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"So You Wanna Knee Like a Thai?" Part 4 - Engaging with Forward Pressure

From Coach Jason Webster, a multi-part series on clinch & knee fighting.

  1. Part 1 - Anchoring
  2. Part 2 - Generating Power
  3. Part 3 - Forward Pressure
  4. Part 4 - Engaging with Forward Pressure
  5. Part 5 - Negative Pressure

So, how does a fighter rightly seek out the clinch? I mean without groping wildly or shorting one's other offensive maneuvers? There are basically two "flavors" of engaging the clinch:

  1. Capitalizing on forward pressure
  2. Using the opponent's offensive techniques to close distance (often what I refer to as 'Negative Pressure')

This post focuses our attention on the first type: using one's forward movement and attacks to deliver you into the arms of clinching opportunity.  Now before you blow out your elbow high-fiving yourself because you've already mastered this, take a moment to reflect whether that's accurate. Here are a couple of key questions to help you triangulate:

  1. Does your offensive clinch (i.e., clinch occasions where actual knee strikes are launched) rely on getting double collar tie? When it does 'work,' what percentage of total clinch opportunities does this represent?
  2. Do your knees that connect while clinching feel "spongy"?
  3. Is your opponent's body moving away from you as you knee?

I'll be brutally honest, from what I've seen in class most of you would need to answer 'yes' to the first question. And even when one IS kneeing, the percentage would be...uhmmm...unenviable. Questions 2) and 3) are really trick questions...mostly they're 'yes'es. Not to worry though; these are the most common mistakes (stemming from misconceptions really) even for seasoned Western Muay Thai fighters. Again we'll turn to comparing and contrasting Western versus Thai styles in training.

Soak in this Golden Era footage of fighter Samson Issan. His name says it all. Now that you've seen Langsuan and Rajasak, we'll meet a couple of other knee specialists to watch and consider how nuanced a weapon the knee can be. While fighters like Rajasak were in-your-face fighters, the fighter featured in the next clip, Samson Issan, brings a whole new meaning to the concept of pressure. In this training video pay close attention to the segments where he's working knees with his trainer.

The footage is beautifully broken down into two knee attacks (both of the forward pressure variety): in one portion he is either galloping toward the trainer (his opponent) so fast there's little time for evasion and, in the other stanza, Samson parlays his strikes into clinches. Though this may be difficult without repeated viewings, I urge you to notice the *absence* of transitions. Thai fighters don't truly "flow" from punches to clinch: the clinch sort of "materializes" as forward pressure is exerted. It's at this same juncture that most Western fighters either relax or retract their guard.

Contrast this with another (very good) Western Thai fighter working with a Thai trainer.

You'll notice that there are noticeable  transitions as he cycles from any particular form of attack to clinch. I would say it has the all the framings of an awkward Middle School Sadie Hawkins dance. There are definite "stages" of his attack with noticeable gaps between these stages. Probably the biggest drawback is that these transitions have a similar rhythm and tempo, meaning they effectively become 'tells' for those attacks.

Effective Thai fighting means realizing that every offensive maneuver thrown affords some chance of engaging the clinch--even a glancing blow. A blocked hook, for instance, still leaves the hand and arm in proximity to the opponent's head, shoulder and arm. If you have correct forward pressure, it's natural for the arms to engage the natural "shelving" of the defensive fighter. Many Thai fighters throw hay-makers at their opponent not solely with the intent of landing the "one good punch" but because it will produce the entree to close range warfare. Moreover, if you can get your opponent to back-peddle, committing furious kicks and punches pretty much guarantees that the salvo will end up in clinch (thanks to the squared circle). The key to this attack is simple: every touch you can get on an opponent means -- almost in a de facto sense -- that you are in clinch range. You just need to continue to surge forward, encircle and pressure and most importantly, let the knee go. 

To illustrate this (which I will continue into the next post) I've decided to use the same fighter in both clips (but with different opponents). I've chosen Ramon Dekkers not simply because of his fearsome strikes but because his punches commanded so much respect by the Thais they had to modify the manner in which they fought him. That is, they had to exercise far more restraint than they normally would fighting a foreigner. Nonetheless, in each of these fights I think you will be able to see that the Thais still rely on the signature forward pressure and work within the danger zone to effect their strategy. The first clip features Cherry Sor Wanich (remarkably in blue corner, see Editor's note at end of post) vs Ramon Dekkers. Cherry, as always, had one major asset: relentless attack. Though Cherry does a good bit of both forward and rearward cinching he is most successful in disrupting Dekkers with his forward pressure. Notice instead of retreating or evading Dekker's put-you-on-queer-street-at-any-moment fists, Cherry's forward momentum carries him into the clinch, often off of Dekkers own punches.  Cherry (blue) vs Ramon Dekkers

(EDITOR's NOTE: In Muay Thai fights in Thailand, a fighter is assigned to fight out of either the red or blue corner. Fighters are expected always to show up with at least two pair of shorts--one red the other blue--because the fighter cant be sure which corner he will be assigned. It is simply understood among fighters and fans alike that 'red' is the favored corner...not coincidentally often reflecting the most current betting odds. In the fight clip with Dekkers vs. Cherry it's interesting that Dekkers is 'awarded' the red corner. It is rare indeed when a foreigner and Thai face off in Muay Thai in the Bangkok stadiums where the farang, foreigner, fights out of the red corner. It wasn't that the Thais were proffering some false humility; it was that Dekkers by that point had earned their honest respect.)

(NEXT POST...our other main method of engaging the clinch...what I dub as 'Negative Pressure')