The Muay Thai clinch is by far the hardest aspect of Muay Thai to learn. It is this form of grappling that sets Muay Thai apart from Kickboxing and K1 rules where clinching is only allowed momentarily..
Getting in a clinch with a very high level Muay Thai fighter, you will understand what it means to be completely dominated.
In clinch there are good positions, neutral positions and bad positions. If your opponent has two hands around your neck and has your head pulled down, that is obviously a bad position for you and a good position for your opponent. Most of the time when you clinch you will find yourself in a neutral position with one hand gripping your opponent’s neck and the other hand controlling their arm. The aim is to get the inside clinch. This enables you to have control over the neck and therefore the balance. In every clinching position you will find yourself battling for arm position and control. Good arm control gives you balance, and allows you to prevent your opponent’s arms, and can give you opportunities to sweep.
The key to clinching is trying to put yourself in a strong position so you can control your opponent. If you have a good grip on your opponent, you can off balance them when they try to sweep you, shift them when they try to knee you and put yourself in a good position to attack.
Balance and Body Position
Another important factor inside of the clinch is your balance and body positioning. Balance is the key to learning how to stay up on your feet.
One of the keys to staying balanced in the clinch is your body position. Keeping your hips square to your opponent’s hips will allow you to adjust your feet and shift your weight to prevent your opponent from sweeping you. Keeping you hip close to your opponent will minimise the possibility of taking a knee.
Knees Inside the Clinch
Knees are going to determine whether you are winning or losing inside of the clinch. Different knee strikes score different amount of points. If you throw side knees on your opponent, that will score less than an unblocked knee strike straight through the middle of your opponent’s abdomen.
You can either throw a knee when you are locked in the clinch or you can pull your opponent and throw a knee when they are off balanced. Your ability to throw good knee strikes at your opponent will be determined by your arm and body position.
Sweeps and Off Balancing Techniques
As a general rule of thumb, if you can sweep your opponent in the clinch then do it. Sweeps score the most points if you can get a clean throw without ending up on the ground yourself. A good sweep showcases dominance over your opponent inside of the clinch, something that judges are looking for.
Learning how to sweep your opponent is easy in practice, but harder in reality. When you are drilling with a partner it is easy to execute a sweep, however, when you have someone resisting and trying to stay on their feet it is a much bigger challenge.
While knowing how to perform a sweep is important, the key to sweeps is all about timing. Waiting for that right moment when your opponent is slightly off balanced and executing a sweep is a sure way to send them to the ground.
The key to a good sweep is to keep your hips close to your opponent and twist with your hips as you pull with your arm.
Sweeps are difficult to pull off, but are very rewarding if you can land them. There is nothing more satisfying than sending an opponent flying to the ground. It looks good to the judges, the crowds, and it feels even better.
Clinch Entry and Exit
The last important point I want to talk about is the entry into and out of the clinch.
If you want to enter the clinch, you need to get past your opponent’s kicks, punches and elbows to get inside the clinch. While skilled clinchers are very good at getting into the clinch, this is a skill in itself that takes practice to develop.
If you ever fight a good opponent they won’t let you simply walk into the clinch. You will need to cut off their angle and try and force yourself into the clinch. Often that means absorbing damage as you come forward. One of the reasons why some people have a hard time entering the clinch in a fight is because they never work on it in sparring.
Common Clinching Mistakes
Not Being Square to Your Opponent
If you don’t keep your hips and feet squared to your opponent, you can be thrown off balanced easily. This is why you need to create good habits from the start.
Trying to Knee When You Are Off Balanced
The best way to get swept in the clinch is to knee when you are not in a good balanced position. If you don’t have an establish arm position and you are not balanced, do not throw a knee. Only throw knees when you are locked in a good position or after you have thrown your opponent off balance.