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JD's picture
Muay Thai Clinch - Advice and for self defence?

Hi to all...

I'm not a Thai fighter and haven't really had much to do with the art, however I've seen the Thai clinch used in real scenarios to control an aggressive opponent throwing a lot of punches/haymakers, it's hard to throw strikes with power when your head is controlled via the two hands around the neck/skull with elbows tight in. On top of that, a good knee can be devastating, especially someone who knows how to apply one correctly, Muay Thai fighters also seem good at transitioning between variations of the upright clinch that look strong and effective too. These fighters practice sparring for hours just clinch fighting and also become good at off balancing opponents and throwing them to the ground whilst they stay upright and strong.

So taking this into consideration, with some effective sprawling practice for the double leg attempts that often happen when a 'street fighters' head is pulled down, wouldn't this clinch be really effective in real self defence? 

After all, it's easy close in to achieve two hands behind the opponents head and quite a natural thing to pull down in order to 'dominate' the opponent. In the Kata Naihanchi, the begining sequence has the flinch response with a follow up Thai style grab and push down, I wonder why Karate didn't invest more into this technique or did they and I don't know?

If you're a practitioner of Muay Thai or have experience of thai fighting and good at clinch work reading this, what's your thoughts? Also... is there a good way to approach practicing it, i.e concepts, do's and do not's of clinch sparring and good links/teachings on the subject?

I've used it myself in it's basic form during contact sparring with good results, especially with them devastating knee's! I've added a video of Anderson Silva using it the UFC and K1 below to show it's effectiveness ;


1. So is it effective to train for self defence?

2. Is it used anywhere more in Karate?

3. Any advice on how to approach training it?

I appreciate in advance any advice and thoughts on the subject...

All the best,


Anf's picture

For a while I went to a mixed style club led by a man whose past employment gave a lot of credibility to his skills shall we say.

He liked to teach the clinch a lot. I remember one time him holding a pad low while I held him in the clinch, kneeing the pad, which would have been his gut if the pad wasn't there. His objective was to escape. Mine was to prevent him doing so and keep striking. I can remember being yelled at repeatedly to keep going as fatigue kicked in, and after the 2 minute round finished, I looked like I'd been dunked I'm a pool of my own sweat lol. It was fun though and I can see how it would be a useful tool. My instructor said it was more for when you are becoming fatigued and there's a risk your fitter opponent might be able to take advantage of your tiredness. Then latch on and just cling on and erode him. Still high energy but probably not on the same level as more open combat.

PASmith's picture

One thing to be wary of is seeing the Thai clinch as purely the "plum" position (double collar tie). Thanks to the UFC and MMA it's become common to call the plum "the thai clinch" (I'm not saying the OP is doing this by the way) when actually the Thai clinch is much more varied than that and pretty much a sub-art in itself, especially in Thailand. Thai boxing has not full transitioned out of Thailand the way it is done there and the clinch (as well as judging and scoring Thai boxing bouts) is one of the main things that is missing nuance and full understanding outside of Thailand.

One thing I'd bear in mind is that the plum position is great for moving someone around and landing knees but leaves your opponent's hands free to work. This is not so much an issue in MMA/Thai because the ability to land punches with any real power is diminished but put a knife in one of the hands and it start to become a lot less useful. I like Iain's approach where he also stresses limb control and manipulation in the clinch as that feeds into weapon defence.

I'm not diminishing the plum position though...spent a few years doing Thai and being stuck in that position with someone that knows it is horrendous. :)

PASmith's picture

In terms of resources on the Thai clinch (and Thai boxing in general) I would recommend Sylvie Von Duglass Ittu's blog, articles and videos. She has over 200 fights in Thailand and is almost single handedly documenting the tips, tricks and knowledge of some legendary ex-fighters. In particular she has close links to Diesel Noi (nicknamed "the sky piercing knee"!), who is pretty much the best knee fighter (Muay Khao) there's ever been. His use of the knee and clinching is scary to see although obviously, like any sport approach, will need tailoring to self defence and being used in a different context.

JD's picture

Hi Anf,

I understand the point regards would it be effective with someone who is super charged and agressive, unlike a sport orientated enviroment where fatigue takes place due to rules, rounds and 2 skilled opponents going at it for a while and in doing so the opportunity is more available for the clinch, but varieties of the ''plum'' clinch seem legit and really effective against high paced, fitter opponents. Small Thai guys seem able to throw quite large strong western men to the floor with ease... whilst under heavy resistance.

