The Muay Thai Clinch Inside And Out

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Muay Thai Clinch photos courtesy of Kyle Ching:

The Clinch is one of the most important and distinct parts of Muay Thai. Seriously it’s to the point where most people would describe Muay Thai as Kickboxing but with a Clinch. However, that doesn’t get across just how important the Muay Thai Clinch is.

What is the Muay Thai Clinch?

The Clinch can be defined as stand-up close-quarters grappling. This is a position where both competitors are fighting for control to gain a dominant position.

What makes the Muay Thai clinch so different from clinching in other striking combat sports like Boxing or Kickboxing, is that the clinch will not be immediately broken up by the referee.

As long as there is action going on in the clinch, which means either or both fighters are fighting either for a position or to get in strikes, the clinch is allowed to continue unstopped.

Role of Clinch in Muay Thai

Like I just mentioned, the Muay Thai clinch isn’t just about the position, strikes are allowed from it.

It’s also not just the strikes you see boxers throw in the brief moments that they tie-up. These are full-on strikes, usually elbows and knees, but sometimes punches as well and they score very well on the judges’ scorecards.

Strikes and position in the Muay Thai clinch score so much that depending on the judge you have for a fight, the work in the clinch might be more important than the work on the outside.

This is because in the clinch if you get the position, you are able to inflict massive amounts of damage, sweep, trip and score a ton of points, like I just mentioned while controlling your opponent.

This means that you are able to move around your opponent and stop them from inflicting damage back at you.

Clinch Positions

In the Muay Thai clinch, there are several different positions that a fighter can go for to dominate their opponent.

The most common position that is associated with the Muay Thai clinch is the plum. This is also known as the double collar tie, and even more simply as the Thai clinch (in MMA).

While this position is the most closely associated with the Muay Thai clinch, to the point of it being known by that name, it isn’t the most commonly seen and when it is it doesn’t last very long.

Other common positions include a 50/50 position when both fighters each have one collar tie on the other, the body lock when one fighter has their arms wrapped around the waist of the other and double under hooks, where one fighter has two under hooks on their opponent.

Of course, it usually isn’t as clean-cut as that and with the clinch being so chaotic, there are a lot of positions, most of which unorthodox, that fighters end up in.

Muay Khao: Knee Fighters

For the most part, the clinch is a position that certain fighters want to end up in and actively seek out, in contrast to other sports like boxing where it is simply used to stop damage and take a break.

There is a class of fighters that seek out the Muay Thai clinch, that being the Muay Khao (Thai: มวยเข่า). The Muay Khao is a clinch and knee specialist, who is always looking to get into the Muay Thai clinch.

From the Muay Thai clinch, a Muay Khao can absolutely dominate their opponent. They accomplish this by throwing opponents around and kneeing them with reckless abandon.

The Muay Khao is also usually very physically strong and is considered very tough, even amongst other Muay Thai fighters. If you’re looking for an example of a Muay Khao, check out Petchboonchu FA Group, the most decorated Muay Thai fighter in history.

 Is The Clinch just Hugging?
muay thai clinch training

There’s a large perception among western fans of combat sports -and even practitioners or competitors- that the clinch is just stalling for time.

This perception comes from how the clinch is used in boxing which, as I mentioned early, pretty much is that. It isn’t helped by how a lot of the clinch work in MMA looks like two people just hugging it out.

The short answer is no, the clinch is not just hugging. There might be some fighters, especially newer amateurs, who use the Muay Thai clinch get a break when they’re tired. Those who are properly trained mostly use it as another way to deal damage.

The knees and elbows from the Muay Thai clinch are nothing to scoff at. You could find plenty of videos of fighters getting finished from this position.

The Muay Thai clinch is also something that you see fighters actively fight against. This contrasts with boxing where either fighter tends to just let it happen.

In the Muay Thai clinch, fighters may do their best to completely avoid it and fight out of it. This goes to show that the position is not just a friendly hug.

How To Improve In The Muay Thai Clinch

Now that you know about the Muay Thai clinch, you might be thinking about improving your skills.

In the west, the clinch is trained far less than it is in Thailand. You should start by just training it more if you want to improve.

Keep in mind that doesn’t just mean do 3 rounds of clinch sparring at the end of every training session. That’s not the best way to improve, at least from a sports science perspective.

Do some clinch sparring once in a while but it shouldn’t make up the bulk of the training. The bulk of your Muay Thai clinch training should be for drilling. That’s where you actually learn new techniques and improve the ones you already know.

Strength Training

Aside from that, some strength training never hurt anyone, if done properly. Muay Khao’s are known for their strength and conditioning. While technique should always come first, strength adds to a winning combination.

It is recommend to perform some heavy weight-lifting. Focus on pulling muscles like the back and it will go a long way in helping your clinch game. Having a strong neck is also a good way to protect against any pulling that your opponent might do on your head.

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