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No Holds Barred Fighting: The Clinch: Offensive and Defensive Concepts Inside NHB's Most Grueling Position

No Holds Barred Fighting: The Clinch: Offensive and Defensive Concepts Inside NHB's Most Grueling Position

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by Mark Hatmaker

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With its complete focus on a single fighting position, this handbook unsparingly examines the clinch. In the clinch, the no-holds-barred combat techniques of striking and grappling meet, posing new challenges and calling for new strategies. With these detailed explanations of each aspect of positioning in the clinch, fighters can


With its complete focus on a single fighting position, this handbook unsparingly examines the clinch. In the clinch, the no-holds-barred combat techniques of striking and grappling meet, posing new challenges and calling for new strategies. With these detailed explanations of each aspect of positioning in the clinch, fighters can set up their own clinch takedowns and beat those used against them in the ring. The unique striking tools, protection strategies, and takedowns the clinch requires are explained for both offense and defense, moving smoothly between each fighting element to maximize advantage. A clinch situation is an inevitability in NHB fighting, and this reference gives fighters the most complete education in turning the clinch to their advantage.

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Tracks Publishing
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No Holds Barred Fighting series
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No Holds Barred Fighting: The Clinch

Offensive and Defensive Concepts Inside NHB's Most Grueiing Position

By Mark Hatmaker, Dough Werner

Tracks Publishing

Copyright © 2006 Doug Werner
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-884654-27-5


Clinch varieties

There is a staggering number of ways two competitors can choose to clinch. Some involve gis or other forms of jacketed wrestling grips. Others utilize various forms of wrestling belts, while others start the wrestlers in grips that may seem a bit artificial to our UFC/Pride jaundiced eyes. Each tie-up has its value within a given game. For our twin sports, we limit ourselves to three main clinches and provide variations within each on a per-technique basis.

Head clinch

The head clinch is also known as the Muay Thai tie-up or the plum blossom. This clinch is ideal for the striking game but less effective in takedown potential.

• Clasp your hands behind your opponent's head. Use a palm-to-palm grip.

• Caution: Do not interlace your fingers. Doing so puts you in jeopardy of breaking or dislocating a finger.

• Squeeze your elbows together

• While squeezing your elbows together, strive to drive one elbow/forearm ahead of the other. This cants your opponent's head at an awkward angle. Anytime you can get your opponent's head out of alignment, do so.

• Do not leave his head free between your bodies — pull his head down with a series of short jerks and place his forehead on your upper sternum. Jerking the head is far more effective than a smooth pull. The jerking makes it harder for your opponent to resist, even if he is stronger

• Once his forehead is planted on your chest, drive your chest up and forward and drag his head toward you as if you wanted to make his chin touch your solar plexus. This places his head at an even more precarious angle, and as you can see, makes the placement of strikes all the sweeter

Palm-to-palm — Yes!

Interlaced — No!

Collar and elbow clinch

This clinch is the bread-and-butter of many wrestling styles, and we covered it in moderate detail in Takedowns. We won't repeat that material here, but we can't ignore this position and its relative value to the clinch game. The collar-and-elbow clinch is versatile for use in setting up takedowns, but due to the space between bodies that can be used to set up strikes, it is of negligible value in the NHB game.

• Place your right hand on the back of your opponent's neck. He will do the same

• Grip his right forearm — the crook of his arm — with your left hand

• This grip can be an overhook or an undergrip with a pinch

• Use head pressure against his head to drive him off base (balance) or place your forehead against his right shoulder to defend against strikes (particularly headbutts if you choose to use this clinch in NHB)

Over-under clinch

This is the go-to clinch seen most often in both NHB and submission wrestling. We will spend most of our offensive and defensive efforts on this topic. It only makes sense to play the percentages. It occurs commonly because:

1. It is a fallback to thwart shots.

2. The lack of space between bodies makes the fighter less susceptible to strikes than the previous two clinches.

3. And because some fighters, particularly later in the match, use this position to rest — rest being a relative term.

• Underhook your opponent's left arm with your right, placing the palm of your hand on his shoulder blade. Your opponent does the same

• Caution: Do not over penetrate the underhooking arm. This sets you up for whizzers

• Overhook his right arm with your left hand gripping him at the triceps

• Squeeze his right arm against your body with the inside of your left arm

• Your underhook shoulder will bury into his underhook shoulder (right versus right).

