If you’re a newcomer to Muay Thai, it might not be immediately clear why the clinch is so important to a sport that appears to be little more than kickboxing.
The clinch is what really makes Muay Thai unique. While much is made of the shin kicks and knee strikes of Muay Thai, it’s the presence of wrestling that makes Muay Thai so different to other forms of kick fighting.
If you find yourself constantly getting ragdolled and beaten up in the clinch, it will be near-impossible to advance your Muay Thai career. Learning how to control your opponent is the ultimate form of combat dominance. From tie-ups to sweeps, and knees to elbows, mastering every element of the clinch gives you the foundation needed to be a truly effective nak muay!
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In boxing, the clinch is usually used for defense. As a result, the most frequent way of getting in the clinch is to keep your guard tight and worm your way in. In Muay Thai, the clinch is actively encouraged, with sweeps and knees from the clinch scoring very high. This allows a fighter to get into the clinch in more varied ways.
“In Muay Thai, the clinch is actively encouraged.
The easiest way to get into the clinch is via hand fighting. A parry is a form of hand trapping. When you take control of your opponent’s hand, either by parrying it down or putting you’re weight on it, you should easily be able to step in with a knee or elbow and then begin to fight in the clinch.
Luckily for clinch fighters, the clinch is pretty hard to avoid. You likely won’t find yourself struggling to fall into the clinch when you learn to hand trap. Not only that but any time a punch misses, you have a clear path to get into the clinch. Get into the habit of making your opponent miss. When you anticipate a jab or a rear straight, slip outside the punch, close that gap and voila!– you will be in the clinch.
If you are a fighter who likes to push the pace, you can fake a hook rather than actually land it. You want to loop it around the back of the head. From there, you’ll not only be in the clinch but already in possession of head control, which is half of your work done.
When standing in the clinch, you want to abandon your normal fighting stance, as your inside thigh will be very vulnerable to knees. Stand almost normally with your feet in line with your shoulders. This gives you the optimum balance and position to manipulate your opponent. Keeping your feet together also allows you to have a sudden pull on your opponent should you choose to suddenly move and pivot round. You won’t have that kind of momentum if you’re already in a stance.
While knowing how to establish a clinch is important, knowing how to disengage is arguably more important. If you’re not a clinch fighter, you will be easily swarmed and beaten by a clinch fighter if you’re not able to disengage.
The first thing you want to do is eat the space between you and your opponent. Failing to do so will result in some mighty painful knees to the sternum. In order to do so, you will want to straighten your back and step forward. The steps you will want to take to escape differ depending on what clinch position you’re in.
A good general escape is to gain control of one of your opponent’s biceps and begin to pull it down towards the floor.
From here, your opponent has one of two choices: he can either allow you to pull and bend him off balance or he can pull against you to try to maintain his position. Most commonly your opponent will do the latter
. As the opponent pulls up on the bicep, you can swap grip and push up on your opponent’s tricep. This will clear the way for the head and allow you to pivot around and take your opponent’s back. Now you can disengage or dump him on the ground. Alternatively, provide your opponent with a counterattack on the way out.
“…the most iconic clinch technique in all of Muay Thai.
The double collar tie is a very easy position to understand – and devastating when used to its full effect.
First, you want to choose whether you’re going to target the neck or the head, as the type of grip you will want to use varies depending on your target. If you wish to pull your opponent’s head down and knee their face, you’ll want to target the back of the head. Snake your arms inside your opponent’s guard to slide up and place your hand on the back of their head. From there, you want to do the same with other and cover your first hand with the second. Control of the head allows for a greater range of control when moving the opponent downward.
If you target the neck, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the gable grip, which is palm-to-palm with your thumbs kept in tight. Then scissor in the blades of the forearms and put pressure either side of the opponent’s neck. While it won’t allow as much control for pulling, it will give you greater control manipulating your opponents in other ways and hurts far more.
When it comes to defend the double collar tie… it’s actually shockingly easy. You can snake one arm in and force your opponent into a single collar tie. On the other hand, if you feel like really punishing your opponent, straighten your back and stiff arm your opponent in the face.
As you stiff arm him, step off to the side and keep moving towards the back of your opponent. This will force the clinch to break. You’ll want to train this very slowly and gradually speed it up, as it needs to be very quick but very precise and utterly obliterative. No surprise that it’s the most iconic clinch technique in all of Muay Thai.
Despite the double collar tie being the most famous clinch position, it’s actually very seldom used in Thailand. While powerful in theory (and simple to understand, leading to it being taught to beginners), it’s very easy to defend and counter. As a result, most fighters in Thailand will try to work more out of single collar ties while controlling their opponent’s bicep.
By wrapping your arm around your opponent, gaining tight bicep control, and grasping the back of your opponent’s head, you will have a lot of opportunity to twist, off balance your opponent, and land good knee strikes.
From here, you can push and twist your opponent against the ropes (or cage). You’ll have far more opportunity to alternate between a hook and uppercut with the arm that had bicep control. If you’re a particularly experienced fighter, it will also allow you opportunity to throw some pretty brutal elbows from this position.
