The Close Range Combat Clinch

The Thai boxing clinch holds a unique position in the art of Muay Thai, a branch of combat sports that's rich in technique and tradition. Originating in Thailand, Muay Thai is nicknamed "the Art of Eight Limbs" — a moniker earned due to its practitioners' skilled use of punches, kicks, elbow strikes, and knee strikes.

The Thai boxing clinch plays a vital role in making Muay Thai a fierce, multifaceted discipline. The clinch allows fighters to control their opponents, dictate the rhythm, and assert dominance in close-range combat.

Muay Thai fighter uses a sweep from the Thai clinch to throw his opponent off balance.
The Thai clinch can be used to set up sweeps and trips to throw an opponent off balance. Image is licensed under CC BY 3.0.

Mastering the clinch is imperative for any competent Muay Thai practitioner as it enables them to initiate devastating knee and elbow strikes or set up throws and sweeps — forcing opponents off balance, immobilizing them, and ultimately exploiting their vulnerabilities.

Basic Stand-up Grappling Techniques to Master

The Crossface defense in Muay Thai is used to disrupt the clinch and create space. It involves a fighter extending one arm across the opponent's face, pushing their head backwards and offsetting their balance. This not only breaks the opponent's posture but also creates opportunities for subsequent counter-attacks.

The Double Collar Tie, or "plum clinch", is a traditional Muay Thai clinch where a fighter wraps both hands behind the opponent's head, controlling their posture and movement. This position offers multiple strike opportunities, especially knee and elbow attacks, and lends significant control in close-range combat. You can use a variety of grips, but remember that you're trying to grip the back of their head, not their neck.

The Single Collar Tie is a variant of the Muay Thai clinch where one hand grips the back of your opponent's head, while the other controls their arm or wrist. If you put your controlling hand on your opponent's bicep, you will be in a more dominant position. This semi-clinching position allows for better control while still enabling various striking options, such as elbow strikes, knees, and trips to off-balance the opponent.

Single Collar Tie with overhook in Muay Thai involves securing the opponent's neck with one hand in a single collar tie, while your other arm goes over the opponent's, hooking onto one of their triceps or elbow. This position offers control and sets you up for both defensive and offensive opportunities.

The Low Body Lock in Muay Thai involves wrapping your arms around the opponent's waist or hips, securing a tight grip. This lowers your center of gravity, assisting in maintaining balance, and simultaneously disrupts the opponent's posture. It is difficult to escape and opens up a powerful position to execute throws, trips, or sweeps.

The Cross Lock is another basic technique that can be used both defensively and offensively. (This is shown in more detail below.)

Stand-up Wrestling Similarities

With elements similar to Greco-Roman wrestling, the Thai boxing clinch offers considerable strategic advantages in both offensive and defensive situations. Defensively, the clinch can create space when pressured or nullify an opponent's strikes.

Offensively, it opens doors for effective combinations and sudden attacks, usually with knees and elbows. As a hallmark of Muay Thai, the clinch elevates the sport to a higher dimension of technical prowess and finesse.

The importance of perfecting the clinch cannot be understated, as every aspiring Nak Muay (Muay Thai fighter) must embrace this aspect while training Muay Thai.

Watch to Understand

Often times, it's easier to see a technique in action than to read words that explain it. Watch the video below to understand what the clinch is, and why it's important to learn as a Nak Muay.

You get the idea. The Muay Thai clinch is a fundamental technique in Muay Thai used by fighters to control their opponent's movements, create openings for close range strikes, or set up sweeps and trips.

Control the Head, Control the Body

At its simplest, the Muay Thai clinch involves placing both your hands on the back of your opponent's head, in order to gain control of their posture. Once you secure this position, you can cause damage by pulling them downwards while you raise your knees to strike.

Have you ever heard the saying, "Control the head, control the body"? The application applies to the Muay Thai clinch, freestyle wrestling, Greco-Roman wrestling, and certain BJJ positions.

It's highly applicable in many areas of the grappling arts and once you put it into practice, you'll fully understand the concept.

In the video below, Icy Mike from hard2hurt explainshis take on what the Thai clinch is and what it isn't.

Another effective clinch variation is wrapping an arm around the opponent's neck while the other arm controls their elbow for better leverage. This technique operates on a principle that's similar to the Wing Chun concept, Chi Sao.

