Often lost somewhere between the outside ranges of probes and kicks and the transition to the ground game lies the humble insidiousness of the clinch. While a position in which Muay Thai exponents prosper and various wrestling styles relish, it is a subtle balance between the two that often yields the best result. So why is it a position that so few tend to focus on for the purpose of the cage?

In my opinion, the diversity of the clinch forces us as coaches to continue to evolve, meld and see what is still possible in the realm of fighting. Since elbows were last covered a few issues ago, this will focus primarily on the clinch position itself as a structure.

Positional differences

In Muay Thai, the clinch demands a “hips in” approach, upright and on balls of the feet for control. This is contrary to “most” wrestling styles which are wide base and hips away. While throws are evident in both, traditional Muay regulations bar back trips, hip throws and attacking the legs with the exception of catching kicks to effect a sweep.

As we begin to expound on the position however, the subtle commonalities in both arts start to see a hybridized fruition all its own. The slashing angle of a downward elbow easily continues the motion to become an under-hook. Cage pressure opens-up limitless possibilities to break away and hammer knees before changing position or angle to other takedown attempts. While seemingly too close to kick and not exactly yet on the mat, this “combative purgatory” plays host to a myriad of short shots, forearm and shoulder bumps, tie ups, elbows and knees designed to cut, fatigue and end opponents with a single blow. So why are we not training here more?

Universal principals

Differences aside, the Clinch is by and large the systematic usage of handles, frames and reference points. Framing, collar and neck ties along with continuous pummeling drills for control make this it’s practice one of sensitivity rather than thought process and the resulting muscle memory more effective than pre-arranged technique sequences.

The addition of the “Dirty Boxing” type techniques commonly found in Filipino Panuntukan offers a fine selection of hold and hit, limb immobilization and outside the box strikes like shoulder and forearm shots to fill in the beats between transitions. In essence, every single technique or transition should be painful for your opponent whether driving head pressure into his chin or cross facing and giving him the old cheese grater with the fence.

Training Methods

My friend, former UFC middleweight and US Greco Team Coach Matt Lindland authored an exhaustive work on the subject a few years ago that I recommend and has developed great drills from each reference point that flow from Greco, Muay Thai and back again based upon an opponent’s response to each transition.

I have been lucky, (or not so lucky) to be on the receiving end of the drills and they look something like:

  1. Player A. Attempts to close in Player B. Hips in and postures his head up Thai style.
  2. Player A. Seeing an opening, pummels in for an underhook and attempts to snap down by pulling to one side.
  3. Player B. Pulled off balance attempts to square up and Player A. responds with a slide by to back take.

If, at any point in the drill Player A. knees Player B. and tries to avoid the knee by hipping backward he will be snapped down.

If B. hips in Thai Style, Player A. will attempt an under-hook control, if Player B. responds by turning in, A. will slide by and so on and so forth as the drill continuously recycles.

While written word can do little to bring the drill into context, I maintain and continue to use this little gem in my own training today. The CSW folk under Erik Paulson and Greg Nelson have also done a wonderful job of promoting and cataloguing a vast library of continually evolving material on the clinch that any aspiring fighter should seek out and practice.

Closing thoughts

The clinch for MMA is virtual frontier of dynamic possibilities that cannot be painted with only one brush. This first article will serve to be an overview and introduction to be followed by a two-part series on the subject.

Stay Warrior built my friends. Kuya.

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