Ambush Muay Thai blog elaborates on topics from class with articles, videos, and discussion.

The Ambush blog supplements our Muay Thai classes, providing articles, videos, and discussion that elaborates on topics that we train in class. See our blog index page for a categorized index of our blog posts.

Posts in Coach Jason
"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')

"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')

"So You Wanna Knee Like a Thai?" Part 3 - 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 Intent
  4. Part 4 - Engaging with Forward Pressure
  5. Part 5 - Negative Pressure

Ambush warriors. Congratulations on your awesome appropriation of material I've shared. Already your clinch work and knees show marked improvement. But in the spirit of full disclosure, I guiltily admit that I may have left out one small thing: how to make those techniques work.  But before you break out the tar and feathers, youngbloods, allow me a moment to explain.

One doesn't wade into "Swan Lake" without knowing how to plie. And as recently demonstrated by the New England Patriots Super Bowls are still won on basic blocking and tackling. Bottom line: as ardently as you might desire atomizing your opponent's intestines with your knee-gone-bad flurry, your will and conditioning are not enough. You need proper technique. Hence the previous two things you gotta "get," the base substance you must catch-on conceptually in order to hone your physical techniques.

And now that that has burrowed itself into your fighting psyche it's time for the punchline; the thing that all that other stuff is in service of -- the activating principle. It is the how of integrating anchoring and positioning so your clinch can become as feared and efficacious as the Thais.

Overriding Principle: The one thing you must DO, bar none: Seek out the clinch.

Now before you break open that pillow case and ready the bubbling tar for your humble blogger claiming i'm just telling you the obvious, consider a couple of things...hell, start by considering just one thing: in your Muay Thai practice, your padwork, your sparring, even your shadowboxing, do you honestly and consistently "close"? Clinching in Muay Thai isn't so much about finding the opportunity to reach out, grab the opponent and launch a knee salvo as much as it is "letting the knee go" because you're already there positionally.

In the next two installments of this multi-part post I will detail how a fighter seeks out the clinch. But before I even do that, we have to widen the optic a bit and focus here on what will drive those technical maneuvers. This core prerequisite --forward intent -- is central to all Muay Thai movements but without it the clinch degrades into a hugging match. To illustrate forward intent and forward pressure study the following videos.  To narrow the focus, just pay attention to the fighter's body english just AFTER he finishes each technique. Notice the Thai fighters end up almost leaning into the trainer's pads at the completion of most combinations, whether punches, kicks, knees or elbows. Rarely does the fighter let off and simply step back. He is without fail poised forward. Compare that with the footage of western Muay Thai stylists.  Jake Lund for instance is an excellent fighter and has some very solid techniques. But pay attention to his energy, his interaction with the trainer and trainer's pads just after his strikes land. Can you discern a difference in that pattern of forward intent I'm calling out? I've specifically chosen foreign fighters working with Thai trainers to illustrate the difference.

Thai fighters on pads:

Foreign Muay Thai stylists on pads:

Hopefully you can begin to see what I'm referencing when I say 'forward pressure.' It's not something simply for the ring when you're stalking an opponent.  It's a mindset that pervades the Thai martial arts and is a key ingredient in what I refer to as the 'engineering' behind the movements. I don't know how many of you may have had or ridden a motorcycle that was modeled on a racing prototype but they ride pretty klunky at RPM bands many other motorcycles cruise comfortably at.  But get them in their proper (i.e., much higher) RPM bands and they come to life in almost supernatural ways. Muay Thai isn't designed for sorties into the danger zone; it capitalizes on mounting and continuing an attack from within it. The forward pressure you see depicted on the pads must become second nature in every facet of your Muay Thai practice.

(NEXT POST...The first of two main methods to engage the clinch.)

"So You Wanna Knee Like a Thai?" Part 2 - Generating Power

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 Intent
  4. Part 4 - Engaging with Forward Pressure
  5. Part 5 - Negative Pressure

Power is generated by the circular motion of the hip (just like the kick). My belief is because as Westerners we are habituated to stick-and-move type fighting and frankly abhor that level of close and intimate beatdown. This one is simpler but just as elusive. For some reason this concept and type of movement is radically hard for most to adopt. But here's the facts: you'll have FAR more opportunities to strike your opponent with the circular type knee than you will the straight knee.

