Muay Thai Clinch – The Importance of Building a Frame
This post is about the first 5 minutes of a 32 minute clinch work video available to patrons here
This is some of the best clinch work I’ve ever offered, a lot of that due to me gaining experience in teaching clinch, but also a huge degree because Kate has worked on the things we went over last time – a year ago! We could just go further into the technique. The response to the full-length video from my patrons has been great as well, which means this information is digestible by watching. In these 5 minutes we’re going over the concept of building a frame in clinch, which is actually an intermediate level concept despite it being so fundamental.
above, the first 5 minutes of my 32 minute video with commentary which can be seen in full here on Patreon for those who support 8limbs.us
About a year ago I was watching my trainer’s older brother, Pi Nok, clinch with one of our Thai fighters, Buam. Pi Nok is smaller than Buam by probably 5 kg, but he was dominating every exchange through the same tactic. Basically, Pi Nok created a lock around Buam’s neck and shoulders that he just stayed in all the time, then when Buam tried to change position Pi Nok would use that opportunity of Buam’s movement to throw him off-balance. It was amazing. At that moment, watching Pi Nok’s tactic, I realized the importance of “building a frame” and working everything off of that. Pi Nok had the frame, Buam was just swimming.
Let me just take a detour and say that this stuff is not easily found…not in books, not online, and not even in the gyms of Thailand. The term is mine, so maybe it will catch on. I remember in my first year at Lanna in Chiang Mai, when western males would get tons of clinch work regardless of level, in the men’s ring, I would struggle to learn the basics of clinch if even just by asking – women clinch far more there now, and because there were younger boys there when Sylvie Charbonneau was there she got good clinch practice, but not when I was there. For my own justifications, I figured if I wasn’t going to get a lot of work, then at least let me learn abstractly. No matter who I asked in the gym it was the same response, which is that you just learn clinch by doing it – but I never got to do it. Most Thais just don’t think about abstract principles when talking about clinch. They’ve learned through hundreds if not thousands of hours of just doing, it’s like asking someone the principles of riding a bicycle. You just pedal, and over time you balance. You fall, you learn. The things in this video and what I otherwise try to share are things I’ve learned in the last 2 and a half years of clinching every day with the boys here in Pattaya at Petchrungruang. There was very little clinch instruction, but tons of getting my ass kicked and countless times getting up off the floor. I really didn’t understand clinch much before getting this time in at Petchrungruang, despite training and fighting very hard for 2 and a half years in Chiang Mai, and despite being a “clinch fighter” from the beginning. But, I’ve not only learned a lot here against the boys, I’ve been studious. I’ve been keeping track of the principles of Muay Thai clinch so I can explain them to others, elements that really end up being Muay Thai secrets, especially to women, but also to many western men, because of how clinch is learned and passed down. Sometimes after training I just watch beginners working with each other, to learn tendencies, to catch what people are trying to do when they don’t yet have a feel for it. I’m trying to learn how we learn. And because I’ve learned clinch the Thai way, through feeling blindly through the storm of someone better than yourself, but I come from a western and academic mindset, I find it meaningful to turn these things I’ve learned into techniques that can be taught through instruction… and then understood through the only true method of just doing.
Building a Frame: The thing about building a frame is that it’s a comfortable and stable starting point. It’s getting out of the uncertain water and onto a boat – you still have to move, but there are a lot fewer elements to consider once you’ve got that stability. Or, as a different comparison, it’s like your stance: you don’t spend an entire fight in your stance, but you spend a lot of a fight in your stance because that’s what protects you and gets you from strike to strike. That’s your fighting frame. The difficulty with learning to clinch by just moving and swimming your arms all the time – as many are taught in the west – is that those movements never land and it can be confusing to know what move to do off of any other move. Instructors get around this by teaching in drills, so when you find yourself in this position you do this turn or this knee. But you have to realize you’re in that position very quickly in the context of a real fight, when someone isn’t drilling with you, and if you isolate the movement in a drill you don’t really have any idea how to get into and out of that position in the first place. Building a frame allows you to find a steady position, kind of like being in neutral on a gear shift, where you can get into any other “move” from the same familiar position. Further, if your frame has an aspect of a lock to it – as most do – you’ll put the onus on your opponent to figure their way out of it and that really simplifies what you need to focus on, meaning you can anticipate and counter to your opponent’s movements instead of trying to do so many things at once. To go back to watching Pi Nok and Buam, Pi Nok could mostly just stay in his frame while Buam struggled to work around it; Buam had 10 things on his plate and Pi Nok just had that one, so every time Buam moved, Pi Nok had an answer that interrupted Buam’s efforts.
