee strike. This is usually tried to draw your opponent's guard down to protect there mid-section or to parry the knee away, and in so doing draw their hands away from there guard, so speeding up your transition to the control position. Once you have gained the control position you must get to work if you want to maintain your advantage.

The basic clinch position you want to have is to have both of your hands / arms to the inside of your opponents arms, grasping your opponents head/neck in a pincer like grip and with his head pulled tightly to your chest. You can also rest your chin on the top of his head to try and keep his head down together with applying your weight. It is important as mentioned previously when in the clinch to maintain your hand position to the upper portion of the head above the top of the spine, not the back of the neck. The elbows should be locked in tight to apply pressure to the carotid arteries, and to prevent your opponent from snaking his hands back in to gain the inside control position on you. As pressure is applied via your forearms to the carotid arteries your opponent is likely to get light headed and a little dizzy and disoriented, however it is not sufficient to have them pass out. This will weaken their resolve and can only add to your ability to inflict more strikes unhindered.

There are two position with regard to the your hands when in this control position. The first is to either cross them at the wrists with both of your palms facing the back of your opponents head, or with both palms crossed and sitting one on top of the other (goose-neck style). This second version is the best type to use in my opinion during training if not wearing gloves, however never interlink your fingers, as although this may allow you to get a better hold it makes you very vulnerable being unable to release quickly to block strikes and also allowing your opponent to trap both your hands with just one of his, therefore making you a sitting duck. Also with regard to the interlinked fingers in order to break free of this hold you simply push on their elbows and lift or throw them clear of your head.

Once in the clinch you should always try to take the high ground. With your arms in the correct position you should be pressing down on your opponents collarbone with your elbows. This should also give you further leverage to pull their head down into your chest. Once you are positioned above your opponent you can simply apply your body weight so making them have to work hard just to remain upright.

It is also possible, and in some cases prudent, to apply the clinch just on one side, for example countering a jab. As the jab enters your space you parry it away with your lead hand, while still pushing your hand forward and snaking it in around their head to apply the clinch. Once your hand is up in position on your opponent's head you push your elbow across your opponent's chest and use your bicep as a wedge between you and him. This leaves you one hand free to punch, elbow or counter whatever your opponent is trying to do, also because of your position you can easily throw your opponent off balance while striking with the knee.

Body position when working the clinch

make your opponent work

When working in the clinch there is one all-important thing to remember, which differs dramatically from elsewhere in the fight. It is best to keep your chin high. The reason for this is that if your chin was tucked into your shoulder as usual it would be easy for your opponent to trap your head making it very vulnerable to knee strikes or uppercuts, therefore you keep the head up and back with the chin high. In the same vein you want to maintain your height advantage over your opponent so get up on you toes, as this will allow you to drop your weight onto your opponent's frame so making everything he tries much harder to do. The position of your hips relative to your opponent is also important. Usually fighters will try to have there hips glued to that of there opponent, so as to not leave an opening for a knee strike whilst also giving the ability if you are sufficiently skilled enough to be able to adjust to his movement therefore allowing you to knock your opponent off balance by pushing with your hip as your opponent tries to move position in order to knee. However this position also allows your opponent to be in a position to break the hold by clinching around the base of your spine and either dropping their weight or by bending you backwards, before changing direction and throwing or sweeping you over and down.

Important reminder: when trying to snake you hands in to attain the control position, remember to do it one at a time. It is all to common for fighters when both opponents are fighting for the key position for someone to invariable try to take control with both hands simultaneously, this should never be attempted, one because it will never prove successful and it leaves you with no protection to either your head or body. Also remember to keep on the move, this works on a number of levels. It allows you to stop your opponent from resting and adjusting his balance and center of gravity, which in turn allows you to use limited effort to rough your opponent up. Keep the pressure on him by pushing on his arms and shoulders while pulling on his neck, and as you throw him rag-doll style around don't forget to have a knee strike waiting for his arrival.

