Clinching the Clinch
There's an abundance of videos and articles out in the world of internet, subscriptions, combat universities and what nots that dwells extensively on the various pockets of clinch technique you can apply, or mimic your way to emulate the sweeps that the Lumpinee champion is doing.
While it's a good idea to empower yourself with knowledge of techniques #1 to #3918, in our experience, especially at ground level (where actual clinching is concerned), hardly do we see these techniques being utilised. Worse, there isn't even sound fundamentals to begin with. The problem with book-reading, researching, and youtube learning, is the lack of pragmatism and realism, that of real training.
Ask the trainers/fighters in Onyx who've spent some time in Thailand, and they all tell you similar stories that the Thais hardly impart clinch technique on a systematic basis. The luckier ones will tell you that if you do ask, you may, or may not get a definitive answer to your clinch technique queries. But most of the time, we were all thrown into the ring, into the deeper end of the pool, and "just clinch".
And if you didn't, the Thais would tell you, "up to you", and give you the judgemental look that hints at your lack of heart. Where clinching is concerned, it was always the school of hard knocks.
In the now modernised era of Muay Thai, we look forward, and look for various ways of improving our clinch game. I would think that the traditional means of throwing the subject into the deep end of the pool is no longer effective, nor do we have the patience for such Shaolin/Wudang sort of training. The modern day practitioner/customer expects some amount deliverance of technique and skills. It is not wrong to demand such.
But if we truly quantify the amount of techniques available in the Muay Thai clinch, I'd think that the permutations of positions, in-clinch strikes, hands/arms, legs/feet, sweeps and throws form an almost infinite amount of variations or techniques. Plus the fact that most of us who do this mixed martial arts and Muay Thai thing aren't exactly mathematicians or scholarly bred to be writing down each and every permutation into a collective wisdom document of sort. We explain what we can (during class) and we show what we know, others (*cough*PHAN*cough*) like to show it on poor unsuspecting trainees.
Hence, the quest to learn more is ever present, even for the trainers. Proof? Even the god-like Saenchai has his match in the clinch.
But we're not saying that clinch technique instructional videos are bad, or they are wrong. They are almost never wrong, but it's just not pragmatic to be executing them without good grounding and basics. Case in point, go watch 5 to 10 techniques on youtube, learn them, and try using them on any of the fighters/trainers. The trainers especially, will most likely neutralise most, if not all of them with simplistic moves. Again, it is not bad nor wrong to learn more of these techniques, but while we're all exploring new realms of fighting skills, we should continue to grow our pillars of fundamentals.
When we first started, our clinching partner, or the adversary, is always either stronger, or bigger. We lament that they are so big, so heavy, we so smaller, so unfit, etc. On the occasion that the partner is a smaller guy, we'd say that he's so strong, so skilled, etc.
After putting in time into the grind, we improve; bit by bit. Suddenly, the bigger guy isn't as big anymore. The stronger guy doesn't feel that strong anymore. At this point, if the world of clinching is nothing more the mashing up of meat against sweat, stay faithful for a little more, it will slowly present itself to be a whole different world of exploration.
One of the more worrisome thing that we see, is the desire and attraction to learn the fanciful and dramatic techniques of sweeping and flying things, instead of putting emphasis and grounding to simpler and crucial attributes like balance, and defence. It is akin to what Shinya-san says about BJJ, that defending the positions and submissions come first, offensive tactics come later. The problem is that the subtle and underlying things like balance aren't sexy. To a certain extend, they can be rather boring, and is definitely repetitive, without a goal in sight.
Admittedly, it is a bit of a grind, and it can be a relentless assault of grip and torture (especially if you get Phan). But through it all, if you were actively with us for the just-ended quarter of clinching season, you would have grown a little. Minimally, your neck would have grown a little. You would have understood the idea of this "Muay Thai Grappling" thing a bit better. And when you meet new clinch folks when the next clinching season starts, you'd probably realise that you know a little more than the newer ones.
So, should you watch clinch videos still? YES OF COURSE. In fact, watch this beauty of Pakorn (blue) absolutely destroying Petchboonchu in the clinch:
What you saw was probably a barrage of leg sweeps administered masterfully champion to another champion. Mind you, Petchboonchu is no push over; he is a highly decorated champion, with multiple titles and is known for a nasty clinch as well. But that level of pedigree adds to the delight of how Pakorn displaces Petchboonchu from his throne in the clinch.
Snapping back to reality and looking at your own clinch game, we are all not Pakorn, or Petchboonchu. Try to emulate the Pakorn's leg sweep in the clinch, in the gym, will be one that will send sores through your shin for days. The execution of Pakorn's sweeps in the video is the legs, but the syllabus of it, is in finesse of balance. Then you'd ask, so like that, how?
Our advice is to watch many of these, build up images, and reenact these techniques in your mind. But once you're at the gym, ask a fighter, ask a trainer. Better still, show them what you've watch. Sometimes, it is actually difficult for the trainer to put knowledge of techniques into words and instructions out of blank space. I watched the Chocolate Technique #1 video, and I still think that the concept and technical work that she knows, versus what was understood by the folks were different.
What's the best way to get better in the clinch? Simple.
Clinch more, ask more, and enjoy the grind.