Let’s take a look at a Muay Thai technique called the Front Clinch, or the “Plum Clinch”, and its potential effectiveness as a self-defense technique or as a defensive tactic in the modern world.
What is Muay Thai?
Muay Thai (Thai Boxing) is a combat sport that can be traced to the middle of the 18th century. It has always been a combat sport involving empty handed one-on-one combat between two fighters. It’s known as the art of eight limbs because it uses eight points of contact to strike the opponent: hands, elbows, feet and knees. Striking the legs as well as clinching and tripping are legal techniques.
Because Muay Thai is a striking combat sport, the techniques and strategies that lead to victory for a fighter are such that both fighters must risk standing directly in front of one another in order to throw combinations of legal strikes. While certain types of clinching is allowed, striking from behind is not. If a fighter falls or is thrown to the ground the action is stopped and the fighter is allowed to stand back up to continue the fight.
For 200 years or more, Muay Thai has been developing, evolving and improving on the techniques and strategies for it’s specific sport. It’s arguable that Muay Thai and its variants (Muay Boran, Lethwei, Pradal Serey, Tomoi, Muay Lao) are some of the most effective striking systems in the world.
What is the Muay Thai Front Clinch?
The Muay Thai Front Clinch (MTFC) involves pulling the head of the opponent downwards, which is easier if the hands are locked behind the back of the head instead of behind the neck. Furthermore, the arms should be putting as much pressure on the neck as possible. A correct clinch also involves the fighter's forearms pressing against the opponent's collar bone while the hands are around the opponent's head.
The Front Clinch keeps both the fighters facing each other so that the dominant fighter can throw strikes (usually knees and elbows) at their opponent’s head, torso and legs.
While this is all well and good for a combat sport, it doesn’t necessarily support what we should be doing in a self-defense situation.
Primer on Modern Self-Defense Situations
If you’re in an altercation with another person and you are attempting to use force against them, you need to be legally justified to do so. In most States this is written into the criminal code as “Use of Force” statutes. I’ll write more on this topic later, but what I want you to first consider is that in terms of using force on another person, there are times when you legally can and times when you legally can not use force against them. Understanding the difference between these two situations can shape not only the tactics you might need to utilize, but it can shape what you train and how you train it.
Types of scenarios you might find yourself legally using reasonable force against another person are: To prevent an assault against your person; To prevent a criminal assault against you or another; To prevent a felony from being committed against you or another person; To prevent the loss of life, limb, eyesight or permanent physical injury against yourself or another person.
What I didn’t mention was using force to see if you were the biggest, baddest, toughest monkey in your local bar; or using force or intimidation against another because they cut you off in traffic. So if we can eliminate these types of social violence scenarios out of the realm of things we are willing to fight over, then the actual list gets shorter and we can focus on the more serious issues of criminal assaults and felonies possibly being committed against us.
The Criminal Assault Paradigm
In regards to criminal assaults, felonies and other types of Asocial (AS) crimes that could be committed against us we can look at the data and research about these crimes and notice some commonalities. These commonalities can help us choose not only our tactics in how we might best deal with these situations and survive them, but how we should focus our very limited time training and preparing for them.
One core theme with most criminal assaults is an unequal initiative between the victim and the criminal. This means that the criminal will set the time and the place for when the assault will kick off. In essence, this is an ambush, but it can at times contain an element of social deception. It is the intention of the criminal to catch you off guard and in a vulnerable state or position. This means that it is unlikely you will find yourself going toe to toe with a violent criminal actor (VCA). The VCA doesn't want to have a fair or honorable fight with you. In fact, they don't want a fight at all. They want either what you have or they want to do very bad things to you that you might not walk away from.
Another core theme with a criminal assault is unproportional armament. There usually is a weapon involved in most criminal assaults. Even while you may be armed yourself, the criminal will usually have their weapon in hand when they make contact with you, or will produce their weapon at such a close range to you, that you will not be able to produce and employ your weapon without a very serious risk to your life.
In addition to the two core themes of a criminal assault, research has found three common elements to most of these assaults:
Training for defending against a criminal assault must take the core themes and common elements into consideration.
The Purpose of the MTFC
The purpose of the MTFC is to control the head of the opponent as well as their range from you. The force applied to the the opponents’ head can be downward, lateral or with torque. The forearms in the chest can be used to push the opponent into a corner or up against an obstacle so as to pin them and inhibit their movement. As discussed earlier, the clincher’s primary options are to throw knee strikes at the head, body and legs as well as to throw their opponent to the ground.
Entanglement and In Fight Weapons Access
The MTFC is a clinching technique, or more generally known as a type of entanglement. When entangled with a threat at close range the primary concern must be about weapons being introduced into the fight. You must be concerned with this from both your perspective and theirs. By that I mean, your tactics must address their ability to access any weapons on their person, their ability to access any weapons on your person, and their ability to inhibit or foul your access to your weapons.
One of the best ways to address all three issues is to effectively control the hands and/or arms of the threat so they can’t access any weapons or inhibit your access to your weapons.
Unfortunately, the MTFC isn’t able to address this issue because the clinchers’ arms are committed to controlling the threats’ head, all the while the threats’ hands are free to access weapons and use them against the clincher. The number one reason why the MTFC fails at this level is because it was never meant to deal with a real self-defense situation involving weapons. It’s a sporting technique for a combat sport that has historically never used or dealt with any weapons.
I recently made two videos with the ICBJJ Muay Thai & Combat Jiu-Jitsu coach Damien Roth. In these videos we demonstrate some of the shortcomings to the MTFC being used in a self-defense situation for civilians as well for Law Enforcement attempting to use the MTFC as a defensive tactic.
You should begin to see an alarming theme in the videos regarding the dangers of not controlling the hands of the threat from accessing weapons. At the end of each video I demonstrate an alternative entanglement to the MTFC, which does address the critical issue of in fight weapons access.
These videos are a must watch for civilians who are concerned about self-defense, especially civilians who are legally carrying a knife or a firearm (CCW/CPL) for personal protection. Police/Law Enforcement will also want to watch both videos so as to see the full scope of this topic.
Video 1: Using the MTFC in self defense
video 2: le defensive tactics: limitations of the MTFC
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Jason Clarke. Owner & Head Instructor of Iowa City Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.