The Muay Thai Clinch basic Counters

practice actual strikes

(1) The snaking arms: this is done by keeping your elbow close to your body, the back of your hand wants to snake around the inside of your opponents forearm and reach behind to take control of the neck. However try to be subtle in your approach, as if you try to muscle your way in your opponent can pull his elbow tight to his chest making it almost impossible to force your hand up and around his head. Once your hand is in position get a good grip on the back of your opponent's head before giving it a quick jerk. Then as their head moves in that direction push your shoulder in towards the center. This will free your shoulder from under your opponent's forearm therefore allowing you to repeat the process with your other arm.

(2) The chin push: from being held in the clinch control position you need to reach over the top of your opponent's arms and push back against your opponent's head or ideally their chin. As their head is pushed back, it causes a gap to open up beneath his chin, so exploit it by snaking your hand up and through to the back of your opponent's head, then push with your elbow up and outward to open up the gap again before snaking your other hand in and taking the control position.

(3) Folding the elbow: when you are up close and personal to your opponent you want to reach up under both arms and with your right hand cup the outside of his right arm near to the elbow, then pull his elbow inwards and at the same time rotate your left shoulder forward so pressing your chest against his arm. You should then wrap your left arm around your opponent's shoulders. This will tie up your opponent's arm making them vulnerable to a knee strike or allowing you to transition to another position in order to deliver a strike.

(4) The squeeze: if your opponent has your head and is pulling it down into his chest, grasp the back of your opponent's head with your left hand and push up with your right shoulder to control his hand then using your right hand push inwards and upward on his left elbow, while pulling his head down. This causes your opponent's head to be turned inwards whilst being squeezed by their own elbow, and then once again take the opportunity to knee strike your opponent unhindered.

(5) Hip twist: in this technique your opponent has your head pulled down against their chest and with the assumption that his head is to the right of yours. First place your left foot between his legs and move as close as you can to his hips. With your right hand reach over the top of his head, and your right hand's fingers should be all the way over his head and extend down towards his ear. Then swing your right leg around behind you and pull down hard on your opponent's head with your right hand down towards his hip. This will cause your opponent's body to pivot raising their right elbow therefore giving you the opportunity to snake your left arm inside.

(6) Elbow lift: this is almost exactly the same as the hip twist but as you pivot your opponent you put the palm of your left hand under there right elbow and therefore lever it up and out of the way. This then allows you to follow up with a knee strike to his exposed rib cage or to transition into another control position.

(7) Pull down: this method also utilizes the same technique as you pull down on the head however you may start to feel your opponent lose their balance. As this occurs you continue to push his head down between his arm with both of your hands and as you do so you step backwards. As you do this he is pulled forward causing his body to elongate in front of you, this leaves him with no leverage and with his head in the down position opened to a knee strike to the face.

(8) Elbow lock: this method is used when your opponent has taken the control position and has pulled both his arms in tight to his chest, therefore removing the likelihood of you finding an opening with which to turn the tables. That being the case, with your left arm reach up around your opponents elbows, so that your hand can grasp his forearm at the elbow joint, then pull his elbows tight into your body. This makes it impossible for your opponent to release the hold, then with your right hand hook punch to your opponent's body and head, he is completely vulnerable until you release the tension on his elbows.

(9) The push method: this method is used to force a rotation of your opponent's control position. This is simply achieved by placing one hand on your opponent's shoulder and your other hand on their elbow. You then simply push towards the centre of their body at both of these points. This causes there body to rotate around their mid-point, therefore opening them up to knee strikes or if done at speed it will cause them to be thrown off their feet.

pad training is essential

As with everything in the art of Muay Thai these techniques should not be thought of simply as stand alone techniques. By using these in combination with other techniques such as strikes you mould them into very formidable techniques, which are almost impossible to defend against. These techniques can also further be refined by throwing in an unexpected twist such as a rapid change of direction, or by pushing or pulling the opponent, by manipulating their balance it is very possible to change the potential outcome of the fight.

Article written by Nick Hewitson

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