The frame I show Kate in this video is my preferred, go-to frame: one hand (my lead hand) behind the head/neck and that same side elbow on the shoulder (or even better, inside on the collar bone), the other hand on the inside of the elbow of her arm. It’s kind of like a Waltz position. You can turn, you can pull, you can push and swim – you can do a lot from this position. I’ve seen from people coming to train with me who are from gyms in the west that the “frame” taught is the double neck tie, or the “Thai Plum” as Joe Rogan calls it. This isn’t a frame. This can be very dominant position against the inexperienced, but it’s narrow and pretty much the only thing you can do out of it is try to wrench your opponent’s head down and knee, which is hard to do if your opponent has an understanding of the clinch (there are many easy counters). From a frame like the one I choose, however, you have more options and your opponent has very few, which makes their movements predictable.
I also show Kate the blade of the arm lock, which is painful to your opponent – I learned my lock from Bank, you can see that video here, but everyone has a slightly different lock, a different way of applying pressure. You use the blade of your forearm to dig into the neck of your opponent, helped by utilizing your head as a third appendage. If you’re making a vice you need a stable side, which can be your forehead against the jaw (there’s a nerve there) or face of your opponent. This technique causes pain, which causes weakness and panic, which means you can use less strength – which in clinching is a big deal. Using a lock and a frame together is an essential part of effective clinch and keeps you from getting lost in just moving for movement’s sake.
A staple of at least my clinch game is moving between my clinch frame and my clinch lock, and back again. The frame can be used for off-balancing, scoring with knees, setting up trips or throws, and the lock can provide dominance that results in big scores. As you move up the ladder in the skill of your opponents you’ll find that every clinch position has multiple counters or escapes. So in Bangkok stadium Muay Thai you’ll seldom see a scoring lock last for extended periods of time – it happens, but usually due to opponent fatigue. Because of this you really want to train transitioning between the lock and your frame, and back again. You might have early success against unsuspecting or less skilled opponents in one or the other, but really you should be pushing yourself towards transitions. Make them work together to make each of them more dangerous and effective.
Again, this is one of the best clinch work sessions I’ve had, filmed or unfilmed, if you want to see all of it become an 8limbs.us supporter (a suggested pledge of $5). Patrons have immediate access to over 7 hours of my Training Library with some of the best fight minds of Thailand: My Patreon Muay Thai Library. It is a passion of mine to communicate clinch technique to those who may not easily get access to it, and to spread appreciation for the great Muay Khao fight styles of Thailand. Recently my trainer Pi Nu noted how many women have come to train with me, specifically in the clinch – in the world of Muay Thai where there are rarely more than a few women in a gym, and in my gym there’s just me, it’s pretty noticeable when women take me up on the offer to come and train with me. I smiled at him and explained that it’s my dream to raise the level of clinch among all women in the world. Pi Nu looked surprised, then just smiled and said, “good.” It’s important to have goals.
A special thank you to Kate Allen-Cottone who worked with me here. She is a trailblazing fighter and gym owner in Philadelphia. Check out her gym 8 Limbs Academy!
I’ve written a great deal on Muay Thai Clinch, covering aspects that extend far beyond technique, reaching into Thai culture and its place in the gym. Over 30 articles on clinch can be read here.