Building a Better Muay Thai Clinch Fighter (Part 7 – “Entering & Exiting the Clinch”)

The Muay Thai Clinch has a wide array of grappling and striking techniques, and studying these techniques alone could be a life-long pursuit.  Mastering these techniques serves no purpose if a fighter doesn’t train to properly achieve the clinch in the first place.

One of the most important things for a Muay Thai fighter to learn is to never reach for an opponents head and/or neck with both of their hands at the same time.  A smart fighter will reach with one hand while covering with the other.  Just reaching in for your opponent’s neck, however, isn’t always advisable though, as it telegraphs your intention to clinch.

Many fighters prefer to hide their clinch behind offensive techniques.  A very common way to initiate the clinch is by throwing punches at your opponent to distract them, and allowing a Hook to be thrown wide with the intention of grasping your opponent’s head rather than striking with the punch.

Not the best example, the fighter on the left is in position to turn his Right Hook into a Clinch by grasping his opponent by the shoulder or neck.

Another method is to initiate the clinch defensively.  As your opponent attacks with punches, redirect his hands allowing you to move into clinch range.  This method can also be used defending kicks, a common tactic being trapping your opponents round kick then reaching in with the other hand to grasp your opponents shoulder, pulling them into your knee strikes.

Fighter on right has caught his opponent’s kick and is delivering a knee strike

Finally, many fighters choose to initiate the clinch by controlling their opponent’s guard.  In the instance when one’s opponent is not attacking, one can reach in and grasp the guard, pulling their guard away from their body as you step in with well-placed knee strikes.  This often causes the opponent to attempt momentarily covering from the knee strikes with their arms, thus giving you an opening to catch them in the Double Neck Tie.

Fighter on the right has controlled his opponent’s arms to initiate the clinch and deliver a knee strike

While the clinch is an integral part of successful Muay Thai fighting, there are fighters who eschew the clinch, preferring to punch and kick.  Some of Thailand’s very best fighters were known for their abilities in avoiding clinch fighting, such as Samart Payakaroon and Somruk Khamsing.  While these fighters preferred to avoid the clinch, it would be a mistake to assume that they were not skilled clinch fighters!  Even fighters who do not enjoy the clinch must expend the effort to master it if they are to achieve any success in the ring.

By actually taking the time to master clinch fighting techniques, it makes exiting (or avoiding altogether) the clinch infinitely simpler.  Simply redirectly your opponents clinch attempt while using footwork to change your angle becomes simple when you understand what you’re facing.

When a fighter exits the clinch, one of the most important rules is to NEVER DUCK OUT!  Some of Muay Thai’s most horrific injuries occur when an inexperienced fighter panics in the clinch and attempts to duck out of the Double Neck Tie, making their face an inviting target for knees!

The fighter on the left is in a very dangerous position, when many inexperienced fighters will attempt to “duck out”.

As mentioned in Part 3, shoulder rolls are an effective method to break a Double Neck Tie, allowing a fighter to safely break the clinch while also reversing the tables on his opponent.  Timing your opponent’s knee strikes to execute a legal throw to break out of your opponent’s grip is another very popular exit strategy.  If you are the fighter with the upper hand, you can simply push your opponent away from you and into range for lightning fast Roundhouse Kicks.

An excellent exercise to train fighters in how to control the clinch is called “Protecting the Box”.  One fighter attempts to grasp his opponent in a clinch hold, such as the Double Neck Tie.  The other fighter defends by clinching with his opponent’s arms ONLY!  Learning to control the arms (biceps) of your opponent creates openings for knee & elbow attacks, a superior clinch position, or simply disengaging for punches and kicks.

(Next: “Conclusion”)


About khunkaogym

Kru Brooks Miller has been training in both Muay Thai & Boxing since 1992. He is a 3x Muay Thai champion in 3 different weight classes. His "Khun Kao Promotions" was the first to feature full rules Muay Thai competition in the state of Virginia (DC Metro Showdown - Feb. 23, 2008 in Lansdowne, VA). He currently assists Operation Octagon Productions promote the "Thai Championship Boxing" Muay Thai series and coaches his fight team in Alexandria, VA Kru Brooks is available for Muay Thai seminars. For more information, contact
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