The majority of your knees during 'prum' (clinch drills) should be these types of circular motions for two major reasons. One, they are essential to punishing your opponent when you are tightly clinched (a high percentage of the time in clinch); making space to knee by extending your arms gives your opponent equal opportunity to attack or just releases offensive pressure. And two, the movement more closely approximates how you WANT to knee. Like Langsuan, you should be moving your opponent in a direction other than center then using that anchor to launch the knee. Simple example: while clinched you pull hard on the left arm causing your opponent to spin slightly to your left. As his or her feet thud on the canvas and continues to move slightly away from you (impeded in part by your arms entwined around his or her neck) your body becomes slightly stretched out with the right leg almost straight. But with your left hip turned partially already (because your arms are around the neck), the most natural movement is for the hip to 'close' -- producing a circular motion.

Study these following videos of training in a Thai camp. Each clip has a section of fighters working prum. While there's a lot going on (hey, it's a camp full of pro Muay Thai fighters) I would request you really try to focus on just the clinching knees. Make a mental note of how close your clinch practice is to it. Also you might reflect on why your movements do or don't reflect what you see in the videos.

(NEXT POST...The core pre-requisite to seeking the clinch.)

"So You Wanna Knee Like a Thai?" Part 1 - Anchoring

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 Intent
  4. Part 4 - Engaging with Forward Pressure
  5. Part 5 - Negative Pressure

With fights just weeks away I thought I would repay your diligence in working the clinch in class with giving you some 'keys to success.' As always I tend toward the philosophic but that's mainly because after awhile (decades) one begins to distill teachings. Another way to think of that is that I've screwed it up enough to have created a reliable roadmap.

Frankly, guys I'm giving you the keys to the kingdom here. What follows is the Muay Thai equivalent of Covey's '7 habits' or Hill's 'Win friends and influence people.' If you can latch onto these principles (I know, a 'dad joke' level pun...) they will literally guide you in your clinch efforts. Whilst in the throes of knockin' the bejabbers out of your classmates it may be hard to be objective about these, but over time they will allow both self-correcting technique as well as a Muay Thai Rosetta Stone as you watch authentic Muay Thai fights. They are simple and comprehensive. But 'simple' does not mean easy

As Les Grossman allowed in 'Tropic Thunder': "He's a white dwarf headed for a black hole...That's physics."

Your opponent is your anchor.  This really is Physics 101. How can you hope to launch your bodyweight through your knee if you are not anchored? If I'm pulling against your neck (and/or shoulders) WHILE you are coming toward me how does my bodyweight come into play? It can't. I need to anchor off of your body. That's what all that twisting and turning is in the clinch; it's planting the opponent and anchoring off his bodyweight one he or she is 'rooted.' (Technically that's the point you will hear me call the 'terminus' of the opponent's movement in any give direction.)

Most of the clinching I see in class completely misses this key element. Even worse, a number of you *try* to adopt this principal but in ineffective ways.  Methods such as pulling on the opponent's forearms for leverage (...or something) or pulling the opponent straight toward you as you travel backward. Honestly, have these worked for you guys? The beauty of Muay Thai techniques is that their raw power and ferocity can be 'gotten' the instant that they land properly.  Contrast that with a newcomer's tepid kick on the Thai pads. After some practice (and thousands of repetitions) when they begin to land with authority, they know it.  I've mock-kicked several of you -- slowly, non-explosively -- so you understand some of the dynamics of weight transfer. I don't need to ask (anymore) how it feels.  Even slow and non-explosive your furrowed eyebrows and pencil thin pursed lips say it all (and warm my heart too if you must know). The knee is identical.

Watch and study this short video of the Nok Muay practicing knees on the heavy bag. He is anchoring off the bag's weight (and chains to be precise).

If you want to think of it in a cycle, maybe consider this set of movements:

  1. Fighter throws his leg almost straight backward while holding the 'neck' of the bag.
  2. The reverse motion of the fighter's leg creates the force to pull the bag toward the fighter.
  3. The resistance in the bag to that pulling motion gives the fighter the anchor to launch the leg/knee from the rear position.
  4. ~ Rinse and repeat.

After you've watched yourself into bemusement, check out this highlight reel featuring Langsuan Phanumpathom (if you're lost on who he is you'll have to check out my earlier blog post about him). He's such a craftsman it may be hard to fully sort out what I'm saying in relation to his fighting style - he not only mixes and matches a dizzying array of knee techniques, ranges and strategies, he is fully 'conversant' in punches, kicks and elbows too! (A rarity.) Pay close attention (i.e., slow the vid down) to the times when he has his opponent in a full clinch. He is continually moving them to positions they don't want to be in (anchoring) and each successive knee is simply another instance of moving them to an anchor they can be kneed again!

This type of attack is truly fearsome once it gets going. It's juggernaut-like forward aggression can really only be adequately met by a like force (that is, a blood-and-Guts stand).

(NEXT POST...What you must do to generate power in your knees.)

