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"So You Wanna Knee Like A Thai? Part 5 - Negative 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

In my last post I offered half the equation of engaging the Thai clinch. Here we will round out that picture by considering the flip side: engaging in clinch without forward pressure. I call this form of engagement 'Negative Pressure' for two reasons really: 1) it is the counterpart to 'Forward Pressure' and 2) it conceptually evokes ideas of a vacuum effect. While most movement in this technique moves in directions other than forward, it is far different than retreating or simply backpeddling. At its core negative pressure creates in the opponent a false sense of distance that we capitalize on offensively -- it works by by forcing (or enticing) our opponent to close the gap for us. The important difference between this and defensive maneuvers is that with negative pressure the fighter is intentionally using backward movement to create offense (the clinch). 

We've seen how Muay Thai is 'engineered' for consistent forward pressure and how that eventuates into clinching. Any of you who have fought in a smoker or sanctioned Muay Thai bout can already atest to this. It is what 'happens'...whether or not you actually set out to clinch your opponent in the first place. Our goal, naturally, is to be intentional in the clinch. Not simply flowing from a series of ranges, but inexorably building tempo and force like a human version of a Roman siege machine.  The second type of clinch engagement is a little more elusive for most. In this mode the fighter is capitalizing on evasion and footwork and literally drawing the opponent into the clinch. It is really a rhythm maneuver where you get your opponent to surge toward you and when your opponent doesn't expect it, preferably between movements, you either don't retreat or retreat far less than he expects, suddenly you're into clinch "automagically." If you liken it to ballroom dancing, it's equivalent would be purposely shorting the dance count when your partner expects a full count. That is, your partner is moving to the count inside his or her head: "One, two,, two, three." Then you suddenly decide to stop at "one, two." What do you think will happen? Awkward dance clinch, that's what.

To cut down on the moving parts and strip this down to bare essentials, I humbly point you to the following video. It is the classic fight between Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvelous Marvin Hagler. While you certainly want to watch this end-to-end, for our purposes focus on the first four rounds, paying particular attention to Leonard's masterful use of negative pressure. This is textbook ring generalship. While Leonard would (rightly in my opinion) take a lot of flack for his lack of aggressive offense in this fight, he controls both the tempo and the physical space. Regarding negative pressure, note how Leonard uses Hagler's forward movement in concert with his own footwork to close distance. Leonard floats back just out of the danger zone of Hagler's advance, fades right or left and then abruptly reverses direction. The maneuver is most successful when Leonard appears to increase distance between himself and Hagler. Hagler time and again in these first four rounds falls right into the rhythm and cadence of Leonard's movements. Leonard simply changes rhythm -- and direction -- and Hagler inadvertently oversteps his most effective punching range, ending up instead in Leonard's clinch.

Next we'll consider how this applies to the Thai clinch by continuing what we began last post: observing how the clinch is used against the respected (and late) Ramon Dekkers. In the next video segment Ramon matches up with Thai rounder Jaroentong Kiatbanchong. Jaroentong was the rare Thai champion whose best attack was any one he hit you with. Equally dangerous in each of the "8 limbs," Jaroentong could make fighting look effortless in his masterful ring generalship. In this fight he uses distance and rhythm to smother many of Dekkers attacks much like Sugar Ray's on-point handling of Hagler. Again, I call this "negative" pressure because offense is created by using the opponent's forward motion as if it were your own. Watch Jaroentong fade back, slip off to the side and as Dekkers naturally moves to close distance for attack Jaroentong simply stops moving or moves very slightly forward, immediately engulfing Dekkers in clinch, tying up Dekkers' mini-Tyson guns and disrupting his attack rhythm.

I'll conclude this post with a resource for your training. This video captures episodes of training in Thai camps circa the mid-90s. It isn't a highlight reel of pursuing the clinch but there's plenty of body mechanics--even strategy--to be culled. One aspect of watching the training footage that I hope you're beginning to glean is that the approach and movements of most techniques looks way different in training than when sparring or fighting. 

(NEXT POST...We'll conclude our look at Thai clinching with some parting advice and a well-earned overindulgence watching fights from our knee 'Professors')