Clinching in Thailand
Clinching is one of the most overlooked aspects of Muay Thai in the west. However, it is one of the most important aspects of Muay Thai in Thailand. Stadium judges score knees and close combat very highly and the ability to stay balanced, throw elbows, and spear in the knees can earn a fighter a decision in a close bout.
There are a variety of reasons why westerners don’t engage in the plum, or clinch. The scoring criteria in the west, especially in America, doesn’t highly value the skill as many of the judges and referees are improperly trained. In addition, getting good in the clinch takes time and skilled training partners, two things that can be lacking at gyms in America. Unsurprisingly many westerners come to Thailand and while decent outside fighters, will easily get destroyed in the clinch by even a mediocre Thai fighter.
The Importance of the clinch
The importance of the clinch cannot be emphasized highly enough. The large stadiums such as Rajadamnern, Lumpinee, Omnoi and others are built around a scoring system that highly favors kneeing and knee fighters. This is because the scoring is geared towards fighters that become stronger as they continue. Rather than a sprint, bouts are judged holistically favoring marathon fighters that finish confidently. Engaging in the clinch can be physically taxing on a fighter. It requires intense stamina along with a super strong core to stomach the hard knees that can pierce in.
While the three-round fight doesn’t favor the clinch as much, it is still very important. Referees will generally be quicker to break up the clinch but you’ll often see clinch fighters still able to score devastating knees in the clinch. A leaky gas tank in a three-round fight can be especially problematic as the fighters only have a limited amount of time to fight and wow the judges.
Often, you’ll see fighters clinch up after being hurt on the outside. Being adept at the clinch gives them time to recover while potentially still scoring points. A hard head shot can be turned around with pounding knees to the mid-section. It can also protect them from getting damaged on the outside with subsequent punches. Thus, clinching is also a form of effective defense for an injured fighter.
Muay Khao Style
FA Group embodies the Muay Khao, or knee fighter, style. There are several different types of Muay Thai fighters; Muay Fimeu, Muay Mat, and Muay Khao. Both the technical fighting style of the Muay Fimeu and the heavy-handed approach of the Muay Mat can be neutralized with an aggressive walk forward Muay Khao style. The knee fighter strives to push forward on their opponent cornering them. Once trapped the Muay Khao will latch on and unleash a salvo of knees.
The technical Muay Fimeu will try to evade the grasp of the clinch using lateral movement and or stalling techniques once in the clinch. They commonly attempt to sweep the Muay Khao off balance to prevent more draining knees from coming in. Often the Muay Fimeu will be unable to withstand the pressure and stamina of Muay Khaos.
Muay Mats, or technical brawlers, will attempt to brace and or push off the Muay Khao as he comes in to throw heavy hands. The Muay Mat will also attempt to slow the forward momentum down with leg kicks. Generally, the power of a Muay Mat will fade quickly as their explosiveness is sapped away by knees. By closing down the distance the Muay Mat is unable to effectively punch or leg kick as well.
The Muay Khao style is developed over countless hours engaging in the clinch. This is not something that can be achieved quickly, one of the reasons why the style is not seen in the west. Every day Muay Thai fighters must engage in the clinch not only to improve their technical abilities but also increases their stamina. As stated before knee fighters are well known for their unlimited stamina and will power.
The Muay Khao style relies on an ability to grind out the win. Steady constant pressure is necessary and the Muay Khao trudges on like a juggernaut. Ultimately the biggest weapon in the Muay Khao’s arsenal isn’t their knees, their clinch, or their stamina. The Muay Khao’s secret to success is having more will power. Sheer determination in a fight is what differentiates a Muay Khao from other styles of fighters.
Learning the Clinch
These days everyone wants to streamline their learning. It is about learning as fast and efficiently as possible. The rise of this fast-paced culture has all sorts of tutorial videos and gimmicks for quick learning. Sadly, no amount of youtube learning will adequately teach you the hands on feeling of the clinch. Learning how your body moves against another’s is something that must be directly experienced. While videos and instruction can help, there is no replacement from daily practice.