As for tiring an opponent down if they've got the upper hand with energy and fitness, brilliant point! Even if you're not trying to destroy/finish your oppoent, you can wear them down and even use it to get your bearings and recover from a good shot... good 'go to' technique if you get rocked? Interesting! 

''I looked like i'd been dumped in a pool of my own sweat'' - ouuuu lovely! :) lol

Thanks for the reply...

All the best, JD

JD's picture

Hi PASmith,

I 100% agree with you on the misconception of the double collar tie (plum) clinch being THE Thai clinch when in actual fact there's lots of variations used whilst clinch sparring amongst the Thai fighters in Thailand. 

After looking at the video's and other sources of information out there, the Thai fighters clinch very well and you don't seem to see the same quality or diversity of technique taught by the majority of western Muay Thai fighters/Instructors, most likely the reason being it hasn't fully transitioned across yet, unlike other arts. 

The thought of the defence against the knife whilst having an opponent in the clinch is really interesting! Like you say, having them arms not tied up pretty much gives them free passage to do serious damage if a weapons involved. Maybe the key is to use it briefly in order to dominate and pull an opponent down instead of getting comfortable in that position for long periods of time, if that makes sense? Also they are elements of the Thai clinch that wrap up opponents limbs, so in part there's some limb control there, however, maybe not as much as what the karate Kata's exercise.

Regards the resources you posted, brilliant stuff! Exactly what I was looking for and will get stuck into that when I get some spare time later. Many thanks for pointing me in the right direction and appreciate your time taken to reply.

All the best...


Wastelander's picture

I'm going to second PASmith's suggestion of Sylvie "The Little Hulk"/"Miss Gangster Knee" Von Duuglas-Ittu's blog and videos, which can be found on http://8limbs.us/. It is easily the best resource for Thai fighting methods and the culture that surrounds it.

As has been pointed out, while karate does incorporate head controlling methods in clinching, it tends to focus more on limb control. All of the clinching components of Muay Thai are present in karate, and vice versa, but they have different ideas on the implementation and focus. I would agree that the Thais do a better job of focusing on their clinchwork training than most karateka, these days, but it isn't all that far removed from kakedameshi. I actually mentioned in another thread on here, recently, how I like to work between a variety of clinching ranges in kakedameshi, and it's a pretty strong focus for me. It's a practice I hope will pick back up in the coming years for karateka.

JD's picture

Hi Wastelander,

Thanks for the link above it's much appreciated. I knew asking on here would get me somewhere, sometimes it's difficult to know what's a good source and what isn't with all that's out there on the internet.

When you say Kakedameshi, excuse my not knowing, what is it? Sounds interesting.

Edit update : I've looked up kakedameshi and manage to find a detailed description on a old website, seems really interesting, pretty much a version of jiyu kumite - close in vertical grappling with atemi... would be nice to see it make a comeback in the future.

Many thanks, 


Wastelander's picture

JD wrote:
Thanks for the link above it's much appreciated ...

My pleasure--I'm always happy to share resources when I have them. Sylvie is a great one for Muay Thai, and I've pointed out to her several instances where she has used karate techniques in fights, with kata references. She's a good sport about it, and has actually trained a bit with an instructor in Thailand who teaches a blend of Kenpo and Kyokushin, I believe. Got her yellow belt, even.

As for kakedameshi, to save others the search, it is old-style Okinawan sparring, which Nagamine Shoshin described as being like a very aggressive form of Tai Chi pushing hands, with strikes, takedowns, chokes, and joint locks. Funakoshi Gichin and Motobu Choki have made similar comments on it. There are many ways to approach training kakedameshi, and I find that most people tend to pick one, which leads them to missing out on the benefits of the others. Check out the wide array of kakie/kakete/kakidi (different spellings/pronunciations for the same thing) drills that exist in Okinawan karate, and check out Chinese tuishou drills, and you will get a pretty good idea of the base for kakedameshi. From there, you can start working in your kata applications. You can/should vary the intensity and level of contact, and play with different rulesets for what is allowed and what isn't. For some more information, you can check out some of these resources.

Andreas Quast's translation of a Motobu-Ryu article on kakidi:


Ryan Parker Sensei's article on kakidi training methods:


A few articles I've written associated with the subject:




We've also discussed it here on the forum, before:


JD's picture

Hi Wastelander,

There's some great links in that last post, I'm amazed that something so useful for teaching close quarter combat, reactions, balance and much more was lost or abandoned along Karate's journey, I guess one of the main reasons is due to Karate been introduced to schools and so needed to be 'watered' down in a sense or made safer for younger practitioners, or maybe I'm wrong?

