I HATED the clinch.
Whenever clinch training would go down I would try to find an excuse to miss out on grappling with the other fighters. I wasn’t proud when I would opt out of clinch class, but my fear of being embarrassed, getting kneed at will, and being tossed around like a rag doll would always win over.
I SUCKED at the clinch.
Mainly because I would always avoid training it!
Although I was well aware of the fact that I would always back out of clinch training, I would try to make myself feel better by telling myself that I’m a good enough fighter to do well without engaging on the inside. Who needs the clinch when you can just knock people out with your hands right?
Unfortunately, I had to learn this through experience, which in hindsight was probably the only way I was going to actually learn the importance of training and accepting the Thai clinch as part of my game.
Early on in my career, I won most of my fights with knockouts from my hard hands and boxing. However, once my opponents realized that my boxing was my strong suit, they started to utilize the clinch to negate it to frustrate my boxing and score points against me. This pissed me off beyond belief.
Instead of wanting to get better in the clinch, I started to resent it. I felt like it was a “stupid” part of Muay Thai and that my opponents were pussies who didn’t want to stand and bang with me. This ego-driven, hard-headed attitude got me nowhere and kept me complacent as a fighter. Needless to say, it ended up costing me a fight or two and probably should have cost me even more.
But after one close fight that I almost lost because of my lack of clinch skills, I had an epiphany.
I realized that I could have very easily lost multiple fights in a row because of my inability to score points and defend myself in the clinch. My naive, ignorant attitude towards the clinch was hindering my ability to actually improve as a Nak Muay. If I wanted to actually pursue Muay Thai and be the best I could be, I had to embrace the Thai clinch and not run away from it.
This simple mindset shift was all the difference.
Instead of resenting clinch class, I changed my perception on it and began to love the grind of working on the inside. I watched video breakdowns like this one of Buakaw to learn more about how I can use certain techniques. This new outlook on the clinch allowed me to train in it with an open mind, which in turn helped my overall technique and inside control improve dramatically. This same mindset also gave me a new love for learning the intricacies of the Thai clinch and made me want to learn new clinch techniques, sweeps, and defenses to implement the next time I fought.
Was changing my mindset all I needed?
Yes and No.
Yes in the fact that this new perception on the clinch gave me the desire to actually learn and immerse myself in it.
No because my new positive thinking about the clinch alone did not make my technique skyrocket to new heights.
However, what did make my clinch technique better was adapting simple, yet very effective techniques from various positions inside the clinch. Instead of overwhelming myself with advanced, super difficult techniques, I realized that some of the best moves were the easiest ones to learn.
Who would’ve thought?
Even today, one of my favorite, go-to sweeps is probably one of the simplest sweep techniques to learn. I use it in all of my fights and I am constantly dropping my training partners during clinch sparring. Although it’s simplicity would make you think it would rarely work, I’m living proof that basic clinch techniques with good timing can allow you to control and absolutely dominate your opponent.
Don’t get me wrong though. I’m not trying to say that learning the clinch was easy and I didn’t have my days where I would be tossed around and slammed on my back… because those days were on a regular basis.
For instance, during my multiple trips to Thailand it was incredibly frustrating and demoralizing clinch sparring with former Thai champions that were half my size. Even though I was much stronger than them and they would let me get a dominant plum position, they would sweep me at will and knee me in the stomach until I was forced to throw up on the side of the ring. It was a tough, unpleasant learning experience, but a learning experience nonetheless.
Even to this day my training partners, like my buddy and pro fighter Chris Mauceri, will have his way with me on the inside every now and again. But there will also be days where I’m able to control the clinch, land solid knees and put him on his back as well.
That’s the beauty of it all, you’re always learning and trying to find ways to get better!
I guess what I’m saying is this:
If you adapt a new outlook on the clinch, lose your ego, and are willing to learn from your mistakes, then I guarantee your clinch game will dramatically improve. Also, if you learn simple techniques to utilize in the clinch it will mean the difference between feeling frustrated, anxious and embarrassed to feeling cool, confident and in complete control.
All this being said, I recently shot a comprehensive video course during my last stay in Thailand that I think you would really dig. The video tutorials are super detailed and cover over 50+ techniques including clinch positioning, sweeps, knees, defenses, entries and more. Besides the clinch, it also has instructional videos on how to throw elbows and knees with proper technique so you can deal some serious damage on the inside and outside of the clinch.
Join our "Muay Thai Mondays" email newsletter for the latest updates on new videos, special events and everything Muay Thai!