In other words, the arm you're using to control your opponent's arm will be effectively stuffing punches from that side, creating an opening for your own strikes, and keeping you aware of at least one limb that would be used against you.

Posture, Posture, Posture

Maintaining good balance and a strong base is essential to resist your opponent's attempts to unbalance or sweep you. Your posture should be upright with your hips forward, staying relaxed but strong.

Posture also plays an important role in maintaining a strong position against your opponent. For example, an opponent can use the plum to pull your head down, or control the rest of your body.

Working on keeping a strong posture makes it much more difficult for an opponent to control you. Footwork is also key in a clinch.

Footwork Works Wonders

Skilled practitioners use precise foot movements to guide their opponent, create space, close gaps, or set up sweeps. Correct position, strength, and timing are the basic ingredients for successful clinching.

However, clinching in Muay Thai is fairly elaborate and complex, requiring continuous practice and refinement. The nuanced game of push and pull within a clinch is more than a physical struggle—it is a demonstration of intelligently applied strength, tactical maneuvers, and even psychological warfare.

Fighters from Thailand who have been training their clinch work from a young age are known for having an upper hand over Nak Muay who don't have as much experience. You know what they say... practice makes better.

Use Your Defense to Create a Powerful Offense

Defense is just as important as offense from the clinch position. Being mindful of your stance, posture, and using footwork to maintain a dominant position (or get out of a bad one) are all essential for success.

Understanding how to counter or defend against specific movements is extremely beneficial. A good defense will set you up for a powerful offense.

Watch the detailed Thai clinch crash course from Petchboonchu on Fight Tips to get an even better understanding:

There are so many details to keep track of which is why simply watching a video isn't enough to grasp the concepts. Make sure you drill and train with a partner to build muscle memory and good habits.

How to Break a Strong Death Grip

A strong grip can feel nearly impossible to remove if you don't have the tools to deal with it. Sometimes brute strength alone isn't enough. This is where proper technique saves the day by filling in the gaps.

Watch below for pro tips from Liam Harrison on how to break a strong grip in the clinch:

Always practice each technique over and over again with a live partner. This will help solidify your understanding and the effective application of proper form.

How to Throw Elbows from the Clinch

From the clinch position, effective elbow techniques become crucial tools. By controlling the opponent's head and creating openings, a fighter can execute powerful horizontal, upward, or downward elbow strikes.

The “uppercut” elbow is particularly effective, targeting the chin or jaw. Similarly, the “slashing” elbow, swung downwards onto the opponent's head or face, can cause significant damage.

These quick, sharp elbow strikes can rapidly shift the momentum of a fight, often causing cuts that bleed and end fights.

Masterful Clinch Work in One Championship

Unlike the UFC, One Championship hosts world class Muay Thai fights in addition to their MMA bouts. They have an entire roster of fighters who are experts at their craft.

Knees are one of the most powerful attacks both in and out of the clinch, but many times are executed from the clinch position. Here are some of the best knees from One's Muay Thai competitions:

Knees aren't always thrown from the clinch and they can be devastating. Muay Thai is a nearly infinite pool of technique and awareness, and we're barely scratching the surface.

Adding a New Weapon to Your Arsenal

Mastering the Thai boxing clinch is absolutely essential for any aspiring Nak Muay seeking to refine their fighting arsenal. The clinch game presents a unique dimension of Muay Thai, which often holds the key to overpowering opponents and demonstrating situational dominance.

Fighters should focus on comprehending and executing key positions, including the Double Collar Tie, Single Collar Tie, Single Collar Tie with Overhook, Low Body Lock, and Cross Lock. Effective defense, including the Crossface defense, should form a vital part of a well-rounded clinch game as well.

You could even consider incorporating some of the techniques discussed in your shadowboxing from time to time. Understanding how to balance and when to throw elbow and knee strikes, will take your performance to the next level. Gaining command of the clinch takes perseverance, practice, and adaptability.

It's important to cultivate body awareness, proper posture, and smooth transitioning of positions during clinch training. Partner drills and clinch sparring are indispensable components that enable progress in this close-range combat aspect.

As you start to become more comfortable with the fundamentals, it becomes important to combine these techniques with a solid striking skillset. A comprehensive clinch arsenal will ultimately enable you to dictate the pace and flow of the fight, exploit weaknesses, exhibit resilience, and craft decisive victories in the ring.