Ask any Muay Thai fighter or student, and they’ll tell you that one of the most difficult parts of any training session is clinching. As intense and physically demanding as Muay Thai already is, clinching amplifies all the physical and strength aspects of Muay Thai. Typical clinch training at a camp requires fighters to clinch wrestle with knee strikes every day for 45 minutes straight for the last part of the 6 hour training day.
Whoever is stronger in the clinch dictates where the rest of the fight goes most of the time. When you are able to control your opponent in the clinch, you are able to execute a number of attacks from this position as you close the distance between yourself and your opponent, maintaining the clinch position. Although the go-to attack from the clinch is usually a knee, when the opportunity presents itself, using an elbow is a surefire way to devastate your opponent. In order to utilize elbows in the clinch, you must be able to close the distance between yourself and your opponent and maintain the clinch position.
When do you use elbows in the clinch?
Like all Muay Thai techniques, elbows in the clinch require perfect timing. When you feel like your opponent’s grip is slipping in the clinch or if you feel that he doesn’t have a strong grip, you can throw the elbow. When you’re clinch fighting, you will notice that there is quite a bit of hand fighting to gain leverage in this position. During this time, you’ll also notice that there are lots of openings for the elbow to land, especially when hands are being pushed down or when hands drop to clinch the underarm.
Which elbows should you use?
45-degree walk in upward elbow
The 45-degree walk in upward elbow targets your opponent’s chin and nose. Executing this elbow at this angle will make you less susceptible to counter attacks. You must maintain the inside clinch position, because your hands and arms need to be on the inside of your opponent’s arms. This puts you in a more dominant position for attacking. When your opponent throws a knee or tries to sweep you, walk in and strike with a 45-degree up elbow. At this point, he will be balancing on one leg, leaving his guard open, preventing him from defending and attacking from an unexpected angle.
To execute the 45-degree up elbow, cup your fist on your ear and drive your elbow diagonally upwards. To generate maximum power, you must turn your hips and foot along the same direction of your 45-degree upward elbow.
In this video, multiple-time Muay Thai World Champion Sagetdao Petpayathai demonstrates how Muangthai PK Saenchaimuaythaigym was able to knockout his opponent with a 45-degree upward elbow in the clinch. Watch how Muangthai throws the elbow as soon as he catches an opening.
Knee push jump elbow
To set up the jump elbow, you must have exceptional control over your opponent in the clinch. The best way to do so is by using the double collar tie hold. In this position, you are holding your opponent’s head high, giving you more leverage to pull him down for a knee. In this position, both your arms are inside the clinch. It also allows you to lock your elbows together as you hold your opponent in position. Once you have stabilized this hold, throw a few knees to your opponent’s body to lower his guard. Follow by pushing your opponent with your forearm to create space and execute a jump elbow.
To execute the jump elbow, jump towards your opponent with your lead foot. Slightly raise your right elbow above your head and bring it downward as you smash it diagonally, landing on your opponent’s forehead.
In this video, multiple-time Muay Thai World Champion Sagetdao Petpayathai shows 5 different elbows from the clinch. Notice how Sagetdao pushes his opponent with his forearms with just enough force to create space for the jump elbow.
Upward elbow strike from the clinch
Like all attacks from the clinch, you must establish good control in the clinch before throwing any strikes. This attack is best utilized when you have the double collar tie hold. Just like the previous elbow strike, both your arms should be inside your opponent’s arms, grabbing on the back of your opponent’s neck. This position can be used for both offense and defense. While you’re in the double collar tie hold, wait until your opponent tries to use a knee strike. As he balances on one leg, immediately drive your elbow upwards vertically up to your opponent’s chin.
When you perform this technique, make sure that you turn your hips in an counter-clockwise direction when doing a right upward elbow. When you’re going for the left upward elbow, your hips should be turning clockwise.
In this video, multiple-time Muay Thai World Champion Petchboonchu FA Group demonstrates 4 different kinds of elbows from the clinch. Notice how Petchboonchu starts off with a fake knee to disarm his opponent before going in with the upward elbow.
Downward slide elbow strike
Controlling your opponent is one of the key elements of the clinch. When you have both your arms around a person’s neck, you must establish inside control. Your elbows must be tight together at all times while you are clinching your opponent’s neck. However, if you have a single collar tie, you can use your lead hand to pull on your opponent’s shoulder, while the other arm overhooks your opponent’s other shoulder, preventing him from attacking. You can use this opportunity to quickly land a strike such as the downward slide elbow.
In this video, multiple-time Muay Thai World Champion Orono Wor Petchpun demonstrates a downward elbow strike KO from the clinch. Watch how Orono keeps his body as close to his opponent as possible, controlling his opponent’s arms to gain a better clinch position. As he slides his left elbow down to attack, he also drives his left hip clockwise to generate power, giving him the torque he needs to land that knockout blow.
Remember, before you throw an elbow, you must ensure that you maintain control of your opponent in the clinch position. As much as possible, always control your opponent’s neck/head and at least one of his or her arms. You must have two points of control at all times in order to have the upper hand in the clinch, unless you have your opponent in a bear hug.
Don’t worry, to become an expert at clinching takes years of practice and fight experience. Like all new techniques, practice these during sparring with minimal resistance. Do not hesitate to consult your instructor should you have any questions about these techniques.