There are a variety of facets of the clinch that are important to learn; entry in the clinch, sweeps and off balances, and grabs and locks.
Entry into the clinch can be very tentative at first. In the first exchanges of the fight it is very difficult for the Muay Khao to close in. This is largely due to issues of timing. The opponent will be on guard and the rhythm of the fight will yet to be established. As the fight progresses walking down an opponent becomes easier. That isn’t to say that it is not without dangers. A Nak Fimeu can easily side step or throw an elbow to prevent the forward momentum of a Muay Khao. Likewise, a Muay Mat can throw a well-timed uppercut to halt the knee fighter. Clinching then, isn’t just about the mechanics of being in the clinch it is also the mechanics of entry. This again is something that must be practiced over and over and over. Continual knee sparring acquaints one with entry into the clinch.
Balance and throws are important when in the clinch. If the body is not positioned square to the opponent it becomes easy to throw and or off balance. Some boxers are particularly adept at this, such as Superbank T Ded 99 or Seanchai PK Saenchai Muay Thai gym. Being able to read when a throw is coming and being prepared for it is a matter of experience as there are a variety of throws and sweeps. An opponent can target the leg stepping outside of it for a throw or they can push the leg out to off balance.
Locks and grabs vary as well. The obvious and most classic lock is the lock around the neck. This dominant position is highly favored and the knee fighter will be able to break the opponent’s posture to land devastating knees to the head. However, there are also body locks and in between locks. Body locks aren’t favored as highly because they aren’t seen as scoring that highly. Other locks include arm traps, driving the head into the neck, and pushing the head back with the hands.
Defense in the clinch
A good clincher must be able to defend in the clinch along with attack. The foundation for a strong clinch defense is having a strong core. Having a durable structure allows the knee fighter to press on despite having taken hard knees.
Positioning the leg across the waist is a classic defensive measure as is wrapping the legs around and opponent. Getting to the side of a boxer also allows for a stronger defense. Other defenses against the clinch including pushing off and side stepping.
Prior to entry into the clinch boxers must have strong iron like necks and the ability to ward off the incoming grasps. This is mainly honed through practice.
Problems with knee fighting
Being a strong knee fighter will get you far in the sport of Muay Thai but it is not the end all be all. There are potential holes in the knee fighter’s game. One of them is that they can develop tunnel vision. With a targeted vision, they move forward without seeing the larger picture around them. This can lead the Knee Fighter to chasing an opponent around the ring, being picked off, especially if the Muay Khao is unable to cut off the ring. Having to take damage in order to enter the clinch also means that their chin can weaken over time and the knee fighter must have a lot of durability in order to continue on with their career and the style of fighting.
Knee fighting is also most strongly suited towards boxers that are tall and skinny. With their exaggerated limbs, tall boxers are able to knee from afar. Boxers with lower wider builds have a harder time pushing into the clinch on taller fighters and generally enter the clinch via lower scoring body locks. That is not to say that shorter fighters are unable to become proficient knee fighters but that taller boxers have a natural height and range advantage.
Fighting is about entertainment and the grinding style of the knee fighter can be boring to watch. It does not contain the technical brilliance of the Muay Fimeu’s beautiful moves nor the highlight punch knock outs of the Muay Mat. The knee fighter trudges forward like a juggernaut hoping to steamroll their way to victory. This attitude can become dull if the boxer is unable to recognize the holes in their game and or are unable to adapt to the bout.
Despite some of the weaknesses of the Muay Khao it still is a very, very successful style of fighting in Thailand and one that is adopted by the top fighters in the world. Its effectiveness has been proven by countless matches and contests and like the Muay Khao continues to move its way forward towards victory.
Interested in more about clinching? Come Train at FA Group.
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