The clinch may be the most important position in a fight but in most traditional martial arts it has been virtually ignored. Despite their best intentions, those who rely upon striking will find themselves in the clinch at some point in a fight. They need to learn clinching in order to remain standing. On the other side of the equation, most grapplers will rely upon clinching as a defense against strikes and to set up their throws and takedowns.
Thus, all fighters must learn to clinch. The first priority in the clinch is to establish CONTROL. The first few seconds are the most important and the most dangerous. Fighting for position, establishing grips, breaking grips, and unbalancing are all essential skills. In general terms, clinching will either be used to control the neck or the body. Once you have established control, you have several options; striking (knees, elbows, etc.), throws and takedowns, or escaping.
The clinch for striking
If we examine different combat sports we will find that striking in the clinch varies depending upon the format. In Western boxing, the rules limit the options to either (1) punching out of the clinch with short punches such as the uppercut, or (2) throwing body punches, or (3) holding the arms to prevent punching and waiting for the referee to break the hold. In Muay Thai, the cultural aesthetic has led to the development of knee and elbow strikes, with some basic wrestling to throw the opponent to the canvas. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has incorporated elements of both of these sports while also introducing new methods. An intelligent fighter familiarizes themselves with ALL of the options in the clinch and understands their relative advantages and disadvantages.
The clinch for throws and takedowns
The advantage of using a throwing technique is obvious. A good throw can inflict as much damage, if not more, than a combination of strikes. You are hitting your opponent with the ground. For the purposes of definition, a full body throw involves both of the attacker’s feet leaving the ground as the body goes up and over your center of gravity. A properly executed throw also places an opponent in a position where you can strike, including STOMPING on their head!
A takedown is a much simpler undertaking. Any technique which puts the attacker on the ground and which is not a full body throw is considered a takedown. Full body throws can be devastating but are more difficult to set up and complete. A takedown is much easier. The disadvantage of takedowns is that they seldom disable the opponent and thus require a submission technique to complete the encounter.
The study of clinching to throw generally revolves around clinching the body; seat belts (grabbing the waist), body locks, and the use of both the “under hook” (when your arm is under the opponent’s) and the “over hook” (wrapping the arm OVER your opponent’s arms). To defend against inside striking, you should keep the lead shoulder against the opponent’s chest and the lead leg distinctly forward (i.e. do not stand square). You can also “duck under” and go around to the back. The option you choose may have to do with your relative strengths.
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