I'm going to delve into them sources above and see what it's all about, love learning new parts to what I already enjoy and train, there's always something new to pick up.

Thanks again Wastelander for taking the time to post links and advice.

EDIT UPDATE : I've read through your articles and watched the video's on the website you've created and must say they're really spot on and informative when it comes to traditional Karate, it's nice to see you have dedicated yourself to the art in the way you have. I enjoyed browsing through and picking bits up I didn't know, thank you again for posting the links... great job sir!

All the best, 


Marc's picture

The video in the original post seems to be broken (at least for me it does).

Might this be an alternative? It briefly shows 6 different clinch positions:



Chris R
Chris R's picture

I think this is a great thing to learn, and every martial artist would benefit from knowing the basics in my opinion. Learning from an instructor in person is something I would highly recommend, as they can tell you some of the intricate details and advice that you might not find easily online. Training with skilled people would also accelerate your learning. But if that is not possible, then you could look into some online stuff. Sylvie is a great resource for anything to do with Muay Thai (as the others mentioned), but you can also check out Stuart Tomlinson, Evolve MMA, Sean Fagan, and Path of the Brave on Youtube for some free resources. I'm probably missing out some great ones but those are just my personal recommendations. If you want to pay, then you could start looking into books and DVDs, but I don't have any particular suggestions in mind for that.

In terms of effectiveness, I think this type of clinching can give you a big advantage under the right circumstances. I don't think clinching is easy or natural, and someone without experience won't stand much of a chance against a skilled clincher if they end up at clinch range. If you ever try clinching against a skilled person as a beginner, you will see what I mean. However, I mentioned "under the right circumstances," and I think that is something important to consider. The others have raised points about some potential downsides of using the Thai style of clinching in a self protection scenario, so I think that is worth thinking about. But overall I think it's a great skill to learn. One benefit that hasn't been mentioned is that it can give you a foundation for using Karate techniques more effectively from the clinch, and it also gives you the ability to understand (to use but also to defend against) certain movements in the clinch that you won't learn about in a Karate dojo.

In terms of actual training tips, I think that two important things to consider when clinching are your posture and balance. If you can't get those right, then you will struggle in the clinch against someone who can. Having a strong neck is also going to be useful, and some people get stiff/sore in the beginning because they are using muscles that normally don't get worked (this happened to me when I first started). It's nothing serious though and you will adapt.

Good luck with your clinching

JD's picture

Hi Marc,

Yeah the link I posted of Anderson Silva doesn't seem to work when I click on it either, but easy to find on youtube and a great one to watch. 

The link you suggested above is a cracker, I haven't come across this one before and the fighter demonstrating on the left at the begining of the vid I've seen fight in UFC using his Thai style mixed with wrestling and BJJ on another vid (youtube) that's a really good one to watch, his ability to go from striking distance to clinch and how he transitions between movements once in the clinch is smooth and super effective.

Great link, many thanks for sharing.

All the best,


JD's picture

Hi Chris R,

Really good post wth some fantastic sources and detailed points, I agree with what you say in regards it's usefulness under the correct circumstances, PASmith mentioned in his thoughts that it might have it's floors when dealing with an opponent using a weapon (knife for example) due to the lack of limb control which is a solid point as far as self defence in concerned, but then again I guess a lot of clinch work, Muay Thai or not, is somewhat weak and limited to just certain positions and techniques due to the introduction of a weapon.

''certain movements in the clinch that you won't learn about in a Karate dojo'' - On my orginal post I asked whether there's more use of the upright head/neck control like the Thai clinch but in Karate, bunkai or otherwise... the best advice for that was off Wastelander...so I agree again with it being good to learn in addition to Karate's clinch work, as you don't necessarly get chance otherwise.

''In terms of actual training tips, I think that two important things to consider when clinching are your posture and balance.'' - Yeah if you're able to become profficient in these aspects you can bumble through and survive easier against someone who know's their onions! Luckily I'm pretty confident with having some BJJ experience and grappling sparring behind me, but solid advice and easily overlooked due over-focusing on particular techniques.

The sources you posted above are excellent! Sean Fagan is a really good one to latch onto with anything Muay Thai by the looks of it, he seems to support and sponsor Sylvie in her fighting quest as well. 

Brilliant post and really helpful, much appreciated Chris...

All the best and safe training,