For Our Newer Students - The Clinch

When trying to explain Muay Thai in a single sentence, I often revert to the same old line: “It’s like boxing, but in addition to punching, you can kick, knee, and elbow.”

This grossly oversimplifies the sport, but for all intents and purposes, that sentence explains it.

Now when people ask whether Muay Thai is kickboxing, the explanation gets a little trickier. Perhaps they grew up watching Bill ‘Superfoot’ Wallace or were really into karate movies. Maybe they stumbled across K1 from its Japanese glory days or have seen Buakaw—arguably the most famous Muay Thai fighter of all time—and have watched some of his kickboxing bouts. To put it simply, Muay Thai differs from kickboxing in two major ways:

1. Fighters are allowed to throw elbows.

2. Fighters are allowed to clinch, which is essentially upright grappling, where fighters can knee, elbow, and toss their opponent to the mat in what is called a ‘sweep’ or ‘dump’.

These two things completely change the game.


Elbows are a vicious weapon that can cause cuts and big knockouts. When elbow strikes are allowed, fighters cannot rattle off long punch combinations because they have to worry about an incoming elbow. Likewise, fighters cannot stand toe to toe, glove to glove, and trade punches. Elbows change the entire game. Check out a highlight video of Muangthai, one of the best elbow fighters in the last decade.

Now—on the flipside—here is a wild kickboxing fight, where elbows and clinch are not allowed. You can see that the fighters stand close to each other, throwing lots of punches, because they do not have to worry about elbows or getting tied up in the clinch.

The Clinch

Muay Thai fighters sometime spend the whole fight tied up in the clinch. This upright grappling allows fighters to jockey for position and throw short range shots. These shots are typically elbows and knees. In addition, fighters will toss their opponent to the mat in what is called a sweep or dump. All of these techniques are practiced during the clinch portion of every class Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at Juniper Muay Thai, right here in the heart of South Philly!

Here are a ton of sweeps with some nice lo-fi instrumental beats to keep it classy :).

A lot of instructors who have maybe had some MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) experience or Kickboxing experience, will promote ‘Muay Thai’ classes without teaching the intricacies of the sport—especially the clinch. In addition to these rule differences, Muay Thai is steeped in a ton of mysticism which is most prominently seen in the ‘Wai kru ram muay’ which is a ritual performed prior to a fight, as well as the garb worn by fighters including the Mongkol—a traditional headpiece—and the Pra Jiads—arm bands. But more on all that later.

For our newer students, always feel free to ask us about Muay Thai, its techniques, and how to better access the sport. It’s all we like to talk about!

-Joseph and George