My love affair with the clinch

14 Jun

Ever since I saw mixed martial arts in 1993, I’ve been fascinated with the clinch. While it has been largely ignored in traditional martial arts in recent memory, it is in many regards the deciding factor in a real engagement. The striker who wants to remain mobile and deliver kicks and punches must know how to use the clinch to stop the takedown and how to break out of it. The grappler who wants to take an opponent to the ground much master the clinch and the throws and takedowns from it. Finally, there are those who fight in the clinch. In retrospect, while I was not conscious of it and had a wildly undeveloped game, for much of my “career” I had used the clinch for defense and to set up my attacks.

first knee head 2

In Chinese martial arts, we have push hands (Tui Shou), sticking hands (Chi Sau) and pulling hands (Rou Shou); all designed to control, redirect, unbalance and create opportunities. Yet misconceptions, and outright conceit, prevents many from every equating these things with grappling, the clinch or wrestling. Those things are beneath them.

wedge 6

Under the umbrella of jacket wrestling, we have Judo, Sambo and Shuai-Jiao. Russian Sambo derives not just from Judo influences, but hundreds of ethnic jacket wrestling styles that existed within the regions that made up the former Soviet Union. Wrestling, with and without jackets, is without question the universal human activity. Chinese Shuai-Jiao, with its short sleeves, also has much of the hand fighting and pummeling tactics of the non jacket style.

hip throw 4

Most people in the world are familiar with the two most popular non jacket wrestling styles, free style and Greco-Roman wrestling. We can throw into the mix “catch-as-catch-can” which is just wrestling with submissions. If the world ever had doubts that wrestling was an efficient martial arts, decades of mixed martial arts competitions should have put that to rest.

underhook defend punch 3

Finally, we have the wrestling or clinching used for striking. Western Boxing’s clinch is relatively limited by the current rules of the game, though if we look back in history to the bare knuckle days we find more wrestling applications. A favorite of the bare knuckle boxer was the “cross buttocks”, a hip throw every Judoka, Sambo player, Shuai Jiao student or wrestler would know. For clinching with striking, Thailand’s Muay Thai offers a well developed and deep resource.

drag three

I’ve spent about two decades now researching the various traditions and their methods. I’ve developed over time a clinch method that combines striking with throws and takedowns; applicable to San Da, Mixed Martial Arts and self defense. The task was made easier by an early realization; despite all the different source traditions, they all shared the same principles at their core.

Pummel the head

Pummel the head

You need to learn to control three areas; the head, the arms and the chest / body.

Pummel the arms

Pummel the arms

Pummel the body

Pummel the body

My background in Chinese martial arts never hurt my studies, in fact it enriched them. Having been taught the idea of “gates” and “indoor” vs “outdoor” areas, I understood the need to control the inside.

control the indoor area two

I understood ideas like pushing, pulling, rising, pressing, etc…







As you might have already guess, YES, these things will be the topic of my third book!

In the meantime, my second book “Lion’s Roar San Da”, covering the striking, kicking and blocking system is available at


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