Outside of Thailand, the clinch isn’t practiced nearly enough in most gyms. That’s a shame or an opportunity, depending which way you look at it.
If you can clinch well, and your opponent doesn’t, then it’s your lucky night. There are some things that are absolutely necessary to have a good clinch game, and missing one can waste your entire effort.
So here they are; 5 essentials you need to know and do. I’m not talking about techniques, these are principles. Hone in on each one, cover any holes you may have in your game- then go out there with confidence knowing that if and when you catch your opponent, it’s goodnight Irene.
1# MAINTAIN A TALL POSTURE
Always maintain and focus on stance and posture. Imagine you’re a solid brick wall in your stance. Tuck your chin, chest up, feet parallel and tall posture when you engage in the clinch. Never, ever bend your neck or back (slight exceptions are dumps and throws).
If you compromise your posture, your foundation will collapse and your opponent might as well walk right through you.
2# YOU NEED TO KNEE, NOT JUST WRESTLE
The whole point of the clinch is to score points; strike, dump and cause damage! Not just to be the best wrestler.
You grapple/ wrestle to find the dominant lock positions so you can throw your opponent off balance, defend yourself and for stability to allow knees and elbows to land. The main thing is to STRIKE!
It’s common to forget to knee and elbow in training as you might busy learning new techniques, wrestling for the upper body workout or too busy being nice to your training buddies. But don’t forget the main point is to KNEE-KNEE-KNEE in the clinch! Even if you’re trying to disengage from the clinch, KNEE! Work your clinch while you’re kneeing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen wasted opportunities where people engage in the clinch and end up having a wrestling match instead of digging in those KNEES or dropping elbows.
3# BE ROUGH
In the gym you can’t crank the shit out of someone’s neck and rag doll them all over the place, unless you want no friends. But you CAN and SHOULD in the ring.
Ideally, find someone at the gym who’s at your level or above and ask permission to go hard- very hard. Obviously still make sure to take care and that you can both look after yourselves. Then lock on and clinch HARD. Use your muscles to squeeze in tight to suffocate your friend and be abrupt and rough as you transfer hand positions and grapple. Focus on being explosive in the clinch- it should feel very uncomfortable for your partner or opponent.
4# KNEE IN TRAINING LIKE YOU WOULD IN A FIGHT
In sparring most fighters knee with the inside of their thigh or lift their knee and connect lightly on their partners ribs without digging in or hurting them.
That’s fine, you need to avoid injury and protect your partners, but you need to know and remind yourself that knees in the gym and knees in the ring are different techniques, and most importantly you must train that shortfall. Don’t get used to throwing light knees because once you’re in the ring, you’re going to need all the power you can get.
Train your knees with bad intentions and dig them in- that means on pads, bags, and shadow boxing since you won’t be doing it in clinch sparring.
Get in front of a bag, grab it and knee it like you would in a fight. Bend that bag in half. Turn your shin out 45 degrees so you connect with the point of your knee, the hard bony bit. Visualize to train your muscle memory to know the difference between the technique you use with your partner in the gym and the way you knee when fighting in the ring. Shadow box the clinch and use knees and elbows as you would a fight, reinforcing the muscle memory. Be meticulous about technique and dig in with the sharp bit of your knee otherwise your knees will be useless and you’ll tickle your opponents ribs at best.
Conditioned Muay Thai fighters on adrenaline aren’t easy to take down. You need to do everything possible to keep developing your power, and then some.
5# NEVER GIVE YOUR NECK AWAY
Decide early on in the fight (or practice) if you want to engage in the clinch or not. If your opponent is stronger than you in the clinch, or more skilled, then AVOID it and use a different strategy. This means not giving your neck away, as in don’t let him latch on.
In the gym, fighters mistakenly get into the habit of starting off “in” the clinch, with one or both partners wrapping their hands around each others neck. BAD HABIT. In a fight, you wouldn’t do that would you? Then don’t do it in training.
So if you decide early on that your partner/ opponent has the advantage over you in the clinch, then play a different game; box him, use footwork and keep moving, stay outside and counter, and most importantly, don’t allow him to lay a finger on your neck. When they attempt to latch on, block using your arms, lift your shoulders and deflect by twisting your shoulder; whatever it takes to prevent that latch, because once he’s got you, your in for the clinch and that’s not good for you if you’ve decided not to go there. This should be practiced in training, and I don’t mean running away. As you avoid him latching on, knee the fuck out of him. You can block-knee, evade-knee and so on. Practice it. You have to, because that’s what you’ll need in a fight. Giving your neck away has no benefits except you get to go home early. If you want to clinch, latch onto his neck, but don’t give yours away.
By sticking to these principles, whatever techniques you know and learn will go a long way. Techniques on their own are like bullets with no gun. Understand and focus on fundamental principles and the rest will fall into place. Chok dee!