You can stand square or with your overhook foot forward. More on this in the strike defense section.

OK, these are the three clinches that we will be dealing with in this volume. Before we start moving with these clinch shells, we have two interruptions from your author.


Clinch conditioning

Working the clinch is hard work — exhausting, grueling, oxygen-sucking work. Conditioning is of premium value. To be effective and efficient within the clinch game, you've got to have the stamina to play the game. As a rule, specificity is a prime consideration in your conditioning goals. Specificity means that the conditioning activity should mimic the activity being conditioned for as much as possible. Thus, there is no better conditioner for clinch work than working the clinch. It's as simple as that.

But what about conditioning when you lack a training partner? I suggest two exercises — and these should come as no surprise — the body-weight squat and the dive-bomber push-up. These are the easiest specific mimics I know. Numerous repetitions of squats prepare your legs for the grueling up-down and constant pushing your legs will encounter in a clinch war. The dive-bomber will build upper body endurance throughout the entire shoulder girdle with the added benefit of being specific to the motions needed in over-under pummeling.


• Stand with your feet shoulder width apart

• Squat down rising onto the balls of your feet

• Your butt should make contact with your heels.

• Rise back to standing position. That's it

Much ado is made by some about arm position while performing squats. Swing your arms, put your hands on your hips, keep your hands behind your head, it's your call. The key is the exercise itself — the squats.

How many? The minimum is 100 and 500 are enough.

Dive-bomber push-ups

Some prefer the dand or half-dive-bomber push-up, but it works as only half an exercise. And, to be honest, the forward sweep is the easy half. Use the full dand or dive-bomber for true clinch conditioning.

• Place your hands on the mat shoulder width apart

• Place the balls of your feet on the mat approximately 2-3 shoulder widths apart

• Sweep down and between your hands as if to brush your chest on the mat. Then arch looking toward the sky as your hips stay low to the mat

• Reverse this motion with a backward sweep following your original path to return to the starting position

You'll find that these are tough to crank. Try 25-30 at a pop for starters and build to 50.

Although each exercise has the cache of specificity for the activity we are conditioning for, never lose sight of the fact that the activity itself is its own best conditioner.


It's OK to disagree

What am I talking about? Never agree to a clinch. Never. Never ever. Clinch agreement is less of an issue in NHB, but often in straight submission wrestling, you see two competitors shake hands and rather than start the match, reach for each other in a passive way, tie up and only then go to work. This passive reach for a clinch is essentially a second hand shake and an agreement for a neutral position — an agreement to clinch.

What I am proposing once the formalities are taken care of, is to jockey for superior clinch position. Strive to slap the clinch of your choice into position. If your opponent seeks his own, maneuver out of it unless or until you can attain superior position within the clinch.

Agree to the handshake — it adheres to sportsmanlike conduct and it's the right thing to do — but after that bit of etiquette is out of the way, never agree with anything else your opponent proposes. Control the clinch or don't clinch at all.



I'd like you to engage in an imaginary experiment, or you can actually walk this experiment through. Imagine yourself walking at a fast pace. Got it? Not too tough, is it?

Now, imagine yourself walking backward at a fast pace. This is a little more difficult.

Now, imagine yourself walking forward and occasionally pivoting or pirouetting to move from facing the front to facing back — keep walking. Now, move from back to front.

You probably noticed a couple of things. Walking forward is easier and more natural than walking backward. It feels a bit more natural to spin back to front than it does from front to back.

