Passing Some Clinch Knowledge to 13-Year-Old Phetlilaa Pettonpung
I’m a big fan of the all-female Pettonpung gym in Mae Rim. I’ve fought a few women who trained there over the years I was in Chiang Mai, but it wasn’t until I went to visit them that I realized it is all female fighters. The trainer there, Khun Yai, appears to really like me. He remembers me from fighting one of his top fighters, Nong Ying, who is a beast – she now lives and fights in China – and he probably likes that I fight a lot, which his fighters do as well. When I dropped by after my most recent fight in Chiang Mai, one of his rising star fighters was teeping the bag and shaking the roof. A little video of that part of the visit.
Khun Yai bragged about her to me for a few minutes. She’s worth bragging about: at only 13 years old she has over 40 fights with only 2 losses. And she’s fighting good opposition, older and more experienced fighters. Her teeps on that bag were impressive, but what was more so was her focus. Every single teep was thrown with total focus and intention. Khun Yai said she was fighting the next night and asked me, almost teasingly, if I’d clinch with her. Phetlilaa immediately refused, shaking her head and putting her hands up, like, “no, no.” I was way on board with it though. I promised we’d only do a little bit and go very light, but she wanted none of it. But Khun Yai insisted and we got into the ring while a little boy scrambled to grab a cell phone on which to film this occasion. Kevin filmed, too.
above, just a couple of minutes showing Phetlilaa a few techniques I’ve picked up that might help her already growing clinch game.
Basically, I just wanted to show her a few things I’ve learned and that work for me. We’re both clinch fighters and what I’ve learned is mostly from hours and hours of getting my ass kicked by bigger boys at my gym, a very long process of trial and error… a lot of error. But some of the things that don’t work against the boys I train with, do work in fights, because my opponents aren’t used to me or I didn’t steal the technique I’m using off of them directly, so they’re unfamiliar with it. The boys all know what I do until I find something else to do, and then they catch up and vice versa. It’s how you get better. I’m pretty sure that in her all-female gym Phetlilaa does not have a lot of clinching partners at her level, so she’s probably a shark in a fish tank – it’s vital for growth to be going up against superior talent and unfamiliar styles, so even though this was only a couple minutes, these could be a seed to her improvement. I just wanted to show some of the stuff that works for me, namely a lock that works for me, using your head as an appendage, and small jerks to change position and off-balance. I plan to try and clinch with her for 30 or 40 minutes next time I’m in in Chiang Mai, which looks to be around the end of June.
This is the cool part: most Thai female fighters who grow up into a muay khao fighter (knee fighter) style do not have a great deal of exposure to high-level or even intermediate clinch technique. You see in Thai female muay khao fighters, who are already a small subset of female fighters, that someone might be a “knee” fighter, maybe she’s good at going for the “Thai plum”, and delivering lots of straight, high scoring knees – but they aren’t really “clinch” fighters in the sense of locks, off-balances, and arm control. They knee really well, but they don’t clinch with extensive technique. Because of the sexual innuendo in clinch, once a girl reaches the age of 13 or so, she really might not clinch much at all with boys in a regular kai muay (as females are a strong minority in gyms) and so while she might win often with straight knee attacks, she might never get to the next level of clinch fighting knowledge. But by teaching a few, it can (over time) raise the technical level of many, as they learn and steal from each other. Female fighters that can clinch at a high level have usually been trained by their family, since they were young. Loma, probably the best female clinch fighter in Thailand, was trained by her father I believe, and clearly clinched with boys early on and throughout. Phetjee Jaa trained just like a boy, opposite her brother and among the boys at my current gym when they were all much smaller, for years. These more unusual female fighters have had early exposure to what is essentially a male dimension of the martial art – the way clinch is trained and performed is very masculine coded, and it takes years for the art to transmit. It’s not that girls can’t learn, it’s that we’re not given the exposure that boys have, hours and hours to try, fail and try again.
Phetlilaa is already a highly successful muay khao fighter at a young age, probably beating girls with techniques that are beyond the median or norm, but I’m guessing she’s not yet using more advanced techniques such as locks, sweeps and arm control – these things that Phetjee Jaa just absolutely destroys her opponents with, simply because she’s strong and so few female fighters have trained in and against this kind of technique. So, this is the cool part. I’ve been training with the boys of Petchrungruang down in Pattaya for over 2 years now, getting tons of clinch knowledge and technique that almost no Thai female can have regular access to, just because of the way culture is laid out. And here for a few minutes – and hopefully in future visits – I’m able to transmit some of that technical knowledge to this small, all-female gym way up in Mae Rim; to this fighter who already has a very nice repertoire of muay khao attacks (some of them technically better than mine, for instance her turns, her jump on her knee, her stabbing knee). She might take a few things I show and make them her own, and become an even more fierce fighter, with an even greater technical edge, which could only add to her name and the good fortune of her family. A few locks and timing techniques can go a long way. And if she’s keen, she’ll show it to her teammates or maybe they’ll just watch and learn it from her. The true way to understand and improve technique is to teach it to someone else, to increase the challenge at the same time you increase your ability.
By the way, she won her fight the next night, check out this wicked knee:
my original article on the gym: Pettonpung Gym – The All-Female Thai Muay Thai Gym in Mae Rim