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Over/Under is a clinch position that you will find yourself in quite often. The clinch position is as it sounds, with one arm over your opponent’s and one arm under. This is the best position for wrestling and twisting your opponents around, as it allows you to push up with the underhook and pull down with the overhook to yank and throw your opponents off balance. You can also reach around and clasp your hands together with a gable grip and “hug” your opponent. This will provide you a tight vice around your opponent.
An easy sweep to pull off with the correct timing is a standard knee strike counter. First, allow your opponent to strike with a knee. As the knee comes up, pull down on the side of his standing leg. When you push and pull simultaneously, you will pull him over your extended leg. Getting sharp with this technique will stop your opponents from relentlessly kneeing you.
Above: Sean “Muay Thai Guy” Fagan navigates the intricacies of an over/under position.
Attacking from over/under is a good habit to develop. While it is not the most dangerous position in the clinch, it is one you will frequently find yourself in due to how difficult it is to maintain a dominant position. Being able to fight fluidly and constantly attack by threatening sweeps and knees will make your opponent very uncomfortable. Rather than constantly trying to get a more conventionally dominant position, make sure that you are very aggressive and useful in over/under.
You can use the over arm to surprise your opponent by hitting them with double elbows. Coming straight up from the overhook only to sling an elbow at your opponent is going to catch them off guard. Failing that, try immediately following up with that second elbow. This will definitely get them, as fighters often fail to double up on elbow strikes.
While it’s a staple of wrestling, the double underhook is woefully underused in clinching, probably because of how limited takedowns are in Muay Thai. However, there are sweeps that are perfectly legal in Muay Thai and extremely effective.
When you have both of your arms hooked under your opponent’s shoulders, you shouldn’t have too much trouble maintaining control of your opponent. In order to sweep your opponent from this position, you want to begin pushing and shoving them with some authority.
You do not want to continuously push your opponent otherwise you will fall into the very move you’re setting up against them. When they begin to shove back, you need to pull your opponent from one side whilst simultaneously shifting your weight back. In order to shift your weight, pivot in the direction that you are pulling him, which will allow you to drag him with all your body weight, thus pulling him off balance.
Second, try bringing your hands together and cross your arms (as though you’re trying to look cool) tight below your opponent’s ribs (i.e. in a body lock), and press your hips against your opponent. Here, you can bump, lift them up, and quickly twist around to throw them at the same time.
The aim is to throw the opponent behind you. To do that, you want to pivot around to dump them down. You don’t want to throw them over your head, but you do want them to land in that space behind you, so the pivot is crucial.
A useful, if violent method of escaping the double under is to first lower your hips into a half squat. This will lower your center of gravity and make it more devastating when you pull on the head of your opponent. As you pull on the head, you also want to be pushing on your opponent’s ribs. Once again, make sure that you’re moving around your opponent in order to make the most of this technique.
Correct (or incorrect) positioning can make or break the clinch for you. The general rule is to keep your head either to the side or lower than your opponent’s.
When you’re in a double collar tie, you of course want your head by the side of your opponent, as this will prevent you from being headbutted (either by accident or intentionally.) Although headbutting is against the rules of Muay Thai, that doesn’t mean that your opponent won’t try to be crafty and sneak one in. When you’re looking for a double underhook, you’ll want your head to be lower than your opponent’s. This will mean you have to lower your hips to get an overall lower center of gravity and thereby greater control over your opponent.
The average fighter in Muay Thai is a pretty good clincher. That being said, there are fighters who are downright scary in the clinch. One of them is Petboonchu – a champion across nine weight divisions (that’s even more than boxing legend Manny Pacquaio!) His style of clinching is smothering. The opponent gets very little time to breathe and should they attempt to attack him with knees, they soon end up being thrown through the air.
At a Nak Muay Nation Muay Thai retreat, Petboonchu teaches evading knees & countering in the clinch. This technique and other creative, powerful maneuvers make Petboonchu one of the strongest clinchers in Muay Thai history.
The second clincher that comes to mind is Muangthai. If Petboonchu smothers, then Muangthai flitters. The strange thing about watching Muangthai is that he always appears to be half in the clinch. He doesn’t spend much time physically locked to his opponent, instead he largely hand fights. Most of his offense is elbows and knees, but he does it while perpetually wading in through his opponent’s parried strikes. Muangthai throws elbows from every weird angle imaginable, and usually does it by folding his arm over his opponent’s trapped hand.
Their approaches to the clinch are night and day, but both are well worth studying if you’re looking to improve your inside game.
Clinching in Muay Thai demonstrates what every martial arts instructor, coach, trainer, and practitioner knows to be true: the bigger man doesn’t always have the advantage over the smaller man. Power can be taught; control can be learned.
The clinch can be your strongest, most fearsome weapon – or the bane of your existence in the ring. Take control of your Muay Thai game and train to become an absolute beast in the clinch!
Don’t let your opponents throw you around anymore. Take CONTROL of the clinch & show your opponent your powerful strength! Sean Fagan’s Clinch King is a shortcut to your clinch success.
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