These simple observations should be kept in mind as you use this manual. When most fighters clinch, there is a tendency to lean into each other and give each other weight. They stay stock still or attempt to drive into each other in an effort to move each other backward.

When in a clinch, if you can drive your opponent backward, do so. Your forward motion is far more natural than his backward motion. If your opponent is able to move you backward, rather than resist his momentum, pivot to change from "back-to-front."

Why is it so important not be moved backward? Walking forward is easy and so is striking while moving forward. You seldom see an effective strike delivered while moving backward. What you do see are a gamut of effective strikes and takedowns from an opponent who moves forward or who circles when being driven backward.

When caught in the dilemma of playing an equally matched opponent who you can't drive backward and is unable to drive you backward — do not stay still. Begin circling even without his forward drive. Circling will upset his base, which reduces his number of effective strikes and can open his base to more viable takedown options.

With all this in mind, be aware that when you are driving an opponent forward, you are vulnerable to being pivoted on and circled out of position. Do not let that inhibit your aggressive drive. Save 10-15 percent of your drive to make adjustments in your footwork if he hits a circling gambit.

Simple thought experiment. Simple strategic rules. The photos in this book are stills, but when working the material in this book, you should be circling and driving at all times.



Pummeling. There's a word you don't see every day unless you are a grappling enthusiast. Pummeling is the upper body corollary of footwork and circling in regard to the clinch. Remember my exhortation to never agree to a clinch but rather to take control of it. Some may ask, "How do I do that?" The answer is pummeling.

Pummeling is both an offensive and defensive tactic. It is used offensively to maneuver your clinch grips to a superior position. It is used defensively to stymie your opponent's attempts to pummel you into a weaker position. The beauty of pummeling is there is only one skill set needed for offense or defense. The only difference is in regard to the time of its use.

The root pummeling skills for all three clinches we emphasize in this manual follow. But now I offer a few suggestions on the training needed for pummeling.

Begin with your partner at a slow contemplative pace. Give each other only mild resistance so you can focus on your footwork, body position, grips and circling. If too much pressure is applied too soon while learning pummeling skills, there is a tendency to move from clean technique to muscling inside the clinch. Don't get me wrong. Muscle has its place. But let's make it educated muscle.

Spend a lot of time pummeling. I mean a lot of time. After all, the clinch happens because two opponents navigate past open stance strikes and can't quite secure a takedown. You are clinching because you haven't KO'd him or you haven't been able to take him down. You have to clinch by strategic and tactical default. It is because of good matchmaking and/or your opponent's orneriness that you're stuck in this position.

The key to getting unstuck is often being the better pummeler, and the better pummeler is usually the better conditioned athlete. There are no shortcuts — you've got to put in the time. It is not uncommon to hear stories of elite Greco-Roman athletes spending an hour pummeling nonstop. With that in mind, let's go to observation number three.

I'm a big fan of round timers. Pick a time: 3-minute rounds, 5-minute, 8-minute, 10-, 12-, 15-, 20-, whatever. Then grab your partner and start the drill. The key is to log your rounds and to build clinch stamina.

As your skill with pummeling increases, vary the pressure and intensity. Use a 1-10 scale. One being a friendly hug, 10 is all-out NHB full-contact. Train with a partner who understands the gradations. You can start at level 5 (about 50 percent intensity) then after a minute or so, one of you can call 7 or 8. Raise the intensity to that level for a minute. Then one of you calls 5, and you walk it back to the original pace. Continue the round in this interval manner. Allowing each fighter to take turns calling intensity numbers forces you to dig deep when you may be exhausted and might have only called for a 6, but he's shoving against you calling for a 9.

When practicing pummeling, work on all components — positioning, circling and hand position. But don't go for takedowns or strikes. You can manhandle each other in any other way with clinch intensity being your only weapon, but play the isolation game at this point.

