CLINCHING & Beginners’ Errors


Look further beyond the West and you will find out there is more to the clinch than just simply pulling someone’s head into your knee. The devil is in the details and when it comes to clinching, details are in no short supply.

While in the clinch, there are multitude of things to worry about ranging from: wicked knees that feel like a barn door catching the wind and slamming into thin skin covering muscle; eyebrow-slashingly strong elbows coming from every which-way; getting tossed around like week-old laundry; oh, and my personal favorite: getting swept on your ass like you were born with two left feet.

When it comes to a fresh student, most likely they will be experiencing all of the above at one point. So, let’s check out some of the biggest no-nos  in the clinch that beginners end up committing the first couple of times around.


We have all been put in a position where it seems like there are absolutely no other exit options other than to try and pull out backward as hard as possible without control.

DO NOT DO THIS. RESIST THE URGE. This is especially true when you are locked in a dominant plum clinch.

Pulling backwards will not break the clinch. Trying to brute-force your way out of the clinch backwards is a sign of panic that will ultimately put you in a more dangerous spot. Doing so will most likely create a scenario where the lower half of the body will start to scoot backwards (everything below the waist), while the upper half of the body (especially the head) will start to naturally lean forward.  This creates a situation where the face will be wide open for a five-course knee dinner that will have the victim digesting patella for weeks on end.

You’ll quickly notice that pulling back out of a locked clinch is usually followed by throwing wild hooks to the body or futile attempts to block knees with the forearms. This is never an advisable trade since a cleanly loaded knee will always hurt much, much worse than anything else.

Instead, try pry out of the clinch with various cross-face techniques/clinch escapes and get those hips in as close as possible. Which brings us to the next greenhorn gaffe:


Beginners in particular can be especially timid because they aren’t used to the constant invasion of personal space. Clinching is extremely close quarters and those who set up invisible boundaries with strangers are not always quite used to having them being crossed so often.

Some common reactions include pulling back as soon as someone gets too close for comfort (see the above no-no) or just doing the arm work with the constant distance of a canyon between their hips and whoever they are clinching. Unfortunately, space between the hips means there’s room to load up a spearing knee.

The only resolution is to get over any phobias of physical contact. Drive those hips in as uncomfortably close as possible (I’m talking cup-to-cup contact almost) to eliminate the space. The awkward contact is the last thing you should be concerned about when the other person is trying to skewer you with their knees. The more compact and closer you are in terms of hip distance with your partner, the less room and distance they have to wind up anything up (keep in mind, this goes both ways).

So the next time you are eating several knees up the center line, examine the space between your hips.


Tensing up is one of the common mistakes beginners make throughout all Muay Thai activities. Rigidity is commonly characterized by stiff shoulders and robotic movements that can be seen a mile away. Pretending to be an immovable rock in the clinch will not make you so. Quite the opposite, it will be easier to sweep a rigid human frame.

The clinch is comprised of a tremendous amount of dynamic motions that include sudden burst of directional changes. Stiff bodies will often times travel in a linear motion with power, but an abrupt stop or turn and will send them completely off balance. That being said, know when to explode on a pivot or angle — don’t just start resisting every single opposing movement.

Remember that the clinch is fundamentally a war of attrition. It’s a marathon not a sprint, so conserve energy by remembering to relax and breathe. Take your time, feel when the momentum is swinging, and make the proper adjustments. Technical prowess will get you much further than brute force.

It can be daunting when thinking about the clinch and all the aspects to account for, but mastery always starts off with baby steps. Take it one day at a time and practice constantly.

If you find yourself eating too many knees or getting swept, take the time to analyze if you any of these common mistakes are the culprit. If you find that you are not committing these errors, then congratulations — you are already improving!


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Daniel Nguyen
Daniel Nguyen is a packaging engineer who trains Muay Thai as a passionate hobby. With a smoker fight under his belt, his ultimate goal is to convince others to join in by conveying his passion for the sport and writing about his experiences.

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