The Angle of the Round Kick

From Coach Jason Webster: As I've opined continually, one of the fundamental problems encountered when learning or improving in Muay Thai is not realizing one's vantage point is skewed. That is, mistakenly associating one thing with another. An easy understood example of this is the Thai knee. Hey, you grab the opponent's neck and pull him or her into one's unstoppable, mill-like knee. Lights out, right? The problem is that the MT knee must have forward pressure to work. Kind of oil and water for most of us....pull as I push? Well...yeah.

But misappropriation of these concepts spans almost every movement. Perhaps the most fundamental misunderstood concept I see continually deals with the angle of the round kick. Perhaps it's that the leg is straight upon (proper) impact or maybe something to do with our affinity toward western boxing style stances, but it's rare to see a western MT exponent kick with the angle of a Thai. Check this short video out of some slow mo footage from Thailand. Pay particular attention to two key things with their kicks that might help unlock the nuance for you to 'take it to the next level.'

  1. Notice where the knee is in relation to the shin and ankle as the kick travels to the target. It's almost always 'deep' into the target. Most throw the round kick without near this articulation of the lower leg.
  2. Calculate/estimate what percentage of the lower leg is making contact when the kick lands. This is a direct consequence of the kick's angle: leg's angle to target, fighter's angle to opponent, to name just a couple.
Kick, Coach JasonAmbush Muay Thai
Langsuan and The Straight Knee

From Coach Jason Webster: Following on today's classes, especially the segments concerning the trajectory of the straight (that is, non-clinch) knee I'm adding this vid for your enjoyment and edification. This match up between Langsuan Panyuthapum and Pongsiri "Rambo" Ruamrudee became an instant classic, so much so that the pair returned to the ring (in their late 40s...circa 2013) due to audience demand.  Langsuan remains one of the best all - around fighters who was, nonetheless, a knee specialist. Fighting out of the Osotsopha camp, Langsuan would go on to become a dominant champion. His opponent Rambo was at the time sort of a people's champion; lacking the raw athleticism of his contemporaries, Rambo won fights, and the crowd, with his never-say-die, blood-and-guts style.

You may become mesmerized early by this fight's pace...for those of you to have dared enter the squared circle will be delighted with and awed at the superhuman pace. As a complement to what I shared in class, notice first Langsuan's continual forward motion. While you will see him reverse to pull Rambo in for a sharp knee, mostly he is surging forward.

Secondly, and most salient viz our class, pay attention to the angle and trajectory of his plentiful straight knees. (Incidentally also take notice of the fluidity of ranges, all of which feature his pistoning knees. One thing that might escape scrutiny, if it weren't for the overpowering number of these type of knees thrown, is the way Langsuan is able to deliver those beautiful knees straight down the pipe while still remaining engaged and or entwined with Rambo's furious fists an arms. How does he do it? Simple. By using that hollow body to both make room and keep contact. Enjoy.

One other side note that might interest Muay Thai aficionados: The fighter who would take the ring name of "Rambah" (also known as Somdet M16) fighting out of Pattaya did so as a play on words (so to speak). The term "bah" in Thai is a slang curse word. Sort of indicating that he was "the crazy Rambo".

Manipulating Position in Clinch

From Coach Jason Webster: Here is a fight that displays some of the elements of Saturday's Muay Thai clinch class where we worked on using the hands and arms to manipulate your opponent's position. Both of these fighters were elite class and had been stadium champions. Oley (red), who passed away recently, had an inimitable style with complex footwork and a disarmingly subtle laid back presence. Chamuakpet was a fierce fighter who, in addition to his stadium standing(s), beat the bejabbers out of a world champ American kickboxer on the Muay Thai show that featured the epic battle between Changpuek Kiatsongrit and Rick Roufus (if you don't know what I'm referencing then it's the cone of shame and 10k kicks for you...).

Watch both fighters mix their punches and clinch with the straight arm tactic of keeping distance and off-balancing their opponent. Notice too how high the arm is kept and its dynamic interplay between offensive pressuring and providing a defensive cover for the opponent's strikes.


* Addendum from Coach Elton Wells: For anyone not familiar with Kiatsongrit vs Roufus, after you finish your 10K kicks check out this excellent Lawrence Kenshin video about it.

Elasticity in Clinch

From Coach Jason Webster: Here is a great fight (ca Golden Age of Muay Thai) that is a great example of what we talked about in Saturday's clinch class. To wit, Rajasak in the red corner was a very feared fighter who fought almost exclusively with knees.  Watch him continually "hollow out" his shoulders and chest, move his hips back to knee. Also notice his intense forward pressure that continually expands and contracts "elastically" even while maintaining tight contact with his opponent.