Head clinch pummeling: Snaking

• One partner secures the head clinch

• The other uses his right hand to snake along the inside of his partner's left arm to grip the back of his head

• He then snakes his left arm on the other side to attain the complete head clinch

• The partner who originally held the clinch now performs the same snaking


• Always snake one hand at a time — never both. One hand needs to be free for defense until you can gain neck control.

• Spend a few rounds with the right hand snaking first and then a few with the left snaking first. After building dexterity, feel free to interchange hands as you drill

Collar and elbow pummeling

Start collar and elbow pummeling in a neutral position. If your opponent disengages his elbow hand to snake for your neck and slap on a head clinch, you mirror his snaking with your elbow hand.

This brings you both to a collar and elbow tie-up with the hands having switched position.

Over-under pummeling

Train all of the clinches assiduously, but be advised that this is the one you should spend the most amount of time drilling.

• Begin in your over-under tie-up

• Snake your overhook arm underneath his underhook arm as if you planned to leave both of your arms underhooked and lock on a front-body lock (front bear hug)

• While you are snaking, your partner is performing the same motion bringing you back to neutral


• While over-under pummeling, remember to pay attention to your shoulder and head placement as well as your footwork

• Once this skill is attained, make it competitive. You can each strive for a front-body lock on the other. The first one able to lock his hands behind his opponent's back is the victor. Start again

• As you increase the intensity, add the element of "gorilla thumping." Gorilla thumping is forcibly making contact with your underhook shoulders. This thumping helps to unbalance your opponent.

OK, you can clinch.

You can move inside the clinch.

Let's get the clinch fight moving.


Striking within the clinch: offense and defense

For an in-depth examination of striking both within and outside the clinch, see Savage Strikes.

Here we do not cover every possible strike or striking combination available within the clinch, but the highest common denominators that you definitely need to be familiar with. Notice that we deal with strikes that are actually delivered only while clinching. A world of opportunities open up if you decide to disengage from the clinch and strike, but for now we assume the clinch is just where you want to be, or are forced to be.

6.1 Head clinch striking offense

Up knee

• While keeping clinch pressure on, drop one of your legs back (here the right leg)

• Jerk his head down while punching your hips forward and driving your right knee upward. The impact point can be the face, chin or throat. No need to be choosy

High punch knee

• Similar to the up knee, but here we drive the knee not up, but into the opponent's body

• To deliver this shot, punch your hips forward to bolster the impact

Low punch knee

• This is a rare but quite effective shot

• Deliver like the high punch knee, except your target area becomes the front of your opponent's thigh.

• Perform the first knee as you would for a single shot

• As you step the striking foot to the mat, skip your left foot back — you will now be right foot forward and left foot to the rear — set for the next knee.

• Fire the left knee, set the left foot on the mat and skip the right foot to the rear

• Repeat as necessary

High round knee

• Notice that this knee strike is delivered with the inside of the knee joint, not with the tip or point of the knee. Rotating the hips to accommodate a knee point strike is needless because this flat strike provides a surprising amount of wallop

• The key to this strike is applying the unusual footwork. Simply lifting and swinging your knee to the inside adds little impact to this strike

• To launch a high round knee (that will strike your opponent's torso) hop your right foot in front of your opponent's right foot while raising your left knee high and to the outside

• Using the ball of the right foot as a pivot point, swing your entire body and allow the left knee to make impact


Excerpted from No Holds Barred Fighting: The Clinch by Mark Hatmaker, Dough Werner. Copyright © 2006 Doug Werner. Excerpted by permission of Tracks Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Mark Hatmaker is the author of Boxing Mastery, More No Holds Barred Fighting: Killer Submissions, No Holds Barred Fighting, and No Holds Barred Fighting: Savage Strikes. He is the founder of Extreme Self Protection, a research body that compiles, analyzes, and teaches unarmed combat methods. He lives in Knoxville, Tennessee.

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